Ivan Vïshnegradsky


Born: May 14, 1893; St. Petersburg, Russia   Died: September 29, 1979; Paris, France  
Ivan Vïshnegradsky was born the son of a St. Petersburg banker and musical aficionado. As a student at the University of St. Petersburg, Vïshnegradsky transferred out of law and philosophy studies to enroll in the music department. Vïshnegradsky studied with instructor Nikolai Sokolov, who introduced Vïshnegradsky to the work of Alexander Scriabin. Shortly after, Vïshnegradsky abandoned the Germanic, post-Romantic idiom familiar to him and Read more followed the example of his Russian forbearer. Vïshnegradsky's earliest acknowledged work, the cantata La journée de l'existence (1916 - 1917, rev. 1927, 1939) betrays the influence of Scriabin influence very strongly, especially in the massive five-octave chord cluster that ends the work.

Just prior to the composition of La journée, Vïshnegradsky experienced a flash of what he called "cosmic consciousness," leading him onto a lifelong investigation of microtonal resources as a means of making tactile mystical, unseen universal forces. In 1918 Vïshnegradsky tuned the two pianos in his family home a quartertone apart and placed them in a "L" shape so he could play them both. The use of re-tuned multiple pianos as a means of playing in microtones became a standard for Vïshnegradsky; in some instances he adds singers in order to provide for lyric settings, often chosen from the work of his philosophical idol, Friedrich Nietzsche.

In 1922, Vïshnegradsky realized the situation in Russia was too volatile for him, so he emigrated to Paris, where he would live the rest of his life. Vïshnegradsky made several attempts to have microtonal instruments built in the 1920s. Vïshnegradsky's joint venture with Pleyel to build a quartertone piano failed to result in an instrument, as did another with composer Alois Hába. In 1924, Vïshnegradsky had a quartertone harmonium built, and finally in 1929 piano maker Adolf Förster constructed a three-manual quartertone piano for him. Vïshnegradsky's efforts to score microtonal music for strings in the early 1920s led to unhappy results, as the string players could not adjust to the special notational figures Vïshnegradsky devised for his scores.

From that time, Vïshnegradsky was pursued of his concept of "ultra-chromaticism" and developed microtonal scales consisting of up to 72 notes. As his musical theory was inextricably bound up with new-agey spiritual and cosmic ideas, few took Vïshnegradsky's investigations in microtonality seriously, and he found it difficult to find publishers willing to handle his treatises. It wasn't until 1937 at the Salle Chopin-Pleyel that Vïshnegradsky was able to mount a comprehensive concert of his works. The notion of Vïshnegradsky as a practitioner of musical quackery was confirmed for many during World War II, when the composer suffered a complete nervous breakdown and was placed in a sanatorium.

One musician who did take Vïshnegradsky seriously was French composer Olivier Messiaen. Upon Vïshnegradsky's release from the sanatorium in 1950, Messiaen encouraged the older composer to work anew, and Vïshnegradsky complied with a number of works combining the microtonal pianos with an electronic device, the Ondes Martenot, an instrument played expertly by Messiaen's wife, Yvonne Loriod. In 1959, Vïshnegradsky composed an orchestral symphony in quartertones. In 1960, a large choral work followed L'eternel etranger for four pianos, percussion, soloists, and mixed choir. Vïshnegradsky was largely inactive in the final two decades of his life, yet near the end of it he was re-discovered. In 1978, the world premiere of his first work, La journée de l'existence, was held, and Vïshnegradsky was invited to lecture in conjunction with this event. He also was awarded his first and only, public commission for a String Trio, Op. 53, and completed just days before his death at the age of 84. Read less

Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $0.0/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming
Already a subscriber? Sign In