Vasily Safonov

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Vasily Safonov

Vasily Ilyich Safonov (Russian: Васи́лий Ильи́ч Сафо́нов, Vasi'lij Ilji'č Safo'nov; 6 February 1852 – 27 February 1918), also known as Wassily Safonoff, was a Russian pianist, teacher, conductor and composer.

Vasily Safonov, or Safonoff as he was known in the West during his lifetime, was born at Ishcherskaya (also known as Itschory, Itsyursk, or Itsiursk), Russian Caucasus (now in Chechnya), the son of the Russian Cossack general Ilya Ivanovich Safonov, who was highly regarded and whose funeral was attended by Anton Chekhov.

He was educated at the Imperial Alexandra Lyceum, Saint Petersburg, and at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory of Music 1881-1885 under Louis Brassin. He graduated as Bachelor of Laws, and won the gold medal as a pianist of the Conservatory. He was also a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky and Nikolai Zaremba.

Safonov was never a particularly successful composer in his own right, but was a master music educator, becoming Director of the Moscow Conservatory in 1889. He was also the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He was the teacher of some of the best Russian pianists, notably Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner, Josef Lhévinne and Rosina Bessie (later Lhévinne). He was also a teacher of Marthe Servine, a French-American composer and pianist.

After retiring from teaching, Safonov became well known as a conductor. He was the conductor of the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony (No. 6), on 4/16 December 1893, seven weeks after its premiere under the composer's baton and six weeks after his death.[1] He conducted nearly all the principal orchestras in Europe, including the Philharmonic Orchestras of Berlin, Vienna and Prague, the Lamoureux Orchestra of Paris, the London Symphony, the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the New York Philharmonic Society.

He is considered the first modern conductor to dispense with the use of the baton. This came about when he forgot to take his baton to a rehearsal on a certain occasion; he chose to use his hands alone, and decided that from then on a baton was entirely unnecessary.[2]

Safonov died in Kislovodsk on 27 February 1918.

His real voice[edit]

Recorded January,1890
  • Anton Rubinstein: What a wonderful thing.
  • J. Block: Finally.
  • Elizaveta Lavrovskaya: A he dares slyly to name me.
  • V. Safonov: (Sings).
  • Pyotr Tchaikovsky: This trill could be better.
  • E. Lavrovskaya: (sings).
  • P. Tchaikovsky: Block is good, but Edison is even better.
  • E. Lavrovskaya: (sings) A-o, a-o.
  • V. Safonov (In German) Peter Jurgenson in Moskau.
  • P. Tchaikovsky: Who just spoke? It seems to have been Safonov. (Whistles)
  • Problems listening to the files? See media help.


  1. ^ Tchaikovsky
  2. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Vol. VII, p. 359

This article incorporates text from a publication that prior to 1923, is in the public domain: The Etude (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser Company) 

External links[edit]