Andrei Yakovlevich Eshpai (born May 15, 1925, Kozmodemyansk, Mari Autonomous Region (now the Republic of Mari El), Russia – died November 8, 2015, Moscow, Russia) was a Soviet and Russian composer, pianist, teacher, professor, actor, songwriter and public figure, People’s Artist of the USSR (1981), laureate of the Lenin Prize (1986) and the USSR State Prize (1976). He composed the ballets Angara and Circle (Krug), the operettas No One is Happier than Me (Net menya schastliveye), and Love is Forbidden (Lyubit’ vospreshchayetsya). Eshpai wrote compositions for soloists, chorus and orchestra. He was the author of 9 symphonies.
Background and family
Andrei Eshpai was born on May 15, 1925 in Kozmodemyansk, Mari Autonomous Region (now the Republic of Mari El). His father, Yakov Andreevich Eshpai, was a composer and musicologist and folklorist. Yakov Andreevich together with his cousin, Ivan Palantai, was the founder of the Mari professional music. Andrei Eshpai’s mother, Valentina Konstantinovna Togaeva, was a teacher of the Russian language and literature and a sister of the Chuvash composer Anatoly Nikolaevich Togaev.
In 1928, the family moved to Moscow, where Andrei grew up. Initially, Andrei Eshpai studied music under the guidance of his father. At the age of 4, Eshpai began to write his first compositions. He noted that Mari musical tradition had a very strong influence on his further creativity.
In 1941, he graduated from the Gnessin Seven-Year School, class of V.V. Listovoy. During the evacuation, he studied at secondary school №1 in the city of Mariinsky Posad, which he later considered his second homeland and often visited.
With the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, he expressed a desire to go to the front as a volunteer, but due to his age he was not accepted. In 1943, he entered the Chkalovsk (Orenburg) machine-gun school, graduated from the courses of military translators at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages of the Red Army. From the end of 1944 he fought on the 1st Belorussian Front. Eshpai worked as a military translator.
After demobilization, Eshpai studied at the Music School at the Moscow Conservatory at the Piano (class of R. Chernov) and Composer (class of E. Messner) Faculties. Then, he entered the Moscow Conservatory and, initially, studied with Nikolai Yakovlevich Myaskovsky. In 1953, he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in composition (class of E.K. Golubev) and and piano (class of V.V.Sofronitsky). In 1956, he completed his postgraduate studies there, his supervisor was Aram Il’yich Khachaturian.
Andrei Eshpai composed the ballets Angara (based on the play by A. N. Arbuzov Irkutsk Story) and Circle (Krug), the operettas No One is Happier than Me (Net menya schastliveye), and Love is Forbidden (Lyubit’ vospreshchayetsya).
He wrote compositions for soloists, chorus and orchestra, author of 9 symphonies – The Kremlin Clock (Kremlovskiye kuranty), Simon Bolivar, Suvorov’s Crossing the Alps (Perekhod Suvorova cherez Al’py), Games (Igry), Songs of Mountain and Meadow Mari (Pesni gornykh i lugovykh mari), etc.
The composer’s creativity includes concerts for instruments and orchestra (for alto, oboe, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet and string orchestra with harp and timpani, double bass and string orchestra, French horn, trumpet and trombone with orchestra, tuba accompanied by string orchestra and brass wind instruments, basset horn and string orchestra, etc.). Eshpai wrote pieces for string orchestra Lamento and Toccata and Contours (Kontury). He wrote chamber and instrumental compositions.
In 1957 he played a small role in the film The Story of First Love.
Andrei Eshpai’s songs were performed by Maya Kristalinskaya, Leonid Utyosov, Mark Bernes and other famous singers.
Eshpai performed as a pianist playing his compositions. His music was playing all over the world. The last premiere, his Fifth Symphony, was in Germany.
In 1965-1970, he worked as a professor teaching composition at the Moscow Conservatory. Eshpai was a chairman of the jury of many international and all-Russian competitions, including The International Tchaikovsky Competition, All-Russian A.P. Petrov Competition (St. Petersburg).
Since 1960 Eshpai had been Secretary, in 1973-1979 – 1st Secretary of the Union of Composers of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), since 1968 – Secretary of the Union of Composers of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). In 1996-2001, 2006-2015 Eshpai was President of the Russian Authors’ Society.
His wife, Alexandra Mikhailovna Eshpai, was a pianist, worked as the head of the piano music department at the Kompozitor Publishing House. The eldest son, Valentin Andreevich Eshpai (1953-2016), was a film critic, specialist in contemporary American cinema. His grandson, Valentin Eshpai, is a cameraman. The youngest son, Andrei Andreevich Eshpai (born April 18, 1956), is film director, married to actress Evgenia Simonova. His granddaughter, Maria Eshpai, is a pianist.
Andrei Eshpai died on November 8, 2015 in Moscow, as a result of a stroke. He was buried at the Novodevichy cemetery.
You can find and download free scores of the composer: