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Maxim Berezovsky and His Secular Works



The biography of Maxim Sozontovich Berezovsky (early 1740s-1777) has quite a number of lacunes. Almost no documents pertaining to his life and works have survived, whereas the composer's life histories published in the 19th century were mainly based on assumptions and conjectures.
His tragic demise, exceptional talent and short life could have become the good basis for a romantic portrayal. Thus, the life story of Maxim Berezovsky was reconstructed in a short novel by Nestor Kukolnik that appeared in the 1840s, as well as in a play by Peter Smirnov staged at the Alexandrine Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg. Andrei Tarkovsky's use of Berezovsky's music in the film "Nostalgia" was a striking example of the contemporary rediscovery of his art.
For quite a long time, Berezovsky's stance in the Russian musical history was defined solely by his enormous contribution to genres of religious music. However, the 20th century saw a discovery of the composer's secular works, too. The latter's artistic quality once again confirmed the author's unique gift. Newly found works by Berezovsky allowed musical historians to shift the beginning of the school of Russian composers from the 1780s (the time of D. Bortnyansky, Ye. Fomin, V. Pashkevich and I. Khandoshkin) to the 1760s-early 1770s, i. e. to the time when Berezovsky composed his best choral concerts, instrumental works and operas.
The father of the future composer was apparently an unwealthy nobleman from Ukraine (those days called Malorussia). Berezovsky's place of birth is unknown, and in all likelihood he spent his childhood in the Ukrainian town of Glukhov, at the residence of Ukraine's getman (warlord-governor) K. Razumovsky. From the time of Empress Elizabeth, singers for St. Petersburg's court choir had been trained in Glukhov. There is every reason to believe that as a child, Maxim must have heard Glukhov's students singing. According to some sources, he studied at the Kiev Ecclesiastical Academy, where he displayed his outstanding musical talents; however, his name is missing from the Academy's annals.
Nevertheless, in 1758 the young man was admitted as a staff singer in the entourage of Czarevitch (Crown prince) Peter Feodorovich. Starting in 1759, he participated in a number of stage productions of Italian operas; his name is mentioned in the printed librettos. The first historian of Russian fine arts, St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Professor Jacob Shtelin, wrote that "a bassist [this German word was applied to both baritone and bass singers] from Ukraine Berezovsky usually appeared in the leading roles" in the opera performances given in the town of Oranienbaum, a cultural nest near St. Petersburg.
Berezovsky was taught the art of singing and composing by Italian tutors who worked at the royal court, among them singer N. Garani, capellmeister F. Zoppis who headed the company of court singers, and, perhaps, composers V. Manfredini and B. Galuppi.
After Peter III ascended the Russian throne, Berezovsky was transferred to the Italian court group. The ensuing coup d'etat that resulted in the ascension of Catherine, however, had no effect on the fate of the young composer, who was devoting more efforts to the musical composition while perfecting his craftsmanship as an author of sacred musical compositions. A contributor to court performances, he must have turned to secular music as well, but no evidence of that has survived.
In 1763, he married Franzina Uberscher, the daughter of a French horn player in the court orchestra, and a graduate of the Oranienbaum theatrical school (where they must have first met) who eventually performed as a figurante (a chorus line dancer) on the court theatre's stage.
In the 1760s, Berezovsky was a court staff-musician and a composer of the church choral concertos. As J. Shtelin remarked in his "News about Music in Russia" (1771), Berezovsky as a composer of choral concertos "is so well experienced that he is able to combine the flaming Italian melody with the tender Greek one. In the course of several years, he composed superlative church concertos for the court capella, with such taste and such outstanding harmony that the performances provoked the connoisseurs' delight and the royal court's approval". The Camerfourier Magazine, which reported all the events taking place in the presence of the Empress, remarked that on the 22nd of March 1766, during a card game, "the court singers sang, as a test performance, a concerto composed by musician Berezovsky ".
The 10-volume "History of the Russian Music" says that the Russian classicist-style choral concert, blending the traditions of the Russian a-capella church singing and those of the choral psalm motet of the Venetian and Bolognese schools, was established as a popular genre in the 1760s thanks to the works of Italians then working in Russia (primarily, B. Galuppi) and of the first Russian master of this genre, Maxim Berezovsky.
In the spring of 1769, Berezovsky was dispatched to Italy to continue his training with G. B. Martini, the renowned pedagogue and composer, and the master of the counterpoint technique. Martini was actually in charge of the Bologna Philharmonic Academy, a highly-regarded institution that tutored musicians from all of Europe. The good reputation of the Academy's acclaimed graduates was mainly based on the highest scientific and pedagogical authority of its head.
To acquire the title of an Academician in Italy, one had not only to make the three grades, but to pass a final academic test. Berezovsky's assignment was to compose a polyphonic work on a given theme in the austere manner. Several months earlier, the 14-year-old Wolfgang Mozart had brilliantly fulfilled a similar task. Together with Czech composer J.Myslivecek, Berezovsky tackled the exam. In 1771, they both gained the status of foreign Academy members. The protocol and the manuscript of the antiphone for four voices composed by Berezovsky have been kept in the Academy's archive to this day.
Berezovsky's stay in Italy was not limited to Bologna, which at the time was recognized as the cultural and scientific centre of the nation. The composer visited Venice where he got his scholarship; almost certainly he visited Livorno, where a Russian fleet of ships was anchored. Berezovsky composed the opera "Il Demofonte", based on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, specially for a winter carnival in Livorno. Apparently he did it upon the request of count A. G. Orlov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian flotilla. The opera was premiered in February 1773 and was well received by the local press.
During his 4-year stay in Italy, Berezovsky certainly must have visited the country's other musical centres. The sheet music of his Sonata for violin and cembalo points to his yet another Italian city, Pisa.
The Bologna Academy's students were not compelled to limit themselves to the genre of sacred music, nor were they prevented from making their careers as composers of operas or capellmeisters. Berezovsky, certainly, had a chance to broaden his knowledge of musical theatre and to perfect his skills in composing music for different instruments. Apart from the already mentioned Sonata, subsequently his Symphony and three clavier Sonatas were discovered, as well as some indirect references to a cantata and a concerto.
Berezovsky returned to St. Petersburg in October 1773. According to a romantic legend, the composer sailed back home aboard the Russian warship that carried Princess Tarakanova, a disloyal pretender for a Russian throne. Whatever the truth of this legend, in 1775 the rebellious princess was taken to Catherine II and imprisoned in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul fortress.
The young musician's accomplishments in Italy together with the gained academic title, the good press coverage of his opera and the continual success of his sacred compositions performed at the court that marked his way since his early youth allowed Berezovsky to hope for a successful career in the future. The composer's biographers stated that his talent was not in great demand in his country, though, and that was the primary cause of his premature demise. However, the recent archival discoveries show that upon his arrival in Russia, Maxim Berezovsky was appointed a staff member of the imperial theatres and, eight months later, the capellmeister of the Royal court capella, a high-ranking position for a Russian musician at the time.
The greatest treasure of Berezovsky's sacred music was his brilliant four-voiced concerto "Cast Me Not Off In The Time Of Old Age". Its originality combined with the marvellous polyphones make it a dazzling example of Russian musical classicism.
Little is known of Berezovsky's later years. Over time, many extravagant details were added to the circumstances of his death, which have not proven to be true. According to many sources, Berezovsky gave himself up to the bottle, and on the 24th March of 1777, he committed suicide. The composer's first biographer, Y. Bolkhovitinov in 1804 made strict use of testimonies of those witnesses who personally knew Berezovsky. Bolkhovitinov asserted that the composer suffered from "an hypochondria" that led him to "a fever and insanity" and made him "stab himself to death". M. Rytsareva, a contemporary student of Berezovsky's music has attested that there was no suicide at all in her essay "Was there a suicide?" According to Rytsareva, in all likelihood the composer developed some psychic disease (hypochondria) and then caught a sudden fever which resulted in his death.
In previous centuries, a widow in Russia was usually given a state subsidy to arrange her husband's funeral and granted a lifelong pension. However, after Berezovsky died, the composer's last salary and the funeral allowance were given to court singer J. Timchenko. That meant that Maxim Berezovsky saw his last day on this earth in utter loneliness. The Russian genius died when he was but in his mid- thirties.

Sinfonia in C major (1770-1773)
In 1998, Italian musical history professor A. Laterzza made a report for the first time ever about the sheet music of this opus kept in the Archivio Doria Pamphilj. Thanks to the efforts of P. Serbin, the first performance of the Sinfonia was made possible specially for this recording. It is yet hard to say whether this is a separate work or merely an introduction to an opera ("Il Demofonte"?). The latter is more likely as its parts were composed so as to be performed without any breaks.

Arias from the opera "Il Demofonte" (1773)
Aria of Timante "Prudente mi chiedi"from Act II
Aria of Timante "Misero pargoletto" from Act III, Scene 5

The opera "Il Demofonte" was based on Pietro Metastasio's libretto written by the great Italian poet in 1733. The plot was very popular at the time: according to the data given in "Musical Petersburg: The 18th Century" Encyclopedia, by 1800 this libretto had inspired 73 operas, including the one by J. Myslivecek staged in 1769 in Venice and an opera performed in Bologna in 1771 (authors unknown). Berezovsky could well have been familiar with those two productions.
Of the entire musical score of " Il Demofonte", only four arias have survived. The hand-written copies, a critical response in a Livorno newspaper and a playbill featuring the singers' names were found by Robert Aloys Mooser and published in "Annales de la Musique et des Musiciens en Russie au XVIIIe siecle" (Geneva, 1948).
In 1988, the arias were published in Kiev, Ukraine, as versions edited by M. Yurchenko. In this album they are performed according to the 18th century hand-written copy.

Sonata in C-dur for harpsichord
Sonata in B-dur for harpsichord
Sonata in F-dur for harpsichord

The manuscripts of these works by Berezovsky were discovered by Ukrainian musical historians in Krakow. Professor V. Shulgina was the first to report the discovery at a conference held in the Moscow Conservatoire in the spring of 2001. These works might have been composed in the early period of Berezovsky's life.

Sonata in C-dur for violin and cembalo (1772)
The manuscript is kept at the National Library in Paris, France. For the first time, it was published in 1883 in Kiev, Ukraine, by M. Stepanenko. The publication featured the manuscript's facsimile, a two-line note containing a violin part and a basso continuo one.

Concerto "Cast Me Not Off In The Time Of Old Age" (before 1769)
This opus is performed as an arrangement for a string quartet made by P. Serbin (in the 18th century Russia, sacred a-capella works were arranged for orchestral performances in two ways - "for horns" and "for a quartet"). Berezovsky's best-known work that marked a culmination of his craft artfully blends the tradition of Russian Orthodox partesnoye (multi-voiced) singing with the West-European genre of "passion-motet". Perhaps this fact can account for the exceptional emotional effect produced by the quartet and its exemplary role in the development of Russian music, both sacred and secular, in the following century.
The concerto is monothematic: the fugues in the first and the final movements are based on the same theme. The instrumental rendering of the choral musical score, while detached from the meaning of the text, nevertheless retains the tragic emotional intensity of this masterpiece.

Text by Margarita Pryashnikova, translation by Oleg Alyakrinsky



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