The name Nikolai Kapustin conjures up descriptions as colourful as his music – explosive, torrential, silky, and seductive. The extensive repertoire of piano music defies traditional description and pushes the ear to imagine what it would be like if say, Jelly Roll Morton were to play Scriabin!
Kapustin's pianistic art, as both composer and performer, demonstrates an impeccable ear and a facility for blending many languages and styles. He has a masterful grasp of colour and technique and uses a rainbow of jazz idioms such as blues, bebop, swing and boogie-woogie while sustaining the grandeur of the great Russian composer-pianists. As a young man, he must surely have heard Rachmaninov but at the same time he names the influence of Oscar Peterson.
Kapustin: 5 études in different intervals
These enthralling études open with a study in dancing, dazzling minor seconds and advance to the breathtaking final Étude in Octaves. Order the sheet music now.
Kapustin is known largely for piano works but his works also include chamber music, such as his string quartets, where we see how his jazz idioms and stylistic writing for strings can really make a quartet swing.
Saxophonists will want to look at his saxophone concerto op.50 where Kapustin writes music that shows off every aspect of the saxophone, from flowing romantic melodies to swinging big band sounds and cool jazz with virtuosic breaks.
Nikolai Kapustin attended the Moscow Conservatory where he was a pupil of Avrelian Rubakh and Alexander Goldenweiser. Among Rubakh's other students was the great Vladimir Horovitz. However, although Kapustin’s technical proficiency was never in doubt, he chose not make his mark as a classical pianist, but instead was drawn to the world of jazz and improvisation. Little wonder that it has taken some years for his music to emerge, since the extablishment view of non-classical musicians was rather dim, especially under the regime of the 50s and 60s. For Kapustin, however, each of these traditions - classical and jazz - contributed in equal measure to the unique style that is now firmly attached to his name.
The fusion of these influences in his compositions is overt and uncompromising. A striking example of this can be heard in Suite in the Old Style op. 28, composed in 1977. Here the classical model is the baroque suite but the milieu is jazz improvisation. The resulting sound world is uniquely Kapustin and for any pianist coming afresh to this composer's output, Suite in the Old Style is a very good place to start an acquaintance. Further examples of this duality that is the essence of Kapustin cna be heard in the set of 24 Preludes and Fugues op. 82 also composed in 1997, and the op. 100 Sonatina.
Kapustin is quoted as saying, “I was never a jazz musician. I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I had to do it because of the composing. I’m not interested in improvisation – and what is a jazz musician without improvisation? All my improvisation is written, of course, and they became much better; it improved them.” This is a true insight into the artist in that for him, it is composition which comes first, and the jazz musician follows.
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