String Quartet No.1
Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944) is one of the most important figures and a pioneer in the Russian modernist music movement, which became known as Russian Futurism. When you hear this work, and consider that it was composed during 1912-13, you cannot help but be amazed.
Roslavets had a traditional enough musical education. He came somewhat late (1902) to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied violin and composition, the latter with Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, no modernist to be sure, among others. Surprisingly, it took him 10 years to graduate (1912). But already by 1910, he was attracting the attention of Russian Futurist painters and writers. Influenced by the later works of Alexander Scriabin, Roslavets sought a new means of expression. Hard to believe but as early as 1907, he created what he called "a new system of sound organization" which was arrived at independently from and before Schoenberg's twelve-tone serialism. It does have several similarities and this led to Roslavets being referred to, as early as 1912, as "the Russian Schoenberg." However, Nikolai Myaskovsky and several other Russian composers, none of whom were modernists, pointed out the original nature of Roslavets' style, which owed nothing to Schoenberg. During the heady days after the Russian Revolution, Roslavets became one of the leading Soviet composers of the New Music Movement and one of its strongest advocates. But after Stalin's rise to power, his music was banned and he was considered an enemy of the State.
Roslavets "new system of sound organization" for the most part consists of chords of six to nine tones. In the 1920s Roslavets developed his system further, expanding it to encompass counterpoint, rhythm, and musical form while elaborating new principles of teaching. Even in Roslavets' earlier works, those principles were already in use side by side with expanded tonality and free atonality. One finds them in his works as early as 1913. His String Quartet No.1, composed in that year, provides an excellent example of this. Although the work is in one movement, there are eight sections within it which comprise the whole. Mood and tempi vary from mysterious to dramatic and from slow to fast and back again. (Our soundbites present three of these)
This is an historically important and extraordinary work, certainly ahead of its time and highly modern with its use traditional tonality pushed to its very limits.