This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article may need to be rewritten to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. You can help. The talk page may contain suggestions. (August 2011) This article includes a list of general references, but it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (June 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Wyschnegradsky in Paris, c. 1930
Wyschnegradsky in Paris, c. 1930

Ivan Alexandrovich Wyschnegradsky[n 1] (US: /vɪʃnəˈɡrɑːdski/ vish-ne-GROD-skee; May 14 [O.S. 2 May] 1893 – September 29, 1979), was a Russian composer primarily known for his microtonal compositions, including the quarter tone scale (24-tet: 50 cents) utilized in his pieces for two pianos in quarter tones. He also used scales of up to 72 divisions (mainly third (18-tet: 66.6 cents), sixth (36-tet: 33.3 cents), and twelfth tones (72-tet: 16.6 cents)). For most of his life, from 1920 onwards, Wyschnegradsky lived in Paris.[1]

Early life

Ivan Wyschnegradsky was born in Saint Petersburg on May 4, 1893. His father was a banker and his mother wrote poems. His grandfather was a celebrated mathematician who served as the Minister for Finance from 1888 to 1892. After his baccalaureate, Wyschnegradsky entered the School of Mathematics. He followed the courses of harmony, composition and orchestration (1911–1915) led by Nicolas Sokolov, professor with the Academy of Saint Petersburg. In 1912, he entered the School of Law.

Music career

The first public performance of Wyschnegradsky's Andante religioso and funebre was performed at the theatre Pavlovsk under the direction of Aslanov, in the presence of César Cui. At the end of the concert, Cui congratulated him "for his moderation".[This quote needs a citation]

In 1916, Wyschnegradsky composed The Day of the Brahma (which would later become The Day of Existence) for narrator, full orchestra and mixed chorus ad libitum. In 1917, the day before the revolution,[clarification needed] Wyschnegradsky completed his law studies. In November, his father died. Ivan adhered to the ideals of the Russian Revolution and composed The Red Gospel, opus 8. In 1919, he elaborated on his first project on the notation of twelfth-tones.

The following year, Wyschnegradsky and his family moved to Paris. The Pleyel house manufactured a pneumatic-transmission piano for him, but he was not entirely satisfied (1921). Wyschnegrasky wished to build a true quarter-tone piano and thought that he would only be able to in Germany. He ordered a Möllendorf-type quarter-tone harmonium from Straube. In 1922 and 1923, he went to several revivals in Germany where he met R. Stein, Alois Hába, J. Mager and W. Möllendorf. The following year, he married Hélène Benois and fathered a son, Dimitri (1924, later Dimitri Vicheney, who used the pen-name Jacques Demêtre). Wyschnegradsky and Benois divorced in 1926.

He ordered a quarter-tone piano from Foerster (1927). The Vandelle quartet performed the Prelude and Fugue, opus 15. In 1929, the piano made by Foerster arrived in Paris. He met Lucille Markov (Gayden), his future wife. He also published the Manual of Quarter-tone Harmony (1932). In 1934, he composed Twenty-four Preludes in All the Tones of the Chromatic Scale Diatonicized with Thirteen Sounds, for two pianos in quarter tones (1934).

On January 25, 1937, he attended the first concert devoted entirely to his music. He met Olivier Messiaen, and later Henri Dutilleux and Claude Ballif. He recorded the slow movement of the Symphony Thus Spoke Zarathustra for four pianos in quarter tones.

In 1942, Wyschnegradsky was arrested by the Germans and transferred to Compiègne, where he remained for two months. His wife (of American nationality) was also arrested and transferred to Vittel.

On November 11, 1945, Gisèle Peyron and Mady Sauvageot, sopranos, Lili Fabrègue, viola, Yvette Grimaud, Yvonne Loriod, Pierre Boulez and Serge Nigg, pianos gave a concert of works of Wyschnegradsky. Contracting tuberculosis, he rested at the sanatorium of St. Martin-du-Tertre. In 1947, André Souris gave the première in Belgium of the Symphony Thus Spoke Zarathustra for four pianos in Brussels. In 1951, Pierre Boulez, Yvette Grimaud, Claude Helffer and Ina Marika gave a performance of the Second Symphonic Fragment, opus 24 in Paris. The Revue Musicale published a special issue on Ivan Wyschnegradsky and Nicolas Obouhow.

In 1977, Martine Joste organized a concert at Radio France. In Canada, Bruce Mather did the same. In 1978, Alexandre Myrat, at the head of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France, performed the Day of Existence. Ivan Wyschnegradsky was invited by the DAAD as composer-in-residence at Berlin. He could not go, due to ill health. Radio France commissioned a string trio by him.

Wyschnegradsky died at the age of 86 in Paris on September 29, 1979. His son Dimitri, known professionally as Jacques Demêtre, was an influential supporter and historian of blues music.[2]

Wyschnegradsky appears in Paul Auster's novel The Locked Room (1986), part of the New York Trilogy.






  1. ^ Russian: Ива́н Алекса́ндрович Вышнегра́дский; Is also transliterated as Vïshnegradsky, Wyshnegradsky, Wischnegradsky, Vishnegradsky, or Wishnegradsky (after he emigrated to France, he used "Wyschnegradsky" as spelling for his surname).


Further reading