Nikolay Golovanov

Nikolai Golovanov — a conductor, choirmaster and composer, People’s Artist of the USSR and Honored Artist of the RSFSR. He was four-time Stalin Prize winner: in 1946 — for concerts and performances, in 1949— for performance of Boris Godunov opera by M. Mussorgsky, in 1950 — for performance of Sadko opera by N. Rimsky-Korsakov, in 1951— for performance of Khovanshchina opera by M. Mussorgsky. N. Golovanov was also awarded the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner of Labor, Medal “For the Defense of Moscow” and Medal “For Valiant Labor in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945”. Nikolai Golovanov was born on 9 (21) January 1891 in Moscow. Upon graduating from the Synodal School in 1909, he was appointed as Assistant Precentor of the Synodal Choir and a teacher at the Synodal School. Then Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia invited him to the position of the Precentor at Marfo-Mariinsky Convent’s Choir.

«The Synodal School has taught me everything: the moral stand, life principles, castiron discipline and sacred love for labor...»
Nikolai Golovanov

Milestones of Nikolai Golovanov’s life and art.

  • 1912 — tour with the Synodal Choir in Leipzig, Berlin and Warsaw; in 1913 he conducted a Synodal Choir concert in Berlin in attendance of the Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II who personally complimented Golovanov and referred to the Choir as “the eighth Wonder of the World”;
  • 1909–1914 — study at Moscow Conservatory in special theory and free composing classes by А. Ilyinsky, М. Ippolitov-Ivanov, S. Vasilenko; graduated with a small gold medal — his name was engraved on the marble board of excellence. In 1914 Golovanov received the diploma of Moscow Conservatory with major in Composing;
  • 1915 — Golovanov’s debut as a symphony conductor; 1919 — work in the Stanislavski Opera Studio, later in the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Opera Theatre;
  • 1921–1922 — conducting the orchestra during Moscow performance of the American dancer Isadora Duncan;
  • The second half of 1920s — a political repression campaign called “golovanovshchina” was initiated against Nikolai Golovanov. The group of people included the local committee, trade union committee, AULYCL committee, Bolshoi Theatre’s party chapter, composer S. Vasilenko and conductor A. Pazovsky considered that Golovanov was striv- ing “to transfer old, bourgeois morals and work methods into the Soviet theatre”, was “very conventional”, resisted of the Soviet opera “remakes”, and supported “unjustly high” honorarium to the leading musicians. The campaign found large resonance in the mass media and even captured the attention of I. Stalin who interfered and insisted that Golovanov stayed with the Bolshoi Theatre; In the end of 1920s — vigorous activity at All-Union Radio where he headed the opera radio theatre and was the chief conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio (1937–1953.);
  • 1937–1949 — production of radio operas: The Little Golden Cockerel, Christmas Eve, May Night, Iolanta, and Francesca da Rimini. In the same years Golovanov conducted cantatas John of Damascus by S. Taneyev, The Spring by S. Rachmaninoff, From Homer by N. Rimski-Korsakov, Moscow by P. Tchaikovsky, Requiem by W.-A. Mozart, The 1st Symphony by A. Scriabin, and musical works by Soviet composers;
  • 1925–1948 — a professor of orchestra and opera classes in Moscow Conservatory. In 1916–1943 mostly together with his wife, the singer Antonina Nezhdanova, he was performing as a piano collaborator. Nikolai Golovanov performed in the course of his entire life;
  • 1919–1928 and 1930–1936 — a conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre;
  • 1948–1953 — the chief conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre. Nikolai Golovanov produced classic performances of operas Boris Godunov (1948), Director — L. Baratov (today it is the only Golovanov’s performance on the Bolshoi Theatre’s repertoire), Sadko (1949), Director — B. Pokrovsky, Khovanshchina (1950), Director — L. Baratov. Following Stalin’s death in 1953, N. Golovanov was dismissed from the Bolshoi Theatre;
During the World War II, he stayed in Moscow together with his wife. The funds received from concerts were transferred for the war needs. The Golovanov’s highest achievements as a conductor were strongly concerned with the Russian opera. He was also an outstanding interpreter of contemporary music and the first who performed some works by S. Prokofiev and D. Shostakovich. The Golovanov’s composition heritage is diverse and covers operas, symphony, cantatas, pieces for choir and symphony orchestra, romances — many of them are dedicated to his wife Antonina Nezhdanova. Sergei Kondrashev, the art director and chief conductor of the Radio “Orpheus” Symphony Orchestra, who, together with the orchestra, has recorded the Golovanov’s works, said about his symphonic music: “...I think that first of all Nikolai Golovanov is an outstanding Russian conductor, a star in the constellation of great musicians who headed the Bolshoi Theatre in the XX century. The magnitude of his personality is clearly seen in the symphony works. Golovanov was a musician, a colorful and rich artist! While listening to his symphony pieces we can imagine masterpieces of such great artists of Russia as Vasnetsov and Bilibin. This effect is gained due to the large scale and specific brilliance of his scores’ sound, we can feel exaggerated brass, sharp dynamic and tempo darts. Everything serves one purpose to intensify expression and create that special colorful sound. Furthermore, we should not forget about the unique melodic gift of Golovanov as a composer.
There is no doubt he knew the works of his contemporaries — Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. The harmonic language of those authors, the texture specifics are very close to what Golovanov created. Considering the distinctiveness of his composing pattern reflecting ecstatic, impulsive and immense creative personality, Nikolai Golovanov is clearly a successor to traditions of the Russian composing school ...” Even in the Soviet period Nikolai Golovanov continued to compose the church music. Lev Kontorovich, the People’s Artist of Russia, art director and chief conductor of the Grand Choir “Masters of Choral Singing”, Professor, said about Golovanov’s composition works: “... I would like to draw the attention to the last 39th opus “Peaceful Light” recorded on this disc, where Golovanov achieved absolute perfection of his masterfulness. I believe this piece dedicated to Rachmaninoff is the Golovanov’s magnum opus as far as his church music is concerned. Sorry for my presumption, but I think that perfect mastery of Golovanov in “Peaceful Light” equals to Rachmaninoff. This work is a highest masterpiece...” Nikolai Golovanov died on 28 August 1953 in Nikolina Gora village, Moscow region, and was buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. In 1961 a commemorative plaque was installed on the house where Nikolai Golovanov lived in 1935–1953. (7, Bryusov Pereulok, today a memorial flat-subsidiary of the M.I. Glinka All-Russian Museum Association of Musical Culture).

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Nikolay Golovanov: Music composer

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