Berezowsky, Nicolai

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Berezowsky, Nicolai

Berezowsky, Nicolai, talented Russian-born American composer; b. St. Petersburg, May 17, 1900; d. (suicide?) N.Y., Aug. 27, 1953. He studied piano, violin, and voice at the Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. After graduating in 1916, he obtained work as a violinist in the orch. of the provincial opera theater in Saratov, on the Volga River, where he played until 1919. The then joined the orch. of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. He crossed the border to Poland in 1920, managed to obtain an American visa, and arrived in N.Y. in 1922. He was engaged as a violinist in the orch. of the Capital Theater; in 1923 he joined the N.Y. Phil., remaining there until 1929. At the same time he took violin lessons with Paul Kochanski and studied composition with Rubin Gold-mark. In 1928 he became an American citizen. He began to compose in larger forms; his Clarinet Sextet was performed at a chamber music festival in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 7, 1926. In 1929 his Hebrew Suite was conducted by Mengelberg with the N.Y. Phil. Soon Berezowsky obtained other opportunities; Koussev-itzky let him conduct the Boston Sym. in performances of his First Sym. in 1931 and his Fourth Sym. in 1943; Koussevitzky himself conducted Berezowsky’s second and third Syms. The famous German violinist Carl Flesch played the solo part of Berezowsky’s Violin Concerto with the Dresden Phil, in 1930; Primrose played his Viola Concerto in 1942; and Piatigorsky performed his Concerto lirico with Koussevitzky and the Boston Sym. Berezowsky continued to play violin and conduct. From 1932 to 1936 and from 1941 to 1946 he was violinist and asst. conductor with CBS, and from 1935 to 1940 was a member of the Coolidge String Quartet. He held a Guggenheim fellowship in 1948. His cantata Gilgamesh (1947) was favorably received, and his children’s opera Babar the Elephant (1953) had numerous performances. His music possesses a Romantic quality, ingratiatingly Russian in color, and in his later works he introduced fine impressionistic harmonies. He died of intestinal congestion apparently caused by a suicidal dose of powerful sedative drugs. His first wife (he was married twice) wrote a sweet little memoir, Duet with Nicky, describing his happier days.


DRAMATIC: Children’s Opera: Babar the Elephant (N.Y., Feb. 21, 1953). ORCH.: Sinfonietta (NBC, N.Y., May 8, 1932; won a prize); 4 syms.: No. 1 (Boston Sym., March 16, 1931, composer conducting), No. 2 (Boston Sym., Feb. 16, 1934), No. 3 (Rochester, N.Y., Jan. 21, 1937), and No. 4 (Boston Sym. Orch., Oct. 22, 1943, composer conducting); Hebrew Suite (1929); Christmas Festival Overture (N.Y., Dec. 23, 1943); Soldiers on the Town (N.Y., Nov. 25, 1943); Violin Concerto (Dresden, April 29, 1930; Carl Flesch, soloist, composer conducting); Concerto lirico for Cello and Orch. (Boston, Feb. 22, 1935;Piatigorsky, soloist, Koussevitzky conducting); Viola Concerto (CBS Orch., N.Y., Oct. 11, 1941); Harp Concerto (Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 1945); Passacaglia for Theremin and Orch. (N.Y., Feb. 29, 1948); Fantaisie for 2 Pianos and Orch. (N.Y., Feb. 12, 1932); Introduction and Waltz for Orch. (N.Y., Oct. 15, 1939); Theme and Variations, sextet for Strings, Clarinet, and Piano (Washington, D.C., Oct. 7, 1926); Sextet Concerto for Strings (1953). CHAMBER: Duo for Clarinet and Viola (1931); Woodwind Quintet (1941). VOCAL: Gilgamesh, cantata (N.Y., May 16, 1947).


A. Berezowsky, Duet with Nicky (N.Y., 1943).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire