Text of the booklet "MAXIM
BEREZOVSKY (early 1740s -1777) SECULAR MUSIC / PRATUM INTEGRUM
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
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
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,
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
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
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"
Aria of Timante "Prudente mi chiedi"from Act II
Aria of Timante "Misero pargoletto" from Act III,
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
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
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
Text of the booklet "MAXIM
BEREZOVSKY (early 1740s -1777) SECULAR MUSIC / PRATUM INTEGRUM