Borovsky Biography

Alexander Borovsky (Aleksandr Kirilovich Borovski) (BOROWSKY) was born in Mitau, Latvia, on March 8, 1889 (Julian calendar, March 18-19), and died on April 27, 1968 in Waban, Massachusetts, USA. His parents were Kirill Nikolayevich Borovsky (1862-1940), an honored citizen barrister/attorney, and Vera Vigelmovna Vengerova (b. 1870 Suwalki, Russia -1926).

Borovsky was baptized in 1892 in the church of St. Mitavsky, Simeon's and St. Anna's Orthodox Parish of Mitau, as evidenced by this extract of his birth and baptism of the Church:

Borovsky received his early musical training from his mother, an accomplished pianist and pupil of Vasili Safonov (1852-1917), who in turn studied with Leschetizky. Alexander learned his first scales in Ennisseysk, a small outpost of civilization in Siberia, where his father held a government position. The piano was one regularly loaned to the family by the captain of the ship which put into port every year before the ice set in, and stayed until the ice broke up in the spring. He was seven when his mother overheard him playing a Chopin scherzo, which she herself had been studying. His mother did not permit him to give public concerts until he had finished his course at the Conservatory. Borovsky was the oldest of eight children: Elena (18971-197?), a Moscow surgeon who received the Lenin Prize for outstanding work in orthopedic medicine, Maria (1893-1973), Nadejala (1870-1970), who graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1918; Olga (1900-?), who played both the piano and violin, Sergei (1902-1939), Titiana (1904-19?) and Vladimir (1906, who died in childbirth).

Borovsky's Piano Lineage

Alexander graduated from Libava's gymnasium for boys (high school) on June 4, 1907 with a gold medal (summa cum laude). His sister Elena graduated from Libava's gymnasium for girls on the same day, also with a gold medal. On September 10, 1907, Borovsky applied and was accepted as one of a number of students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the class of piano studying with Annette Essipova (1850-1914), and in the 1910-1911 school year he was awarded the Anton G. Rubinstein stipend. Nicholas Slonimsky wrote to me in September 1979 that "Borovsky was sent to my aunt, Isabelle Vengerova (1879-1956), for a few weeks of training during Essipova's absence. Also in New York, Borovsky used to come to see Vengerova to play over his pieces before a concert." Dr. Wiktor Lubinski (1895-1974), a piano student of Nikolayev, Felix Blumenfeld and Safonov, wrote to me in 1969 that he "was present at Borovsky's final examination--a very brilliant performance of the Liszt E-flat Concerto with a second piano."

Borovsky's high school grades from the Libau Gymnasium June 1907. Also, "In attention to the ever-excellent behavior, excellent diligence and great success in the sciences is recognized worthy of a GOLD MEDAL award."

Subjects: The Law of God--5, Russian language and literature-5, Logic-5, Latin-5, Greek (illegible), Mathematics-5, Physics-5, Mathematical geography-5, History-5, Geography-5, German-5, French-5, Jurisprudence-5.

5 was the highest mark a student could achieve.

This document was signed by the Director, Acting Inspector and 6 teachers, and violet stamp certified by the Libava notary Sokolovskiy June 17, 1907 and given to A.K. Borovskiy.

On July 17, 1907 Borovsky was also accepted for the first course as an undergraduate at the law school of the University of St. Petersburg on full scholarship, from which he graduated with honors in 1914 and received a degree of a lawyer which was issued on May 28, 1914.

Borovsky graduated as a "free artist" from the Conservatory in 1912 with a small gold medal (summa
cum laude in some parts of his education, magna cum laude in others) and received the Anton Rubinstein prize - a grand piano from Schroeder piano factory (pictured at right) - as a reward. In 1970, this grand piano was in the home of his sister Elena, who lived in Moscow and worked as an orthopedic surgeon.

Pictured at right is a list of the graduating class of St. Petersburg Conservatory, 1912. Borovsky's name is fourth in list. The third column marked "X" shows the "little gold medal" received, and the 5th column shows she Schroeder grand piano.

In 1910 he entered the Fifth Anton Rubinstein Competition in St. Petersburg, August 9-18, and received honorable mention for excellence in piano playing along with Artur Rubinstein. The Board of Examiners consisted only of Russian musicians.

Borovsky's concerts, which soon followed, were crowded wherever he played - even during the early Soviet regime when coal was scarce and the heating of the concert hall was a problem. Immediately after one concert in Moscow attended by Konstantin Igumonov (1873-1938), Borovsky received an invitation from Igumonov to the post of piano professor at the Moscow Conservatory from 1915-1920. Labunski also writes that "my next encounter with A.B. was in Moscow, after the Communist Coup; he was Professor of 'superior' piano classes at the Moscow Conservatory (there were no 'Masterclasses' at the Conservatory at the time). He was unmarried and lived with the von Meck family, relatives of Madame Nadejda von Meck, sponsor of Tchaikovsky. There were few artists from abroad that 1917-1918 season, so Borovsky gave a whole series of recitals at the Conservatory Recital Hall. That year, he definitely strove for originality of interpretation and the musical community of Moscow tagged him the 'Russian Busoni.'"

In March 1920 Borovsky gave his first Berlin solo recital in Beethoven-Saal.

In 1920 Borovsky left Russia and gave concerts in France, England and Germany. In July 1920 Borovsky went to Tiflis, Georgia for a concert series. During the two months he played over 20 concerts and embarked on a large number of tours in Baku, Saratov, Kharkov and Press. The Tiflis proved so successful that he began giving recitals in Poland and other Balkin countries. At the same time he toured Russia again with Evsei Belousoff (1882-1945), Russian concert cellist, performing 23 concerts together within three months, beginning in Vienna, November 21, 1921. On April 29, 1921 at the invitation of Serge Koussevitzky, he performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris and on May 6, 1921, Scriabin's Prometheus (The Poem of Fire) Op 60.

In 1921 Russian emigre colonies around the world were settling in as it became clear that the Civil War was being won by the Red Army. Paris became a favorite place for Russians, due to its relative closeness to Russia.  Borovsky met his future wife, "Moussa" Viktorovna Sila-Nowicki and in 1922 were married at Christmas tine.  He made several tours of Europe and in the spring they left for a long trip by ocean steamer, first to Brazil, from there to Argentina and finally on the ship, "Southern Cross," departed from Argentina for New York City arriving with his wife on October 2.  He made his Carnegie Hall debut, October 17, 1923.

When they returned to France in December 1923, they initially shared an apartment with Lina and Serge Prokofieff in Sevres, just outside of Paris.  Moussia gave birth to a daughter, Natalya, August 5, 1924.  Two days later Natalya was born.  Koussevitzky and his wife were in town, and they came to see Natalya.

The following summer (1924-1925) Borovsky returned to America for a brief tour, owing to the fact he was booked for a concert tour of twelve concerts in the Balkins, eight in Germany, twelve in Scandinavia, five in London and six in Paris.  The following season he returned to America for the months of January and February.

In 1927-1937 Borovsky came almost every year to Russia to play in Moscow and Leningrad.
On June 7, 1927, Borovsky gave the first performance of Albert Roussel's (1869-1937) Piano Concerto in G, Op 36 in Paris with Serge Koussevitzky.
Borovsky's 1933 tour of Russia lasted tor three months; he gave annual concerts in his birth city of Riga and Liepaja.

In 1936 Borovsky's recording of J.S. Bach's English Suite No 3 in G minor, BWV 1052 won the Grand Prix in Paris for the best recording.

In 1938 he gave a series of all Bach recitals in several European and South American capitals.

In April 1938, Borovsky gave lessons at the Muzieklyceum in Amsterdam until the beginning of World War II. He had two assistants: Ferencz Weisz (1893-1944) and Jo Goudsmit (1892-19??) There even was a Borovsky Competition, and the jury included Eduard van Beinum, Jaap Spaanderman and Willem Andriessen. At this same time he played chamber music with Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp (cello) and Nicholas Roth (violin).

In 1939, he formed a Piano Trio with Netherlands musicians: Carel Boomkamp (1906-19??), cellist (who became the youngest Dutch cellist in history of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Orchestra) and Nicholas Roth (1903-1990), violin. They gave successful concerts in London and Netherlands. 

In 1949, Borovsky was part of the founding committee for the Busoni International Piano Competition. Below is a modern program listing members of the founding committee. 

In 1941 he settled in Waban, MA and shortly thereafter became an American citizen. In 1956, Borovsky was invited to the piano faculty of Boston University.

During his 47 years of concertizing, Borovsky performed more than 2500 concerts from Helsinki to Singapore, Buenos Aires, London, Mexico, Copenhagen, Boston, New York and Paris. He appeared in concert with the Boston Symphony 23 times, in Carnegie Hall 16 times, and collaborated with over 42 conductors. Among the works frequently performed by Borovsky were Petrouchka, Gaspard de la Nuit, Valses Nobles et entimentales and Toccata of Ravel, Sarcasms, Op 17, Visions Fugitives, Op 22, and Sonatas of Prokofiev; also Islamey of Balakirev which he memorized in five days, Pictures at an Exhibition, Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor, and Sonatas---Pathetique, Waldstein, Appassionata, Moonlight, Op 101, 109, 110, 111. Borovsky also programmed many J.S. Bach cycles, and works of Scriabin, Schumann, Liszt and Chopin. His favorite concertos were Bach's D minor (performed over 50 times), Beethoven's 4th and 5th, Liszt's E-flat and 'Totendantanz,' Tchaikovsky's B-flat minor, Weber's Konzertstuck, Op 79, Rachmaninoff's 2nd, and Prokofiev's 3rd. Borovsky premiered the Albert Roussel Concerto in Paris with Koussevitzky on July 6 1928, and performed this frequently. Some of the conductors that Borovsky worked with were Serge Koussevitzky,  Charles Munch, Eugen Jochum, Issay Dobowen, Vaclav Talich, Wilhelm van Otterlo, Leopold Stokowski, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Sir Henry Wood, Paul Paray, Vladimir Golschmann, Pierre Monteaux, Erich Kleiber, Sir John Barbirolli, Ferenc Fricsay, Eduard van Beinum, Ernest Ansermet, and many others.

In 1910, while Borovsky was a pupil of Essipova, she asked him to record for the piano company Welte-Mignon piano rolls, at the same time as Scriabin. Borovsky recorded the Rachmaninoff Elegie, Op 3, No 1; this green roll can be heard on YouTube (Rachmaninoff's AMPICO roll did not appear until 1929).

Borovsky later recorded for the Duo-Art and Aeolian piano roll companies in New York. He also recorded for Vox, Polydor and Decca recording companies. Among his recordings were the complete Bach Inventions/Sinfonias, English-French Suites (complete), the complete Well-Tempered Clavier, Franz Liszt's  Hungarian Rhapsodies (complete) and his Transcendental Etudes. In 1936 his recording of Bach's English Suite in G Minor won the Grand Prix Award
in Paris.

(Two of the Welte Mignon piano rolls which Borovsky made in 1910. Note that the Rachmaninoff  Elegie, Op 3 No 1 was incorrectly printed on box as Op 39.)

Although he was veteran of some 2,500 world-wide concerts in his 47 years of performing, Borovsky never achieved quite the reputation he deserved - and hence this blog devoted to my mentor and teacher.

Borovsly's repertoire was wide and unusually eclectic, ranging from 18th century music (J.S. Bach remained a special preoccupation), and works of Hindemith, Schoenberg, Szymanowski, Stravinsky as well as contemporary French composers. Throughout his career he maintained a keen interest in new developments, giving the premiere of Lopatnikoff's Sonata in E, Op 29 in 1944 and often featuring works of Messiaen in his programs.

                                                                Borovsky's Obituary
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