Alexander Lokshin – an outstanding Russian composer – died on
June 11, 1987. 11 symphonies (based on the poems by Pushkin, Blok, Camoes,
Kipling, Shakespeare, Zabolotsky, Martynov, Greek epigrams, Japanese poems
of the VII-XII centuries); Margaret - a one-act opera on the verse by Pasternak
(Three Scenes from Goethe's Faust); Mater Dolorosa – a cantata for female
voice, mixed choir, and symphony orchestra (on the texts of Russian Orthodox
service for the repose of souls and the poem by Anna Akhmatova); Sonata
for violin and piano (first performed by M. Yudina and R. Dubinsky); Quintet
for clarinet and string instruments; Hungarian Fantasy for violin and orchestra
– this is but an incomplete list of Alexander Lokshin’s heritage. Nothing
much, as it may seem. But the point is that all these compositions are
like precious diamonds, and every one of them betters another. Each piece
is born by the author through suffering, and each is brought to perfection.
Nothing superfluous, no reiterations. Everything is subjected to the logic
of unity between the form and the contents, between music and word.
We are prompted to speak of the synthesis of poetry
and music, since the vocal-symphonic genre was the most important in Lokshin’s
creative work. It was there that the composer’s talent was most strikingly
revealed. In his music one can hear the passionate voice of an artist who
acutely reacts to the world around him, and keenly reflects the lyricism
of the soul's minute sensations. His compositions present astonishing examples
of precision and brevity. He was able to create a colourful picture, a
scene, sometimes a whole drama within a single short phrase or even a bar.
This manifests itself with an incredible strength in the 7th Symphony based
on Japanese poems of the VII-XII centuries. The music is like a very concentrated
extract - it affords the ultimate expression of the originality of Japanese
five-line stanzas. Like the verse, in spite of the sparing use of artistic
devices, it possesses immense graphic capacity, contains artful allusions,
and fascinating reticence, very much characteristic of the Japanese art.
While listening to Lokshin's vocal symphonies, one
catches oneself at a thought of the music being written at the same time
as the verse, since it goes so well with the words. Lokshin was very selective
as regards the texts he chose. Being an expert in poetry, with a phenomenal
memory and encyclopedic knowledge, he succeeded in picking up poems which
could touch upon the innermost depths of human hearts, or the so called eternal
subjects – love, life and death, good and evil.
It is quite obvious, that the philosophy and the music
of Gustav Mahler had a great influence on Lokshin's creative quest. But no
examples of reckless imitation can be found in his work. Lokshin developed
an inimitable and original style of his own.
Lokshin was a man of unusual modesty. He had very little
needs, and never rested. He worked, and worked, and worked. Most often without
a hope to hear his creations perform. He wrote, so to say, "into the drawer".
As we know, it was not only in the gloomy period of reaction associated with
Zhdanov, that we had to struggle to get the music of some outstanding composers
of the XX century performed. We very well remember the newly appointed Minister
of Culture, Lebedyev speaking to a Conservatoire meeting after the Central
Committee Decree of 1948: "All sorts of Madlers and Handemits (the spelling
reflects the way the names were pronounced by a minister of culture! – R.B.)
determined the direction the development of Soviet music should take on."
It was simply dangerous to think about performing Mahler’s music. But in
the period of Khruschevian "thaw", as well as many years later it was still
a matter of struggle to bring the music of such composers as Stravinsky,
Hindemith, or Schonberg to the limelight. It’s a well-known fact that the
4th Symphony, one of the most impressive works by Shostakovich, awaited its
first performance for 30 years. (The symphony was listed among the most dangerous
works, banned from public performance.)
…My personal contacts with such people as Shostakovich
and Lokshin was a great source of enjoyment for me. Now they are not alive
any more. Not so long time ago Lokshin wrote to me:
"…In all other respects my life resembles that of a plant. Everything that
made the joy of our companionship has vanished, and there remains but a
Alexander Lokshin was born in 1920 in Biysk, in Siberia.
His music was first performed by Evgeny Mravinsky, with his Leningrad orchestra,
which was based in Novosibirsk during the war. Locals of the city recall
I.Sollertinsky saying in his introductory speech to the concert: "To day we
are about to witness the first performance of a composition by a young composer
Alexander Lokshin, and I am sure, the day will go down in the history of
Lokshin graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire as
a student of N.Myaskovsky’s class. His course work was the oratorio Les
Fleurs du mal on the verses by Baudelaire. The young author went under fierce
criticism on the part of [Communist] party officials. The newspapers wrote:
"How could a young man, brought up in the Soviet era, turn to such a decadent
subject, as the poetry of Baudelaire?" And the young man was expelled from
the Conservatoire. N.Myaskovsky put much effort to get him readmitted. I
have seen the note Myaskovsky wrote to Lokshin: "Yesterday I spoke to the
party bureau secretary A.Semyonov. What kind of relationships do you have
with the organization this professor is in charge of?"
Lokshin belongs to the category of composers, who do
not concern themselves with sound play, or as we say, "the pure art". For
one thing his music is rich in psychological connotations. Hence the recourse
to poetry. Ten out of the eleven symphonies which constitute Lokshin’s legacy,
are based on various texts. The problem was, that the authorities did not
like the texts, in spite of the fact that among the authors were Shakespeare,
Pushkin, Kipling, Blok…
So, let’s see about the authors. Kipling [was branded
as] "an ideologist of imperialism". Lokshin’s 3rd Symphony for baritone,
male choir, and symphony orchestra was to be performed in Mosow in the
1970’s. A week before the concert the Artistic Director of Moscow Philharmonic
[Society] phoned me and said the performance of the composition was canceled
for ideological reasons. Appealing to the musical sensibilities of the Artistic
Director I pledged he listened to the symphony, played by the composer himself
on the grand piano. So the two of us went to A. Lokshin’s place. To do honour
to my boss I must say, that he was greatly impressed by the symphony. He realized
it was an important event in the musical life. But still there were ideological
- "I have a suggestion for you," said the dignitary. "Let’s
order a new translation of the poem to a Soviet author – name who ever you
wish, and let’s forget about Kipling. But there will be two conditions: it
shall be Vietnam instead of India, and Americans instead of British soldiers.
Then I guarantee you the Lenin prize."
- "I knew you would find an insurmountable obstacle," Lokshin’s
The First Symphony, Requiem, composed in 1957, was
based on the canonical Latin text. There is nothing unusual about using
a Latin text in itself. Both Mozart’s Requim, and Messa Solemnis by Beethoven,
as well as a great many other pieces of the kind are based on Latin texts.
But the Soviet composer went to great pains with his creation. "You know,
Shura, we are on rather formal terms with the Deity," the composer was told
by a secretary of the Composers Union, who gave him an advice similar to
the one the Philharmonic Society boss had given about Kipling: "Change the
text and everything will be all right." D. Shostakovich used to tell Lokshin
at that time: "In any circumstances, don't give up." Some thirty years have
passed since, but to this day the composition has not been performed in Russia.
The Fifth Symphony (Shakespeare's Sonnets translated
by Pasternak) passed the censorial examination relatively easily. The censor
harshly asked about the 66th Sonnet (Tired with all these for restful death
-"Did you mean to drop a hint?"
-"No," Lokshin replied modestly. "Firstly, it was in the
old times, 300 years ago. Secondly, it was in England."
-"So long as it is England", said the censor, "it will
So, the symphony was published in the composer's homeland,
and appeared on records. Lokshin also had luck with the Seventh Symphony
based on Japanese poems. The Lays of Margaret – a scene from Goethe's Faust
translated by Pasternak, and the Tenth Symphony based on the poems by Zabolotsky,
were recorded as well. The recordings were made by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra,
with its soloists: Lyudmila Sokolenko, Nina Grigoryeva, Yan Kratov, and the
Conservatoire Students Choir.
The fate of the Sixth Symphony was in many respects
similar to that of the Third Symphony. Again the performance date was set.
The soloist and the choir had learned their parts. But a few days before
the first rehearsal the head of the choir was summoned by high-ranking party
authority and subjected to a rebuke. The formidable bureaucrat shouted that
he was out of his mind, making the choristers sing the "terrible poems".
In fact, the poems belonged to Alexander Blok (To a Muse, A voice in the
Choir, and others).
The only symphony by Lokshin which met no hazards was
the Fourth Symphony - for the simple reason of being written without words.
This symphony and the Fifth one were often performed in England by the BBC
Orchestra and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and they were a great success.
The vocal party in the Fifth Symphony was beautifully performed by a Covent
Garden singer Thomas Allen. I conducted the orchestra. Also in London the
BBC Orchestra conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky very successfully performed
the Third Symphony.
Among the works of the later period the cantata Mater
Dolorosa ought to be mentioned. Four poems from the Requiem by Anna Akhmatova
and the texts of Russian Orthodox service for the repose of souls were used
in it. It's a requiem in the commemoration of everyone, whose life was turned
into a torment. At present one can hardly expect this composition to
be performed in Russia (but then, where else?). But we must hope that the
time for this, as well as other of Lokshin's brilliant works is still to
come, and the audience in Russia will honour the memory of her outstanding