He helped to set up the Union of Soviet Composers in Moscow and remained one of its leading figures. He was a prolific composer of piano music and chamber music; many of his piano works have been performed by Vladimir Horowitz. He is probably best known in the West for the "Comedians' Galop" from The Comedians Suite, Op. 26 and his second piano concerto.
Kabalevsky was born in Saint Petersburg. His father was a mathematician and encouraged him to study mathematics; however, in early life he maintained a fascination with the arts, and became an accomplished young pianist, including a three-year stint as a pianist in silent theatres. He also dabbled in poetry and painting. In 1925, against his father's wishes, he accepted a place at the Moscow Conservatory, studying composition under Nikolai Myaskovsky and piano with Alexander Goldenweiser. In the same year he joined PROKULL (Production Collective of Student Composers), a student group affiliated with Moscow Conservatory aimed at bridging the gap between the modernism of the ACM and the utilitarian "agitprop" music of the RAPM. He became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory in 1932.
During World War II, he wrote many patriotic songs, having joined the Communist Party in 1940, and was the editor of Sovetskaya Muzyka for its special six-volume publishing run during the war. He also composed and performed many pieces for silent movies and some theatre music.
In 1948, when Andrei Zhdanov declared his resolution on the directions that Soviet music should take, Kabalevsky was originally on the list of named composers who were the most guilty of formalism; however, due to his connections with official circles, his name was removed. Another theory states that Kabalevsky's name was only on the list because of his position in the leadership of the Union of Soviet Composers.
In general, Kabalevsky was not as adventurous as his contemporaries in terms of harmony and preferred a more conventional diatonicism, interlaced with chromaticism and major-minor interplay. Unlike fellow composer Sergei Prokofiev, he embraced the ideas of socialist realism, and his post-war works have been characterized as "popular, bland, and successful," though this judgement is attributed to many other composers of the time, and some of Kabalevsky's best-known "youth works" date from this era (the Violin Concerto, the First Cello Concerto).
Perhaps Kabalevsky's most important contribution to the world of music-making is his consistent efforts to connect children to music. Not only did he write music specifically directed at bridging the gap between children's technical skills and adult aesthetics, but during his lifetime he set up a pilot program of music education in twenty-five Soviet schools. Kabalevsky himself taught a class of seven-year-olds for a time, teaching them how to listen attentively and put their impressions into words. His writings on this subject were published in the United States in 1988 as Music and education: a composer writes about musical education.
In 1961, Kabalevsky made some stereo recordings, conducting his Overture Pathetique, Spring, and Songs or Morning, which were released in the U.S. in 1975 on the Westminster Gold label.
He was awarded a number of state honors for his musical works (including three Stalin Prizes). Kabalevsky had become quite a force in musical education. He was elected the head of the Commission of Musical Esthetic Education of Children in 1962 as well as being elected president of the Scientific Council of Educational Esthetics in the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR in 1969. Kabalevsky also received the honorary degree of president of the International Society of Musical Education. Kabalevsky wrote for all musical genres and was consistently faithful to the ideals of socialist realism. In Russia, Kabalevsky is most noted for his vocal songs, cantatas, and operas while overseas he is known for his orchestral music. Kabalevsky frequently travelled overseas; he was a member of the Soviet Committee for the Defense of Peace as well as a representative for the Promotion of Friendship between the Soviet Union and foreign countries.
His notable students included Leo Smit.
He died in Moscow on 18 February 1987.
Honours and awards
- People's Artist of the RSFSR (1954).
- People's Artist of USSR (1963).
- Hero of Socialist Labour (1974).
- Four Orders of Lenin (1964, 1971, 1974, 1984)
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1966)
- Order of the Badge of Honour (1940)
- Lenin Prize (1972) - a new version of the opera "Colas Breugnon" (1968)
- Stalin Prizes
- first class (1946) - for the 2nd quartet (1945)
- second class (1949) - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1948)
- second class - for the opera "Taras Family" (1950)
- USSR State Prize (1980) - for the 4th Concerto for Piano and Orchestra ("Prague") (1979)
- Glinka State Prize of the RSFSR (1966) - for "Requiem" for soloists, two choirs and orchestra (1962)
- Lenin Komsomol Prize (1984)
- Anon. "Obituary: Dmitry Kabalevsky". The Musical Times 128, no. 1731 (May 1987): 287.
- Daragan, Dina Grigor'yevna. 2001. "Kabalevsky, Dmitry Borisovich", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians edited by S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan. Also in Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 23 October 2007) (Subscription Access)
- Schwarz, Boris. 1983. Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, enlarged edition 1917-1981. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33956-1
- Maes, Francis. 2002. A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar. Translated by Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21815-9
- CLASSICAL MUSIC ARCHIVES: Biography of Dmitri Kabalevsky[dead link]
- Maes 2002, p.310
- Schwarz 1983, p.219
- Anon. 1987.
- Schwarz 1983
- "Kabalevsky conducts Kabalevsky (Musical LP, 1975)". [WorldCat.org]. Retrieved 2013-10-29.
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