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Lost in the Stars: The Forgotten Musical Life of Alexander Siloti Hardcover – December, 2002
To most people who listen to and read about classical music, Siloti is at best a name in a footnote to a program note about his cousin Rachmaninoff. But an immense public force and presence in his great years, Siloti was a remarkable musician--pianist, conductor, composer, teacher, editor, impresario--whose life-path intersected with those of a multitude of characters from Liszt to Eugene Istomin by way of Tchaikovsky, all three piano-playing Rubinsteins, Elgar, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ysaÿe, and Casals, to list just a few of the most famous. Charles Barber, scrupulous researcher, intelligent interpreter, and commanding story-teller here does justice to an artist too long and unjustly obscured. (Michael Steinberg, musicologist)
Thanks to Dr. Charles Barber's amazing research we now can read the fascinating story of Alexander Siloti, one of the most important and influential musicians in pre-revolutionary Russia. Astonishingly he appears to have been entirely overlooked since that time. This book provides a wonderful insight into artistic life in St. Petersburg and the important influence on many famous names of the period by this remarkable polymath of a musician. Essential reading for anyone interested in Russian music and theatre. (Sir Charles Mackerras)
How extraordinarily wonderful that Charles Barber has been the musical-archeologist able to bring the great career and music of Alexander Siloti to light for all musicians. I, for one, am fascinated by Siloti and look forward to hearing his music and reading more about him. (Marilyn Horne)
Alexander Siloti was probably the greatest pianist who could have made records but didn't, and so his greatness has been forgotten. Charles Barber has made a heroic rescue effort, and if even he cannot bring back the lost sounds, he does offer the compensations of exhaustive research into Siloti's many-faceted career, a vivid store of descriptive quotes, and an irresistibly unabashed devotion to his subject. Regarded during his lifetime as the last link to a glorious past, Siloti regains that aura in these fascinating pages. (Professor Richard Taruskin)
I remember very well—during my student years at the Moscow Conservatory that the name Alexander Siloti was pronounced with the utmost reverence. His reputation as teacher, pianist, conductor and composer was legendary. I am very happy that there is now a well-researched book on this extraordinary musician. (Vladimir Ashkenazy)
A thorough study of Siloti and his accomplishments, as well as his life and times, involving as it does so many close relationships with the most important musicians from Liszt to Rachmaninoff, is long overdue. (Gray Graffman)
Alexander Siloti was one of my predecessors at the Kirov Marinsky Opera and one of Russia's greatest musicians. It is a tragedy that he has been forgotten. This new book is a wonderful contribution to our understanding of Siloti's life and work and the people in his orbit. If you want to understand music in St. Petersburg prior to 1917, read it. (Valery Gergiev)
A very well researched and well written, interesting and informative book which I truly enjoyed reading and would recommend to everybody who loves music. Although Alexander Ziloti had to leave Russia, his star always shone brightly for us there. Now that Charles Barber has rediscovered this star and introduced it to the musicians and music lovers in the West, I hope that they will always find inspiration in its beautiful and mysterious radiance. (Evgeny Kissin, pianist)
This is a fascinating book – as absorbing in its detail of Russian upper class life at the turn of the century as it is about the musical politics and rivalries of the great cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow. (Lyn Bronson American Music Teacher)
...an important contribution to the legacy of Franz Liszt, Siloti's teacher and inspiration. Charles Barber has achieved something extraordinary in returning from oblivion the memory and artistry of Alexander Siloti. In short: highly recommended. (Gordon Rumson Music & Vision)
Of all the biographies resurrecting unfamiliar names from the musical past which have passed across my desk over the years, few have plugged such a yawning gap in our knowledge as this one . . . Barber tells the story persuasively, achieving a nice balance between erudition, concision and readability. (Classical Music)
New book of note. (Symphony)
An admirable attempt to recover from the past a shadowy figure, one whose historical importance in the musical life of Russia and later America must not be underestimated...Charles Barber marshals his information (two full pages of acknowledgments denote the magnitude of the task) with lucidity and a writing style that carries you forward, satisfying for the general reader equally as for academics. The book is a pleasure to handle... (Peter Grahame Woolf)
...opens [a new window] on the musical culture of the era....[Barber] succeeds in presenting the grand sweep of Siloti's life and Lost in the Stars is a fascinating read... (vol. 60 Notes)
About the Author
Charles Barber is a conductor active in concert, opera, and recordings. He has authored several articles on various subjects in conducting, and his teachers include George Corwin, Andor Toth, and Carlos Kleiber.
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Top Customer Reviews
This 2002 biography of Siloti, titled "Lost in the Stars," was widely acclaimed by such musicians as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Evgeny Kissin, Valery Gergiev, and Marilyn Horne, to name just a few whose names appear on the jacket of the 2002 edition. Moreover, it is the only book written about Siloti. "Lost in the Stars" is so well researched, so complete, and so well written, that it is unlikely that any future work on Siloti could tell us more than Charles Barber already has. Barber arranged with Carl Fischer to simultaneously publish a collection of Siloti's forty surviving scores as "The Alexander Siloti Collection." That outstanding volume was still available at the time this review was written (see my Amazon review). Besides the scores, it contains some excerpts from Barber's biography and six photos.
Why would we care about Alexander Siloti (1863-1945)? Since most of us today haven't heard of Siloti it is hard for us to understand that one of the greatest musical figures of all times has vanished from our memory and our libraries. "Lost in the Stars" is both an enigmatic and accurate title for this volume. Barber provides a detailed and compelling look inside a man, a time, a family, and a city. With so much intimate detail about St. Petersburg and Siloti's circle revealed in this book, the reader comes away with a far deeper understanding of events that have dwindled to the status of "anecdotes."
For example, it is still commonplace to hear experts discuss the changes that occurred in Rachmaninov's life between the time he wrote his first (not highly regarded) and second (perhaps the most popular concerto of all time) piano concertos. References are made to an early practitioner of psychotherapy and his experiments with hypnosis. That's a good story, and it is told often, but what actually happened to Rachmaninov was Siloti. More on this later...
Siloti was an energetic and busy man and he also "happened" to Stravinsky, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. Before this 20th century phase in Siloti's life evolved in St. Petersburg, he had already established himself as one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century and toured Europe and America to immense acclaim.
Siloti edited and orchestrated much of Tchaikovsky's work while still a young man working as an assistant to this former teacher. He had the same relationship with Liszt who treated him as more than his most brilliant pupil, but as a son. (They determined that he was not!) In one example of their far-sighted collaboration they worked together to create a painstakingly accurate transcription of what an actual performance by Liszt sounded like. They chose the Concert Etude in Db, known as "Un Sospiro," as their example, and Siloti employed his legendary understanding of notation and editing to capture what Liszt played, long before the recording arts arrived with their scratchy cylinders. Their intention was to create a score that would help future generations understand the vast difference between the scores Liszt had published and what he actually played. This was at a time when it was clear to both men that memories of Liszt's actual performances were soon to vanish without a trace. And yet, for the better part of the 130 years since Liszt's death, pianists have wondered about exactly what Liszt intended. This is only because they are unaware that Liszt himself foresaw this problem and left behind a window in time, and that Siloti's manuscript had been out of print for generations. It is just one of forty incredible documents in the Carl Fischer edition that was created alongside this book.
Liszt and Tchaikovsky both took Siloti's advice almost religiously, based on their years observing the young Siloti absorb and then expand on what they could teach him. Tchaikovsky only balked once, and that was when the young Siloti completely revised and re-orchestrated his piano concerto, making many cuts. Tchaikovsky insisted that Siloti's edition could exist alongside his own version, but only as an alternative. They toured the piece together in both versions, exchanging roles at the podium and at the piano on different nights. The Siloti version prevailed, and that is what we hear today. Liszt put it more simply, "Siloti is always correct," and then gave Siloti permission to edit, revise, and even delete items in his publishing catalog. Most musical souls this large come with equally large egos. Siloti, on the other hand, seemed more at home collaborating to make others' works better than in claiming the spotlight for himself. Yet, this is not a biography of a retiring recluse. Everything Siloti touched nearly turned to gold in his hands and he came into this world with a formidable energy for projects.
Tchaikovsky and Liszt were already well established by the time Siloti came into their lives. The same cannot be said for Rachmaninov. Siloti was the first to believe in his younger cousin and highlighted a few pieces including his early Prelude in C# minor (from opus 3) in his tours across Europe and America. The audience reaction helped Siloti formulate his plan for Rachmaninov's rehabilitation. After placing his young cousin with some of the best teachers in St. Petersburg, only to learn that he had been booted out quite quickly, he took matters into his own hands, installed Rachmaninov in his own home, and became his teacher. Next, he arranged a "job" for Rachmaninov to make some money. He persuaded Tchaikovsky that the young Rachmaninov was up to the challenge of orchestrating a major new Tchaikovsky composition to be performed the next fall. Those who know Rachmaninov's first piano concerto (unfortunately dedicated to Siloti, who deserves credit for the second concerto instead) probably realize that this might have been a premature claim on Siloti's part. Forget about the legends of Rachmaninov arising from depression due to hypnotic suggestion. Tchaikovsky's fury at what Rachmaninov handed over surely lit a fire under Rachmaninov's butt and this allowed Siloti to gently step in and take matters in hand. Together, Siloti and Rachmaninov, spent the summer successfully orchestrating Tchaikovsky's work, and Rachmaninov would never again be accused of being a clumsy orchestrator.
Siloti was not so subtle in the second phase of his plan. He simply told Rachmaninov that he had scheduled a performance of the second piano concerto in a few months and planned to proceed with it whether Sergei finished it or not. He would play whatever was written. At the time, only a draft of the second movement was complete. The rest was "waiting" on Rachmaninov. This was how Siloti worked; he understood what was needed for a young genius to move forward, provided that necessary instruction, and then provided a kick in the pants if needed. So much for the legendary hypnotist who "cured" Rachmaninov. You have to love Siloti, and apparently most everyone did.
Although he could be ruthless when applying pressure to publishers and promoters to get a young artist's work performed (As he did for Stravinsky and Diaghilev in Paris) it was usually to serve others, not himself. He wielded immense power as the successor to Liszt and friend to the most famous Russian composers of the day. He also funded and directed a concert series in St. Petersburg whose every program unearths treasures and directs the public's attention not on Siloti, but on what Siloti has appreciated in others. The program of every concert is detailed in Charles Barber's book. Siloti was instrumental, at the very least, in establishing the careers of dozens of the 20th century's most famous musicians, just as Liszt had been for him.
Most of all, Siloti was a pianist whose intelligence, sensitivity, discipline, and scholarship matched his passion. Never mind that he orchestrated many of Tchaikovsky's most famous works while seeing that the future lay with Stravinsky. Yet today you cannot buy one book about the legendary genius who changed the course of history, and was then "Lost in the Stars."
The detailed wealth of Barber's biography stemmed in part from his access to Siloti's surviving children, especially the pianist Kyriena Siloti, which began with a chance phone call in 1974. This access eventually came to include all of the original manuscripts and the complete records of the famous Siloti concert series in St. Petersburg. This landmark book contains an additional 200 pages of appendixes. These include indexes of Siloti's published editions, concert programs, and unpublished scores, as well as notes about dozens of musicians in the Siloti circle.
Although Siloti escaped Soviet Russia at the last possible moment (thanks to his friend Gorky who pulled him out of prison and likely execution,) his story declines after 1920. He settled in America and lived for another 25 years, but never learned English and declined to make recordings. While Siloti turned inward, Koussevitzky claimed much of the spotlight that they had competed for in Russia. Barber's biography illuminates even these quiet years with great detail. Siloti's students at Julliard were sometimes surprised to find that the old Russian men smoking and chatting at the back of Siloti's studio were Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. Unfortunately, none of these three really thrived creatively in America. Although this book documents those years of alienation it is most of all an incredible portrait of St. Petersburg at a moment when creativity flourished in a golden age of modern music.
Among the many additional artist notes in this volume are (among others) : Leopold Auer, Pablo Casals, Feodor Chaliapin, George Enescu, Josef Hofmann, Wanda Landowska, Willem Mengelberg, Felix Mottl, Arthur Nikisch, Arnold Schoenberg, Felix Weingartner, Debussy, Elgar, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Sibelius, and Stravinsky to name just a few.
Please also consider Siloti's complete compositions for sale at Amazon.com. There are many good pieces for you or your advanced children to play. Some of Bach's transcriptions are among best.