Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Imperial Frustrations

I have been spending a lot of figurative time in the Russian Imperial Court of late. The interpersonal and political maneuvers of the "players" are fascinating, but I find it odder and odder that there is so little scholarship about music in the court. What I have found (and anyone who reads this blog knows that all roads lead to my fascination with Anton Ferdinand Titz) is either veiled (manuscripts that exist in only a few libraries) or simply wrong.

Take, for example, the 1708 Stradivarius known as the "Empress of Russia." This list, taken from the Cozio listing, shows the owners of the instrument.

There were two Empresses of Russia: Elizabeth (reigned from 1741-1762), the daughter of Peter I and aunt of Peter III, and Catherine II, who married Elizabeth's nephew, and became Empress in 1762 and reigned until 1796).

Pavel Berman has this bit of information on his website:
The violin takes it name from the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I of Russia who took power in 1741 in a military coup after a period of obscurity under the regency of Anna Leopoldovna, and was crowned the following year. Although herself not highly educated she inaugurated a period of cultural development, abolishing the death penalty in 1744, founding the University of St. Petersburg, and bringing the first Italian musicians to Russia, including the Neapolitan Francesco Araia who wrote the first true opera sung in Russian, Cephalus and Procris. The Empress gave this valuable violin to her secretary and lover, Gribersky. The instrument, also known as ‘Empress of Russia’ is from a private collection and is not normally played in public.
Who is Gribersky? According to Robert Massie (who I believe is well informed), Elizabeth did have a musical lover named Alexey Razumovsky. He played the bandura. Alexey Razumovsky's nephew Andrey, by the way, was the "Razumovsky" who commissioned Beethoven's Opus 59 Quartets. Maybe Alexey didn't do so well with the fiddle.

The Cozio list has Catherine II as the next owner of the instrument. Perhaps Elizabeth gave it to Catherine to give to her husband Peter, who was a violinist (and according to Catherine, who had no ear for music, a bad one). Maybe this was the instrument that Peter played. Who knows? Maybe Elizabeth gave it to Catherine to keep for Paul, Catherine's son and the person Elizabeth considered next in line for the throne after Peter. Paul, by the way, was the person who commissioned Haydn to write his Opus 33 Quartets. Paul studied violin with Titz.

I hope that someone reading this post might know more about music in imperial Russia than I do! Please contribute anything you can.


Ellen said...

In 1930, my mother Phyllis Alley participated in a contest (which she won) in Idaho. She was playing her teacher's 'Queen Catherine violin'. Her teacher lived in Salt Lake City. His name was Freeber or Frieber or something like that. I am trying to find out something about this violin. Was it a copy of the famous one? Was it a strad or guarnarius? Who make the famous one?

Elaine Fine said...

The Cosio link in the post is all I know about Catherine the Great's violin, but my hunch is that the instrument your aunt won might have been a copy. I'll see what I can find out about Mr. Friebar.