Cui was a 19th century Russian composer and critic of French-Lithuanian descent. He was closely associated with Balakirev and The Five and composed many operas and many more miniature works for chamber ensembles and piano.
Cui was born in Vilnius in 1835. His French father was an officer in the French Army, and remained in Russia after Napoleon retreated from Moscow in 1812; he later married Julia Gucewicz and they settled in Vilnius. Cui’s father taught French at the local gymnasium, where he also received his early education. He also began studying piano and had harmony and counterpoint lessons from Moniuszko. In 1851, he entered the Engineering School at St Petersburg, later studying at the Academy of the Military Engineering. He was appointed a lecturer upon his graduation and became a professor in 1879. Cui’s writings on the subject of fortifications were highly acclaimed.
In 1856, Cui decided to pursue a career in music in St Petersburg in 1856, after meeting Balakirev. Shortly after, he also became familiar with the music of Dargomïzhsky and all the members of The Five. Balakirev aided Cui with his orchestration and quite possibly mentored him in the orchestration of his piano scherzos of 1857, his two earliest numbered works. The first of the scherzos references the surname of Cui’s wife, Mal′vina Rafailovna Bamberg, using the note sequence B-A-B-E-G, which the second features the inscription ‘à la Schumann’.