Text of the booklet "Dmitry
Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE RUSSIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM
In the spring of 1779,
a 28-year-old Dmitry Stepanovich Bortnyansky (1751-1825)
was on his way back to Russia from Italy. Many years ago,
an adolescent singer of the Royal Court Cappella, born in
the remote town of Glukhov, attracted attention of the then
renowned maestro Baldassare Galuppi who served at the court
of Empress Catherine II. Bortnyansky continued his musical
studies that he had embarked on in St. Petersburg in Venice
where the talented youth was dispatched, upon his mentor's
recommendation, as a "pensioner" by Catherine
II. "The Italian apprenticeship" extended for
a period of ten years and triumphantly concluded in the
creation of a number of (today, we know but three) operas.
"Creonte", "Alcide" and "Quinto
Fabio" were staged by major theatres in Venice and
Modena and gained the approval of the connoisseurs and the
Bortnyansky's return was both pleasant and alarming one.
Now and again, he would reread a letter from I. Yelagin,
"the director of the court theatres and music":
"My dear Bortnyansky, As you have spent ten years in
Italy, now is the time for your return to the homeland bringing
all your compositions along. Once again, I humbly ask of
you to come back without delay; firstly, you are in great
need here; secondly, it will contribute to your permanent
and inevitable happiness and to the establishment of your
What was awaiting him in St. Petersburg? What "great
need" and what "inevitable happiness" Yelagin
was referring to? What are the tastes of the imperial court
those days, what kind of composers are in vogue, how to
display his gifts in the best of ways, and which of his
compositions to present the Empress with?
Despite his worries, Catherine II received Bortnyansky quite
favourably, as she enjoyed his musical compositions. However,
he could cherish no hopes to either get a high position
or to be hired to compose an opera: the imperial musical
scene was then dominated by an Italian G. Paisiello who
produced magnificent operas one after another for the court
company. Bortnyansky was appointed to the position of "the
Kapellmeister of the court choir", quite a promising
job for the starters. From then on, his life and works were
destined to be closely related to the Cappella's choir,
and it was this very choir that he created all his outstanding
sacred concertos for.
Four years later, Bortnyansky was also made the official
Kapellmeister of the "minor court" of the Great
Crown-Prince Paul Petrovich and his wife, Great Princess
Maria Fyodorovna who would become the composer's veritable
Dmitry Bortnyansky was obliged to compose "occasional"
music, including that for the Great Prince's military fun
exercises, as well as to arrange concerts and teach the
Great Princess to play clavier. At the same time, he did
not retire from his post in the Cappella and continued to
compose choir music. As his contemporaries recalled, the
composer regularly commuted between St. Petersburg and Pavlovsk
and Gatchina, the far-away suburban residences of the Great
Prince's family, often hastily finishing a new score while
in a carriage.
The "minor court"'s primary hobby were amateur
stage performances - "fashion funs" and musical
events promoted by both the Europeanized Great Prince and
his wife. Maria Fyodorovna herself played the harpsichord
and the harp, and many court dames were good musical performers,
too, like, for instance, the graduates of the Smolny Institute
Catherine Nelidova and Eugenia Smirnaya. High-society amateurs
would stage interludes, pastorals, and "rhapsodies
with couplets". Here, in Pavlovsk and Gatchina, Bortnyansky
wrote three comic operas ("La Fete du signeur",
"La Faucon" and "Le Fils-Rival ou la Moderne
Stratonice"), which by their musical quality and melodic
charm surpassed many popular French opuses. According to
one of many celebrated actors who participated in those
performances, Prince I. Dolgoruky, they "caused a special
response in our theatre: the grandeur of the sets, the rich
costumes, the splendid music, the enticingly intriguing
plot of the operas, everything enchanted both the eye and
the ear of the audience". Bortnyansky's enchanting
music was beyond doubt the key artistic value of those performances.
As the music critic B. Dobrokhotov remarked, "On the
surface, his music is as if made to garnish "the refreshing
hours of leisure, pleasure and peace". But in this
music, like in the prose of Karamzin, a new, <…> fine,
laconic and clear native musical dialect was being formed".
For music performances by the "minor court", Bortnyansky
created the Quintet for piano, harp, violin, viola da gamba
and cello (1787) and Sinfonie concertante ("Symphony
in the concerto mode", 1790) that he dedicated to the
Princess. We can guess without a mistake, judging by the
sets of those ensembles, which instruments the musicians
played. Remarkable in their music and well-fitted for an
ensemble performance, these compositions were performed
in Pavlovsk and Gatchina on summer evenings. For Maria Fyodorovna,
Bortnyansky wrote a collection of cembalo pieces that included
eight sonatas, a concerto and a quartet, and yet anther
quintet with a harpsichord.
Eventually, however, gloomy clouds were gathering over Pavlovsk:
political disagreements between "the major" and
"the minor" courts became more evident. Musical
entertainment now was left behind, the company of high-society
amateur actors dissolved, as many of them were ostracized
from the royal court. The composer was no longer hired to
write new operas and symphonies.
But in 1796, Dmitry Bortnyansky's luck drastically changed
again. Once Paul I ascended on the Russian throne, on the
fifth day of his imperial tenure, he appointed the composer
to the post of the director of the Court Cappella, thus
elevating him to head Russia's main singing institution.
From then on, to the end of his days, Bortnyansky concentrated
exclusively on sacred choir music. Contemporaries called
him "the River Neva's Orpheus" and compared Bortnyansky's
choir concertos to the angels' singing rising from the earth
heavenward. He almost stopped writing secular works.
The high administrative position allowed Bortnyansky to
materialize his ideas of a perfect management of the artistic
entity that the Court Cappella was. While solving financial
and even daily routine problems, Bortnyansky sought to reasonably
provide general education for his singers in order that
after "losing their voices" they could easily
find new jobs.
His principal professional care, of course, was the singers'
skill. "In faith, for a long time I have not heard
such sweet harmony: what tender voices, what music!"
I. Dolgoruky wrote in his memoirs. At their public appearances,
the Cappella performed major works of the vocal-symphonic
genre, from Joseph Haydn's "Die Schopfung (Creation)"
to Luigi Cherubini's "Requiem". In 1816, Dmitry
Bortnyansky took a new responsibility of the official censor
of sacred music.
Dmitry Bortnyansky had lived a long life enjoying his contemporaries'
respect and honour. The high-society salons of old noble
families welcomed him as a honourable guest. The sophisticated
connoisseur of the fine arts, the owner of a fascinating
picture collection, the non-official arts advisor to the
royal family, Bortnyansky was nominated the honourable member
of the Academy of the Arts without passing the formal procedure.
He died in 1825 at the age of 74, in full glory of not only
the acknowledged master of the Orthodox music, but also
the enlightener and the public figure.
However, the destiny of Bortnyansky's musical heritage was
After the composer's death, his widow Anna Ivanovna passed
the Cappella his belongings - the engraved boards of his
sacred concertos and the autographic scores of his secular
works. According to the inventory, the latter were quite
numerous: "Italian operas - 5, Russian, French and
Italian arias and duets - 30, overtures, concertos, sonatas,
marches and miscellaneous pieces of sacred music, pieces
for pianoforte, harp and other instruments - 61". All
the works were accepted and "stored in the place prepared
for them". Unfortunately, no particular titles of the
works were mentioned.
Bortnyansky's choir works were often performed and published
posthumously while being recognized a true gem of Russian
sacred music, whereas his secular compositions - both operatic
and instrumental - were soon forgotten after his death.
Only in the beginning of the 20th century, during the jubilee
festivities in Bortnyansky's memory (1901), these works
were recovered from oblivion. At the time, the manuscripts
of the composer's early works were discovered in the Cappella's
archive and publicly exhibited. Among them were the operas
"Alcide" and "Quinto Fabio", "La
Faucon" and " Le Fils-Rival", and a collection
of clavier pieces dedicated to Maria Fyodorovna. The well-known
music historian N. Findeizen wrote of the sensational discovery
in his essay "The Works of Young Bortnyansky",
which ended in this way: "Bortnyansky's talent was
in easy command of the style of both the church choir, the
contemporary opera, and the chamber music of his time. Bortnyansky's
secular works <…> have remained unknown not only to
the public, but also to music scholars. The majority of
the composer's works exists only in the form of autographed
manuscripts kept in the Court Singing Cappella's Library,
with the exception of the Quintet and the Symphony (kept
in the Public Library)". The scholar asked the Court
Cappella to get all those materials published, but of no
Half a century later, Bortnyansky's secular works were once
again made a much-discussed topic. By that time, a considerable
portion of his manuscripts had been missing. The Cappella's
archive was disintegrated after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution
and its materials were sent to various funds. Fortunately,
some of Bortnyansky's compositions were found, yet the major
bulk of them has been lost without a trace, including the
collection dedicated to Great Princess. The search is still
This album features Bortnyansky's secular
works composed in the 1780s for "the minor court"
of Great Prince Paul Petrovich and his wife Great Princess
Maria Fyodorovna. This is but a small fraction of Bortnyansky's
instrumental heritage. Even these works - the Concerto-Symphony,
the Quintet, three clavier sonatas, the March - give us
an opportunity to evaluate Bortnyansky's exceptional talent
and craftsmanship. "In Bortnyansky's music is embodied
the self-assured, hedonistic and dandyish age of Catherine",
a Bortnyansky scholar remarked.
"Marche composee pour S.A.I. Monseigneur le Grand
Duc de Russie… a Gatchina. 1787"
"The Gatchina March" was apparently meant to accompany
military exercises of Great Prince Paul Petrovich in Gatchina.
It was composed for winds - an ensemble of two clarinets,
two natural horns and bassoon. This is the first recording
of the piece that is performed in the historically adequate
transcription for two oboes, two French horns and bassoon,
according to the manuscript kept in the Russian National
"Sinfonie concertante… composee pour Son Altesse
imperiale Madame La Grande Duchesse de Russie. 1790"
One of the best pieces of Russian instrumental music of
the pre-Glinka period, marked with glitter, festive splendor
of sound and innovative timbre. The very name "Sinfonie
concertante" emphasizes the work's originality, as
in the then common terminology the word "symphony"
described an overture to an opera. The Symphony was written
for seven instruments - two violins, viola da gamba, cello,
bassoon, harp and piano organise (a special version of a
piano equipped with an organ's registers and the bellows
for pumping air into them). The composer ingeniously exploited
the opportunities of his ensemble. The Symphony consists
of three movements. The first, Allegro maestoso, is a fast-moving
allegro in the typical sonata manner. The second, Larghetto,
is a melodic Siciliana, and the third, Allegretto, is a
Three clavier sonatas from the collection "Varie
Sonate di cembalo Scritte per Sua Altezza Imperiale Gran
Duchessa di Russia..."
Three survived pieces from the lost collection of sonatas
composed for Great Princess Maria Fyodorovna. While creating
those, Bortnyansky had to take into account the technical
limits of his pupil. The sonatas are marked with lightness
and elegance of style and easy melodic structure. To some
extent they resemble the sonatas of young Mozart or the
youngest of Bach's sons Johann Christian. The Sonata in
C major (published in 1903) consists of three movements.
The other two, of one movement.
"Quintetto … Composto per Sua Altezza imperiale
Gran Duchessa di Russia… St Petersburg, l'anno 1787"
This is the first of Bortnyansky's chamber ensembles we
know of. The Quintet for pianoforte, harp, violin, viola
da gamba and cello enchants one with the richness of its
thematic structure and the ingenuity of the ensemble writing.
By its nature, this is the most "Mozartian" opus
of Bortnyansky. The Quintet's composition is exciting like
an intrigue of a good play, and the competition and interaction
of instruments furnish the music with concerto-like features.
The leading part here is that of a piano. The Quintet has
three movements: Allegro moderato - a sonata allegro without
elaboration, Larghetto - a tender and melodic duet of violin
and piano supported by other instruments; Allegro - a brilliant
"Concerto di Cembalo Per Sua Altezza imperiale Gran
Duchesse di Russie" - is the first movement (Allegro)
of the lost Concerto in D-dur for harpsichord. The manuscript
was discovered in the France National Library (Bibliotheque
Nationale de France) by a Ukrainian scholar M. Stepanenko
and published in his orchestration. The new orchestration
was written by P. Serbin in 2003, according to the author's
original clavier transcription for the typical cast of musicians
of Bortnyansky's orchestral works.
Text of the booklet "Dmitry
Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE RUSSIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM