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SERGEI KOUSSEVITZKY by Victor Yuzefovich

Volume 1: The Russian Years

Chapter 9 - The First Decade of Russian Musical Editions – 1

Russian Musical Editions and the situation of composers. RME, its aims and charter. The Council of RME and the involvement of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Conflicts in the Council. Acquisition of the A. Gutheil Publishing House.

"… as a result of its activities, our publishing company and its retail outlets now enjoy a commanding position among comparable organisations within Russia, and influence a wide spectrum of environments – for example composers' relationships with publishers and with the public […] The company has a similarly solid reputation abroad."
~ Nikolai Struve[1]

Time was when a witticism attributed to Max Reger went the rounds among musicians: what do a composer and a pig have in common? Answer: both are worth more dead than alive. To this mordant analysis the situation of Russian composers was no exception. Their plight was complicated by the fact that Russia was not a signatory to the Berne Convention for the protection of authors' rights.[2] Exploiting this fact, Western concert and opera managements paid composers nothing to perform their music, nor did Western publishers pay fees to publish their works.

As far back as the beginning of the 19th century, a multitude of music publishers operated on many different scales and levels in Russia. The establishment in Moscow in 1861 of the Pyotr Jurgenson firm played a major role in the development of Russian musical culture. Under Jurgenson's aegis collected editions of Mendelssohn's and Schumann's piano works, all Beethoven's piano sonatas and much of Chopin's piano music first saw the light of day in Russia. This publisher was also responsible for almost all Tchaikovsky's works and those of almost 500 other Russian composers, and enjoyed a high international reputation. Other important imprints were those of A. Gutheil, V.V. Bessel and Julius Zimmerman.

1885 saw the opening of the M.P. Beliaeff publishing house in Leipzig, the initiative of the wealthy and cultivated music lover Mitrofan Belyayev. The firm's declared purpose was to to support Russian composers and to propagandise Russian music. M.P. Beliaeff published works by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Lyadov, Scriabin, Taneyev (until 1909) and some music by Musorgsky and Tchaikovsky. On the eve of the house's tenth anniversary, it had 850 works in its catalogue; by 1914 the total had risen to around 3,000, more than a quarter by contemporary composers. The Beliaeff firm paid composers higher fees than its competitors, while the quality and meticulous accuracy of its engraving were unequalled.

Russian music publishing underwent important changes during the first decade and a half of the new century. Pyotr Jurgenson and Mitrofan Belyayev both died in 1904. After the death of its founder, and even more so after the death of Rimsky-Korsakov in 1908, M.P. Beliaeff gradually transformed itself into an essentially commercial enterprise. In 1915, reacting to the growing anti-German mood of the country, Yuly Zimmerman transferred his operations to Leipzig, while Gutheil sold his business to Koussevitzky.

Despite these wide-ranging changes, the material circumstances in which Russian composers existed continued to be wretched. Tchaikovsky's fees from Jurgenson were modest in the extreme, and Bessel in St. Petersburg acquired exclusive rights to all Musorgsky's works for a pittance. For a long time no one would publish Taneyev, who was left with the composition of his cantata At the Reading of a Psalm a dream for the future. We have already seen to what near-catastrophic financial extremities Scriabin was reduced after Belyayev's death. Most publishers preferred to play safe by concentrating on small pieces which would sell quickly. Koussevitzky's ambition to change this picture radically was the motivation for founding Russian Musical Editions, while many of his innovative and progressive ideas came from the example of Belyayev's enterprise.

*****

The concept of creating a music publishing company based on entirely new principles was developed by Koussevitzky and Rachmaninoff. Their priority was to free composers from the conditions of virtual bondage imposed on them by commercial publishers. Such a policy would in the future place Koussevitzky alongside such illustrious Russian philanthropists as Nadezhda von Meck, justly celebrated for her selfless support of Tchaikovsky, the industrialist Savva Mamontov, begetter of the Russian Private Opera, and Mitrofan Belyayev, founder not only of the music publishing firm that bears his name but the seasons of Russian Symphony Concerts in St. Petersburg and the annually awarded Glinka Prizes for the encouragement of Russian composers. Other members of this admirable club were Mikhail Morozov, patron of the Imperial Russian Musical Society and the Moscow Philharmonic Society, Margarita Morozova, financial benefactor of Scriabin and subsequently Medtner, the businessman and banker Stepan Protopopov, who contributed a million roubles to the building of the new Moscow Conservatoire, and Konstantin Ushkov, perennial patron – as we have already seen – of gifted young musicians.

Koussevitzky discussed the policies and structure of his new publishing enterprise extensively with many other musicians, but first and foremost with Sergei Rachmaninov when they met in Germany early in 1906. Rachmaninoff's own experience had made him fully aware of the powerlessness of his colleagues: there were several publishers in England and America who had made themselves small fortunes from his Prelude in C sharp minor. From this piece's immense popularity in the West the composer had earned precisely $15!

The first idea, rapidly discarded, was for a self-publishing co-operative owned by Russian composers themselves. It was clear from the Belyayev experience that composers were not capable of successfully managing a commercial firm, and in any case for them to spend time on resolving administrative, financial and legal problems far removed from creative work was hardly a productive way forward. Eventually a slimmed-down management system was decided upon, tailored to the complex problems endemic to musical life in Russia.

Even though it was his own capital that he was proposing to sink into the publishers, Koussevitzky was determined that its modus operandi should be on democratic lines. The organisation's key policies should, according to his ideas, be entrusted to the wisdom and experience of a Council consisting of a group of leading musicians. From the very beginning, however, Koussevitzky had doubts about the wisdom of this course. He knew very well how different from one another the priorities of artists could prove to be. Would the Council be able to reach unanimous agreement on the merits or otherwise of new compositions, and their priority for publication?

Koussevitzky wanted to test the validity of his ideas which even then he suspected might be too idealistic. He decided to consult the renowned Russian revolutionary-anarchist Kropotkin. Prince Pyotr Kropotkin, from an exalted family, a graduate of the Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg, was a man of wide and varied culture. Having fled Russia after being arrested, Kropotkin had lived for many years in England. Koussevitzky had read his book Memoirs of a Revolutionist (Zapiski revolyutsionera), and had been greatly impressed by his analysis of, and conclusions on, the lives of people at different levels of Russian society, from members of the Imperial Family to the humblest rural peasantry.[3]

The two men met in the spring of 1909 in London. Koussevitzky's ambition to defend the rights of Russian composers was close to Kropotkin's heart, his personal assessments of cultural manifestations and their practitioners being governed above all by moral considerations. As for questions about whether or not the members of the publishing company's Council would or would not be capable of arriving at unanimity of purpose, Kropotkin's forcibly expressed opinion was that art could not tolerate democracy. However the new enterprise was set up, he emphasised, the final arbiter must be its founder. Recalling this discussion in later years, Koussevitzky would lay stress on how surprised he was to hear such unexpected advice from the lips of the apostle of Russian anarchism. But one way or another Kropotkin's prescience would come to be justified more than once by later developments in RME's operations, and Koussevitzky would have further opportunities to talk to him about them.

*****

RME was formally established on 25th March 1909 in Berlin, its legal registration in Germany guaranteeing its Russian composer-clients copyright protection for their compositions. Was there any for Koussevitzky to have foreseen the effect this 'legal residence' in Berlin would have on the subsequent history of the organisation – positive, tragic-comic, and unquestionably dramatic? Established outside Russia for one set of reasons, decades later Russia's diaspora would perceive it from a markedly different perspective.

Initially, RME was capitalised in the amount of 500,000 roubles.[4] Koussevitzky stated on several subsequent occasions that the money he invested was his own. The documentation also identifies Natalie Koussevitzky as co-founder of the firm.[5] 'It was first of all my wish that her name be associated with every aspect of my activities; secondly not only was she always my inseparable partner in life but my constant source of advice and support in everything relating to business and its particulars,' he later wrote.[6]

To help on drafting the Charter of RME Koussevitzky invited the President of the First State Duma (1906), the well-known Russian lawyer and Moscow University Professor Sergei Muromtsev. It was no random choice for either of the Koussevitzkys: Muromtsev's close University friend and colleague in publishing his journal The Legal Bulletin [Yuridichesky Vestnik] was Maxim Kovalevsky, whose lectures Natalie had attended in Paris. Muromtsev's wife was the renowned opera singer Maria Muromtseva, née Klimentova, the first Tatyana in the Conservatoire production of Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin in 1879.

Muromtsev was assisted in his work on the RME Charter by the music critic Yevgeny Gunst, and by the founder of the 'Circle of Friends of Russian Music' Arkady Kerzin. Both had experience musical as well as legal training. The choice of works for publication was, as had always been envisaged, entrusted to the RME Council. Koussevitzky himself undertook all the financial management.

Administrative management of the Berlin office was in the hands of Nikolai Struve. Musicologist, music theorist, composer and poet, he was at the centre of a wide circle of musically connected acquaintances in Germany. Rachmaninov and Struve had been friends for many years, and Struve enjoyed the composer's unwavering respect. The symphonic poem Isle of the Dead is dedicated to him. 'Struve's commitment to the fledgling enterprise was boundless, as was his ardent desire to serve the publisher's interest to the best of his ability,' recalled Alexander Ossovsky. 'As Director of RME he was the very soul of the organisation.'[7]

On receipt of a manuscript from a composer Struve would distribute it in turn to the members of the Council. Each member would receive also a report sheet on which he would, after acquainting himself with the composition, assess it by marking an F or a G.[8] To this would be added one of three numbers: 1, 2 or 3, indicating which level of payment – high, medium or low – the composer was to receive. Controversial assessments were to be referred to the Council for consideration.

For scores of operas, ballets, symphonies and symphonic suites composers received up to 3,000 roubles; for instrumental concerti, orchestral overtures and chamber compositions from 200 to 500 roubles; from 50 to 100 roubles for small instrumental pieces and songs. Once accepted for publication, the composer would receive his fee as an advance. He would have a share in profits once the value of sales exceeded the sum of the publisher's outgoings, and as soon as the profit exceeded the advance, the appropriate amount would be credited to his account.

In 1915, computing the respective positions of composers published by Jurgenson and by RME, Rachmaninov wrote to Yevgeny Gunst: 'Russian Musical Editions … are paying even higher percentages [i.e. in favour of the composer] in the order of 25% until the advance is earned out, then 50% once all costs of publication have been covered.'[9]

The position of managing the Moscow office of the publishers was offered to Fyodor Grishin, the recommendation – as Struve's appointment had been – of Rachmaninoff. Stemming from a peasant family in Ryazan province, Grishin had begun his career in Jurgenson's music shop, where thanks to his energy and abilities he quickly rose to become Head Salesman. Musicians in Moscow knew and liked him as 'a person of rare probity and great inner culture', and recalled that he 'had a superior knowledge of musical literature, was often to be seen at symphony concerts, and spoke foreign languages; … his manner was reserved, with a sense of his own worth but withal very modest.'[10] Rachmaninov took it upon himself to negotiate personally with the brothers Boris and Grigory Jurgenson Grishin's move from the Jurgenson office. This he accomplished ' … with such tact and skill as to make it relatively painless. In short, the Jurgenson brothers released their admirable employee Grishin without a fuss, although they can scarcely have welcomed his departure.'[11]

*****

Besides Koussevitzky and Rachmaninoff, membership of the RME Council included Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner, Alexander Gedike (until February 1911) and the music critic Leonid Sabaneyev. Because of a planned series of scholarly theoretical publications, the authoritative Petersburg musicologist Alexander Ossovsky was also invited. Koussevitzky hoped, not without reason, that the greater objectivity and balance of Ossovsky's judgments would act as a counterweight to those of the members directly engaged in creative work.

Here we encounter an aspect of Koussevitzky's character that is seldom mentioned. Awareness that Ossovsky was a close friend and comrade-in-arms of Ziloti in no way affected his cordial relations with him at a time when there was acute rivalry between the 'S. Koussevitzky Concerts' and the 'A. Ziloti Concerts' seasons. Nor did the occasional critical articles from Ossovsky's pen on the subject of Koussevitzky as a conductor cause any coolness between them.

The first meeting of the RME Council took place on 25th October 1909, seven months to the day after the founding of the firm. As would be the case with nearly all subsequent Council meetings, it was held in Koussevitzky's house. Ossovsky's memoirs allow us to glimpse the dual nature of the atmosphere at these sessions. Outwardly they appeared to constitute an informal, friendly exchange of views, ' … they proceeded peaceably, without sharp differences of opinion, and in a spirit of complete mutual respect …'[12] Koussevitzky, in the chair, listened attentively to the opinions of the Council members, generally expressing his own views but striving never to impose them. In accordance with the Statutes of RME, the Council enjoyed autonomy from its founder and proprietor.

At the same time, a certain sense of strain and egotistical disdain could not altogether be eliminated, even from the lunches and dinners that by tradition followed the conclusion of meetings, complete with silver, crystal, expensive china dishes, perfectly schooled servants waiting at table in the carved wood-panelled dining room.[13] Natalie Koussevitzky, present at all Council meetings, '… never once uttered a word of greeting to any Council member,' and 'sat silent as a sphinx, neither voicing an opinion nor participating in the voting procedure, but doubtless reviewing in her mind everything that was said by the members of the Council and later, in private, influencing her husband.'[14] Natalie had her own reasons for keeping silent: while she considered it inappropriate to intervene in musical matters, attending to the overall progress of the publishing firm – a vessel that without her active participation and financial underpinning would never have been launched at all – was for her a priority.

The Council member with the most commanding authority in the early stages of RME was Rachmaninoff. His intensive touring schedule in Russia and abroad, however, prevented him from regularly attending meetings. Despite this he did his best to play a part in all activities of RME, never refusing to look at new compositions and to comment on them. 'Effectively taking charge of this most complex undertaking, Sergei Vasilievich was not only unsparing of his efforts but revealed organisational talent of an exceptionally high order, so that Koussevitzky could with an easy mind concentrate on his concert-giving activities, secure in the iron-clad protection of having such assistants as Sergei Vasilievich [Rachmaninoff], Struve, Grishin, Lamm,[15] and others,' recalled Gedike.[16]

The lurid rumours flying round musical circles in Moscow that Koussevitzky, preoccupied with his concerts, was completely disengaged from the activities of the publishing house, were very far from the truth. He took a direct and lively interest in all RME's operations, at least in the firm's early years. Equally unfounded was the notion, propounded by Boleslav Yavorsky in a letter to Myaskovsky, that the Council was purely a consultative organ 'convened to supply protection for Rachmaninov when he had a personal interest in the outcome of deliberations, or the personal wishes … of the owner.'[17]

The truth is that Rachmaninov pursued no personal interests whatsoever at RME. He continued to offer his compositions to the Gutheil. In the summer of 1910 he responded as follows to a request from his friend Mikhail Slonov to allow him to publish Rachmaninoff's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: 'I cannot leave Gutheil, but even were I in this case to do so I should have to go not to you but to R. Mus. Ed. which I have been 'leading on' – reluctantly, to be sure – for about two years now.'[18] Exceptionally scrupulous in ethical matters, Rachmaninov had other reasons for not wanting to break precipitously with Gutheil and move to Koussevitzky: '… I am hesitant about publishing with people who are close to me, because financial losses inflicted involuntarily upon friends are even more unpleasant and embarrassing than they are upon firms with whom one has no more than a business relationship.'[19] Only after Koussevitzky had acquired A. Gutheil in 1914 did Rachmaninov bring him the score of the Vespers.[20] It was followed by the Six Songs Op. 38, the second cycle of Etudes-Tableaux Op. 39, and a string of other subsequent Rachmaninov compositions in a wide variety of genres.

From its inception, RME's work was predicated on extensive contacts with young composers. Koussevitzky was clear that moral and material support was needed in the first instance by musicians who had not yet succeeded in securing a sound footing for themselves, who were striking out in new artistic directions. 'For a composer to be accepted for publication,' he wrote to Ossovsky, 'the following conditions must absolutely be met: talent, creative independence and, of course, complete musical literacy.'[21]

As a counterweight to M.P. Beliaeff, which mainly published the music of St. Petersburg composers, RME preferred its clients to be from Moscow. The first works to be published by RME were twelve choruses by Taneyev to verses of Yakov Polonsky, Op. 27, Georgy Conus's symphonic portrait La forêt bruisse, some songs by Nikolai Medtner and choruses and songs by Georgy Catoire. It had been decided from the outset that works by Scriabin, Medtner and Taneyev would be accepted without discussion. Koussevitzky, like Rachmaninoff, felt most drawn to Taneyev among composers of the older generation.

Another immediate priority of RME was to publish orchestral scores. In a conscious attempt to overturn the inertia gripping other publishers unwilling to go to the expense of publishing expensive full scores of symphonies, not to mention the orchestral parts, Koussevitzky made it his business to enlarge his own conductor's repertoire with new compositions. At all stages of the history of RME, its work was inextricably entwined with Koussevitzky's career as a performer, through the concert series he inaugurated first in Moscow, later in Paris and ultimately with his orchestra in Boston.

*****

For a long time it was asserted that Scriabin ' …could only accept and take pleasure in his own music,'[22] that '… he was at heart little interested in the activities of RME,' and was 'generally indifferent to the music of other composers, finding the obligation to study submitted manuscripts exceedingly burdensome.'[23] These judgments stand in need of some correction.

True, the realization of his own musical ideas was more important to Scriabin than that of anyone else's music. But what great artist is not essentially egocentric? For all that, Scriabin did actively engage in the work of the RME Council, as can clearly be seen from his letters to Struve. These letters were believed to have been irretrievably lost, but happily were discovered in Koussevitzky's archive in the Library of Congress.[24] It is striking, reading them now, to realize how far adrift were the judgments of Scriabin made at the time by even his closest musical colleagues.

Regularly receiving the manuscripts of new compositions, Scriabin would review them. It was not the obligation to submit written reports that he found such a burden, but the onus of having to pronounce judgment on another composer's work. 'If only you knew,' he wrote to Struve, 'how hard it is for me to express my opinion of the works you have sent me. The problem is that I have not yet succeeded in determining my point of view, and that is the crux of arriving at a verdict.'[25] By 'point of view' should be understood the strictness of the criteria to be applied. It was not easy for Scriabin, giving his verdict on the publishability or otherwise of a young composer's work, to prick him down with a G for 'gegen' – 'against'.

Some of Scriabin's observations about specific composers in the letters to Struve are characteristic of the man. 'The most talented, in my opinion, is Byutsev (if he is young). I would say "yes" to his being considered. But if he is not a composer at the start of his career, I do not think he merits publication.[26] Steinberg's composition is merely correct. That would be the only reason for awarding him a "yes".[27] As for Portnov, all I can say is a flat "no".

Scriabin gives a 'yes' to Glière's symphonic poem The Sirens: '… attractive sonorities, the music not bad in places, although not particularly individual.' A 'yes' went to three songs from a song cycle by Yulia Weisberg and Alexander Krein's song 'I Fear your Caresses'.[28]

What Scriabin wanted above all to hear in any new composition – and in this he was fully in agreement with Koussevitzky's overriding criterion – was the composer's own voice, the individuality of his musical mind. If he did not find it, he would irritably complain: 'No compositions of any originality this time.'[29]

*****

RME's publications were distinguished by the high quality of their lithographic reproduction and the exceptional precision of their typography, thanks to the Leipzig printers C.G. Röder (which also serviced the M.P. Beliaeff imprint). Röder did everything possible to meet his client's needs: faced with the inevitability of Russian delays in turning round proofs, he would assign the RME scores to be engraved by his best master-engravers, and cannily contrived, with echt German punctiliousness, to deliver his productions on time.

Almost all scores were published in uniform sturdy yellow-orange covers. They were designed by Ivan Bilibin in his characteristic stylized manner derived from Slavonic antiquity, with overtones of ancient Novgorod manuscripts. Above the title of the work, set out in Russian and German script (later, with the onset of war, the latter would be replaced by French) was depicted a psalter, appropriated by the artist from a 17th-Century Russian primer.

A uniform cover design could not answer equally well to the range of musical styles such as the firm published. Criticism was leveled, for example, at the inappropriateness of the 'blatant lubokishness'[30]of the Bilibin style to the later works of Scriabin. For the first edition of his Prometheus the composer insisted that a design be commissioned from the Belgian artist and theosophist Jean Delville. Delville produced an image at the fiery orange end of the spectrum, placing at the centre a mystical representation of an androgynous dual-sexed being, with staring eyes symbolizing the will.

To launch his publications into the market place, Koussevitzky opened two music shops, in August 1909 on Kuznetsky Most in Moscow, and in November 1911 on Bolshoi Morskoi Street in St. Petersburg. Just one of these set him back 150,000 roubles. Rachmaninoff's ironic comment on the new Moscow shop, in a letter to Nikita Morozov, was: 'The Imperial Russian Publishers' new corner shop is scheduled to open on August 8th. I shall be present at this auspicious occasion, drinking champagne.'[31] To oversee the setting up of the Petersburg shop Koussevitzky brought up the experienced Fyodor Grishin from Moscow.

Advertisements in Russian newspapers and journals constantly blazoned the RME shops, recommending purchasers to sample '… the extensive stock of scores and books on all branches of musical knowledge from Russian and foreign publishers, … a wide choice of multi-volume editions and operas, … miniature scores, and musical calendars.' Customers were also informed that the stores stocked all Russian and foreign music journals and offered facilities for subscribing to them. A wide selection of portraits of leading musicians was also on offer, with postcard reproductions, as well as '… music manuscript paper and notebooks, new strings and musical instrument accessories.'[32]

Reports of the first years' activities of RME read extremely optimistically: the business was expanding constantly; in addition to Berlin, Moscow and St. Petersburg, branches opened in Leipzig, London, Paris, Brussels and New York. In turn RME fulfilled within Russia the function of representative for Breitkopf und Härtel, Simrock, Eulenberg, Schlesinger. 'The business has now grown so large, and is increasing each day,' wrote Struve early in 1912. 'Our publications sold much better in 1911 than they did in 1910.'[33]

*****

Once the RME Council began its work, it did not take long for differences of opinion to surface. 'Koussevitzky was acting with the best intentions when he invited leading musicians on to the assessment panel, …' wrote Prokofiev. 'But each one of them was such a strong personality that acceptance of a work by one member was bound to turn the others against it.'[34] As a rule, Rachmaninov and Medtner presented a united front. Although their judgments of particular works might differ, they were at one in rejecting any sign of 'modernism'. True, Rachmaninov would later acknowledge his admiration of Vrubel's Demon and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, but it was prompted less by the achievement of these great innovators in breaking from the classical traditions in which they had been reared, than at their refusal to deviate from their subsequently acquired techniques. 'I feel myself to be a ghost wandering in solitary state through an alien world,' the composer confessed to Leonard Liebling many years later, in 1939. 'I am not capable of rejecting the old way of writing, but I cannot accept the new…. I cannot dispel the impression that the new kind of music emanates not from the heart, but from the intellect.'[35]

At the opposite pole to Rachmaninov and Medtner in Council meetings was Scriabin. He was convinced that the publishing house should open its doors to innovation. 'In any new music, even the most left-leaning innovatory composition, what is most important is to be convinced of the composer's creative principles;' asserted Scriabin. 'It is essential to grasp these principles and to judge the composition from the point of view of the composer's consistent application of them, leading in turn to a consistent style. The presence of a style is decisive.'[36]

When Scriabin voiced such sentiments at RME Council meetings, there would appear on Rachmaninoff's face, according to Ossovsky, 'a slight, ironic smile.'[37] Had Scriabin stayed longer as a Council member, one imagines the disagreements would have progressed farther than a smile ….

Koussevitzky thus found himself between two fires and perpetually obliged to smooth over the differing aesthetic viewpoints of the musicians he had invited to join the Council. At the same time, he would not be shaken in the smallest degree from his own opinions. Powerful confirmation of this is found in the conflicts surrounding the works of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, to which we shall have occasion to refer later.

*****

The First World War called a halt to the work of RME. In the spring of 1914 the firm had successfully exhibited its wares at the World Book Fair in Leipzig. After the outbreak of war, however, as a firm registered in Germany it found itself in enemy territory. Koussevitzky's contact with his Berlin office was broken, although subsequently he managed to transfer its operations to Moscow where it was headed by Struve once he returned from Germany. In Berlin the business of finding printing firms to take on RME projects was handled first by Vogel, then Erik Zingel, and finally by Fyodor Weber.

Before long, however, the German authorities confiscated RME's engraved plates, as they did M.P. Beliaeff's. No longer was it possible for Röder to print the scores, and the decision was taken to use the Moscow firm of V. Grosse. 'They engrave well, and I hope it will be possible to obtain good results,' wrote Struve reassuringly to Igor Stravinsky. But soon it became impossible to use the Grosse firm either. 'The whole business … has become much more complicated and parts of it will have to be put into cold storage…. And the clouds are gathering even more ominously in the future …' wrote Struve prophetically.[38]

On 28th May 1915 in a frenzied outburst of nationalism a gang of vandals destroyed a number of shops and offices belonging to German and Austrian proprietors. Among them were the businesses of Gebrüder Diederichs, Bessel, Gutheil, Detlaf, Eberle, A. Zeiwang, Zimmerman, and Grosse. 'Wrecked parts of grand pianos and uprights which had been tossed out of upstairs windows were scattered all over the pavement,' remembered one contemporary witness, the violinist Vasily Shirinsky. 'Ripped-up scores lay in piles in front of the Conservatoire.'[39]

Julius Zimmerman, which had published the music of Balakirev, Taneyev, Lyapunov, Medtner and Grechaninov, ceased trading altogether in Russia. Of German extraction but a long-time Russian resident, Yuly Zimmerman returned to his native land and continued his publishing business in Leipzig. Karl Gutheil, ethnically German but with Austrian nationality, also determined to leave Russia without delay. It was to Koussevitzky that he turned immediately after his shop on Kuznetsky Most was sacked. 'Gutheil has suggested that we buy his firm,' wrote Struve to Ossovsky. 'It's a very interesting and serious proposition.'

The firm of A. Gutheil was, as has already been mentioned, was a soundly based business, one of the largest of its kind in Russia. Its catalogue contained – as well as salon miniatures – gypsy songs, simplified piano versions of Western classics, works by Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Balakirev, Serov and Rachmaninoff. Gutheil owned, in particular, publication rights to Dargomyzhsky's opera Rusalka and three operas by Serov. Also belonging to the firm was the archive of the publishing firm of F.T. Stellovsky which had been acquired in the distant past and left to moulder in the basement, forgotten by everyone. Among the unexpected treasures discovered in it by Koussevitzky in the autumn of 1915 was the manuscript of Glinka's famous Valse-Fantaisie, long believed irretrievably lost.

Gutheil received Koussevitzky in his magnificent Moscow mansion. Agreement on the sale of the publishing house was agreed on the spot, Koussevitzky undeterred by either the price named by Gutheil or the troubling social, political and economic uncertainties of Russia in time of war. Gutheil had a special stamp made for all enquiries concerning any aspect of his firm. It read: 'All rights belonging to me are hereby transferred wholly and entirely to Sergei Alexandrovich Koussevitzky and Natalya Konstantinovna Koussevitzkaya according to our agreement dated 28th July 1915. Moscow (signed) K.A. Gutheil.'[40]

Reporting on Koussevitzky's acquisition of Gutheil for 300,000 roubles,[41] the Russian Musical Gazette declared: 'This development can only be a matter for rejoicing, since the Gutheil firm would not have lifted a finger to ensure that important works by Russian composers are published with the requisite care and attention; … K. Gutheil confined himself to reprinting old plates derived from Stellovsky…. Now that the enterprise has been transferred to the charge of a cultivated musical figure, it is to be hoped that the approach to important new works will no longer be that of a mercenary small trader.'[42]

Although Struve himself acknowledged to Stravinsky that 'taking on board the Gutheil business entails a ten-fold increase in our activities,'[43] the publication of classic works by Russian composers was no higher in the scale of Koussevitzky's priorities that it had been before. The main task was to acquaint a wide public with the music of contemporary composers. It is hard to find an instance of an important Russian composer who was not published by RME and who did not benefit from the firm's support, with the exception of Glazunov and Myaskovsky. Such a policy ran directly counter to any commercial aspirations whatsoever. As Lyubov Rybnikova, the secretary of S. Koussevitzky Concerts, observes in her unpublished memoirs, however unprofitable the Koussevitzkys' concert enterprises were, they represented 'trifling losses compared to those of Russian Musical Editions, into which several millions had been invested and which, moreover, required yet more colossal sums to be injected each year.'

Much the same would be said later by Gavriil Paichadze, subsequently Director of RME, when he declared that ' …we never derived any actual income from Gutheil because all the revenue we received went straight into covering running costs and into the rebuilding of the reserves that had been lost during the war. Often there were not enough funds even to do this, so Seryozha [Koussevitzky] was sometimes obliged to subsidise the Gutheil business from his own pocket, which subsidies he never recovered.'[44]

Be that as it may, Koussevitzky never regretted buying the Gutheil firm. After the end of the Second World War, it gave him the greatest satisfaction to receive an unexpected letter from Karl Gutheil's daughter Alisa Plate.


[1] N. Struve to A. Ossovsky, March 10/23 1914, Berlin, RIII Dept. of Manuscripts, fond 22 (A.V. Ossovsky).opis 1, yed. khr 172, Letter 29 verso.
[2] Originally concluded in Berne in 1876 between 11 countries, the Convention was amended several times (up to and including 1971) and expanded in reach. Signatories today number more than 100. The basis of the agreement is complete harmonisation and protection of authors' rights in all participating countries.
[3] The Corps of Pages was an exclusive military academy in St. Petersburg for the sons of the nobility, officers of general rank and above. It was notorious for the harsh regime the cadets endured, and in particular the brutal initiation rites inflicted on newcomers, vividly detailed in Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist.
[4] Other sources give the capitalisation as 1 million roubles. Inaccurate reports of commercial transactions were commonplace in the Russian press at this time. In fact, as witness the firm's Enabling Act, the sum was the equivalent of 1 million German marks. By a miracle the document relating to the Act in question survived in Germany through two World Wars and was brought to London from Berlin in March 1947 by Ralph Hawkes, who was proposing, on behalf of his firm, Boosey & Hawkes, to buy RME from Koussevitzky. (Letter from G. Paichadze to S. Koussevitzky, March 29 1947, Paris (KA-LC).
[5] The sum was specifically identified six years later in documentation relating to the purchase of the publishing firm of A. Gutheil.
[6] S. Koussevitzky Notes on the Russian Musical Editions Publishing House (KA-LC).
[7] A. Ossovsky 'S.V. Rakhmaninov' in Vospominaniya o Rakhmaninovye, comp, ed and annotated Z. Apetyan, 4th expanded edition, Muzyka, Moscow 1974 vol 1 p380.
[8] 'Für' or 'Gegen' – in German 'For' or 'Against'.
[9] S. Rakhmaninov to Ye. Gunst, July 17 1915, Khalila, Finland. Quoted in I. Nikolskaya ' "Samyi luchezarnyi iz tvortsov", iz lichnogo arkhiva Ye. O. Gunsta', Muzykal'naya Akademiya 1993, No. 4 p172.
[10] O.P. Lamm 'Pervye gody Gosudarstevennogo muzykal'nogo izdatel'stva. Dela i lyudi' in Sovetskaya muzykal'naya kul'tura. Istoriya, traditsii, sovremennost', Muzyka, Moscow 1980 p193.
[11] A. Gedike 'Pamyatnye vstrechi' in Vospominanyia o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit. vol 2 p17.
[12] Ossovsky in Vospominaniya o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit., vol 1 p381.
[13] After 1915, when the First World War obliged Koussevitzky to move from his mansion to an apartment in one of his rental properties, the Council took to meeting in the RME shop on Kuznetsky Most. The opening of this establishment will be discussed later.
[14] Ossovsky in Vospominaniya o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit., vol 1, pp378, 381.
[15] In 1912 Koussevitzky invited the musicologist, textual critic and pianist Pavel Alexandrovich Lamm to join RME. According to Lamm himself, he worked '… as Director of the artistic side of the business and organiser of the scholarly editing of the archive of manuscripts …' (P. Lamm, Autobiography, quoted in O. Lamm, Op. cit. p192.
[16] Alexander Gedike, in Vospominanyia o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit. vol 2 p18.
[17] B. Yavorsky to N. Myaskovsky, July 15 1913, Moscow. In Boleslav Yavorsky compiled and ed I. Rabinovich, general ed D. Shostakovich, 2nd corrected and expanded edition, vol 1 Stat'i. Vospominaniya. Perepiska, Sovetskii Kompozitor, Moscow 1972 p289.
[18] S. Rakhmaninov to M. Slonov, June 13 1910, Ivanovka. In S. Rakhmaninov Literaturnoe nasledie v trëkh tomakh compiled and ed with introduction and index Z. Apetyan, vol 2 Pis'ma, Sovetskii Kompozitor, Moscow 1980 p17.
[19] ibid.
[20] The single exception is the Polka de W. R., which RME published in 1911 in a collection of piano works by Russian composers. The Polka is a virtuoso transcription, in the style of Leopold Godowsky, of a polka his father had loved to play. Rachmaninov had retained it in his memory since childhood. (The 'W' in the title is a European transliteration of the initial letter V of Rachmaninoff's father's name Vasily.)
[21] S. Koussevitzky to A. Ossovsky, August 18 1909. Quoted in Ossovsky, Vospominania o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit, vol 1 p377.
[22] L. Sabaneyev, Skryabin, Scorpion, Moscow 1916 p249.
[23] Ossovsky in Vospominania o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit, vol 1 p 379.
[24] The 21 letters, dated between 1909 and 1912, were probably passed to Koussevitzky at the time by Struve, only to disappear from view in the welter of papers in the archive.
[25] A.N. Scriabin to N. Struve, May 8 1910, Brussels, KA-LC.
[26] Vladimir Byutsev was a young composer who as a young man had been a friend of Pyotr Suvchinsky. Among his later compositions are a violin concerto (1921), and music for the tragedy Savonarola (1922). At the beginning of the 1920s Byutsev was Musical Director of the Bluebird theatre-cabaret in Berlin. 'I spoke to Koussevitzky about Byutsev when I was in Paris in April,' wrote Prokofiev to Suvchinsky in 1922. 'His answer was: "dry and boring"' (S. Prokofiev to P. Suvchinsky, July 11 1922, Ettal. Quoted in Ye. Pol'dyayeva ' "Ya chasto s nim nye soglasilsya …" iz perepiski S.S. Prokof'eva I P. P Suvchinsky' in Pyotr Suvchinsky i yego vremya, compiled and ed A. Bretanitskaya, Kompozitor, Moscow 1999 p73).
[27] Maximilian Oseyevich Steinberg, best known of the composers mentioned by Scriabin. It is not clear which composition Scriabin is referring to in his letter. It may have been one of his two first symphonies, or the cantata Rusalka, to verses by Lermontov.
[28] Yulia Weisberg, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, was married to his son Andrey. She was a prolific composer, mainly of vocal music both chamber and symphonic. Koussevitzky conducted Alexander Krein's music as well as publishing it.
[29] A.N. Scriabin to N. Struve, May 8 1910, Brussels (KA-LC).
[30]The lubok was the folk-art woodcut, popular since the 18th century, sold at bazaars and market places, usually illustrating religious, historical and social themes but often satirising political and military events, Tsars Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible being frequent targets.
[31] S. Rakhmaninov to N. Morosov, July 15 1909. In S. Rakhmaninov. Literaturnoe Nasledie, Op. cit, vol 1 p481.
[32] Muzyka, No. 31, July 1 1911.
[33] N. Struve to A. Ossovsky, March 16/29 1912, Berlin, RIII Dept. of Manuscripts, fond 22 (A.V. Ossovsky, opis 1, yed. khr 172, letter 14 verso.
[34] Sergei Prokofiev Autobiography. In S.S. Prokof'ev. Materiali. Dokumenty. Vospominaniya comp, ed and annotated S. Shlifshteyn, 2nd expanded edition, Gosizdat, Moscow 1961 p146.
[35] S. Rakhmaninov to L. Liebling in S. Rakhmanino. Liternaturnoe nadlsedie Op. cit. vol 3 p171.
[36] Quoted in Ossovsky, Vospominaniya o Rakhmaninovye, Op. cit. vol 1 p379.
[37] ibid.
[38] N. Struve to I. Stravinsky, August 14/27 1915, quoted in I.F. Stravinsky. Perepiska s russkimi korrespondentami. Materialy k biografii vol 2 1913-22, comp and ed V. Varunts, Kompozitor, Moscow 2000 p337.
[39] V. Shirinsky 'Vospominaniya' in V.P. Shirinsky. Stranitsy zhizni, tvorchestva i kontsertnoi deyatel'nosti. Vospominanyia. Stat'i. Materialy k biografii, comp N. Shirinskaya, Filologia 1966 pp27-8.
[40] Quoted in Vasili Safonov. Izbrannoye, comp and ed Ye. Krivitskaya and L. Tumarinson, Petroglif, Moscow 2011 p122.
[41] According to other sources Koussevitzky paid 250,000 roubles for the firm. In fact, according to the deed of sale signed at the Tikhomirov law firm in Moscow the publishing firm of A. Gutheil was acquired for the sum of 200,000 roubles in gold. The new owners were registered as Sergei and Natalya Koussevitzky.
[42] Unsigned article 'Various News Reports' in Russkiya muzykal'naia gazeta Nos. 33-34, August 16-23 1915, column 530.
[43] N. Struve to I. Stravinsky August 14/27 1915, I. F Stravinsky Perepiska, Op. cit. vol 2 p337.
[44] G. Paichadze to O. Koussevitzky, October 18 (KA-LC).

Copyright © 2004, 2015, Victor Yuzefovich - Translation by Anthony Phillips

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