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Music Theory: Koussevitzky - One of the greatest conductors

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Koussevitzky - One of the greatest conductors

by David James

In the official biographies of Serge Alexandrovitch Koussevitzky you will find that the boss of the Boston Symphony learned the art and mystery of conducting at the Royal Hochschule in Berlin under the great Artur Nikisch, but in this town there lives and breathes a rather well-known Russian pianist who tells a different story.

Long ago, says this key-tickler, when he was a youth, he was hired by Koussevitzky, then also a young fellow, to play the piano scores of the entire standard symphony repertoire.

He pounded away by the hour, the day and the week, while Koussevitzky conducted, watching himself in a set of three tall mirrors in a corner of the drawing room of his Moscow home.

The job lasted just about a year, and our pianist has never looked at a conductor since.

There's also an anecdote to the effect that, much earlier, when Serge was still a little boy in his small native town in the province of Tver, in northern Russia, he would arrange the parlor chairs in rows and, with some score open in front of him, conduct them. Once in a while he'd stop short and berate the chairs. Then little Serge's language was something awful.

Whether these stories are true or not, the fact remains that Mr. Koussevitzky became a conductor and a great oneā€”one of the greatest. The yarn of the mirrors is the most credible of the lot, for the Russian batonist's platform appearance is so meticulous and his movements are so obviously studied to produce the desired effects that he seems to conduct before an imaginary pier glass.

For elegant tailoring he has no peer among orchestral chiefs, except, perhaps, Mr. Stokowski. It's a toss-up between the two. Both are as sleek as chromium statues. Mr. Stokowski, slim, lithe, romantic in a virile way, looks as a poet should look, but never does. Mr. Koussevitzky, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, extremely military and virile in a dramatic way, looks as a captain of dragoons in civvies should have looked but never did.

The views and opinions in this blog post are those of its author.

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