The Supreme Inspiration II: Patrons

Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)
This American conductor and composer of Russian birth began his career as a double bass soloist. After conducting the BPO and the LSO, he founded an orchestra and publishing house based in Russia which published Prokofiev, Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. After the revolution he moved to Boston, where he conducted works by Barber, Copland and Harris, as well as commissioning works from Ravel, Stravinsky and Hindemith. He also established the Berkshire Music Centre at Tanglewood, where Bernstein was among his pupils. In 1942, in his wealthy wife’s memory, he established the Koussevitzky Music Foundation to commission new works.

Madame Nadezhda von Meck (1931-94)
This wealthy widow, frigid since the death of her husband, was a huge inspiration to the increasingly frustrated Tchaikovsky when he was becoming all too aware of the implications of his homosexuality. Meck’s interest in him had been aroused by his The Tempest and lasted for 14 years. The relationship was maintained by letter; personal contact was avoided. Twice they accidentally met but they did not speak.

The root of their relationship seems to have been a revulsion against physical relations with the opposite sex. Meck wrote: ‘There is much, much I would wish to write of my imaginary relationship with you, but I am afraid of trespassing upon your so limited free time. I will say only that this relationship, however abstract, is precious to me as the highest of all feelings of which human nature is capable.’ Meck commissioned the Fourth Symphony, the Francesca da Rimini overture and Eugene Onegin.

Paul Sacher (1906-1999)
A Swiss conductor, he founded the Basle Chamber Orchestra in 1926. from 1941 he gave the first performances of many of the century’s greatest masterpieces including Strauss’ Metamorphosen, Bartok’s Music for strings, percussion and celeste and Stravinsky’s Concerto in D. In 1933 he founded the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis for research into early music and its performance. Other commissions include symphonies by Honegger and works from Hindemith, Birtwistle, Tippett and Henze.

The Esterházy family (1670-1790)
A Hungarian noble family famous as musical patrons. Joseph Haydn served four of the princes and most of his 104 symphonies were commissioned by Prince Nikolaus (for whom Haydn worked for nearly 30 years). He also ordered six masses and over 120 baryton trios from Haydn and a mass from Beethoven.

Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929)
A Russian impresario, Diaghilev changed the course of performing and visual arts everywhere. His Ballets Russes first appeared in Paris, 1909, and in the course of its existence Diaghilev commissioned décor from Picasso and Matisse and nurtured choreographers like Nijinsky and Balanchine. As well as the celebrated Stravinsky and Prokofiev ballets, he commissioned Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Poulenc’s Les Biches, Satie’s Parade and Debussy’s Jeux.

Classic CD magazine, 1996


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