Anton Rubinstein

(16 November/28 November -New Style 1829, Vykhvatinets - 8 November/20 November 1894, Peterhof)


Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein was a Russian composer, conductor, teacher and pianist (one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century) who became a pivotal figure in Russian culture when he founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He took his first piano lessons from his mother, who was a competent musician, at the age of 5 until the teacher Alexander Villoing took little Anton under his wing as a non-paying student.

His first public appearance was at a charity benefit concert at the age of 9. Later that year he sought to enroll at the Paris Conservatoire but was rejected. In 1840 Rubinstein performed in the Salle Érard for an audience that included Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. After touring extensively in Europe and Western Russia, they finally returned to Moscow in June 1843. In the 1844-1846 period, both he and his brother (Nikolay) studied music theory in Berlin, Anton prolonging his stay with 2 more years to study piano and composition. On his return to Russia in 1848 he settled in St. Petersburg where he taught, gave concerts and performed frequently at the Imperial court. In 1852 his first opera, Dmitry Donskoy (now lost except for the overture), was produced; Fomka durachok (Fomka the Fool) and Sibirskiye okhotniki (The Siberian Hunters) were introduced in St. Petersburg in 1853.

He also played and conducted several of his works, including the Ocean Symphony in its original four-movement form, his Second Piano Concerto and several solo works. In 1854 Rubinstein embarked on a 4 year concert tour of Europe, his first major concert tour in a decade. Under the patronage of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Rubinstein in 1859 founded the Russian Music Society and later became conductor of its orchestral concerts. In 1862 he founded and became the director of the Imperial (or St. Petersburg) Conservatory, and in 1866 his brother founded the Moscow Conservatory, where Nikolay remained as director until his death in 1881.

In 1867 Rubinstein resigned from his position as director of the Imperial Conservatory and resumed touring throughout Europe. Unlike his previous tours where he played primarily his own works, he began increasingly featuring the works of other composers. During the 1872-1873 season, Rubinstein toured in the United States giving 215 concerts in 239 days, sometimes two and three a day in as many cities.

(to be continued)