Alexander Dmitriyevich Kastalsky

Born in Moscow in 1856 and died in the same city in 1926, Kastalsky was the son of a priest and entered the Russian Conservatory when he was about 20, in 1875. There, he was a pupil of the likes of Tchaikovsky and Taneyev. Afterwards, he became a teacher of music and a director of choirs -which probably accounts for almost all of his compositional output being choral music. His affinity for sacred choral music didn’t go down too well with the new Bolshevik authorities after the revolution of 1917, though -meaning that, for example, his monumental tribute to the dead of the First World War, Requiem for Fallen Brothers, was pretty much banned after its premier and lay unplayed for a further hundred years or so.

His name, for cataloguing, purposes is the usual Cyrillic-to-English transliteration nightmare. His name in Cyrillic is Александр Дмитриевич Кастальский, which is literally Alexsandr Dmitriyevich Kastalski. Almost everyone tends to spell the surname ‘Kastalsky’, however -though The New Grove thinks adding an apostrophe to achieve ‘Kastal’sky’ is a good idea. It isn’t, but they’re trying to point out the soft-l in the middle of the name, and hence the position of the stress. That is, he’s pronounced kastAL-ski, not kastalSKEE… but the apostrophe is not necessary for that and is not otherwise in general use. So it gets dropped.

The usual question of ‘does one use the Patronymic (or middle) name?’ arises, and the New Groves answer is ‘yes’: there is no indication of optionality with it in their entry for him. Personally, I’d drop it if I didn’t use the New Groves as the source of authority on these matters, since almost no-one else seems to bother with it. See, for example, Naxos on the subject; or Wikipedia, which mentions the Patronymic but only in the first line and not as the article’s main title. Last.fm, as ever, goes all possible ways -including a Patronymic-less version with 89 listeners, but also a version that uses the Patronymic with 1,028 listeners. On this occasion, therefore, I’m running with the majority (and with New Grove) and declaring the Patronymic required.

Finally: his first name. Should it be ‘Alexsandr’, ‘Alecksander’ or some other variation? As already mentioned, the New Grove proposes ‘Alexandr’, without a final e -but the Russian is spelled exactly as Borodin’s first name, and the New Grove says that composer’s first name is ‘Alexander’, with the final e. So the New Grove is not exactly consistent on this sort of thing -and nearly everyone else seems to think ‘Alexander’ is a perfectly fine rendition of the original Cyrillic. Curiously, my 1940 version of the Grove’s Dictionary has an entry for ‘Alexander Dmitrievich Kastalsky’ -meaning the old and new Grove don’t agree on the spelling of his first name or his Patronymic! The Encyclopedia Britannica proposes ‘Aleksandr’, which brings a whole new k and s to proceedings, whilst also managing to drop the final e! The short version is: transliterating Cyrillic is a mug’s game, and educated people change their minds about it over time! Nevertheless, the majority of current-day record companies and web pages seem to favour the simplest option of plain ‘Alexander’, and I’ll run with that too.

So: in these pages and my music cataloguing generally, the final version of his name should be: Alexander Dmitriyevich Kastalsky


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(since January 9th 2021)

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