The Russian composer Vadim Nikolayevich Salmanov was born on November 4th, 1912 in St. Petersburg and died there on February 27th, 1978. He came from a family of intellectuals and as a child he was taught piano by his father and intended to study at the Leningrad Conservatory. However, the death of his father led to the necessity of finding work in a factory. Music was not the initial goal for Salmanov; he pursued a career in geology quite seriously up until 1936.
Salmanov, nevertheless, took lessons from composer Arseny Gladkovsky and, in 1935, entered the Conservatory where he studied composition with Mikhail Gnesin and orchestration under Rimsky-Korsakov's son-in-law (Shostakovich's teacher), Maximilian Steinberg. After graduating, he worked as a composer until the onset of World War II, when he enlisted in the Soviet Army. After the war, Salmanov’s compositions tended to reflect his wartime experiences. A string quartet came in 1945 followed by his first symphony in 1952 and a second quartet in 1958. Salmanov spent the rest of his life in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) teaching at the Leningrad Conservatory. His compositions include six string quartets, two violin concertos, works for chorus and orchestra, instrumental works and four symphonies.
The first string quartet begins with a short movement marked grave the like of which one would usually expect to find later on in such a work. It strikes a sombre and serious note and the theme which is recalled in the finale is a unifying motif. It is laden with anguish and perhaps as it was written in 1945, is descriptive of the feelings of people of what the Second World War had cost in human terms. The second movement is also dramatic whilst the third, though more lyrical, is still not without serious overtones with the finale another powerful statement imbued with sadness. It is an extremely impressive work for a first venture into string quartet writing.
Salmanov's second quartet was written in 1958 and dedicated to a friend with whom he studied at the conservatory and who died tragically young. Its opening movement marked Andante molto poetico e libero is a restrained hymn-like tribute. This motif is repeated in the second movement where it breaks up a beginning that is agitated and tragic in its depiction of death. That aspect returns soon enough albeit interrupted again later by a return of the leitmotif though this time it is treated to a more sad interpretation. The finale has the main theme reappearing and, once again, it is now laden with sadness, the cello playing a particular part in creating the tragic overtone. The violins however often bring a feeling of calm and seem to be saying that the achievements of a person live on after death and we should never lose sight of that.
The third quartet which was written in 1961 shows us that Salmanov was experimenting with dissonance but not at the expense of melody and though the rhythms are spiky and harsh, there is still a tune in there. The opening movement is very dissonant but the second is quite lyrical and darkly beautiful. The finale is a synthesis of the other two movements, and the conclusion is as dramatic as it is 'final'.