Lazare Saminsky (1882-1959)


The "Third Leonardo or Warrior of Civilization"

Virtuoso pianist, mathematician, composer, conductor, etnographer, historian of music, one of the ideologist of Jewish Art Music movement, author of lithurgic music, symphonies, ballets, and operas, a true Renaissance man—as "modestly" suggested by the title of his unpublished autobiography, The Third Leonardo: Illusions of a Warrior of Civilization. ...For reasons that have yet to be fully and objectively explored, his name has faded from the roster of significant American émigré composers of that era. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, there are unmistakable signs of renewed interest in his legacy. A Saminsky revival seems imminent and promising.

Биография  (читать...)

The future "Third Leonanardo", as he later modestly calls himself in his autobiography, Lazar (Leizer, Eliezer) Saminsky was born in 1882 in the town of Valegotsulovo near Odessa (now the city of Dolinskoe, Kirovograd region, Ukraine), into a wealthy merchant family, who lived in Odessa since the time of Duke de Richelieu. From 1893 Leizer studied at the Imperial Commercial Lyceum in Odessa. Piano he begins to study quite late - at the age of 15. In 1903 he entered the Odessa Imperial Music College Russian Musical Society (IRMO), and in 1905 - in the Moscow Philharmonic School, but soon he was expelled for participating in revolutionary circles.

This is what Alexei Bolotnikov writes about this period: "... Sasha Brushtein, cute on her face and unusually witty, captured Lazar in her own whirlpool. Mannered, or always playing some kind of role, amenable to light flirting and unceremonious with gentlemen , she took possession of Saminsky's free time, his imagination and even, it seemed, his soul. ... And the first question, at the moment of meeting Saminsky, asked "How is your literary activity?" It turned out that she herself wrote poetry, sketches, and occasionally even published in provincial newspapers ... Lazar was puffed up not to fall in her eyes "on the level of an ordinary log." Everywhere he climbed and protruded. He was elected first to the exhibition committee, then to the artistic commission, instructed to speak, sing, play the pianos in the bushes ... In a word, he quickly got registered at the St. Petersburg police station. Fortunately, for the summer I went on an ethnographic expedition across the Caucasus, without even having time to say goodbye to Sasha. And, having survived a year and a half of unrest under supervision, he was forced to move to Tiflis, out of sight. Here his trace was lost. They say that his political delusions turned into new passions: calls for biblical cantillations, relying on ancient melos ... They say he returned secretly to St. Petersburg, where, after stormy explanations and violent love passions, he asked for Sasha's hand. They say that as soon as the police showed up in the first brothels of St. Petersburg, he left the fatherland. Perhaps he thundered on stage - to homeless Siberia ...

Saminsky, fortunately, did not thunder in the stage, and in 1906 he entered the St. Petersburg University at the Faculty of Mathematics, where he studied mathematics, philosophy and ancient languages. At the same time he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the composition class of N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov and A. K. Lyadov and in the conducting class of N. N. Cherepnin. In the same class with him is Boris Asafiev, who received the best marks, but how composer - who missed the stars from the sky, but wrote about music better than anyone ever in Russian; Boris Zakharov, later a pianist, Alexander Kankarovich, better known as a conductor and author of theatrical music; Nikolai Myaskovsky and his "tormentor", Sergei Prokofiev, who literally rejected him, for a reason, as it seemed to him, "the dullness of his compositions." In his Autobiography, Prokofiev writes about his new classmate: “... unrestrained and with bad manners. The small body had a large and round head with thick lips. The roundness of the head was emphasized by the fact that he cut his hair short. I found that he resembles a chess pawn and immediately disliked him with the straightforwardness of a fifteen-year-old youth. " weighed down, like Myaskovsky, with acquired learning. " In 1910 Saminsky graduated from the Conservatory and began his extremely energetic career as a future collector of Jewish folklore, author of numerous books on mathematics and music, large-scale musical, theatrical and symphonic compositions. Albert Weisser writes that if Saminsky's career can be chronologically divided into continental (Russian, European and Middle Eastern) and American periods, then his work, where he touches on Hebrew and Jewish folk music, cannot be strictly divided.

Saminsky was one of the organizers of the Society of Jewish Folk Music, where, alternately with Rozovsky and Achron, he chaired the Committee on Music and Art. In 1912-1913 he was an assistant to the music editor of the capital newspaper "Russian Rumor", and later the Ginzburg ethnographic expedition entrusted him with collecting samples of ancient religious singing in Georgia. The years of war and revolutions from 1914 to 1919 Saminsky spent on expeditions across the Caucasus, collecting and researching musical folklore and religious music of Georgian Jews. Saminsky traveled a lot in the Caucasus, becoming one of the first researchers of the music of Georgian Jews, lecturing, teaching, conducting a symphony orchestra in Tiflis, then the cultural center of Transcaucasia. In English-language sources they write about him as the founder and director of the Tbilisi Conservatory in 1917-1918! The problem is that in Georgian sources reproducing Soviet historiography, Nikolai Nikolaev, the author of the well-known piano manual for beginners, is called the director of the conservatory. Russian sources indicate that Nikolaev did indeed teach piano at the Tiflis School of Music in 1894-1897, but from 1898 he moved to the same position at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Would it really be that if Nikolai Nikolaev were really the first director of the Tiflis conservatory, then this would have been silent about in his biographical information? So who, Saminsky or Nikolaev?

In 2012, I came to Tbilisi within the framework of the Sambation project under the leadership of Ilya Dvorkin in search of materials about the composer Lazar Saminsky, who lived in Tiflis in 1911-1918. My hope to find out the truth was connected with the newspapers of that period. I honestly signed up for the library, loaded several bibliographers with requests, and sat down at the binder myself. After a few hours, hope vanished. The binders - starting from 1917 - were withdrawn (probably back in the 30s), and in books and brochures - politically correct circular references, with complete impossibility to find the beginning. Orwell was not exaggerating. The "Ministry of Truth" worked well. Either we are talking about two conservatories - the Narodnaya and the transformed from the Tiflis music school on Griboyedovskaya street, or the Georgian mythology confused Nikolai Dmitrievich Nikolaev with the famous conductor and composer Nikolai Nikolaevich Cherepnin, who was invited to this position in 1918? The only hope is the Milken Archive of Jewish music, where Saminsky's autobiography, prepared for publication, but never released, is now located.

As in the situation with the invention of the electric light bulb, the question of directorship is politically "loaded" and is somehow connected with the leapfrog of the authorities in Georgia during that turbulent period. Saminsky left Georgia in 1919, ended up in Constantinople, visited Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Paris. In 1920 in England he lectured on Russian, Oriental and Jewish music, conducted during the ballet season at the Duke of York's Theater, organized a branch of the Society of Jewish Folk Music in London. On June 21, 1920, the inaugural concert took place at Queens Hall. In the second half of 1920, he finally found himself in the United States. and already by definition was becoming a figure of little use for the honorable role of the founder of music education in already Soviet Georgia. In the USSR, they tried not to mention him (an emigrant, a "cut off chunk", a religious Jewish composer), of course, his opuses were not published or performed, writes Pavel Yukhvidin.

Albert Weisser writes that it would take an entire chapter to describe all of Saminsky's activities and achievements in America. He was one of the founders of the American League of Composers (1923), since 1924 - the music director of the Temple Emanuel Reform synagogue in New York. He regularly gives concerts as a conductor, lectures on contemporary music, helps young American composers, and has organized many festivals. Saminsky staged several of his operas in New York - "Julian the Apostate", "The Vision of Ariel", "The Daughter of Ievfai", "Biblical Ballet", "Rachel's Complaint", created many orchestral, chamber, vocal compositions. development of Jewish music, Saminsky came to the conclusion that the liturgical melos of Jews from all countries of the diaspora has common roots and is based on the Middle Eastern tradition. Saminsky's sharp discussion with Engel on this topic is known. Saminsky's collection of articles "On Jewish Music" (in Russian) was published in 1914 He called for a return to biblical cantillations, reliance on ancient melos, to get rid of the elements of the musical folklore of European peoples when creating works of Jewish music. Weisser believes that Hebraism is the dominant feature of Saminsky's "Jewish" music as a whole. This Hebraism is not harsh or dogmatic, but often combined with a broad cosmopolitan musical experience Even in Saminsky's "non-Jewish" works one can come across places that reflect Jewish melos. But recognizing the old biblical cantillations musically superior to "hybrid" folk songs and making them an integral part of many works, he continued from time to time to look for the best and used musical folklore. According to Weisser, Saminsky, like no other member of the Society (with the possible exception of Gnesin), was able to create his own style, in which such a synthesis took place, where the Jew and the universalist were able to speak with one voice.