A Life in Music
Publication Year: 2007
The first modern biography in English of Russian composer-pianist Anton Rubinstein, this book places Rubinstein within the context of Russian and western European musical culture during the late 19th century, exploring his rise to international fame from humble origins in Bessarabia, as well as his subsequent rapid decline and marginalization in later musical culture. Taylor provides a balanced account of Rubinstein's life and his career as a piano virtuoso, conductor, composer, and as the founder of Russia's first conservatory. Widely considered the virtuosic heir to Liszt, and recognized internationally as an equivalent cultural icon, he performed with most leading musicians of the day, including Liszt himself, Joachim, Clara Schumann, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, and Ysaÿe.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Russian Music Studies
The subject of this revelatory book is the Russian composer and pianist Anton Grigoryevich Rubinstein (in no way to be confused with the late Polish master Artur Rubinstein, who was no relation). Born in Balta Podolia (Ukraine) on 28 November 1829 (he died in Peterhof on 20 November 1894), he was Russian of German extraction and Christian by virtue of his progenitors’ forced conversion from Judaism.
Posterity has not been entirely kind to Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894). Within fifty years of his death his reputation as one of the foremost musical figures in all of Europe had shrunk to a mere nothing. Anyone trying to assess Rubinstein’s achievements and the reasons for this paradoxical fall from grace has to keep in mind the three key aspects of his life’s work: his career on the concert platform, his educationalist work in founding Russia’s first music conservatory, and his achievements as a composer.
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Abbreviations for Sources
1. Prologue: The Historical Context
The second half of the eighteenth century saw a vast expansion in the territories of the Russian Empire. On the death of Catherine the Great in 1796 the empire extended some 305,794 square miles from the Gulf of Finland to Alaska on the North American continent.1 These acquisitions were gained chiefly in the West at the expense of Poland in the three partitions of 1772–95 (and later by the annexation of the Duchy of Finland in 1808), and southward in a whole series of largely successful wars against the Ottoman Empire.
2. Return to Russia and First Opera, 1848–53
At the end of 1848, after the outbreak of the revolutions that swept through France, Germany, and Austria, Rubinstein, nearing nineteen years of age, returned from Berlin to St. Petersburg. The turbulent political events that had overtaken Europe were certainly one factor in his decision to return to Russia. Fueled by a growing nationalism, the Risorgimento movement in Italy and the National Liberation movement in Hungary were shaking the foundations of European stability established at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
3. Foreign Tour, 1854–59
Before leaving Russia, Rubinstein was engaged to appear a number of times at various concert venues in St. Petersburg. In an all-Rubinstein concert at the Lichtenthal Hall on 2/14 March he performed the solo part in his Piano Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Carl Schuberth and then conducted the premiere of his Symphony in ...
4. The Founding of the Russian Music Society and Russia’s First Conservatory, 1859–67
For many Russian liberals and the intelligentsia the death of Nicholas I in 1855 and the accession of his son as Tsar Alexander II held out the hope of great social change in Russia. Alexander’s reign (r. 1855–81) is known in Russian history as the “era of great reforms,” and the first evidence of a change in direction came with the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861.
5. Europe and America Concert Tour, 1867–73
Rubinstein’s departure from the Conservatory was accompanied by a great deal of speculation. The immediate cause was his disagreement with other members of the teaching staff about some fundamental points of principle. He wished to defend music as a pure and noble form of art; many of the other professors wished to bow to public pressure in admitting more “fashionable music” as models for the students to study and play.
6. A Villa at Peterhof and Operatic Successes, 1873–85
The period from the end of Rubinstein’s American tour until his reappointment as director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1887 can be regarded as a period of consolidation. It saw the end of his forty-seven-year career as a concert artist and established his name as a composer with a European reputation. While continuing to give regular solo concerts, his endless peregrinations around Europe in the 1870s and 1880s stemmed as much from ...
7. The Historical Concerts and Second Term as Director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, 1885–91
Rubinstein spent the greater part of the summer of 1885 working on the programs of the Historical Concerts. There were to be seven in all covering the entire history of European piano music from the English virginalists to contemporary Russian composers (see Appendix C for programs). Rubinstein began his triumphant tour of Europe in Berlin during the autumn of 1885, ending it in London the following May.
8. Dresden, 1891–94
The minutes of the Artistic Council of the Conservatory for 18 January 1891 show that Rubinstein intended to relinquish his post at the Conservatory at the end of the academic year. He clearly wished N