Maximilian Steinberg

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Maximilian Osseyevich Steinberg (Russian Максимилиан Осеевич Штейнберг; 4 July 1883 [O.S. 22 June] – 6 December 1946) was a Russian composer of classical music.


Steinberg was born into a Lithuanian Jewish family in Vilnius (then Russian Empire). His father, Osey (Hosea) Steinberg, was a leading Hebraist. In 1901 he went to Saint Petersburg, to study biology at Saint Petersburg University. He graduated in 1906. In the meantime he also started studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He entered Anatoly Lyadov's harmony class, moving on to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's harmony class and Alexander Glazunov's counterpoint class. His considerable talent in composition soon showed, encouraged especially by his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1908. Fellow student Igor Stravinsky felt disgruntled at the apparent favor of Steinberg by Rimsky-Korsakov over him.[1] Nevertheless, Steinberg named Stravinsky as one of his closest friends when the latter had made a big name in the West, which Stravinsky strongly resented.

In 1908, Steinberg was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church and married Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter Nadezhda. Rimsky-Korsakov died the same year, and Steinberg edited and completed his mentor's monumental treatise, Principles of Orchestration, which was later published in Paris. Steinberg became first a lecturer, then in 1915 Professor of Composition and Orchestration, at the Conservatory, a post his father-in-law had held. His now celebrated Passion Week was completed in 1923, shortly before the Communist Party banned the performance of all sacred music during the Second Soviet Anti-Religious Campaign.

Steinberg held numerous other posts at the Conservatory; among other things, he was, from 1934 to 1939 a deputy director, before he went into retirement in 1946. Steinberg played an important role in Soviet music life as a teacher of composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Galina Ustvolskaya and Yuri Shaporin. He died in 1946 in Leningrad.

Musical style[edit]

Steinberg was considered first as a great hope of Russian music, and was occasionally even more highly esteemed than his student colleague, Igor Stravinsky. He rejected Stravinsky's and other modern styles, usually preferring the style of his teachers and showing the influence of the nationalistic Mighty Handful as well. His composing technique is handled with firm control and brilliant orchestration - these features have been noticed most often about his compositions.

Many of his works use world literature for their subjects. The dictates of socialist realism as they affected music starting in 1932 meant no great changes for him, since his style already was mostly in conformity with what was requested. He tended to select the topics of his programmatic works more often now on national topics, and let himself be influenced more often by musical and literary folklore. As a composer, Steinberg is today little known; it did not help that even at the time he was considered eclectic. More importance is attached to him now as a teacher.


Steinberg's first two symphonies have been recorded by Neeme Järvi for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

Passion Week, Steinberg's 1923 choral work based on Russian Orthodox liturgical texts for Holy Week in Church Slavonic, was given its world premiere in 2014 by the ensemble Cappella Romana in Portland, Oregon.[2] In preparation for the premiere, Cappella Romana's music director, Alexander Lingas, had traveled to St. Petersburg in order to examine Steinberg's manuscripts. His research resulted in a new edition of the previously lost work, published by Musica Russica.[3] This edition was also used for the first ever recording of the work by Cappella Romana. The Clarion Choir also performed the work in New York City later in 2014.[4] They also gave Passion Week its Russian premiere in 2016, with performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg.[5]

Partial list of works[edit]

  • For orchestra
    • Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 3 (1905/06)
    • Symphony No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 8 "In memoriam Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov" (1909)
    • Symphony No. 3, Op. 18 (1928)
    • Symphony No. 4 "Turksib" (1933)
    • Symphony No. 5 "Symphonic Rhapsody on Uzbek Themes" (1942)
    • Variations for Large Orchestra in G major, Op. 2 (1905)
    • Symphonic Prelude "in memoriam Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov", Op. 7 (1908)
    • Fantaisie dramatique, Op.9 (1910)
    • Solemn Overture on Revolutionary Songs from 1905-7 and 1917 (1930)
    • In Armenia, Capriccio (1940)
    • "Forward!", heroic Uzbek Overture (1943)
    • Violin concerto (1946)
  • Stage works
  • Vocal music
    • The Water Nymph, Cantata for Soprano, Women's Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 7 (1907)
    • Heaven and Earth for Voice and Orchestra after Byron (1918)
    • Four Songs with Orchestra after Rabindranath Tagore, Op. 14 (1924)
    • Songs
    • Choruses
    • Passion Week, Op. 13 (1923-1927)
  • Chamber music
    • String Quartet No. 1 in A, Op.5 (1907)
    • String Quartet No. 2, Op. 16 (1925)

The eleventh of Nikolai Myaskovsky's symphonies (Op. 34, in B-flat minor) is dedicated to Steinberg. (See Myaskovsky's opus list[6] which also contains a transcription, dated 1930, by the slightly older composer of Steinberg's third symphony for piano four-hands.)



Further reading[edit]

  • Walsh, Stephen. Stravinsky: A Creative Spring; Russia and France, 1882-1934. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1999. ISBN 0-679-41484-3. Contains many details about the course of the relationship between Stravinsky and Steinberg.
  • Principles of Orchestration at Project Gutenberg (by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, edited by Maximilian Steinberg and translated into English by Edward Agate).

External links[edit]