Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rachmaninov – early family influences

The women in Sergei Rachmaninov’s family were a great influence in the early part of his life and career. As mentioned in last week’s post, his mother, Lyubov Petrovna Butakova, gave him is first piano lessons. She also became the main family care giver shortly after the family moved to St. Petersburg. Her mother was also an important part of young Sergei’s life. He was the doted upon favourite of his grandmother Butakova. She took him to Russian Orthodox church services on a regular basis, exposing him to chants and church bells – the impact of which can be heard in several of his pieces. Sergei was able to play anything that he heard and he often played for his grandmother after their trips to church – earning a coin in return.

Grandmother Butakova is the one who defended Sergei when he got into trouble. She took him away on restorative vacations to the countryside. When he failed his academic exams and was in danger of losing his scholarship at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, she convinced her daughter to find another way. His mother consulted with her nephew, Alexander Siloti, who suggested Sergei study at the Moscow Conservatory under Nikolai Zverev, a strict disciplinarian.

His sister Yelena also had a small influence in his music career. Another artistic person in the family, she was involved with the Bolshoi Theater. She was about to join the company when she fell ill and passed away at the young age of 18. The Bolshoi Theater would perform some of his pieces over the years. And from 1904 to early 1906, he was their conductor. Sergei left for political reasons and we’ll examine some of the political and broader societal influences in his life next time!


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Sergei Rachmaninov (Rachmaninoff)

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov (also found as Rachmaninoff) was born in 1873. A well known Russian pianist and composer, he immigrated to the United States in 1917 and did eventually become a full US citizen, weeks before his death in March of 1943, just shy of his 70th birthday.

Since the 16th century, his family had been in the service of the Russian tsars. Music and military figured largely in the family. His father, Vasili, was an army officer and an amateur pianist. Vasili married into more wealth with a dowry of 5 estates from the family of his wife, Lyubov Petrovna Butakova. They had 6 children and, unfortunately, Vasili was not a good provider. Over the years he managed to lose all of estates, selling them off to pay for debts and eventually the family was forced to move to a small flat in St. Petersburg. Divorce was not an option and Vasili did finally leave the family and go to Moscow. This left the children in his wife’s care. Sergei spent some time living with relatives who offered to help the family once they were in St. Petersburg.

Throughout it all Sergei’s musical talent was able to be fostered and developed. His family life had a large influence in his music from an early age. As a very young child, his mother gave him some piano lessons. Eventually his grandfather (on his father’s side), insisted that a proper teacher be found as he recognized the talent in his grandson. Anna Ornatzkaya came to the family to teach Sergei when they were still living on the family estate of Oneg. She was a graduate of St. Petersburg Conservatory. When the family had to move to St. Petersburg and she left her position, she arranged for Sergei to attend there as well. His studies would later continue at the Moscow Conservatory.

Sergei had a very full life with many interesting influences and happenings so we will continue to look at his life over the next few weeks!

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Edvard Hagerup Grieg

On October 28, 2014, we will have the pleasure of listening to Janina Fialkowska perform for us. Six Lyric Pieces from Grieg are on the program for the evening.

Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in 1843 in Bergen, Norway. He was a composer and pianist. His father, Alexander, was a merchant and his mother, Gesine Judithe Hagerup, a music teacher. His mother’s father was Edvard Hagerup, a lawyer and politician, and obviously the origin of Grieg’s name. He started piano lessons with this mother at the age of six. During the summer of 1858, Grieg met Ole Bull, a well known Norwegian violinist. Bull could see the talent in the teenage Grieg and convinced his parents to send him to Leipzig Conservatory for further training. Like many musicians before and after him, he didn’t enjoy the discipline and structure of school study but he did finish his studies at Leipzig in 1862.

He married Nina Hagerup (his first cousin) in 1867. She was a soprano and they often performed together to great acclaim. Their only child, Alexandra, was born in 1868 but only lived until 1869, dying from meningitis. Outside of this sad moment, his life was surrounded by music. Grieg gave concerts, met and worked with many fellow musicians over the years, and composed amazing music. It seems like an ideal way to live life for a musician!

Grieg had survived pleurisy and tuberculosis in 1860, leaving him with a deformed spine and one defunct lung. He had many respiratory issues throughout his life, ultimately resulting in his death from heart and lung failure after a long illness in 1907.

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Johanna Schumann

Robert Schumann was the youngest child in his family, born to Johanna Christine and August Schumann in 1810. Much of his young life was spent surrounded by literature and music thanks to his parents.

Friedrich August Gottlob Schumann was born in 1773. He was a German bookseller and publisher and the literature influence in Robert’s young life. August passed away in 1826 at the age of 53, when Robert was only 16 years old.

Robert’s mother, Johanna Christina (Iohanne Christiane) Schnabel, was one of his main influences in his early life. She was nearing or over 40 when Robert was born. Raising the children fell completely on her shoulders. She loved to sing and had imparted a love of music to all of her children. The older children played piano. Robert and his mother sang together from when he was very young. They had a very strong relationship and she was supportive and encouraging of her son throughout. With her husband’s passing, determining Robert’s future fell to her. For a time, he studied law as she wanted to ensure that he had a prosperous future. However, there came a time when he knew he wanted to pursue music as a career. Concerned she spoke with Professor Frederick Wieck, his future father-in-law and after being reassured that he had the talent, she gave Robert her blessing to pursue his dreams. She lived until Robert was 26 years old and he was heartbroken when she passed.

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Schubert’s parents

Continuing on with a look at parental figures of some of the great composers of old, today we look at Schubert’s ancestors.  Franz Peter Schubert was born to Franz Theodor Florian Schubert and Maria Elisabeth Katharina Vietz.

His mother, Elisabeth, was born in 1756 in Silesia.  Her father was Franz Johann Vietz from Zuckmantel, Northeastern Silesia.  He was a locksmith and gunmaker.  He did advance within that profession over the years and held a respected position in his field.  He even held the office of sheriff at one point.  He moved his family to Vienna shortly before he died in 1770, when Elisabeth would have been about 14.  Elisabeth served as a housemaid for a family in Vienna before marrying into the Schubert family at the age of 29.

Franz Theodor was born in 1763 in Moravia.  His parents, Karl Schubert and Susanna Mück, were farmers.  Franz Theodor moved to Vienna around 1783.  In 1784, he worked as a teacher at his brother’s school.  He and Elisabeth married in 1785 and 1786 saw him become Schoolmaster at Himmelpfortgrund, a school his son would eventually attend.  Franz Theodor was not a formally trained musician but he was able to pass along some basics to his son at an early age and started his outside musical training at the age of seven.  The family did have their own quartet in which Franz Theodor played the cello, brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz played the violins, and Franz Peter played the viola.  As a school teacher, Franz Theodor was well known and he ran a well attended school.  He had wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher at his school.  Indeed Franz Peter did start to train as a teacher and worked in his father’s school for a time until his compositions started to gain notice and he secured a position with Count Johann Karl Esterházy.  Franz Theodor passed away in 1830, two years after the death of his now famous son.

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