Title page of Memoirs
The Itinerant Black - And - White
Dedicated to my wife Natalie, who made this work possible (signed) Alexander Borovsky
Waban, 1 September 1960
My family and I took yearly vacations in the estate of friends of my parents in the heart of Ukraine in the province of Poltava on the estate called Miloradovka. I went there at age 15. We lived only 5 miles from Dikanka village, scenes of stories by N. Gogol (1809-1852).
In the summer of 1909 I went there amidst great commotion. It was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava when Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725) routed the Swedish army of King Gustav Adolf. Everyone wanted to be there for the occasion of the arrival of Czar Nicholas II.
...on July 17, 1907 I was accepted in the Law School of the St. Petersburg University on a complete scholarship, graduating with the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree on May 28, 1914. I had left first in August 1907 to stay with my uncle, my family joining me later. Late in August 1907 my family arrived in St. Petersburg--my blind father, mother, seven of my sisters and brother.
...On September 10, 1907, I was admitted to the piano class of the St. Petersburg Conservatory on a scholarship where I studied with Annette Essipova. I remember how on my entrance exam I played the "Pastorale" Sonata of Beethoven and overheard the Director, Glazunov, telling the jury that they were in for a surprise, me being the oldest of eight children. I received a modest sum for monthly support. My mother decided to organize a music school in St. Petersburg. She went to Glazunov with two of my sisters, who played the piano well to get a recommendation for her school. My mother found an apartment on the 10th line on Vassilievskij Island which had 6 rooms and 3 pianos.
...While a student, Essipoff had asked me to learn the Faure Piano Quartet in G minor, Op 45 that the composer was expected in St. Petersburg during the autumn of 1910 and might come to hear the program at the Conservatory. Faure was at the concert and came to me with Glazunov. Faure had long white hair around his head and was very nice to me making some compliments and asking me to forgive him for making many mistakes which he would make playing same music in a few days. During 1910-1911 I received the A.G. Rubinstein stipend.
...When I saw how often students were victims of overcrowding conditions in the classes of the University I decided not to go to the classes unless it would be absolutely necessary. Two months before exams I started to read books for needed courses. After the first month of such work I developed an almost photographic memory and I could remember the whole page after reading it word for word. I was entranced over Logic and Architecture of Roman Law. I was also impressed with lectures of Professor Petrazicki and his original views on Encyclopedia of Law.
...When I first entered Essipoff's piano class she was already over 56 but I recall the brilliance and elegance she put into Chopin mazurkas and polonaises. Anyhow some of her ways of playing music of Beethoven and Brahms were strange to me. She never played a chord at once, but always made an arpeggio out of it. My professor did not object to my doing the music by my own way. As I later learned she was suffering from throat cancer of which she died only three years later. She was wonderful to me by introducing me to houses where she recommended me as piano teacher. I taught in the Palace of Gatchina, 25 miles southwest of St. Petersburg, home of the Czar's sister, Xenia (1875-1960). Xenia had 6 sons, all of whom studied with me. At the same time Glazunov recommended the school of my mother.
When 1910 came Essipoff started to prepare me for the Anton Rubinstein International Piano Competition. It was the last time of the Competition as the World War prevented making it an international affair and in 1920 the USSR was in the midst of the revolution and civil war. I remember I was standing at the entrance and I noticed a young man with curly hair and great nose who was repeating two words to the doorman, "Concours International." I came and led him to secretary of Competition. It was Artur Rubinstein. I missed Edwin Fischer who had bad luck to pick from the basket, "contestant 1" to play. I prepared the Concerto No 4 of Anton Rubinstein which everyone had to play when a colleague of mine came to talk to me about his impressions of the pianists. He said, "all play so loudly, furiously, so fortissimo and so heavily." I did not suspect him to have any secret idea when telling to me this but now I presume that he was anxious to spoil my chances of winning and he was not chosen from the class of Essipoff. when I came to play I wanted to be different, not so brutal and ferocious and it was a mistake and I was reprimanded by Essipoff for not displaying my true temperament which was another characteristic of my playing. But when I played the rest of my program I got enthusiastic approval from Essipoff. The prize did not go to either Rubinstein or Edwin Fischer. The winner was the Swiss pianist, Emil Frey (1889-1946) who one day before won honorary prize for composition. When he came back to play, Op 106, this was enough to acclaim him the best musician at this competition. Honorary mention was given to Artur Rubinstein and me. My father was in tears. I was pleased with my honorable mention as I was still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and did not yet start a concert career; I was one of the youngest participants and Glazunov was president of the jury.
Borovsky writes the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1862) organized a concert celebration of its 50th anniversary, December 16, 1912 with the same program of 50 years ago when founder of the Conservatory, Anton Rubinstein played his own Piano Concerto No 3 in G, Op 45. I was asked to play the Concerto. (The hall holds over 2,000 seats) The symphonic picture, "Ivan the Terrible, Op 79" of A. Rubinstein was conducted by Serge Prokofiev. As a result of my success Essipoff surprised him by demanding that I learn in 5 days "Islamey," written in 1869 by Balakirev which had been dedicated to Nicholai Rubinstein. She gave me the music on Monday. Saturday I played it by heart at a pupil's concert.
.......since my departure from Moscow has passed almost half a century my memory has carefully preserved much of my life during these years. But much else has been lost. Those documents which would have aided my thoughts unfortunately have not been preserved. Everything was destroyed before the world War in Berlin. Because of that I am left only with my memory and if there are some errors in my writings, I beg the reader to forgive me.
At the end of 1914 I received an invitation from Konstantin Igumnov (1873-1948) that the piano faculty of the Moscow Conservatory wished to invite me as professor of the advanced classes. I was all of 25 years, my whole musical life had been concentrated in St. Petersburg. I was very proud to receive this invitation and to know that I a young musician from St. Petersburg would become a member of the faculty of Moscow musicians since this was an exception to the normal procedure.
In the Conservatory I was very glad to meet Constantine Igumnov who introduced me to other professors. Before me now is a list of professors and teachers of the piano class for 1915-1916. Among the names I see are Nikolas Andrevich Orloff (1892-1964) and Emil Frey (1889-1946). Frey left for his native Switzerland at the end of the war. Ar the beginning of 1920 I met him often in London where he gave several piano recitals. Frey was a modest man, and I remember him as such from the time of the Anton Rubinstein Competition, 1910 (winner of the composition prize for his Piano Trio). He did not achieve an international career and he died suddenly a relatively young man.
I did not happen to meet Orloff at the Conservatory. But later we saw each other in many European countries where he performed in concerts. In some countries he was very popular and in others he was not known at all. He was successful first in England and Norway; afterwards in Italy and Yugoslavia; finally in Holland, but he was not known in Germany or France. He played the works of Chopin beautifully. His Chopin was more intimate than brilliant, more lyrical than romantic. Orloff had beautiful hands which made it possible for him to play Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3 perfectly. Subsequently we became friends.
The other members of the piano faculty I remember more or less clearly. Only I, at that time, and two other professors gave concerts in Moscow and in the provinces, C.N. Igumnov and A.B. Goldenweiser (1875-1961).
The playing of Igumnov was altogether different from that of Goldenweiser as he was the character of these two outstanding teachers in the Conservatory at that time. Igumnov was a very nervous man and this was reflected in the tempo and strength of his sound. But everyone knew that at the beginning of his performances he overcame his shyness and then the piano began to sound differently. The melody with many lyrical shades and delicate nuances would begin to sing wonderfully.
Goldenweiser, from the first number on the program was completely master of his own moves. He was a strict performer, striving to fulfill all the wishes of the composer; his favorite composer was Beethoven, whose music filled the major part of his programs. However I recall how magnificently Goldenweiser played the 10th Sonata of Scriabin. He was able to play brilliantly short pieces of Schumann as his "Scenes of Childhood," with a variety of delicate nuances.
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1851) was a wonderful pianist, both with the exception of the works of Beethoven, he only played his own music. I do not doubt that a few others of our professors were also excellent pianists, but I do not remember if they gave any recitals.
I remember my affable colleague, A.F. Goedick (1877-1957), H. Pachulaki (185901919), having written a few lovely compositions for the piano.
I remember well one of the most popular professors amongst the pupils of the Conservatory, Carl August Kipp. He was able, best of all others, to develop the technical talents of his pupils. At all of the pupil parties or at the exams, his pupils made the biggest impression on perfect dexterity, lightness of the wrist and especially the smoothness of the sounds in the fast passages. Those pupils, for whom this aspect of the playing on the piano, was most important, would not exchange Kipp for any other teacher in the world. Interesting to note, that about in every conservatory, there is one such professor for whom pupils invariably put their best foot forward by correct technique; sometimes this technique combines with good taste which was the case with our professor Kipp.
One of the active members of the faculty was Serge Prokofiev. I recall how he enthusiastically defended his ideas at the faculty meetings, and often argued with A.B. Goldenweiser, who also played a large part in the academic life of the Conservatory and knew its structure very well. Among the other members of the faculty were woman professors, Alexandra Ivanova Gybert and Anna Pavlova Ostrovsky.
I remember well the tall figure of E.V. Bogoslovsky, professor music history with whom I was friendly and who introduced me to many sights of Moscow and it;s orchestras. My recollections about other professors is understandably dim. when I moved to Moscow, I didn't doubt for one minute I would have classes there of a high level; firstly I was little known in Moscow; secondly, I was a new comer in the field of education. Lastly, all the students, who enrolled in our conservatory and who had the right to pick their teachers according to their works, tried for the class of Igumnov or Goldenweiser and those who were interested in the problems of technical perfection, went to the class of professor Kipp. There were others, who signed up with the senior professors of the conservatory. However, I hoped that there would be those who wanted to work with a quite new professor coming from St. Petersburg. Thus, I was ignorant as to what to expect from my class.
In my class. as with other professors, were many more girl pupils, than boy pupils. This was not unusual in conservatories in normal times, but in 1915 when the country was at war and the youth were mobilized into the army this was especially noticeable--out of 28 pupils, only 2 were men.
I remember Elena Pavlouna Protopopova and Nina Vasilevna Otto best of all my pupils. Protopopova enrolled in my class from the very beginning. (Borovsky's Archive contains several letters from her which I will have translated) She distinguished herself with her lively, strong playing; her music spoke with full sincerity. The playing corresponded to the personal disposition of this young woman. Protopopova was, it seems, the only one of my pupils to receive a diploma as professional artist in my class.
It is necessary to keep in mind that there was no normal academic life between 1915-1920 and there was no question that studies occurred with many interruptions. Nina Otto was of an artistic nature, her repertoire reflected the animation of the kind of music where the pianist was able to venture great freedom in the treatment of rhythm and tempo. She only played compositions of Chopin, Schumann and Scriabin.
I valued more than anything in pupils love of music, ability to experience music as he most wonderful condition of the soul, forgetting everything on earth by the influences of the sounds. In such pupils I was fortunate and was not chagrined by their inexperience and their shortcomings if I saw that they were gifted and burned with the love of music. A few such then were in my class and I remember them with gratitude and warmth.
The 1915-1916 academic season was, it seems the only one of the five years of my work at the Conservatory, when the studies began at the end of August and were over at the end of may. In February 1917 school discipline in the Conservatory became chaotic because of the political events--the fall of the czarist power and the establishment of the republic. Pupils attended meetings, participated in demonstrations. Formal academic studies continued, but is fact to get some kind of discipline from the students was very hard, almost impossible. From December 1917 to the arrival of spring of the following year life in the conservatory, because of the absence of full and light, hardly glimmered.
Studies at the Conservatory were almost cut short. I would have been entirely able to give myself to piano playing but the cold began to freeze my fingers, My forced idleness ended at the very beginning of 1918 when I initiated organization by professors and students of the conservatory with educational goals to perform before different audiences of Moscow workers in several districts of Moscow and also before cadets of the regiments. I had no singers or violinists to accompany so that we arranged the programs right at the concert or on the way to concerts. Compensation for the concerts was in the form of groceries, which were worth their weight in gold.
Elena Pavlovna Protopopova announced that she was acquainted with the commissar of a technical military school, who wished to have the students there receive an education in the field of music. It was suggested that I give a musical program of my own choice and explain for the audience about the composition of the works. Other musicians from the Moscow Conservatory came to this school. Among whom were Sergei Vasilievich Rosanov, violist, Vadim Vasilievich Borisovsky, Elena P. Protopopova and different singers. Thus I began a new, for me, life of work. We traveled to the region of Christye Prudy (Clear Ponds) (the exact address I no longer remember) in the course of two winters, every two weeks.
The commissar of these courses unfailingly attended our concerts; apparently he was a great connoisseur of music. The audience was very attentive not only to my talk about music, but to the music itself; and this allowed us to set up a serious program of the works of Bach, Mozart, once in a while Beethoven, the compositions of Schumann, Schubert and Brahms. We were provided with a fully fine piano, allowing for delicate touches and nuances of phrasing. Little by little conditions of life in Moscow improved.
At the Conservatory in the Small Hall they put a small stove near the sixth or seventh row of chairs; it was possible now to give student concerts there; placards even appeared with the announcement of the concerts of the various musicians. I remember that people tried to buy tickets not next to the stove, but near it and then you could see how differently the public had to dress for the concert depending whether they were far from or near to the heat; women in the first row, or at the back of the hall did not remove their overcoat, for it was very cold in the hall. Of course this stove did not furnish any comfort to the performers on the stage.
The teachers at the Conservatory began to prepare their students for student evenings in the Small Hall. I had to do this also, but it turned out that when I did not try to prepare my students for such a performance that which I heard on stage, was by far worse than their playing in class. The poor quality of playing on stage was peculiar not only to pupils but also to much worse experienced musicians, especially at the beginning of the program when they still were not familiar with the acoustics of the hall, with their nervousness and fear. Once I was so horrified at unexpected mistakes or a lapse of memory on the part of my pupils that I literally sank into a panic state; and instead of listening to my pupils on stage, and trying to explain my own guilt of their poor performance, I simply stopped going to hear them. Such cowardice on my part tormented me right up to the time when I, many years later recognized in Europe that Artur Schnabel during his whole life in educational affairs never appeared at the concerts of his pupils.
At the beginning of the 1918 winter Column Hall, the former assembly, now called the House of the Soviets was heated and Sergei Alexanderovich Koussevitzky began his season of symphonic concerts. On February 11, 1919 he invited me to play Beethoven's, "Emperor," concerto. Before me is the program of this concert and the one following 1920. Analysis of the two programs reflect the time with startling clarity.
In the spring of 1920 my best pupil, E.P. Protopopova played her graduating exam which I did not attend because of the already stated reason. But how happy I was to hear from all the professors, that they were satisfied with her playing. I received much praise from others from whom I had expected only criticism.
The summer of 1920 arrived; I was as relieved for the concert tour that I decided to go to Tiflis, where they knew me very well from earlier visits. Filling two suitcases with clothing and linen, almost without music or money near the middle of July 1920, I traveled south. I stayed in Kharhov for two weeks, gave two recitals there, arrived at Rostov-on-Don where I also played two or three times, gave a concert in Grozny and spent a few weeks in the beautiful city of Vladikavkaz (formerly Orjonikidj); here I met the cellist, Evsei Beloussoff (1882-1945) with whom I performed five or six concerts. In Tiflis we found ourselves toward the end of September. Immediately after our arrival there, we announced our concerts and had such success that in the course of two months we gave twenty concerts in this city. The tickets to which were invariably sold out. These were solo concerts, sometimes played together, chamber music and arranged several symphonic concerts in the opera building where Beloussoff accompanied me in the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Liszt Beethoven, etc.
This success had such an influence on music lovers that it assisted us in arranging concerts in europe. Success in Tiflis filled me with hope for a fine reception abroad when I still had never been. With Beloussoff we left Tiflis at the beginning of December, by February 1921 we headed of to Paris. In the opening of that year I was again a soloist at a concert of Koussevitzky, but this time in Paris and London and soon after this I began to travel the whole world.
Readers of my Memoirs might reproach me how I was able to so light heartedly abandon my post of professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Here I have to admit, that in those years I wanted terribly to perform at concerts, for I did not, yet consider myself fully ready for academic training.
Only many years later after I had given more than 2000 concerts, but briefly, after I made a recording of an enormous number of musical works in London, Paris and New York I was able to solve many questions in piano playing, which tormented me in the beginning of my teaching career and which became clear to me as time went by; then I felt I could improve the play of young talent and help them to correct many problems.
These problems were in the field of interpretation and analysis of music; to its aesthetic side (in the sense of subtleties of color shading) but not to that field, which can be called the technical side of pianism. I saw how different the hands of pianists were, how many of them solved masterly difficulties in such different ways, that you simply couldn't believe it with your own eyes, how this was plausible. There the approach to the techniques had to be individual with the exception of the well-known rules, generally accepted throughout the world. I consider the different approach to the compositions no less important to its dependence from that, described by the composer.
Should the question about intention of the stated tempo by the composer be solved in the same way individually. The phrasing of melody presents a great difficulty for it is necessary to build the strong and weak moments, to clear up methods toward the crest of the melodies, to the phrasing as for example in songs. The ability to read music notations and between the lines is a very valuable skill for the performer, and I devoted much time to the development of this skill. It is a very complicated as to do the need of playing trills.
This question can be answered in diffrent ways depending on the age to which the composer belonged. Can one play trills unconsciously or with exact representation o the sounds which have been composed. I hold the latter point of view, for I found that of the notes of the trill were played with great smoothness, then the listener created the impression of something endless, perpeual motion during the time the pianist must control the trill at all times.