Did Nikolay Myaskovsky write a ‘Collective Farm’ Symphony or did he not? As with many gnomic utterances of the Soviet era, it depends on who’s doing the talking. Certainly, the composer never explicitly said that he did – all part of the semantic highwire act explored in this insightful, stylish and informative new biography by Patrick Zuk.  


A writer, composer and specialist in Russian and Soviet musical culture, Zuk dispels the more piquant excrescences to have attached themselves to this still under-appreciated Russian composer while revealing plenty that has lain buried in the archives. Even a cursory read should whet the appetite for investigating Myaskovsky’s approachable catalogue of works, headed by his 27 fabulously diverse symphonies.

The problem with finding out anything important about Soviet composers (excepting Shostakovich or Prokofiev whose works and lives seem always to have been of interest in the West) is a lack of untainted information from public sources. Officially, all creative artists who survived to earn governmental approval loved the Motherland, their careers a series of heroic struggles intended to inspire their fellow citizens. In...