Valery Zhelobinsky - Composer Biography

Valery Viktorovich  Zhelobinsky (Bалерий Bикторович Желобинский, sometimes transcribed to English as Zhelobinski/Zhelobinskii/Jelobinsky), was a Soviet composer born in the city of Tambov. Conflicting birth dates have been found online: It has been variously listed as March 12th, 1912, January 27th, 1913, and November 9th, 1913. His date of death, August 13th, 1946, seems to be better agreed upon by most sources, putting him somewhere between the ages of 32-34 at his death.

Zhelobinsky's compositional talent was evident at a very young age. By 1922, he had begun to study composition in Tambov under local composer Grigory Smetanin (Сметанин Александрович), and by 1928 had moved to Leningrad where he studied piano performance and composition under Vladimir Shcherbachev (Владимир Щербачёв). His first opera, Kamarinsky Muzhik, Op. 18, saw its premiere in 1933 while the composer was a mere 20 years old. It was well received, and saw dozens of performances following its premiere.

The following years saw what appeared to be the start of a promising career. His Six Short Etudes Op. 19 saw publication in the west, and were even included in concert performances by Horowitz between 1940-1941. His 24 Preludes Op. 20, despite a relatively limited print-run, saw performance throughout the Soviet Union. His compositional output remained high, writing a number of diverse works across many genres, such as several piano concerti, his third symphony, the Opera Name Day, Op. 22, and an Opera entitled Mother, Op. 31, based on the revolutionary novel of the same name by Maxim Gorky. This was the first example of one of Gorky's works being adapted to an operatic setting. His Romantic Poem for Violin and Orchestra saw performance on November 21st, 1939, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Yevgeny Mravinsky, the same night and performance that Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony was premiered. In later years, Shostakovich would petition for Zhelobinsky's name to be included in a list of 100 great Soviet composers, claiming that having died at such a young age, he was robbed of his chance to fully develop as an artist and composer. Zhelobinsky also continued to perform as a pianist, showcasing his own works as well as the repertoire of other composers (there is a reference to a warmly received performance of Prokofiev's Second Piano Sonata in D Minor in a local newspaper).

Following the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Zhelobinsky initially decided to remain in Leningrad during the blockade. During this time, his fourth and fifth symphonies were written and produced, his fifth being specifically referenced as a "Symphony of Leningrad" (the symphony was described with the adjective "Leningradskaya" in a local newspaper review at the time), and both were well received and reviewed warmly by the local press. In 1942, he returned to his hometown of Tambov, where he accepted a position teaching at the local conservatory and became the head of the local Tambov branch of the Soviet Composers Union. There are un-sourced references online to his health first beginning to decline around this time, owing to the time he spent in Leningrad during the blockade. Due to the paucity of information actually concerning his death, this may be more speculation than anything else.

There are indications online that his sixth and final symphony, which he began work on in 1945 remained unfinished by the time of his death in 1946. The accuracy of this statement, and the extent to which the material was finished remains to be seen as the score is not readily accessible to the general public. The majority of Zhelobinsky's manuscripts and as-of-yet unpublished compositions are in the possession of the Russian State Archives in St. Petersburg, though a few (such as the score to his third Symphony, as well as the two-piano arrangement) are retained in Moscow. A number of works are listed within their catalog online which have not seen any sort of publication, such as his piano sonata, the scores to his symphonies, concertante works, and his operatic compositions.

Upon his death in August of 1946, Zhelobinsky's music unfortunately faded into almost immediate obscurity. Very few new publications of any of his scores took place, save for a few compilation books of Russian/Soviet composers, where publishers might throw in a few small previously published pieces. Very few works have seen any sort of professional recording, surprisingly none of the symphonies have seen performance or publication, nor have the piano concertos or any other concertante or orchestral works. Considering his relatively large output (over 45 registered opus numbers, multiple compositions without opus number, many of which were large scale works, and that was all by age 33!) it is a bit surprising to see the degree to which his music has disappeared. And therein lies the purpose of this website - to find as much of this music as possible and present it in a free, open forum, to encourage musicians across the globe to take on the task of learning, performing, recording, and in general spreading the music of Zhelobinsky to those around them. His is a name which does not deserve such anonymity, having dedicated his short life to creating this music, it deserves to be known, to be heard, at minimum to be accessible. Hopefully, this website can help to achieve such aspirations, to some degree.