Cello Sonata No.2 in a minor, Op.81
Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) was born in Congress (i.e. Russian) Poland near Warsaw, where his father, a military engineer was then serving. He took piano and violin lessons as a boy but followed in his father's footsteps, entering the military academy and graduating as an engineer. When he was posted to Moscow, he studied composition with Reinhold Gliere. Upon transfer to St. Petersburg, he finally decided to become a composer and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. It was there he met Prokofiev with whom he became close friends. He served in WWI and was severely wounded on the Austrian front. After the war, he taught for most of his life at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his many students were Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Shebalin and Shchedrin. He wrote in virtually every genre leaving some 27 symphonies and 13 string quartets, along with numerous instrumental sonatas. Myaskovsky has to be one of the most underrated composers of the 20th century. Most who come to his music for the first time are amazed that it is not better known.
Myaskovsky’s Second Cello Sonata was written in 1948 shortly after in direct response to the famous Resolution on Music issued by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and leveled specifically at Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Khachaturian. The issue was "formalism;' which Soviet musical dictionaries define as "the artificial separation of form from content to the detriment of content. This boils down to a matter of elitist complexity vs. democratic accessibility. One is hard pressed to understand the extreme simplification of style that took place in the late forties not only in Miaskovsky's music but also in that of the other composers who had come under fire. The piece that got Miaskovsky out of trouble was the present sonata. It is of a studied simplicity indeed, and a no less studied return to the traditional values of Russian music, as the Party defined them. There are folk-like themes, modeled in the first movement on modal peasant songs, and in the last on the typical moto perpetuo of instrumental dance tunes. There is also diatonic purity of harmony.
Here is another master sonata which no cellist should miss.