The composer who had to die before anyone paid attention

The composer who had to die before anyone paid attention

Album Of The Week

norman lebrecht

August 27, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Nikolai Kapustin had to die before the world took note of his music. A love of jazz left him scratching a living in Moscow as house pianist for the radio orchestra, playing everyone else’s music but his own….

(Now he’s in the New York Times).

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.


  • zeno north says:

    With 2 albums of his music by Marc-Andre Hamelin and one by Steven Osborne, his music wasn’t exactly ignored. A younger generation of pianists has been playing Kapustin’s music for at least a decade.

    • Phillip Sear says:

      I agree with that – Kapustin has been very fashionable in piano competition free repertoire for a long time, and there was a Kapustin society in England before 2002 (and also a very active one in Japan). I think the best example of a modern composer who has only achieved real international fame after his death is Astor Piazolla – whom I had never heard of when I read his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, but is now one of the most-performed 20th century composers.

      • Minnesota says:

        Piazzola was not played as much by others before he died, which I did not understand. Performances now miss something from the originals. Piazzola and his New Tango Sextet performed with great success in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center and later at the Univ. of Minnesota years ago. The shows were incredibly intense and exciting, and afterward I and many others left rather stunned.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    The way the headline is phrased it is as if the entire notion of a composer only getting attention after their death is a new and strange one. I’m reminded of Max Reger’s quip during a beer-and-sausage lunch with some of his pupils that composers, like pigs, are best appreciated after their death.

    But I do agree that the Soviet system created more than its fair share of composers who were more or less officially “not composers” by decree. Another example, perhaps even less paid attention to than Kapustin, is Dmitri Klebanov (1907-1987).

    • Monty Earleman says:

      I’m reminded of the quip that the best thing about Reger is that his name works in palindrome…..

    • Peter Owen says:

      Thanks for the introduction to Klebanov, a name new to me. I’ve just listened to his first symphony and it’s very impressive indeed.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But it’s understandable – it is the result of the canon, with its dead composers, resulting in the idea that a living composer can’t be any good.

    And some composers are born posthumously.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Kapustin’s own CDs of his music, and CDs by Steven Osborne and Marc-Andre Hamelin for Hyperion, make a good case for his music and are highly enjoyable.

  • mel says:

    I disagree. Lots of people were fans of Kapustin and played his material. It’s the record labels that sat and waited. I’ve talked to enough pianists who have recorded Kapustin stuff over the past decade — way before his passing. Sadly I think record companies have all decided to take advantage of the situation…

  • HugoPreuss says:

    Speak for yourself. In Germany he was reasonably well known. I remember listening to several radio features that centered on his life and music. While he was still alive…