Izrail (Israel) Nestiev was born in 1911 in Kerch, the Crimea. He found his first employment at the age of 15, working as a pianist accompanying the screening of silent movies at a local movie theater. Later, he worked on the staff of the local newspaper Krasnaia Kerch. In 1928-32, Nestiev attended the Tbilisi State Conservatoire, Georgia, specializing in the piano. However, in 1937 he graduated from the Historical-Theoretical Faculty of the Moscow State Conservatoire and started working on a dissertation about the eminent Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. In 1939-41, Nestiev served as the responsible secretary (essentially, the editor-in-chief) of the journal Sovetskaia muzyka. This editorial stint, as well as his work on the dissertation, were cut short by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Izrail Nestiev was drafted into the Red Army in August 1941 and sent to a course of radio operators. In his letters home, he expressed his desire to serve the Red Army in his professional capacity [Sokhrani moi pis'ma…, vol. 4, eds. Ilia Altman, Leonid Tiorushkin. Moscow, Tsentr "Kholokost", 2016, p. 50]. His friends in Moscow interceded on his behalf before the authorities, and, in October 1941, Nestiev was transferred to the Military Faculty of the Moscow Conservatoire. Shortly thereafter, he was attached to the Main Political Directorate of the Red Army as an instructor of amateur artistic performances in the Red Army. In 1943-44, Nestiev served on the editorial board of the newspaper of the 13th Army; for this service, he was awarded the Order of the Red Star. In 1943, he was wounded, and this was followed by another serious injury in Poland in 1945. Nestiev ended the war in the rank of captain. After recuperating at a hospital, but before being discharged from the army, Nestiev resumed work on the dissertation.
After the war, Izrail Nestiev became a leading Soviet musicologist, as well as the semi-official biographer of Sergei Prokofiev. Remarkably, his magnum opus, Sergei Prokofiev: His Musical Life, appeared (in English translation) in the USA long before its publication in the Soviet Union. In addition, he published monographs on Béla Bartók, Giacomo Puccini, and other 20th-century musicians.
Nestiev's parents, his sister Mirra, and many other relatives were murdered by the Nazis in Kerch in December 1941, at the Bagerovo Trench. In the 1970s-80s, Nestiev took an active part in the public campaign to erect a monument to the victims of the Bagerovo Trench.
Izrail Nestiev died in 1993 in Moscow.