January 18, 1835 - March 26, 1918
born in Vilnius, Lithuania, composed during the Romantic period
Lithuanian-born composer César Cui is the least well-known figure among the Russian Nationalists that critic Vladimir Serov dubbed "the Mighty Handful," a phrase often misrepresented in English as "The Mighty Five" or "Russian Five." Cui came from a distinguished military family -- his father was a French officer who had fought alongside Napoleon -- and early on studied with Stanislaw Moniuszko in his native Vilnius. Apart from that, Cui did not have formal training in music and, after moving to St. Petersburg in 1851, entered into the field of military engineering, being named a professor in 1879. Cui was an expert in the construction of military bases and buildings and was many times decorated for his professional achievements in this area as teacher and lecturer.
In 1856, Cui came in contact with Mily Balakirev and took an engrossing interest in Balakirev's notions about a distinctively Russian national style in music, which Cui supported both as a respected music critic and as composer. Cui began to write music criticism in 1864 and continued through about 1900, working for various newspapers and journals. Cui's witty, incisive and sometimes pointed criticism had more impact in its time than his compositions did, stirring up controversy and no small amount of bad blood among some of his colleagues in some instances.
As a composer, Cui produced 14 completed operas, many songs, and piano pieces; he was far less productive in orchestral and chamber music and never composed a large-scale orchestral work such as a symphony. He struggled lifelong with the fine details of instrumentation and scoring and Cui's first opera, A Captive in the Caucasus (1857-1883), had to be completely overhauled in order for the Mariinsky Theater to accept it for performance; nevertheless, Mussorgsky and others expressed their admiration for it. Cui's greatest opera is considered to be William Radcliffe (1869); also notable is A Feast in the Time of the Plague (1901) and five children's operas Cui produced late in life after he retired from writing criticism: The Snow Hero (1906), The Captain's Daughter (1911), Little Red Riding-Hood (1911), Puss in Boots (1913), and Ivan the Little Fool (1913). Cui's difficulties with scoring did not prevent him from finishing Dargomizhsky's The Stone Guest (1870) at its composer's request, or from producing the first practical performance edition of Mussorgsky's Sorochintsï Fair not long before his own death in 1918.
César Cui outlived all of his colleagues in the Mighty Handful to the ripe old age of 82 and was the only one to live to witness the chaos of the October Revolution. While many of Cui's works are considered lost, the losses are especially heavy among pieces written toward the end of his career and perhaps these perished owing to the instability of the times. Of his extensive worklist, only the "Orientale" from his violin and piano suite Kaleidoscope, Op. 50 (1893), caught on in the years following his death, and largely then in a piano arrangement. However, from the 1990s interest in Cui's music has begun to resurface, particularly among his piano works. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis , Rovi