Sonate fur Violoncello und Klavier: 1921.
The fact that Roslavets's name is relatively little known today is largely due to Stalin's cultural purges of the 1930s, which effectively silenced Russia's early twentieth-century modernist music. Art that did riot promote the political correctness of Party ideology was branded as "formalist" and reproached for emulating decadent bourgeois sentiments. In Roslavets's case, his name disappeared from reference sources and concert programs following the 1932 resolution "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Artistic Organizations," which, in the field of music, dissolved existing factional associations and created a single Composers' Union. Roslavets's music was soon obscured at home and abroad. Though he was not officially repressed, Roslavets was denied admission to the Composers' Union until May 1940, at which point he had already suffered a debilitating stroke. Shortly afterward, he developed kidney cancer and a second stroke ended his life at the age of sixty-three on 23 August 1994.
During his early career, spanning the 1910s and 1920s, Roslavets was a prolific composer and prominent member of the Russian artistic avant-garde. Having completed his studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1912, he began to develop his own approach to posttonal composition. Between 1913 and 1919, he formulated a so-called "new system of tone organization" and continued to refine it in works dating from the 1920s. During this time, Roslavets's repertoire included many larger scale works. Extant archival materials indicate that by the late 1920s he had written several compositions for full orchestra; a Chamber Symphony; a Violin Concerto; much chamber music for various groups of instruments; sonatas for violin and piano, viola and piano, and piano solo; many piano miniature pieces; art songs; and utilitarian songs of the "agitational propaganda" type that extolled the 1917 Revolution and praised the virtues of the proletariat. Roslavets published several early works dating from 1913 and 1915 on his own. Later, a few of his compositions were published by Universal Edition of Vienna in conjunction with the Moscow State Publishing House - a link that was established during the time of the New Economic Plan. Regrettably, very little of the symphonic repertory has survived intact.
From the start, Roslavets's compositions were well received by his contemporaries of modernist persuasion. Nikolai Miaskovsky, for example, remarked in 1914 that Roslavets possessed an outstanding compositional talent and already at that time drew favorable comparisons between his compositions and those of Alexander Skriabin and Arnold Schoenberg. By 1915 Roslavets was building a reputation for being a daring innovator and had established ties with such representatives of Russia's literary and painterly vanguard as Vladimir and Nikolai Burliuk, Vasili Kamensky, Velimir Khlebnikov, Aristarkh Lentulov, Vladimir Maiakovsky, and Boris Pasternak. Two publications of Futurist poetry, prose, and drawings, which appeared in 1915 and 1916, included compositions by Roslavets, together with contributions by these various artists. Later, the Association for Contemporary Music in Moscow sponsored performances of several of Roslavets's compositions. Through 1926, reviews by supporters of the modernist camp praised Roslavets's compositional skill and pronounced him the most interesting innovator among his contemporary Russian peers.
Since Miaskovsky's early observations, Roslavets's compositional method has been a matter of some intrigue for those interested in his music. Today, despite Roslavets's explicit denial of any such influences, his work is associated with the legacy of Skriabin and the dodecaphonic practices of Schoenberg. Roslavets himself made public but a brief description of his compositional approach. In an autobiographical article published in 1924, he explained that his new system of tone organization" involved manipulation of so-called "synthetic chords" - collections of six to eight or more notes - which, through their possible transposition to all twelve degrees of the chromatic sale, govern the pitch-structural plan of a work in both horizontal and vertical dimensions ("Nik. A. Roslavets o sebe is svoiom tvorchestve" [Roslavets on himself and his creative work], Sovremennaia Muzyka 1 : 132-38). Roslavets's manuscripts and sketches indicate further that he conceived of his synthetic chords as harmonic entities with distinct voice-leading possibilities. In particular, a single basic hexachord (set-class ) expressed as a major triad, minor seventh, minor ninth, and minor thirteenth above a fundamental pitch-class can be identified as the source for his various synthetic chords. In all cases, these sonorities are associated with an orthography that, though visually cumbersome, actually clarifies the chordal structure in his music. The orthography is strictly regulated and stems from a practice that continues to involve such a traditional concept as chordal roots within a posttonal context.
The three works for cello and piano being considered here underscore the evolution of Roslavets's compositional style. Completed in October 1912 in St. Petersburg, Dance of White Maidens is a post-Conservatory work, but precedes the composer's preoccupation with developing his own new pitch-structural syntax. On the other hand, the First and Second Sonatas for Cello and Piano were completed ill 1921 and 1922, respectively, while Roslavets was Rector of the Music Institute in Kharkov. Consequently, they exemplify a relatively mature version of his synthetic chord technique.
Predating Roslavets's synthetic chord period, Dance of White Maidens is not only the least complex of the three compositions, but also quite removed stylistically from the expression of the two later sonatas. Bearing a key signature of three sharps, it nonetheless deliberately avoids reference to an A-major tonic and dwells instead in the subdominant region, supporting a lyric cello melody. This theme recurs in various transpositions interspersed with contrasting whole-tone sections resulting in a five-part rondo design.
The two Sonatas for Cello and Piano are both single-movement sonata form works to which no key signatures are applied. The first is based on Roslavets's basic hexachord on E, with which the piece begins and to which it returns at the end. Throughout the composition, this hexachordal sonority undergoes continuous transposition, rearrangement, and elaboration. The Second Sonata is the most pitch-structurally and rhythmically complex of the three works. It too features set-class  as its focal sonority. In addition, Roslavets employs a harmonic pedal marking throughout the entire piece to illustrate the chordal succession. Used for the first time in his Two Poems for piano written in 1920, this device confirms the composer's own pitch-structural segmentation of the work.
Brief introductory editorial remarks in each of these three Schott editions point out that, while the First Cello Sonata was originally published in 1924 by the Music Sector of the Moscow State Publishing House, Dance of White Maidens and the Second Cello Sonata are first-time publications based on fair copies housed at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. The published scores, however, regrettably harbor a few minor inaccuracies when compared with their autograph versions. The title Dance of White Maidens, for example, has been somewhat inaccurately translated. The autograph uses the plural "Dances" Of White Maidens. The First Cello Sonata contains discrepancies in the notation of pitch and trill markings between cello and piano parts, though this cello part does correct certain mistakes in the cello part of the 1924 publication. The Second Cello Sonata contains a single pitch discrepancy between published and autograph versions of the score and sometimes alters the exact placement of dynamic markings as they appear in the composer's manuscript. Frequently, tempo and dynamic markings are inserted for cello, but omitted for piano. All of these inaccuracies, however, can be appropriately adjusted with careful study of the score. In general, though these editions are elegantly presented, one might object occasionally to a layout that does not always provide adequate spacing for notational requirements
The publication of these three compositions is indeed a welcome addition not only to the existing repertory for cello and piano, but also to music scholarship. Schott is to be commended particularly for not altering the notation of Roslavets's manuscripts in an attempt to facilitate their legibility. Though it might deter some performers, the notation preserves significant information about Roslavets's compositional intentions. Those interested in music of the early twentieth century eagerly await further publications of the Roslavets repertory by Schott.