Sergei Bortkiewicz
Sergei Bortkiewicz was a Ukrainian
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

-born Russian
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and pianist
A pianist is a musician who plays the piano. A professional pianist can perform solo pieces, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers, solo instrumentalists, or other performers.-Choice of genres:...


Early life

Sergei Eduardovich Bortkiewicz was born in Kharkiv
Kharkiv or Kharkov is the second-largest city in Ukraine.The city was founded in 1654 and was a major centre of Ukrainian culture in the Russian Empire. Kharkiv became the first city in Ukraine where the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in December 1917 and Soviet government was...

, Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 on 28 February 1877 in Polish noble family (Father - Edward Bortkiewicz, mother Zofia Bortkiewicz née Uszyńska) and spent most of his childhood on the family estate of Artëmovka, near Kharkiv. Bortkiewicz received his musical training from Anatoly Lyadov and Karl von Arek at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...


In 1900 he left Saint Petersburg and travelled to Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, where he became a student of Alfred Reisenauer
Alfred Reisenauer
Alfred Reisenauer was a German pianist, composer, and music educator.Reisenauer was a pupil of Louis Köhler and Franz Liszt...

 and Salomon Jadassohn
Salomon Jadassohn
Salomon Jadassohn was a German composer and a renowned teacher of piano and composition at the Leipzig Conservatory.-Life:...

, both pupils of Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

. In July 1902, Bortkiewicz completed his studies at the Leipzig Conservatory and was awarded the Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 Prize on graduation. On his return to Russia in 1904, he married Elisabeth Geraklitowa, a friend of his sister and then returned to Germany where he settled in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

. It was there that he started to compose seriously.

From 1904 until 1914, Bortkiewicz continued to live in Berlin but spent his summers visiting his family in Russia or travelling around Europe often on concert tours. For a year he also taught at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory
Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory
The Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory was a music institute in Berlin, established in 1893, which for decades was one of the most internationally renowned schools of music. It was formed from the existing schools of music of Xaver Scharwenka and Karl Klindworth, the Scharwenka-Konservatorium and...

, where he was to meet his lifelong friend, the Dutch
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 pianist Hugo van Dalen (1888–1967). Van Dalen premiered Bortkiewicz's Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 16, in November 1913 in Berlin with the Blüthner Orchestra
Blüthner Orchestra
The Blüthner Orchestra was a symphony orchestra based in Berlin, Germany. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Blüthner piano company, it functioned until the 1920s.The orchestra specialised in engaging young players...

 conducted by the composer.

First World War

The outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in 1914 changed Bortkiewicz's life – being a Russian, he was initially under house arrest and later forced to leave Germany. He returned to Kharkov, where he established himself as a music teacher, while at the same time giving concerts. The end of the war saw the beginning of the Russian Revolution, which forced the composer and his family to flee the family estate at Artëmovka owing to occupation by the communists. In June 1919 the communists fled in the wake of the White Army and Bortkiewicz was able to return and help to rebuild the family estate, which had been completely plundered. This, however, was short-lived and whilst on a trip to Yalta
Yalta is a city in Crimea, southern Ukraine, on the north coast of the Black Sea.The city is located on the site of an ancient Greek colony, said to have been founded by Greek sailors who were looking for a safe shore on which to land. It is situated on a deep bay facing south towards the Black...

 with his wife, the fall of Kharkov to the Red Army meant that his family could not return to Artëmovka. With the area now surrounded by the Red Army, the composer watched his mother and the husband of his sister, Vera, fall ill with typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

, both dying in the chaos at Novorossiysk
Novorossiysk is a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia. It is the country's main port on the Black Sea and the leading Russian port for importing grain. It is one of the few cities honored with the title of the Hero City. Population: -History:...

. Bortkiewicz sought to escape from Yalta and succeeded in obtaining passage on the steamer "Konstantin" which brought them safe, but penniless, to Constantinople
Istanbul , historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople , is the largest city of Turkey. Istanbul metropolitan province had 13.26 million people living in it as of December, 2010, which is 18% of Turkey's population and the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Europe after London and...

 in November 1919.

Between the wars

In Constantinople, with the help of the court pianist to the Sultan, Ilen Ilegey, Bortkiewicz began to give concerts and started teaching again. He became well known throughout a number of embassies and made an acquaintance with the wife of the Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

n ambassador Natalie Chaponitsch, to whom he dedicated his Trois Morceaux, Op. 24 (1922). She organised musical gatherings for Bortkiewicz within the embassy, and it was with the help of her husband that the composer and his wife were able to obtain a visa for Yugoslavia. Bortkiewicz and his wife came to Sofia
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Prehistoric settlements were excavated...

 via Belgrade
Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. According to official results of Census 2011, the city has a population of 1,639,121. It is one of the 15 largest cities in Europe...

, where they had to wait for some time before obtaining an Austrian visa. On 22 July 1922 the composer and his wife reached Austria.

Initially Bortkiewicz chose Baden
Baden bei Wien
-Points of interest:The town offers several parks and a picturesque surrounding, of which the most frequented is the Helenental valley. Not far from Baden, the valley is crossed by a widespread aqueduct of the Vienna waterworks...

, not Vienna, as his residence; here he remained until 1923. He then moved and settled in Vienna where he was to remain for the next five years and where in 1925 he finally obtained Austrian citizenship.

In 1928 Bortkiewicz went to Paris for six months and then returned to live in Berlin. In 1933 he was forced to leave Germany again – being a Russian he was now facing persecution from the Nazis and saw his name being deleted from all music programmes. He returned to Vienna where he established residence at Blechturmgasse 1 door 5 in 1935. He lived there for the rest of his life. It was during these years that Bortkiewicz suffered with serious financial difficulties and needed to ask for financial help from his friend Hugo van Dalen many times, which the pianist always gave freely. It was also during this period that he translated from Russian into German the letters between Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

 and Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck was a Russian businesswoman, who is best known today for her artistic relationship with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. She supported him financially for 13 years, enabling him to devote himself full-time to composition, but she stipulated that they were never to meet. ...

. These letters were published as Die seltsame Liebe Peter Tschaikowsky's und der Nadjeschda von Meck (Köhler & Amelang, Leipzig 1938). Van Dalen adapted Bortkiewicz's book for a Dutch readership, and published it as Rondom Tschaikovsky's vierde symphonie (De Residentiebode, 1938).

Second World War

World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 (1939–1945) was also a terrible time for Bortkiewicz and his wife. At the end of the war he described in a letter dated 8 December 1945 to his friend Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven how he still lived:
"I'm writing to you from my bathroom where we have crawled in because it is small and can be warmed on and off with a gas light. (!) The other rooms cannot be used and I cannot touch my piano. This is now! What awaits us further? Life is becoming more and more unpleasant, merciless. I teach at the Conservatory with the heat at 4 degrees, soon even less! […]"

During these terrible years he composed a number of works including his Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 60. The sonata was first performed by the composer on 29 November 1942 in the Brahmssaal of the Musikverein in Vienna. Hugo van Dalen gave the Dutch premiere on 9 February 1944 in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...


The Second World War brought Bortkiewicz to the edge of despair and ruin. The greater part of his printed compositions, which were held by his German publishers (Rahter & Litolff), were destroyed in the bombing of German cities and hence he lost all his income from the sale of his music. Bortkiewicz and his wife were physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the war and were both in a desperate situation when his friend, the chief physician Dr. Walter Zdrahal, admitted the couple to the Franz Joseph Hospital in Vienna in order to treat them.

In the autumn of 1945 Bortkiewicz was appointed director of a master class at the Vienna City Conservatory, which helped to give the composer some of the financial security he so sought. During this period he composed his Six Preludes, Op. 66 (1946–1947), of which only two – Numbers 1 and 3 – have so far been located. These preludes are dedicated to the Dutch pianist Hélène Mulholland (1912–2000), who helped him after the war by sending much needed food and clothes. After his retirement in 1948, the community of Vienna awarded him an honorary pension.

After World War II

At the instigation of Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven, a Bortkiewicz Society was founded in 1947 in Vienna in order to keep the memory of Bortkiewicz's music alive. The inaugural meeting took place in the library hall of the Akademie at Schillerplatz on 10 April 1947. As a result of that meeting, on the first Monday of each month from November to May, friends of the composer and members of the Society gathered in the Künstlerhaus
Vienna Künstlerhaus
The Vienna Künstlerhaus is an art exhibition building in Vienna. It is located on Karlsplatz near the Ringstraße, next to the Musikverein....

 and listened to concerts of the composer's music much of which was played by Bortkiewicz himself. The Bortkiewicz Society was dissolved on 6 March 1973.

In the years after 1949, and primarily as a result of the war years, Bortkiewicz's wife was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

 which caused great concern for the composer. Nonetheless the composer's light continued to shine brightly and on 26 February 1952 the Bortkiewicz Society along with the Ravag Orchestra celebrated the 75th birthday of the composer at a concert in the Musikverein Hall in Vienna. Bortkiewicz conducted the orchestra with Felicitas Karrer playing the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 16, the violinist Jaro Schmied played his Des Frühlings und des Pans Erwachen – ein lyrisches Intermezzo nach Gemälden von Sandro Botticelli, Op. 44, and the concert was concluded with his Symphony No. 1, Op. 52 "Aus meiner Heimat", which contains a touching quotation from "God Save the Tsar" in the finale. This was to be his last great concert and the excitement of the event was illustrated in a letter dated 18 March 1952. The composer wrote to van Dalen:
"Finally I had the opportunity to show, in a large hall with a large orchestra and soloists, what I can do. Not only the critics, but others who know me, were surprised and amazed. […] I can always feel happy to have found so much recognition at the age of 75 years, which really comes in most cases after death to someone who really earned it. […]"

Bortkiewicz had been suffering for some time from a stomach ailment and on the advice of his physician, he decided to undergo an operation in October 1952. He never recovered and died in Vienna on 25 October of that year. His wife, Elisabeth, who was childless, died eight years later on 9 March 1960 in Vienna. The graves of Bortkiewicz and his wife can still be found at the Zentralfriedhof
The Zentralfriedhof is one of the largest cemeteries in the world, largest by number of interred in Europe and most famous cemetery among Vienna's nearly 50 cemeteries.-Name and location:...

, Vienna.


Bortkiewicz's piano style was very much based on Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 and Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

, nurtured by Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

, Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

, early Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was a Russian composer and pianist who initially developed a lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language inspired by the music of Frédéric Chopin. Quite independent of the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed an increasingly atonal musical system,...

, Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 and Russian folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

. He was unaffected by the music trends of the 20th century – the composer never saw himself as a "modernist" as can be seen from his Künstlerisches Glaubensbekenntnis, written in 1923. His workmanship is meticulous, his imagination colourful and sensitive, his piano writing idiomatic; a lush instrumentation underlines the essential sentimentality of the melodic invention. But Bortkiewicz was not merely an imitator– he very much had his own style that drew upon all the influences of his life and that can be immediately recognised as a typically Bortkiewicz tone: lyrical and nostalgic.

With much thanks to Hugo van Dalen, his close friend, we can still enjoy Bortkiewicz's music and learn much about his life from the many letters he sent to the Dutch pianist. When van Dalen died in 1967 his family bequeathed the manuscripts of several compositions (such as the 12 Etudes, Op. 29, dedicated to van Dalen); a written autobiography Erinnerungen (published in German in Musik des Ostens, 1971 p. 136-169, in Dutch by Hugo van Dalen in July/August 1939 in De Zevende Dag and in English by B. N. Thadani Recollections 2nd edition, Cantext, 2001); plus a number of letters and printed music to the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague
The Hague
The Hague is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. With a population of 500,000 inhabitants , it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam...

, which recently passed it on to the Netherlands Music Institute (NMI). The NMI has the only existing copy of the manuscript of the Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 60, and of two of the Preludes, Op. 66.


  • Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2. BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a broadcasting symphony orchestra based in Glasgow, Scotland. One of five full-time orchestras maintained by the British Broadcasting Corporation , it is the oldest full-time professional orchestra in Scotland...

    , Martyn Brabbins
    Martyn Brabbins
    Martyn Brabbins is a British conductor. He studied at Goldsmiths College, London University, and later was a conducting student of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatory....

  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 16. Marjorie Mitchell (piano), Vienna State Opera Orchestra, William Strickland
    William Strickland (conductor)
    William Remsen Strickland was an American conductor and organist.He served as guest conductor for the Cathedral Choral Society of Washington, D.C. during World War II...

     (American Decca - Brunswick UK)
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 16. Stephen Coombs
    Stephen Coombs
    Stephen Coombs is one of Britain's best known pianists and currently works with some of the world's foremost orchestras and conductors, as well as performing as a solo artist.-Earlier life:...

     (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jerzy Maksymiuk
    Jerzy Maksymiuk
    Jerzy Maksymiuk is a Polish orchestra conductor.Maksymiuk studied violin, piano, conducting and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1964 he won first prize in the Paderewski Piano Composition. Conducting soon became his principal career...

     (Hyperion; coupled with Anton Arensky
    Anton Arensky
    Anton Stepanovich Arensky -Biography:Arensky was born in Novgorod, Russia. He was musically precocious and had composed a number of songs and piano pieces by the age of nine...

    's Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 2)
  • Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3. Stefan Doniga (piano), Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, David Porcelijn
    David Porcelijn
    David Porcelijn is a Dutch composer and conductor.David Porcelijn studied flute, composition and conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Music in The Hague...

     (Nederlands Muziekinstituut)
  • Pieces for Violin and Piano. Christian Persinaru (violin) and Nils Franke (piano) (Apex).
  • Piano works. Stephen Coombs (Hyperion, in two volumes)
  • Piano works. Pierre Huybregts (Centaur)
  • Piano works. Cyprien Katsaris
    Cyprien Katsaris
    Cyprien Katsaris is a French-Cypriot pianist, teacher and composer. He was born on 5 May 1951, in Marseilles, France.-Biography:Katsaris first began to play the piano when he was four, in Cameroon where he grew up...

  • Piano works (complete). Klaas Trapman (Dutch Music Institute; 3 x 2cds)
  • Julian Dyer in the United Kingdom has reissued a Duo Art reproducing piano roll of the Etude, Op. 15, No. 8 performed by Lester Donohoe.
  • Amemptos Music has issued a new CD "The Forgotten Romantic" with Lloyd Buck playing Bortkiewicz's works on Rachmaninoff
    Sergei Rachmaninoff
    Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

    's piano. (

External links

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