One of the oldest and most prestigious record labels in the world, Russian company Melodiya celebrates this year its 50th anniversary. Melodiya was established by a decree of the USSR Council of Ministers in April 1964 to replace the former All-Union Studio of Gramophone Recording and unite sound recording studios located in Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Tbilisi, Alma-Ata and Tashkent.

Having the monopoly of domestic record production for 25 years and being able to recruit a vast number of orchestras, ensembles, conductors and soloists, Melodiya has accomplished a tremendous work, producing and releasing records of classical, folk and popular music, beyond other subjects. Millions of records were sold in the former Soviet Union and in many countries of the world, and over 300.000 tapes are stored in the archives.

‘Anthology of Russian Symphonic Music’

Perhaps, the most grandiose project ever accomplished by Melodiya in the Soviet era was the ‘Anthology of Russian Symphonic Music’ with the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra and its leader Evgeny Svetlanov. It took it more than 25 years to create hundreds of hours of Russian music. It included not just the world recognized masterpieces by Mikhail Glinka, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Alexander Scriabin and Igor Stravinsky, but also recordings of all orchestral works by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Taneyev and Anatoly Lyadov, compositions by less known yet indispensable composers, without which the picture of the Russian musical art would have been incomplete, such as Nikolai Medtner, Anton Arensky, Vassily Kalinnikov, Sergei Lyapunov and others. The USSR State Orchestra conducted by Svetlanov also recorded all 27 symphonies by Nikolai Myaskovsky.

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky

Another prominent conductor, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, paid equal attention to both concert and studio work. First as a conductor of the All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra and later as a founder of the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra, that became Melodiya’s home ensemble, Gennady Rozhdestvensky presented unique concert programs combining commonly known compositions with rarely performed ones, or masterpieces that were completely unknown to the Russian public. Most of the compositions conducted by him were recorded, and the jackets featured the conductor’s own commentary. Rozhdestvensky was the first in this country to record all symphonies by Anton Bruckner, Jean Sibelius and Arthur Honegger, symphonies and ballets by Sergei Prokofiev, symphonic sets of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Yevgeny Mravinsky, a friend of Shostakovich, was the leader of another celebrated orchestra, the Academic Symphony Orchestra of Leningrad Philharmonic Society. His numerous studio and concert recordings of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Anton Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich made in Leningrad, Moscow and abroad (for instance, a series of records Yevgeny Mravinsky in Vienna) and released by Melodiya are true gems for the connoisseurs of classical music.

Vladimir Fedoseyev succeeded to Rozhdestvensky at the All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra. In the course of time, the orchestra conducted by him reached a new level of performing mastery to win over numerous audiences in Russia and overseas. From the first years with the orchestra, Fedoseyev devoted plenty of time to studio work recording compositions from the Russian opera and symphonic classical music, including some of the opuses rarely performed by other conductors (for example, the author’s edition of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov). Many of the recordings made by Fedoseyev were given prestigious foreign awards.

The collaboration between the All-Union Studio of Gramophone Recording and later by Melodiya and the USSR Bolshoi Theatre has lasted for many years and brought some fruitful results. The opera and ballet masterpieces of Russian music, as well as the operas by foreign composers most popular with the Soviet listeners have been time and again recorded by the performers, choir and orchestra of the theatre conducted by Nikolai Golovanov, Kirill Kondrashin, Boris Khaikin, Alexander Melik-Pashayev, Evgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Simonov, Mark Ermler and other leading conductors.

Outstanding soloists

David Oistrakh

David Oistrakh

There are only very few record labels in the world that can boast a comparable constellation of soloists whose recordings have been released by Melodiya. Among them were some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Speaking about pianists, it would be enough to mention the names of Svjatoslav Richter, who was recognized as one of the best interpreters of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music and who had a colossal repertoire of music spanning three centuries; Emil Gilels, one of the brightest performers of romantic music, who recorded an almost full cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas; a subtle ‘Scriabinist’ Vladimir Sofronitsky, who preferred studio work and chamber audiences to large concert halls. Melodiya magnetic tapes have preserved for the generations to come numerous pages of performances by the violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, who triumphantly represented the Russian violin school at some of the most prestigious concerts halls worldwide; recordings by the cellists Mstislav Rostropovich, Daniil Shafran and Natalia Gutman.

Barshai and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra

In the late 1950s, a new ensemble was founded in Moscow. It was the Moscow Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai, which discovered a new style of performing chamber music. Dozens of recordings of the compositions by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Boccherini, Mozart, Beethoven, as well as Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Weinberg and Sviridov performed by the orchestra sold thousands of copies and are still kept by many music lovers with care.

Chamber ensembles like the Rosconcert Chamber Orchestra conducted by Lev Markiz, Leningrad Chamber Orchestra of Old and Modern Music conducted by Eduard Serov, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Saulius Sondeckis, and Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Spivakov have all been cooperating with Melodiya .

Richter and his ‘December nights’

Svjatoslav Richter

Svjatoslav Richter

When Sviatoslav Richter initiated an annual music festival of chamber music called « December Nights » held at the State Museum of Visual Arts, it attracted a wide audience. Since the small hall could not seat all of the listeners who wished to be there, the releases with some of the most interesting recordings from the festival became a real treat to them.

Numerous recordings of Russian choir music that were discoveries for the domestic and foreign listeners should also be noted. The masterpieces of liturgy music by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, choir concertos by Maxim Berezovsky and Dmitri Bortnyansky, chants from the time of Peter the Great and pieces of old Russian service singing all found their first performance on Melodiya records played by the State Academic Russian Choir conducted by Alexander Sveshnikov, Yurlov Leningrad Academic Choir, the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir of (more known as the Polyansky Choir) and Moscow Chamber Choir conducted by Vladimir Minin. A series of records titled For 1000 Years of Christening of Russia, an anthology of Russian sacred music that returned to the musical landscape of this country after a few decades of oblivion, drew a wide response.

‘1000 Years of Music’

A not less popular series titled ‘1000 Years of Music’ recorded by Ensemble Madrigal attracted the attention of lovers and professional musicians with its medieval, renaissance, baroque compositions. The Melodiya records revived some of half-forgotten pieces of Russian music that had been long absent on the theatre and concert playbills. These are the operas ‘The Fair at Sorochyntsi’ by Mussorgsky, ‘Dobrynia Nikitich’ by Alexander Gretchaninov, ‘The Nos’  by Shostakovich, ‘The Story of a Real Man’ by Prokofiev and by other Russian composers of the 18th century such as Yevstignei Fomin, Vassily Pashkevich and Dmitri Bortnyansky.

Melodiya released productions with new names such as the pianists Mikhail Pletnev and Yevgeny Kissin, violinists Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov and Sergei Stadler, cellists Alexander Rudin and Ivan Monighetti, and introduced the winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition awards to a wide audience.

From the mid 1980s, when the powerful ideological barriers fell, records with music by modern avant-garde composers such as Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vyacheslav Artyomov, Nikolai Karetnikov, Vladimir Martynov and others began to appear.

Rachmaninov, Chaliapin, Furtwängler, Karajan…

Fedor Chaliapin

Feodor Chaliapin

In addition to that, the staff of Melodiya has extensively worked on restoring recordings by the great performers of the 20th century. Complete sets of recordings by Rachmaninov and Feodor Chaliapin have been released. Trophy recordings by the Berlin and Vienna philharmonic orchestras conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler have been re-released several times enjoying a great interest.

The series Outstanding Masters at Concert introduced live recordings made by illustrious foreign musicians such as the conductors Herbert von Karajan, Igor Markevitch, George Enescu and Zubin Metha, pianists Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould and Arthur Rubinstein, violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng and Arthur Grumiaux, cellist Pierre Fournier, and tenor Nicolai Gedda.

‘Complete Works by P.I. Tchaikovsky on Record ‘was a truly large-scale project realized by Melodiya. To let the widest possible audience hear all the works by the Russian genius, some of the leading soloists, chamber, symphony and choir collectives of this country were involved in the effort.

The early 1990s signified the beginning of a new era for Melodiya. The process of mass production of compact discs was introduced while the production of vinyl records gradually stopped. For the last twenty years, most of the archival recordings were re-released on CD. Moreover, some of the albums and sets became a true discovery to music lovers because those recording did not see the light of day in their time for various reasons or were released in a small number of copies and are now hard-to-find collector’s items.

First of all, we should mention a series titled Emil Gilels in Ensembles, a complete collection of the great pianist’s recordings with eminent ensemble partners released for the first time; the recordings of one of the best domestic conductors Kirill Kondrashin (his unauthorized departure from the USSR in 1978 put a ban on releases and re-releases of his  recordings in the country), in particular, the sets of symphonies by Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich he recorded with the symphony orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic Society; the albums of remarkable violinists Mikhail Weiman and Boris Goldstein; the recordings of works by Alexander Lokshin, etc. An anthology of Vladimir Sofronitsky recordings is to be released later this year.

Today, as it also was in the previous decades, Melodiya is still in touch with musical art of modern times. Among the recently released or future releases are solo albums by singers Hibla Gerzmava and Alexandra Durseneva, pianists Ekaterina Mechetina and Boris Berezovsky, violist Mikhail Kugel, cellist Alexander Knyazev and younger musicians such as Yulia Igonina (violin), Vazgen Vartanian (piano) and Pavel Stolbov (clarinet).

International Awards

The year of 2013 was especially rich in events for Melodiya. After 22 years the company resumed releases on vinyl!

For the first time in many years, Firma Melodiya received two prestigious international awards – an ICMA for the set ‘Stravinsky – Les Ballets Russes’ (conductors Pierre Boulez, Dmitri Kitayenko and Vladimir Fedoseyev) and a ‘Toblacher Komponierhäuschen’ for the disc with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (conductor David Oistrakh, soloist Galina Vishnevskaya). Also, for the first time in the Russian music industry, Melodiya opened a new line of media in digital format in the Internet. The first DVDs with ballets staged at Bolshoi Theatre of Russia were released in cooperation with Bel Air Media.

At fifty, Firma Melodiya is a modern company, a confident player in the Russian and world markets of sound recording and an active international partner. Its nearest plans include more re-releases of the most valuable recordings from its archives, a more active international cooperation and joint projects with some of the leading Russian solo musicians and collectives of the 21st century.

  • Pizzicato

  • Archives