Mikhail Gnessin (1883 – 1957) was a Russian Jewish composer and teacher. Gnessin's works The Maccabeans and The Youth of Abraham earned him the nickname the "Jewish Glinka". Gnessin was born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, the son of Rabbi Fabian Osipovich Gnessin and Bella Isaevna Fletzinger. Among Gnessin's other early works was a 'symphonic fragment' (his Op. 4), based on Shelley's poem Prometheus Unbound. But much of his work at this time, and in the future, was associated with Jewish traditional musical styles which had become increasingly popular in Russia prior to 1914. In 1911, Gnessin traveled abroad, studying in Berlin and Paris. He then spent a year (1912-1913) studying at Vsevolod Meyerhold's studio in St. Petersburg.
In 1913, Meyerhold opened a small theatrical school known as Dr. Dapertutto's Studio. In return for a nominal fee students were provided classes in theatre history, commedia dell'arte, Scenic Movement, and practical music and speech. The latter class was taught by Gnessin. Later that year Gnessin returned to Rostov, where he continued to teach. He remained there until 1923. After the Revolution, Gnessin and his music, initially, fared quite well. Traditional Jewish art, including music, flourished during this period, and a Jewish nationalist school of music was encouraged by the new Soviet government.
Gnessin produced several works during this period, among them: Songs from the Old Country; The Maccabees; The Youth of Abraham; Song of Songs; The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball of the Town Bailiff; Red-Headed Motele; Ten Jewish Songs.
Pursuing his interest in traditional Jewish music, Gnessin traveled to Palestine in 1914, and again, in 1921. During the latter visit he "secluded himself for a few months in the wild mountain scenery of Bab al Wad," where he composed the first act of his opera The Youth of Abraham. He briefly considered emigrating to Palestine, but became "disenchanted" and returned to the Soviet Union.
His teaching career also flourished. From 1923 to 1935 Gnessin taught at the Gnessin Institute; he was simultaneously employed as Professor of Composition at the Moscow Conservatory from 1925 to 1936. In 1945 Gnessin became head of the Gnessin Institute.