Despite Stalin's clampdown on "formalist" modern music around 1930, the Leningrad Conservatory (now the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Petrograd) remained an exciting place to study in the 1930s. Among its most promising students was pianist and composer Boris Goltz, a poor kid from Tashkent who had helped earned his family's keep from the age of 15 through playing piano in silent movie houses. Born in 1913, by the age of 22 Goltz was a published composer and soon would complete his exams through the public performance of his own piano concerto. Goltz was working on his first symphony when, on June 22, 1941, Germany nullified the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact through invading Russia. Goltz put down his pen and picked up a rifle. He could have been evacuated from the city to Central Asia like most of his fellow students, but instead he fell, on March 3, 1942, while fighting during the 29-month long Siege of Leningrad, a protracted standoff that resulted in 1,500,000 civilian casualties.
That we know of Goltz at all is due to one of his classmates from the Leningrad Conservatory, legendary pianist Vladimir Sofronitsky, who made recordings of Goltz' music in about 1938. In modern times, pianist Sergei Podobedov has taken up the cause of Goltz, working with what remains of Goltz' oeuvre, which isn't much -- the piano concerto has disappeared, apparently for good, and what is left is heard on Music & Arts' Boris Goltz: Complete Works for Solo Piano: Goltz' Scherzo in E minor and his set of 24 Preludes, Op. 2. The Preludes date from 1934-35, and the Scherzo from anywhere between 1934 and 1940. In a general sense, Goltz can be seen as an extension of the post-romantic tradition exemplified by Rachmaninoff and Medtner, though in the specifics there are plenty of connections to contemporary trends. Scriabin, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich all figure in the mix, and Goltz seems to have been aware of the then lately discredited theory of modal rhythm of Boleslav Yavorsky. All of these influences wind their way through this music, and as "preludes" these tiny movements are only tangentially so; really they are character pieces and genre studies of various kinds. Often Goltz skillfully weaves one genre into another, and as genre itself is a kind of contract between the creator and listener, Goltz clearly wrote these highly evocative miniatures knowing that their clashes of content would evoke certain responses from his auditors. Most of us are not equipped at hand with the set of conditions that a Soviet listener in 1935 would have had, but nevertheless, "evocative" these little pieces are. It's a pity that Goltz did not live to create more than just the 24 of them, but in a way, all are crystalline and perfect.
Podebedov's, and Music & Arts', advocacy of Goltz is admirable; it is the least that posterity can do for a talented composer who gave up everything in order to defend against the Nazi invasion. And though they tried for two and a half years, the Nazis never did manage to enter Leningrad.
Sergei Podobedov, piano
Goltz: Scherzo in E minor
Goltz: Prelude No. 12, Allegretto
Goltz: Prelude No. 22, Lento
Goltz: Prelude No. 6, Prestissimo - meno mosso