Pavel Tschesnokoff – or Chesnekov – died of a heart attack, brought on by malnutrition, while standing in a Moscow bread line in Soviet Russia on March 14, 1944 at the age of 66. He was a master composer – over 500 choral works, with 400 of them sacred, quite a feat considering that ‘sacred’ music was outlawed in the atheistic regime of Josef Stalin (see our note on communism’s antipathy to civilisation in a recent post). It is said that Tschesnokoff stopped composing, in grief at the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1933, so that yet-another brutalist skyscraper might be put it its place to house offices for government apparatchiks.
It was never built, but a swimming pool put in instead. A new church of Christ the Saviour, like a phoenix from the ashes, was later built on the site in the early 1990’s, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union.
There is hope – there is always hope.
I just came across this contemporary recording of one of Tschesnokoff’s most famous works by the ineffable choral ensemble Voces8, whom I highly recommend. And this piece – music of the east, to which I don’t listen to often enough, it seems – was so moving, it must just speak for itself. The basso profundo! What need is there of instruments for such music?
As another famous Russian put it, beauty suffering will save the world.
Salvation is born indeed – to suffer, to die, and to rise again.