Alexander Chesnokov (1880-1941)
CHESNOKOV, Alexander Grigor'yevich (born 1880, near Voskresensk, Moscow region; d. 1941, Paris, France). The son of a choir director and younger brother of Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), Alexander Chesnokov received his early musical training as a chorister in the Moscow Synodal Choir and School, from which he graduated in 1898. When the Director of the Synodal School, Stepan Smolensky, in 1901 moved to St. Petersburg to assume leadership of the Imperial Court Chapel, he invited Alexander Chesnokov to accompany him and to continue his education at the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in theory and composition. In 1906, he completed the Conservatory and, while continuing to serve at the Imperial Cappella, he was appointed full professor at the Conservatory.
In 1921, following the Bolshevik Revolution, Chesnokov was abruptly dismissed from both his positions at the Cappella (which had been turned into a secular institution) and the Conservatory, which made it impossible for him to earn a living in his profession. Because of this, he was compelled to emigrate from Russia in 1923, leaving his wife and two daughters behind in St. Petersburg (renamed Petrograd). After living briefly in Prague, where he conducted the Russian Choir that had been established by Alexander Archangelsky, he settled in a suburb of Paris, where he taught at the Russian Conservatory and the St. Serge Orthodox Theological Institute, but was forced to supplement his meager income by making music-hall arrangements under a pseudonym and doing various other odd musical jobs. He is buried at the Russian Orthodox cemetery at Ste Geneviève-des-Bois, near Paris.
As a composer of sacred choral music, Alexander Chesnokov first attracted notice in 1899 with his setting of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, op. 8. At least six more shorter sacred works were published by P. Jurgenson of Moscow. Numerous other sacred works remain in manuscript, including portions of an All-Night Vigil, dated 1927, and a Requiem on the Mystery of Death, dated 1929. Besides writing choral music, he distinguished himself as a composer of several operas (including two children's operas), as well as numerous orchestral, chamber, and solo instrumental works. His musical archive was donated to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts by his widow, Galina Tchesnokova; the collection contains numerous scores of choral and instrumental music, as well as an original manuscript of a book titled "A Theory of Sound-Colour Synaesthetics."
(Biographical information about Alexander Chesnokov remains scarce. The above data was taken largely from the "Guide to the Alexander Chesnokov Papers, 1899-1962" Job 06-2, Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York, New York, as cited in Pavel Chesnokov, The Choir and How to Direct It, Translated from the Russian by John C. Rommereim [Musica Russica, 2010].)