Russian composer and writer, of French parentage. An army engineer by profession, he became a member of ‘The Five’ group of composers and was an enthusiastic proponent of Russian nationalist music in the press. Despite this, his own musical tastes tended towards the France of Daniel Auber and Giacomo Meyerbeer in the operas Angelo (1876), based on Victor Hugo, and Le Flibustier/The Buccaneer (1889), based on a play by Jean Richepin.
Cui composed some attractive vocal and piano miniatures, and ten operas, including A Prisoner in the Caucasus (1857–58), first performed in 1883, and William Ratcliff (1861–68), first performed in 1869. He also collaborated with Aleksandr Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Léon Minkus on the opera-ballet Mlada, and completed Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair.
Cui was educated at the High School of Wilno, where his father, a French officer left behind in the retreat from Moscow in 1812, was professor of French. He had some lessons in music from Stanisław Moniuszko, but was sent to the School of Military Engineering in St Petersburg in 1850, where he became subprofessor in 1857. He became an authority on fortifications and remained an amateur in music, but he joined Mily Balakirev's circle of Russian nationalist composers and became one of ‘The Five’, though the least exclusively Russian among them. He became a critic in 1864 and did much literary work for the nationalist cause.
WorksOperaA Prisoner in the Caucasus (after Pushkin; 1857–58, produced 1883), The Mandarin's Son (1859, produced 1878),William Ratcliff (after Heine; 1861–68, produced 1869), Angelo (after Hugo; 1876), Le Flibustier (libretto by J Richepin; 1889), The Saracen (after Dumas senior; 1889), A Feast in Time of Plague (Pushkin; 1900), Mam'zelle Fifi (after Maupassant), Matteo Falcone (after Mérimée), and The Captain's Daughter (1911).
Other works for chorus with and without orchestra; four suites and other works for orchestra; string quartets in C minor (1890) and D (1907); 15 Op. nos. of piano pieces, three pieces for two pianos; various instrumental pieces; about 25 Op. nos. of songs including settings of Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrassov, Richepin, and Mickiewicz.
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