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Aleksey Nikolayevitch Verstovsky
Opera and lyrical music
Sheet music for Aleksey Nikolayevitch Verstovsky
Verstovsky wrote numerous songs to the words of many famous poets, which he knew personally. He was also a prolific composer of vaudevilles, a genre which he helped to its popularity. More important are his six opera’s, which include his masterpiece Askold’s Grave. This is a romantic opera with spoken dialogue on a subject from Russia’s history. It received its first performance in 1835, a year before Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar. The influence of Weber’s Freischütz (first Russian performance in 1824), although obvious, is often exaggerated. Askold’s Grave had about 600 performances in Tsarist Russia, not counting the provincial theatres. It even reached New York in 1869, as the first Russian opera performed in the United States. The part of the Unknown was one of Fyodor Shalyapin’s big successes. Indeed, he made his debut as an 18-year old (1891) in this role.
Askold’s Grave has been recorded recently (CSN 810015).
My main sources, besides the usual handbooks, were
Keldysh, Yu. V., Istoriya Russkoy Muzyki, 1948. Tom 1, p. 345-368.
O.E. Levasheva in , Istoriya Russkoy Muzyki ed. by N.V. Tumanina, 1957. Tom 1, p. 216-234.
G. Abraham, The Operas of Alexei Verstovsky, 19-th Century Music, 7(1983) no. 3, 326-335.
M. Shcherbakova, Introduction to piano score of Askold’s Grave, 1983.
Dobrokhotov, B., A.N. Verstovsky, Zhizn’, Teatral’naya Deyatelnost’, Opernoye Tvorchestvo, Moscow/Leningrad, 1949 (not available to me).
(His birth and death dates on the Julian calender are 1 March 1799 and 17 September 1862.)
Verstovsky was the composer of Askold’s Grave, the most popular Russian opera of the nineteenth century.
Aleksey Verstovsky was born as son of a wealthy landowner, who employed his own orchestra. Already as a child he was very keen on music and after his family moved to Ufa in 1808, he was able to take lessons. In 1816 he went to St. Petersburg to study engineering, which he practised for a few years as a civil servant. However, he did continue taking music lessons (one of his teachers was John Field) and in 1819 he made a succesful debut as a composer of theatre music. In 1823 he moved to Moscow, were he served in the office of governor-general D.V. Golytsyn. Two years later Verstovsky was appointed inspector of the Moscow theatres, of which he became director in 1848. He served in this function till his retirement in 1860, always busy composing works for the theatre. Verstovsky’s works were often performed and had a stronger influence on following generations of Russian composers than they cared to admit.