Serge Koussevitzky

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Koussevitzky, Serge


(Sergei Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii). Born July 14 (26), 1874, in Vyshnii Volochek; died June 4, 1951, in Boston. Russian conductor, double-bass player, and music figure.

Koussevitzky graduated in 1894 from the Moscow Philharmonic Society’s Music and Drama School, where he studied double bass; he became an instructor there in 1901. He gave double-bass recitals in Russia and abroad. He moved to Berlin in 1905, where he studied conducting with K. Muck and F. Weingartner and performed as a conductor. He founded the Russian Music Publishing House in 1909 to popularize the works of Russian composers. That same year Koussevitzky formed a symphony orchestra in Moscow with which he toured many Russian cities. From 1917 to 1920 he headed the State Symphony Orchestra (formerly, the Court Symphony Orchestra, Petrograd).

Koussevitzky moved abroad in 1920. From 1924 to 1949 he was chief conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with which he was the first to perform a number of new compositions, including Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Honegger’s First Symphony, Roussel’s Third Symphony, and Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie (many of them were written at his urging). Koussevitzky gave the first US performance of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony and Prokofiev’s Fifth. In 1943 he became president of the music section of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship.

Koussevitzky’s conducting was distinguished by smooth technique and the ability to combine emotion with self-control; his exacting standards brought his orchestras to a high level of technical perfection. Koussevitzky composed for the double bass.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.