Nikolai Nikolayevich Karetnikov, (June 30, 1930, Moscow – October 10, 1994, Moscow) was a Russian composer of the so-called Underground – alternative or nonconformist group in Soviet music.
Karetnikov studied at the Central Musical School (1942-1948) and the Moscow Conservatory (1948-1953) where his teachers were Vissarion Shebalin (composition), Tatyana Nikolaeva (piano), Igor Sposobin and Viktor Tsukkerman (theory). He also studied privately with Philip Herschkowitz, a pupil of Berg and Webern. He was influenced by music of the New Viennese school and was a firm supporter of twelve-tone technique. His ballets Vanina Vannini and The Geologists were performed at the Bolshoi Theatre with choreography by Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasiliev. However, the authorities found the music unacceptable. It was criticized, and then banned from the performances in the Soviet Union for decades.
His Symphony No. 4 (1963) received its first performance in 1968 in Prague, just before the Soviet army invasion to suppress the Prague Spring. His third ballet Little Zaches Called Zinnober was performed at the Hanover Opera House (1971) in the composer's absence, because he was not given permission to travel abroad. His main activity at that time was writing incidental music for theatre, film and television.
He continued to compose and publish his serious works in secrecy. He wrote two large scale operas Till Eulenspiegel (1965-1985) and The Mystery of Apostle Paul, (1970-1986). Having no opportunity to perform these works in public, he persuaded the Moscow Cinema Orchestra to make the recording for him privately, section by section over the years. When the tape was ready, the vocal parts were added. This was, perhaps, the only examples of a samizdat (underground) opera. Finally, Till Eulenspiegel was premiered by the Bielefeld Opera in Germany conducted by Geoffrey Moull in 1993, and The Mystery of Apostle Paul was premiered on August 4, 1995, Hanover after the composer’s death.
Karetnikov was also the author of a collection of autobiographical stories called Темы с вариациями (Themes with Variations), published in Russia in 1990 (A French translation was published in the same year by Editions Horay).