Cesar Cui was a Russian composer and a music critic who was of French and Lithuanian descent. In the 19th century, he was a member of ‘The Five’, who were a famous nationalist group of Russian composers. This group flourished under the leadership of Mily Balakirev and the group typically composed Russian brand music. Similar to most of the other composers, Cui too, nurtured a parallel career apart from music. He was an engineer and a military officer. In the later stages of his career, it was Mily Balakirev, who helped him recognize his musical talents following which, Cesar decided to pursue his musical career seriously. With his copious avocations in music, compositions and journalism, Cesar contributed to orchestral music, choral music, chamber music, art songs and numerous works on piano music. This composer left his imprints in music and military fortifications and was undoubtedly a man of versatile talents. Scroll further for more information on the profile of Cesar Antonovitch Cui.
Cesar Cui was born on January 18, 1835 to a Roman Catholic family in Vilnius. He was the fifth and the youngest among his siblings. His father, Antoine, worked as a member of the Napoleon Army in 1812 in Russia. Antoine was married to Julia Gucewicz, a Russian local. Hence, this multi-ethnic background provided Cesar an opportunity to learn French, Russia, Polish and Lithuanian.
Cesar was taught how to play the piano in his childhood and was given instructions on music theory. In 1850, Cesar was sent to Saint Petersburg to prepare for the Chief Engineering School when he would turn 16. Later, in 1855, he graduated from the Engineering Academy and pursued advanced studies at the Nikolaevsky Engineering Academy, now referred to as Military Engineering - Technical University. He served the military in 1857 as an instructor in fortifications. His pupils comprised of the members from the Imperial family, particularly, the renowned, Nicolas II.
Realization Of Musical Talents
In 1857, when Cesar met Mily Balakirev, he realized his connection with music and hence, became a member of ‘The Five’. Gradually, Cesar ended his career as a teacher at the three military colleges in Saint Petersburg. Cesar’s study of fortifications helped him prosper during the Russo-Turkish War which took place between 1877- 1878. This point became significant for him later in his career. Cesar Cui was regarded an expert in military fortifications, which was the reason behind attaining the status of professor in 1880. Later, in 1906, he was recognized with the military rank of General as well. Cesar used his spare time to compose music and musical criticism. Thus, he turned as a prolific writer and composer.
Though Cesar contributed much in the field of military academics, he had gathered fame in the West for his musical works. The seriousness of considering music as a career began in the year 1857, when Cesar met Mily Balakirev and became a disciple of the Russian nationalist beliefs. His first operetta in 1859, ‘The Mandarin’s Son, was an early and jaded effort. Cui was awarded the ‘Imperial Russian Music Society’ in the year 1860 for a combination of chorus and orchestral works.
Cesar’s first public performance took place in 1869 but unfortunately it failed to gather success even after he gave eight performances. The reason to this could be stated as the harshness of his writings about music in the media. Also, the inclusion in the opera selection committee at the Marinsky Theatre was significant in his life and the stint came to an end in 1883. This is when both Cesar and Rimsky-Korsakov exited from the committee as a means of protest to the rejection of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. During 1896 – 1904, Cesar Cui was accorded the position of director of the Petersburg branch of the Russian Musical Society. Cesar also gathered praise for his works from Franz Liszt.
During the long and active life of Cesar Cui, he compiled all his musical works and was slowly being accepted by the musical society. After ‘Le Flibustier’ was staged in Paris, Cesar was elected as a correspondent member of the Academie Francaise and was honored with the cross of the ‘Legion d’honneur’. Cesar was also a member of the Belgium Royal Academy of Literature and Arts in 1896. The composer went completely blind in the year 1916, after which he composed his works through dictation.
Personal Life & Death
Cesar Cui married Mal'vina Rafailovna Bamberg in 1858. He met her at Alexander Dargomyzhsky’s house where she was taking musical lessons. The couple had two children Lidiya and Aleksandr.
Cesar Cui passed away on 13 March, 1918 because of cerebral apoplexy and was buried beside his wife Mal’vina who died in 1899. He was buried at the Lutheran Cemetery in Smolensk. His body was reinterred in the year 1939 in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg, Russia, so as to place him beside the other members of ‘The Five’.
- Orchestral, Scherzo for orchestra 1857 (Dedicated to his wife)
- Opera, The Caucasian Prisoner 1858
- Tarantella 1859
- Opera, The Mandarin's Song 1859 (Dedicated to his wife)
- Opera, William Ratcliffe 1869
- Opera, Angelo 1875-6
- Suite Concertante, for violin and orchestra 1883
- Orchestral, Deux Morceaux, for cello and orchestra, 1886
- Opera, Le Filibuster 1888-9
- Opera, The Saracen 1899
- Opera, Feast in Time of Plague 1901
- Opera, Matteo Falcone 1907
- Opera, The Captain's Daughter 1911
- Opera, Little Red Riding Hood 1911
- Opera, Ivan the Fool 1913
- Opera, Puss-in-Boots (from Perrault) 1915