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 Cesar Cui

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Cesar Cui

  • Birth 18 Jan 1835 Vilnius, Vilnius City Municipality, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Death 24 Mar 1918 Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia
  • Burial Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia
  • Memorial ID 4353

Composer, Critic, Military Officer. A member of "The Five", a group of Russian composers whose ambition was to create a distinctive musical language derived from their nation's culture. He was their principal spokesman through his activities as a journalist. Cesar Antonovich Cui was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, where his French father, a former soldier in Napoleon's invading army, had settled as a schoolteacher. His mother was a local woman of Polish descent. As a child he had piano lessons and some instruction in music theory, but at age 15 he was sent to St. Petersburg to train as a military engineer. He became an expert in fortifications and taught the subject at military academies for 50 years, gaining frontline experience during the Russo-Turkish War (1877 to 1878) and promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General in 1906. His students included Nicholas II. Music was always a sideline for him, though it assumed greater importance after 1856 through the encouragement of Mily Balakirev and the other future members of "The Five", Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Cui made his debut as a composer with the "Scherzo, Op. 1" for orchestra (1859), and in 1864 he began writing newspaper reviews and essays under the pseudonym "***". His opera "William Ratcliff" (1869) was the first by a member of "The Five" to reach the stage; its immediate success opened the door for Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" (1874) and the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov, and set Borodin on the road to writing "Prince Igor". Cui wrote 14 more operas, among them "The Mandarin's Son" (1878), "Prisoner of the Caucasus" (1883), "Mademoiselle Fifi" (1903), and the fairy tale for children, "Puss in Boots" (1915); none found a place in the permanent repertory. Franz Liszt promoted his instrumental music abroad and in the late 1800s it enjoyed a vogue in France. From 1896 to 1904 he was director of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Music Society; he also won election to the French and Belgian Academies, and was awarded France's Legion of Honor in 1894. Cui was blind for the last two years of his life but he remained productive, dictating articles and small musical pieces. At his death he was the last surviving member of "The Five". Originally buried at St. Petersburg's Smolensk Lutheran Cemetery, he was reinterred at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery's Tikhvin Cemetery in 1939. Cui's association with Russia's nationalist movement is something of an anomaly. He had little if any Russian blood and his music reflected western influences, particularly Schumann, Chopin, Meyerbeer and Auber. His work for the stage and three String Quartets (1890, 1907, 1913) notwithstanding, he was more at home with smaller forms and best revealed his talents in his Russian art songs and piano pieces. In the west he is probably best known for the "Orientale" from the violin-piano suite "Kaleidoscope" (1893), which has been transcribed for several different instruments. Cui the critic was noted for his irreverence (he thought Bach and Mozart were boring) and vitriolic wit. While a strong advocate for new Russian music, he didn't shrink from scolding its creators (including friends) and was hostile to the chief rival of "The Five", Tchaikovsky. His most notorious review was a pan of the original production of "Boris Godunov" that left Mussorgsky crushed. (Despite this Cui remained a Mussorgsky champion and later arranged the first performing version of his unfinished opera "Sorochyntsi Fair"). Age gradually steered him away from his progressive views and he ended up disparaging the music of Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Rachmaninoff. The last thing he wrote was a sarcastic 1917 essay entitled "Concise Directions on How to Become a Modern Composer of Genius without Being a Musician". He also produced an influential book-length study, "Music in Russia" (1880). Cui's other compositions include several orchestral suites and shorter works for chorus.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 12 Jan 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4353
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Cesar Cui (18 Jan 1835–24 Mar 1918), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4353, citing Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia ; Maintained by Find A Grave .