Borovsky's Writings

Clavier Companion piano magazine published Borovsky's "The Bach Specialists Of the World" article in their March/April 2018 issue (Vol. 10, No. 2). This article was submitted (previously unpublished) by William Jones. It is thought that this article may have been written to be included with Borovsky's Well-Tempered Clavier recording.

From an article that was printed in Moscow newspaper following Borovsky's first return to Russia in 1927 (translation):
"Alexander Borovsky has returned to the Soviet Union and is giving concerts with tremendous success. He develops in his performances with a full, deep and rich tonal character strong, yet gentle rhythm, colorful resilient tones and light temperament, a totally masterful performance. These vibrantly presented sounds are from his piano repertoire and bring Alexander Borovsky's name to the forefront of music."

The above words had been written earlier about a previous performance, typifying this artist's great talent and experience. From this early characterization nothing has changed. Borovsky's tireless and relentless pursuit of self-improvement, has greatly further deepened and developed his talent and ability. This is discussed from a letter received from him while he was in Paris.

Borovsky writes, "I had to spend the entire summer in Paris, working without vacation. Facing me was the prospect of a work-laden winter full of travel searching to find and learn new works and harmonies from my piano repertoire. Sometimes I think about those musicians who play one and the same pieces every year. They are competent and experienced within their beloved repertoires, but they are not slaves to themselves; they can know everything aside again. I have always been attached to or drawn to new compositions or creations, and at the same time, my mind covers like rust those older works over which I had previously struggled and worried. I know that this "rusting over" is not a sign of old age but a rejuvenation and an unknown force within myself. Still without vacation or rest, a burning passion, ever pulses within me toward more and new experiences of beauty and creation in my profession. But nothing can be created without great toil, concentration, straining to listen, and finger and nerve strain and exertion. Don't think I am lazy and complaining--I love to work hard and labor over my beloved art and I am the most happy when I am working. I get ecstatic whenever I think of my return to Moscow and where I can meet again with old friends and together with them devise new programs for those people and places who like to hear new music."

From an article-interview that was printed in "Het Nieuws van de Dag voor Ned.-Indie" newspaper (The  News of the Day for Dutch-India) of Friday, June 1, 1934
Interview with Borovsky
 ...a translation

"I am a Bach player."
In the small world of famous international pianist's Alexander Borovsky, who is soon going to give concerts here in Indonesia, is a figure who is getting more and more attention, especially in recent years. It took a rather long time before he showed himself in the Netherlands, but his debut in our country in 1929 caused immediately a whole bunch of  lyrical praise (?) which is hard to believe that it was written by our realistic peevish pens.

The friendly intervening of the chairman/president of the 'Bond van Kunstkringen (Confederation of Art Clubs) who is organizing Borovsky's Indonesian tour gave us the opportunity to an unconstrained/free and easy meeting with the artistic tourist, who turned out to be a most charming fellow and a pleasant conversationalist.
After the usual chat about the journey on the Marnix (Borovsky travelled almost one month with a ship called the 'Marnix van Sint Aldegonde' from Holland to Indonesia) and the temperature which elicit less enthusiastic commentary--it is Borovsky's first journey to the Far East--the conversation soon turned to a common interest in the country with unlimited possibilities across the Pacific, more specific to Boston where Sergei Koussevitzky is in charge of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Borovsky's admiration for the leader of this orchestra is unlimited but the admiration seems to be mutual.  Koussevitzky has invited the pianist, soon after World War 1 ended, to play as a soloist with his orchestra in Berlin and became therefore the stepping stone to his career.  A better introduction was for this former lawyer, who put the toga away for good and became professor at the Conservatory of Moscow, barely thinkable.
The subject led to a question about Russia as it is nowadays.
"I give there concerts regularly" was the answer, "but I rather not talk about this country.  There are things happening in Russia I don't like," says Alexander Borovsky, "but I'm a-politcal and I don't want to make enemies in my native country.  People are sensitive over there. Rachmaninov for example is a social enemy because his family belonged to those who had so much property..against me, who lived under modest circumstances, the Russians have no objections.  Like Prokofiev."
With this remark the conversation went on about Prokofiev, the modern composer who is accrding to Borovsky one of the most important figures among the contemporary composers and whose Third Piano Concerto belongs to his favorite repertoire too.
We asked Borovsky to give a general characteristic about himself.
"I am a Bach player." A short but pregnant answer which made us reply that this hasn;t been taken into account concerning the choice of program for the coming concert.
"And what about Chopin?"
"Chopin was the First one who completely distinguished and discerned the real quality/capacity and possibilities of the piano and who could express this.  For a pianist there is nothing more delighful and more familiar than his compositions.  He is for the piano the same as Pushkin for Russian poetry, Mizhiewies for Polish lyrics and Shakespeare for theatre.  Nevertheless I am not fond of playing Chopin in concert, the public asks too much the 'young ladies' romances which they see in Chopin, a mood/feeling which I don't feel in it and which I don't wish to express in it.  I don't want to sacrifice my personality to the false taste of the mass.  
The auditorium responds in general much purer to Bach, whose dynamics and mortal power has a peculiar strong echo these days.  Beethoven however has not an easy appeal even in his most beautiful Sonatas because o the intimate sensitivity/sensibility which makes it necessary to make certain preparatory studies to understand him." 
Referring to a remark about the modern composers Borovsky further told us about a series of five concerts played by him in Paris which are totally dedicated to contemporary masters. We hope to hear some of the immense list of composers he mentioned and he seems to have in his repertoire (Milhaud, Berg, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Villa-Lobos) at the second concert.
Last, but not least, we must not neglect to tell one of many anecdotes Borovsky amused us with. They illustrated the discussion about the very refined difficulties which occur concerning giving concerts in the USA.  They illustrate the miraculous coincidences which can give a person the necessary popularity to the public.
One evening Rachmaninov gave a concert for an almost empty concert hall.  After the concert he visited with a small group of companions a cafe where a jazz band played coincidentally his famour 'Prelude,' arranged as a foxtrot.  Afterwards someone meant to be polite by giving disapproval remarks about this 'profamation' etcetera.  The maestro responded laconic and found it this way was even much nicer.  This incident was spread and came even in the newspaper.  The next concert the concert hall was chock-full.  Nobody wanted to miss the chance to see and hear a high brow musician who preferred jazz to his own work.
   I sincerely thank my Netherlands colleague, Henri Nijsten, for this translation

Borovsky's written tribute to Theodore Steinway on the 100th Anniversary of the House of Steinway. Dates 4 Jul 1953:

"Dear Mr. Theodore E. Steinway, For many days I was trying to find some original form to express my eternal gratitude for the happiness which I feel each time when I am playing Steinway piano...I would like you to believe that on each page of enthusiastic approvals and deep felt gratitude for the beauties and perfection of your instruments you would read also my signature. (signed) Alexander Borovsky

Listing of Composers and Conductors which Borovsky had typed as part of his Memoirs.
The listing of pianists is at bottom of page.

                  Letter written by Borovsky to Olin Downes, music critic of the New York Times, dated "22 February 1948 Helsinki," regarding his visit with Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
   Dear Mr. Downes,
               Yesterday I was in the home of Jan Sibelius. It was a great privilege since the old man rarely accepts visitors. Especially in winter when visitors must leave their car on the main road and then walk some 500 feet on the simple path in the snow. You would not recognize the scenery around "Ainola" since the refugees from Karelia which was taken by Russia built many new tiny houses close to "Ainola." In my honor, the walk of the hill to the house was covered by sand which Mrs. Eva Paloheimo (1893-1978), the oldest daughter of composer, saw the first time this winter. 
                I entered the house which you know so well with a sense of deep emotional gratitude to the composer for giving me the happiness of his hospitality. He was in a splendid form. His familiar head is untouched by numbers 82 years. His mind is clear, his memory is excellent. He, his wife, and his daughter spoke of you with genuine friendliness and even love, they all send you their best regards. He loves "Ainola," and says that he could live only either here or in London or New York-nothing between would suit him. 
                 Then he said that next to music he loves cigars-and I was happy to see how he enjoyed one which I brought him from Stockholm. He spends his life at the radio, and it is late-about 2 o'clock in the night-when he extinguishes his lamp, called "the star" by his neighbours. When going through experiences of youth, he laughed remembering how he was thrown out of bed by a stroke of bell of a "Ainola" church-just next to his window in hotel which he opened because of the summer heat. 
                  He was entertaining, charming, lovable-and a great man in every move and word. You feel his great soul shining through his eyes. I was deeply touched by these two hours of his company. 
           Helsinki has only two spots where you can see the traces of war-otherwise the most industrious people of this country repaired everything else. And concert life is in full swing. I am giving in five days three concerts- all three completely sold out before I ever arrived here. 
                With warmest greetings and with the promise to give you more details about Sibelius and Finland when I shall see you in person in New York.
                       Very sincerely yours, 
                        (signed) Alexander Borovsky sincerest thanks to the Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscript Library of the University of Georgia, Athens, for permission to quote this letter.

                                  Extracts from the 3 Conferences on Bach and Liszt given in Paris in February 1939, April 1939, and February 1938

                                     Extract from Lecture #4 of Bach given February 1, 1939 in Paris
                                                The Well-Tempered Clavichord
   This beautiful work of Bach is not only the "New Testament" of the pianist, according to Hans von Bulow but it is also the "New Testament" of all the composers later than Bach, who find in those Preludes and in these Fugues an exhaustless source of inspiration.
  The first part of this work (the 24 Preludes and Fugues) appeared in 1720, the second one (the other 24 Preludes and Fugues) appeared more than 20 years later. "Clavicordio bien templado" (Well-Tempered Clavichord) entered immediately in the musical tradition and since then it kept it's place at all times and in every place where serious music is appreciated.  This work has been the cause of disagreement between Mozart and his wife. She reproached him several times for not being able to compose a fugue as beautiful as that of Bach.
  Beethoven always used to finish his concerts at Van Sweiten's home in Vienna with the performance of several Preludes and Fugues.  Chopin always knew by heart ten or twelve Preludes and Fugues and he used to play them for his students very often. Schumann used to call this work. "The daily bread" of the pianist.  It is also known that for Wagner the interpretation of these Preludes and these Fugues by Liszt, was a revelation.  Busoni considered them as the starting point of all pianistic art...
   We all know that Bach himself has not left almost any indications for the interpretation of the Preludes and Fugues. In all 24 Preludes and Fugues there are only six cases in which movement indication is given, such as "presto," or "forte," "fortissimo;" there are very few periods for "staccato" or arches for "legato." Also, there is not general indication about the character of the musical piece such as "tranquillo," "dolce," "energico," etc. in other words, no annotations.
   Several editions of this work try to reproduce exactly the text of the different manuscripts, without including any indication about its interpretation. The ones that are well known are those of Dr. Bischoff,  professor Francis Tovey and Gabriel Faure.  Other editions abound in auciliary notes about the shades(nuances?) of interpretation.  The most popular are those of Czerny, Tausig, Klindworth and Busoni....

                               Extract from Lecture #8 of Bach given April 1, 1939 in Paris

                                                                  The Inventions
   ....Sometimes the sun reflects itself in a drop of water, sometimes the exact and deep meaning of a work, the essence of the creative genius is revealed in a little piece of cloth, in a few square centimeters of a picture, in the lines of a (?), or in the harmony of a spire.  "The Inventions" of Bach belong to these sublime synthesis of art.
   In the preface of the complete manuscript of "The Inventions," published in 1723, the Master himself expresses that the main purpose of "The Inventions," is to serve as a means to reach the piano, the art of "cantabile," the art of singing....this is the purpose of these compositions.
  Bach offers to us a series of miniatures--a group of 30--in each one of them the soul of the composer seems to be revealed, each one is saturated of deep feeling, each one is presented as a work completely independent. The richness of the creative disposition (or character) of Bach is shown fully in his "Inventions"....

                       Extract from Lecture #4 of Bach given February 1, 1939 in Paris
                                                                  English Suites
   ...The classic "suite" is composed of circles of dances which are not joined among them except for the tonality itself.
    The suite appeared in the XVI century but the dances of which it was composed of then, were different than those of Bach's era. In the time of Bach and Handel, the main part of the suite was composed of ..; the German dance, 2), The French one, 3; the sarabande (Spanish dance); the gigue (English dance). To this main part of the suite the intermezzo was gregarious under the form of a gavotte, of minuet, of a bourree.
 ....Bach freed the suite of the tyranny of the dance's rhythm, making an introduction to precede it which he used to call sometimes "prelude," sometimes, "preamble," or even symphony. In this introduction, which always opened his "Suites Angloses," Bach was giving a freely course to his inspiration, creating something as a "sonata-allegro," and elevating the suite this way to a level of a deep and important musical composition.  There was not anything left but one step to arrive to the truly Sonata, this is the reason why the classic, suite, reached the top at the era of Bach and Handel, to disappear later on in the horizon.

                                Extract from Lecture of Franz Liszt given February 1, 1938 in Paris
                                                                Toccatas and Chorales (for organ)
..Bach composed many toccatas for clavichord and for organ. The element of fantasy, proper of the toccatas, made possible that the piano composers of the romanticism era, who did not know much about Bach's legacy for clavichord, had put their attention in the toccatas for organ, and that they had left us many of them and also excellent transcriptions.
  Some time ago, there was a strong motion in the musical printing press and among the musicians against the transcription.  This movement was the result of a thesis. According to this thesis each musical work should have been played on the instrument for which it was written originally. If this thesis would be right and if we would follow it, logically. today's pianists should resign to perform the music of Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Haydn, and Mozart. But what would it become of all of those who have musical sense if the world's pianists would not have an idea of Bach and of Mozart? Wouldn't it be cruel to deprive us of such a joy, just because of an austere(?) principle (?). It is true that the transcriptions damage the composition if it is not well done and if present editions do not respect the composer's style.  But we must feel gratitude to Tausig, Liszt, Busoni, for revealing to us the treasure of Bach's music for organ. 
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