Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) was a contemporary of the notorious "Russian Five", composers Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Cui. However unlike them, he was loved by the Soviet government and he enjoyed a tenured position at a major conservatory where he developed music education programs for children, composing much of the curriculum himself. While his contemporaries were struggling with persecution, he won award after award for his music and teaching programs.
But Kabalevsky did not limit himself to creating a teaching repertoire. He composed music in every genre: symphonies, orchestral music, film music, concerti, ballet, chamber music, vocal music. Vladimir Horowitz recorded virtually all of Kabalevsky's major piano works. In recent years his works have been largely forgotten which is unfortunate.
During the pandemic I have been working on his Piano Sonata No. 3 in F. It was written in 1946, after the end of World War II. Russia had been devastated by the war with millions of lives lost leaving an impoverished nation. This sonata is Kabalevsky's deeply personal response.
The sonata is in 3 movements, each of which is in sonata form which Kabalevsky uses to aptly reference the before, during, and after the war by aligning them with exposition, development and recapitulation sections. Each movement opens with beautiful and lyrical melodic themes, each describing an aspect of normal life in the "before" times: adventurous, romantic, pastoral. In the following development sections, where the main thematic material would normally be broken down, varied, and explored in different ways by the composer, Kabalevsky changes that format. His development sections are chaotic, sometimes violent, and have nothing to do with the original themes. While not exactly programmatic, the listener can hear suggestions of marching, gunfire, bombs, in these sections.
With the recapitulations, the main themes return. This is where Kabalevsky develops them. They are still lyrical, but he somehow makes them more wistful and nostalgic. Yes the horrible stuff is over and things are sort of back to normal, but nothing will ever be exactly the same again. Somewhat analogous to our pandemic times? At least that is what it means to me.
Listen to the fabulous Vladimir Horowitz play this sonata and let me know what you think!