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Maximilian Steinberg (Composer, Arranger)

Born: July 4, 1883 - Vilnius, Lithuania (then part of Russia)
Died: December 6, 1946 - Leningrad, Russia

The significant Russian composer and pedagogue, Maximilian Osseyevich [Osseievich] Steinberg [Russian: Максимилиан Осеевич Штейнберг], was born into a Jewish family. His father, Osey (Hosea) Steinberg, was a leading Hebraist. In 1901 he went to Saint Petersburg, to study biology at St. Petersburg University. He graduated in 1906 (or 1907 according to Wikipedia). In the meantime he also started studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He entered Anatoly Liadov's harmony class, moving on to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's harmony class and Alexander Glazunov's counterpoint/instrumentation class. His considerable talent in composition soon showed, encouraged especially by his mentor Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1908. Fellow student Igor Stravinsky felt disgruntled at the apparent favour of Steinberg by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov over him. Nevertheless, Steinberg named I. Stravinsky one of his closest friends when the latter had made a big name in the West, a move I. Stravinsky strongly resented.

In this same year 1908 Maximilian Steinberg married Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter Nadezhda, and became first a lecturer, then in 1915 Professor of Composition and Orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He held numerous posts at the conservatory; from 1917 to 1931 he was dean of the faculty of composition, and later was its acting rector from 1934 to 1939, before he went into retirement in 1946. Steinberg played an important role in Soviet music life as a teacher of composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Galina Ustvolskaya and Yuri Shaporin.

Maximilian Steinberg was considered first as a great hope of Russian music, and was occasionally even more highly estimated than his student colleague, I. Stravinsky. He rejected I. Stravinsky's and other modern styles, usually preferring the style of his teachers and showing the influence of the nationalistic Mighty Handful as well. His early compositions reflected the influence of his teachers, but he gradually evolved a personal style distinguished by rhapsodic eloquence with some touches of French Impressionism. His composing technique is handled with firm control and brilliant orchestration - these features have been noticed most often about his compositions.

Many of his works use world literature for their subjects. The dictates of socialist realism as they affected music starting in 1932 meant no great changes for him, since his style already was mostly in conformity with what was requested. He tended to select the topics of his programmatic works more often now on national topics, and let himself be influenced more often by musical and literary folklore. As a composer, Steinberg is today little known; it did not help that even at the time he was considered eclectic. More importance is attached to him now as a teacher. His first two symphonies have been recorded by Neeme Järvi for the company Deutsche Grammophon.


Works (selection)

Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 3 (1907)
Symphony No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 8 "In memoriam
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov" (1909; St. Petersburg, November 27, 1909)
Symphony No. 3, Op. 18 (1928; Leningrad, March 3, 1929, composer conducting)
Symphony No. 4 Turksib (1933; Leningrad, December 2, 1933)
Symphony No. 5 "Symphonic Rhapsody on Uzbek Themes" (1942)
Variations for Large Orchestra in G major, Op. 2 (1905)
Symphonic Prelude "in memoriam Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov", Op. 7 (1908)
Fantaisie dramatique, Op.9 (1910)
Solemn Overture on Revolutionary Songs from 1905-7 and 1917 (1930)
In Armenia, Capriccio (1940; Leningrad, December 24, 1940)
Forward!, heroic Uzbek Overture (1943)
Violin concerto (1946)

Stage works:
Metamorphosen, Ballet after Ovid, Op. 10 (1913; 2nd part performed in Paris, June 2, 1914)
Till Eulenspiegel, Ballet (1936)
Incidental music

The Water Nymph, Cantata for Soprano, Women's Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 7 (1907)
La Princesse Maleine for women's chorus & orchestra (1916)
Heaven and Earth for 6 soloists & orchestra after Byron (1918)
Four Songs with Orchestra after Rabindranath Tagore, Op. 14 (1924)

String Quartet No. 1 (1907)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 16 (1925)
Piano pieces

Arrangements of works by other composers


Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2009)

Maximilian Steinberg: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Maximilian Steinberg (Wikipedia)



A. Rimsky-Korsakov: Maximilian Steinberg (Moscow, 1928)
V. Bogdanov-Berezovsky: Maximilian Steinberg (Moscow, 1947)
Richard Taruskin: Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essay (Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 455-457
Stephen Walsh: Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934 (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1999). Contains many details about the course of the relationship between Stravinsky and Steinberg.

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