Sergey Protopopov


Born: March 21, 1893; Moscow, Russia   Died: December 14, 1954; Moscow, Russia  
Sergey Protopopov was the chief proponent of a compositional strategy devised by Kiev-based theorist Boleslav L. Yavorsky. Published in book form as Structure of Musical Speech in 1908, the technique used modal rhythm as its basis, in combination with the uncertain harmonic pull of the tritone. Modal speech-rhythm, as Protopopov called it, is a close kin to the general style and techniques employed by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin in his Read more late works. Protopopov's approach, especially when applied in low passages, is also clearly informed by the work of Mussorgsky, in particular such pieces as "The Witches' Hut on Fowl's Legs" from Pictures at an Exhibition.

After completing a term in the faculty medical school at Moscow, Protopopov studied under Yavorsky, and took his degree from the Kiev Conservatory in 1921. Protopopov was mainly known as a conductor who worked with various orchestras throughout the U.S.S.R. His diminutive catalogue consists of only 11 works dating from 1917 to 1931. Protopopov's key pieces are the Three Piano Sonatas Opp. 1 (1920 - 1922), and 5-6 (1924 - 1928). The level of pianism required in these works is extreme, to the extent that the scores ask for notes beyond the standard range of the keyboard. Much of Protopopov's piano music is written on three staves, rather than two. Protopopov loved sequences and frequently applied them to single harmonic complexes. As all of these complexes are based on the tritone; this leads to extended passages of suspended harmonic movement. The effect of it is similar to that of advanced heavy metal rock music, a coincidental resemblance that is punched up by Protopopov's tendency to work with short, repetitive rhythmic units over long periods. Protopopov also utilized unbarred measures, birdcall like figures that anticipate the work of Messiaen and even marked one passage in the Third Sonata "dolce, indeterminato."

The rest of Protopopov's known output consists of Russian language songs, mostly on Pushkin texts. A single chorus of folk song arrangements credits Boleslav Yavorsky as co-composer. In 1930, Protopopov presented his ideas at a Soviet conference on the Theory of Modal Rhythm chaired by music commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky, and was favorably received. This allowed for the publication of Protopopov's life's work, a two-volume expansion upon Yavorsky's theories entitled Elements of the Structure of Musical Speech. This theoretical treatise also addresses Protopopov's interest in microtonal music, and Protopopov proposes a 72-pitch scale. However, in 1931 another Soviet music conference was held that declared "Modal speech-rhythm" contrary to the needs of the revolution. His theory discredited, Protopopov seems not to have written another note of music. Protopopov worked on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, departing in 1943. Afterward, little if anything is known of Protopopov's life until notice of his death is given at age 61 in 1954. Read less

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