Born: 14 February 14, 1933 -Geneva, Switzerland
Died: September 16, 2008 - Aix-en-Provence, France
The Swiss-born Russian composer and harpsichordist, Prince Andrei Mikhaylovich [also: Andrey, André, Mikhailovich, Michailovich, Volkonski, Volkonskiy; Russian: Андрей Михайлович Волконский;) was a descendant of Volkonsky, Russian aristocratic princely family in exile. As a child he played his improvisations to Sergei Rachmaninov. Then he studied piano at Geneva Conservatory with Johnny Aubert and with the legendary Dinu Lipatti. The Volkonsky family resettled in Moscow in 1947. From 1950 to 1954 he studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Yuri Shaporin, but was expelled for breaking some minor disciplinary rules.
In 1956, Andrei Volkonsky began the career of a harpsichord and organ player. He pioneered performing renaissance and Baroque music, which had hitherto not been played in the USSR. In 1965 he founded an ensemble of early music, called ‘Madrigal’.
Andrei Volkonsky was among the first Soviet composers who began experimenting with twelve-tone and serial techniques. An early work in this style was his piano suite Musica Stricta (1956). His works greatly influenced his colleagues. Composing such music at that time was an act of courage: it was a protest against the suppression of freedom, and specifically against the requirement that the composers in Soviet Russia followed the narrowly prescribed doctrines of the Socialist Realism. It is not surprising that his music, attempting at a real renewal and enrichment of the musical language in Russia, was banned from performance. Volkonsky said that he had been fighting for 25 years to establish and preserve his artistic individuality in Moscow before requesting an exit visa in December 1972.
"The next day I was expelled from the Union of Composers. All my concerts were cancelled. The record company was instructed not to release the records I had made…" (Andrei Volkonsky)
But he was not allowed to leave the country immediately. Five months of suspense and unemployment followed, during which he hounded the passport office and sold most of his belongings, including scores and books, to support himself.
"The Soviet authorities finally had the intelligence and wisdom to release the composer who was of no use to them in the fulfilment of their music five-year plans, who could not compose that only kind of music which was allowed in the Soviet Union… I was just a speck of dirt in the grand marble palace of the Soviet Culture." (Andrei Volkonsky)
Andrei Volkonsky emigrated to the West in 1973. He first returned to Geneva, where he was born, and later settled in Aix-en-Provence (in the South of France). He was married (1954-1960) to the poet Helvi Jürisson (b October 5, 1928). They had a son, prince Peeter Volkonski (Piotr Andreevitch Volkonsky) (b September 12, 1954), an acclaimed Estonian actor and rock-musician.