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Chesnokov, Pavel

Category: Musician or composer


Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov (Russian: Павел Григорьевич Чесноков) (24 October 1877, Voskresensk, Zvenigorod uyezd, Moscow Governorate – 14 March 1944, Moscow), also transliterated Tschesnokoff, Tchesnokov, Tchesnokoff, and Chesnokoff, was an Imperial Russian and Soviet composer, choral conductor and teacher.

He composed over five hundred choral works, over four hundred of which are sacred.

Before communism

Chesnokov was born in Vladimir, near Moscow on 24 October 1877. While attending the Moscow Conservatory, he received extensive training in both instrumental and vocal music including nine years of solfege, and seven years training for both the piano and violin. His studies in composition included four years of harmony, counterpoint, and form.

During his years at the school, he had the opportunity to study with prominent Russian composers like Sergei Taneyev and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, who greatly influence his style of liturgy-driven, choral composition.


At an early age, Chesnokov gained recognition as a great conductor and choirmaster while leading many groups including the Russian Choral Society Choir.

 This reputation earned him a position on staff at the Moscow Conservatory where great composers and music scholars like Tchaikovsky shared their skills and musical insight. There he founded a choral conducting program, which he taught from 1920 until his death.

By the age of 30, Chesnokov had completed nearly four hundred sacred choral works

After communism

Chesnokov’s music stemmed from belief, a deep spiritual belief in all that was transcendent, and his music reflects this.  But Communism and socialism are materialistic creeds and his proliferation of church music came to a standstill at the time of the Russian revolution.

Under communist rule, no one was permitted to produce any form of sacred art – no music, no sacred architecture, no sacred painting, no sacred sculpture, or literature, no sacred poetry – and of course the world turned into a desert, a rank weed strewn desert of cultural sand.

In the Soviet communist era religion was entirely suppressed, as were any forms or displays of spiritualism.  Transcendent beliefs require the belief in powers greater than those of man, and socialism and communism allow no such beliefs – man is god, the leader is the god – and so we saw the rise of Stalin.  Between 1934 and 1939, Stalin organised the "Great Purge", in which millions of so-called "enemies of the working class", including senior political and military figures, artists, and other cultural figures - writers and musicians were interned in Gulag-run prisons, exiled or executed, often without due process.


In response, Chesnokov tried to adapt by composing secular works, of which he wrote about a 100, and conducted secular choirs like the Moscow Academy Choir and the Bolshoi Theatre Choir.  And then the final heart breaking event - the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, whose last choirmaster had been Chesnokov, was destroyed.

This disturbed him so deeply that he stopped writing music altogether.

Broken hearted, he died on 14 March 1944.

Ascension to the great choral works in heaven.


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