Maxim Berezovsky

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Maxim Berezovsky
Berezovsky, Maksim Sozontovich.jpg
Maksym Sozontovych Berezovsky
Born27 October (O.S. 16 October) 1745
Died24 March 1777 (N.S. 2 April) (aged 31)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire

Maxim Sozontovich Berezovsky (alternative transcriptions of names are Maxim Berezovski, Maksim Berezovsky or Maksym Berezovsky, Russian: Максим Созонтович Березовский About this soundlisten , Ukrainian: Максим Созонтович Березовський, romanizedMaksym Sozontovych Berezovskyi; ca. 1745(?) — 2 April 1777) was a composer, opera singer, bassist and violinist from Hlukhiv (Glukhov in Russian), Ukraine, in the Cossack Hetmanate in the Russian Empire.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] He studied in Italy and worked at the St. Petersburg Court Chapel.

Berezovsky was one of the first Russian Imperial composers in the 18th century to be recognized throughout Europe and the first to compose an opera, symphony, and violin sonata. His most popular works are his sacred choral pieces written for the Orthodox Church. Much of his work has been lost; only three of the eighteen known choral concertos have been found. Dmitry Bortniansky was thought to be the first Russian Imperial symphonic composer until the discovery in 2002 of Berezovsky's Symphony in C by Steven Fox in the Vatican archives, composed around 1770 to 1772.

Early life[edit]

Not much is known about Berezovsky's biography. His life story was reconstructed in a short novel written in 1840 by Nestor Kukolnik and a play by Peter Smirnov staged at the Alexandrine Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Many particulars from these works of fiction had been accepted as fact, but have since been proven inaccurate.

For a long time it was believed that Berezovsky was born on 16 (27) October 1745. This year, first mentioned by the teacher of the St. Petersburg Court Chapel Petr Belikov and then accepted by Russian lexicography, is however not confirmed by any documents. In various 19th-century Russian and Western sources other dates can be found: 1743, 1742, and even 1725.[17]

His birthplace is Hlukhiv, now a small town in the Sumy Oblast of Ukraine. In the 18th century, Hlukhiv served as the capital of the Cossack Hetmanate and the administrative center of the Little Russia Governorate. Today there is a monument to Maxim Berezovsky in Hlukhiv.[18]

The composer's father, most likely, belonged to the petty nobility. Contemporary descendants of Pavlo Sozontovych Berezovsky, who is believed to be Maxim's brother, associate the family's origins with the Hlukhiv Cossacks. The Berezovsky coat of arms has also been preserved, testifying to the Polish origin of the family.[19]

In some sources, Berezovsky is referred to as a graduate of the Hlukhiv Music School. However, his name does not appear in the surviving documents of this institution. Since the school in Hlukhiv was the only one in the Russian Empire training singers for the Imperial Court Choir, it is likely that he did spend at least some of his childhood there.[19]

The 19th-century authors claimed that Berezovsky had also received education at the Kyiv Theological Academy. The Academy's acts and documents that were made public in the early 20th century mentioned five persons with his surname but had no record of Maxim Berezovsky.[20]


On 29 June 1758 he was accepted as a singer into the Prince Peter Fedorovych capella in Oranienbaum (now known as Lomonosov), near Saint Petersburg. Berezovsky participated in Italian operas and his name appears in printed librettos of the operas Alessandro nell'Indie by Francesco Araja and La Semiramide riconosciuta by Vincenzo Manfredini given in Oranienbaum in 1759 and 1760.

In 1762, he became a singer of the Italian Capella of the Saint Petersburg Imperial palace, which was the palace chapel choir. Here he studied under singer N. Garani and Capella director F. Zoppis and likely under composers Vincenzo Manfredini and Baldassare Galuppi. He continued as court musician and composer for the majority of the 1760s.

In 1763, Berezovsky wed Franzina Uberscher (also translated as Francisca Iberchere), a graduate of the Oranienbaum theatrical school. Not much is known about their life together. When he died in 1777, the composer's government funeral allowance was given to court singer J. Timchenko. This implies that Berezovsky was either separated or widowed from his wife during his final days, since this allowance would normally be given to the wife of the deceased.

Berezovsky was sent to Italy in the spring of 1769 to train with renowned teacher padre Giovanni Battista Martini at the Bologna Philharmonic Academy, where he graduated with distinction. Along with fellow graduate Josef Mysliveček, Berezowsky's exam task was to compose a polyphonic work on a given theme. This was a similar exam to the one given to his fellow alumnus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart several months earlier, after which both graduated with distinction.[21] Berezovsky's piece for four voices is still kept in the Academy's archives. On 15 May 1771 he became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica.

Later years[edit]

His opera Demofonte to the Italian libretto by Pietro Metastasio was staged in Livorno, Italy, and premiered in February 1773.

Berezovsky returned to Saint Petersburg in October 1773 (early biographies indicate that he returned in 1775). According to archival discoveries in the late 20th century, Berezovsky was appointed a staff member of the imperial theater and capellmeister of the Royal court capella eight months later. This was a high ranking position for a musician and contradicts the notion that Berezovsky's talent was not appreciated upon his return to Saint Petersburg. Some sources state that he committed suicide as a result of depression for not being accepted upon his return to Saint Petersburg. His first biographer, Eugene Bolkhovitinov, made this assertion in 1804 based on testimonials of those who knew Berezovsky. Marina Ritzarev, a contemporary scholar, asserts that he did not commit suicide but rather likely caught a sudden fever resulting in his death after developing some psychic disease. He died in Saint Petersburg on 24 March (2 April N.S.) 1777.


Berezovsky is known as an author of spiritual concertos, written after returning from Italy. The most popular among them is the concerto "Do not open me in old age". He combined in his work the experience of Western European musical culture of that time with the national traditions of choir art. Together with D. Bortniansky he created a classical type of choral concerto.

Spiritual music[edit]

Berezovsky's spiritual musical works include the Liturgy, communion poems, a song of praise and a number of concertos, of which only a small part has survived. In addition to Church Slavonic texts, Berezovsky also used texts in English (praise song) and German ("Unser Vater").

Communion verses are written on the texts of psalms mostly of a grateful nature, most of them a distinguished by lyrical embodiment (except for "Rejoice in the righteous" and "Praise the Lord from heaven" № 3 solemn-panegyric imagery). The choral texture is quite diverse, some works have a constant harmonic texture (eg "Praise the Lord from heaven" № 1), others combine harmonic with imitation ("Into the whole earth"), or use polyphonic ("Blessed is he who has chosen"), in particular, fugue ("Praise the Lord from heaven" № 2). Even brighter than in the Liturgy, the melody of voices is observed in the sacramental verses. The melody of the poems is expressive and diverse, and often bears a resemblance to the typical inversions of Ukrainian lyrical songs.[22]

Spiritual concertos occupy a prominent place in the composer's legacy, and were raised, as a genre, to the highest musical and artistic level.[23] Choral concertos inherited many features of party concertos, including a combination of chord and polyphonic textures, but also absorbed the traditions of Western European music, including a new harmonious language with a functional-harmonic system. All concertos are multi-part cycles composed on the principle of figurative, tempo and textural contrast, but united by thematic integrity, which is achieved by intonation connections between the extreme parts, and in the last concerto - throughout the work. The most famous is the concerto "Do not reject me in old age", published by the Court Chapel in St. Petersburg in 1842.[24] In the 2000s, thanks to M. Yurchenko's research activities 11 more concertos were published and thus, as of 2020, 12 concertos were published[25]

Opera Demofonte[edit]

The composer's only opera, Demofonte, was written in Italy and staged in Livorno in 1773, which is preserved in an article in a local newspaper Notizie del mondo.Only 4 arias from this opera have survived, which testify to the composer's close ties with the Neapolitan and Venetian opera schools. Focusing on the current trends in the development of the opera series, Berezovsky shows emotionality and sincerity in his music, sensual tenderness and nobility, melodic beauty.[26]

Sonata for violin and harpsichord[edit]

The only known instrumental work by Berezovsky is the Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord, written in Pisa in 1772. The manuscript of this sonata was kept in the Paris National Library, it was found by musicologist Vasyl Vytvytsky, later deciphered by M. Stepanenko and published by Musical Ukraine publishing house in 1983.

The sonata has three parts, the energetic extreme parts contrasting with the slow middle. As in Demofonte, Berezovsky imitates the traditions of Western European music of those days, clearly showing his lyrical talent[27]

Symphony in C major[edit]

In the early 2000s, thanks to the efforts of American conductor Stephen Fox, Berezovsky's lost work, Symphony in C,[28] also known in Ukraine as Symphony No. 1, was found in the Vatican archives. This composition of 1770–72, like most of Berezovsky's works, was considered extinct from the eighteenth century. After its discovery in Russia, it was immediately attributed to the country's cultural heritage and called the "First Russian Symphony". Ukrainian conductor Kyrylo Karabyts stated publicly in 2016 that this is the work of a Ukrainian composer.[29]

Cultural influence[edit]

Andrei Tarkovsky's 1983 film Nostalghia is "a commentary on exile as told through Berezovsky's life".[30]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Adler, Guido: Handbuch der Musikgeschichte. Hamburg: Severus Verlag, 2013. P. 146.
  2. ^ Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers
  3. ^ Maksim Berezovsky (Great Russian Encyclopedia)
  4. ^ Eighteenth-Century Russian Music
  5. ^ The Concise Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians
  6. ^ Maksim Berezovsky (Musica Russica)
  7. ^ von Riesemann, Oskar: Die Musik in Russland. G. Olms, 1975. P. 14
  8. ^ Jaffé, Daniel (2012). Historical Dictionary of Russian Music. Scarecrow Press. p. 60. ISBN 9780810879805.
  9. ^ Boer, Bertil van (2012). Historical Dictionary of Music of the Classical Period. Scarecrow Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780810873865.
  10. ^ Wytwycky, Wasyl (2011). "Berezovsky, Maksym". Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  11. ^ Katchanovski, Ivan; Zenon E., Kohut; Bohdan Y., Nebesio; Myroslav, Yurkevich (2013). Historical Dictionary of Ukraine. Scarecrow Press. p. 386. ISBN 9780810878471.
  12. ^ Subtelny, Orest (2009). Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition (PDF). University of Toronto Press. p. 197. ISBN 9781442697287.
  13. ^ Gordichuk, M.M. (1977). "Berezovskyi Maksym Sozontovych". Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia (in Ukrainian). 1. Kyiv. p. 412.
  14. ^ Rouček, Joseph Slabey, ed. (1949), Slavonic Encyclopaedia, 1, Philosophical Library, p. 97, ISBN 9780804605373
  15. ^ Thompson, Oscar (1985), Bohle, Bruce (ed.), The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, Dodd, Mead, p. 193, ISBN 9780396084129
  16. ^ Grout, Donald J.; Williams, Hermine Weigel (2003). A Short History of Opera. Columbia University Press. p. 527. ISBN 9780231507721.
  17. ^ Ritzarev (2013), p.13
  18. ^ "Maksym Berezovsky: Tragedy of the Ukrainian Mozart", Kateryna Zorkina, The Day Newspaper (Kiev), 16 April 2002.
  19. ^ a b Ritzarev (2013), p.14
  20. ^ Ritzarev (2013), p.15
  21. ^
  22. ^ Korniy L. History of Ukrainian music. Vol.2 .Kyiv; Kharkiv, New-York: M. P. Kotz, 1998. — p.188 [in Ukrainian]
  23. ^ Korniy, p.202
  24. ^ Ноты «Не отвержи мене во время старости четырехголосный концерт для смешан. хора с аккомп. фп.» (1842) — Березовский М.С. — читать бесплатно онлайн, скачать PDF | НЭБ, Retrieved 2020-05-16.
  25. ^ Максим Березовський. Віднайдені хорові концерти. Частина “А”. Концерти чотириголосні // Антологія української духовної музики. Випуск V.  — К. : Видавничий дім «Комора», ГО «Український фонд духовної музики», 2018.  — 160 с.
  26. ^ Korniy, p.206
  27. ^ Korniy, p.214
  28. ^ Rakochi V. (2018) Rukopysy ne horiat, abo Symfoniia Do-mazhor Maksyma Berezovskoho [Manuscripts do not burn, or Maxim Berezovsky's Symphony in C major]. Studii mystetstvoznavchi. vol 1. P. 45-54 [in Ukrainian]
  29. ^ Maksym Berezovsky's symphony, which has been wanted since the 18th century, was performed for the first time in Kyiv —, 2016, June, 16 [in Ukrainian]
  30. ^ Orlando Figes, Natasha's Dance (Picador, 2002), p. 41.


  • Korniy L. (1998) History of Ukrainian music. Vol.2 .Kyiv; Kharkiv, New-York: M. P. Kotz.
  • Pryashnikova, Margarita (2003). "Maxim Berezovsky and His Secular Works". Text of the booklet to the CD Maxim Berezovsky (early 1740s – 1777) Pratum Integrum Orchestra
  • Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Article on Maksym Berezovsky
  • Ritzarev, Marina (2013), Maxim Berezovsky: Zhizn i tvorchestvo kompozitora [Maxim Berezovsky: Life and Work of the Composer]. Saint Petersburg, Kompozitor, 227 p. ISBN 978-5-7379-0504-0
  • Ritzarev, Marina (1983), Kompositor M.S. Berezovsky (Musika)
  • Ritzarev, Marina (2006), Eighteenth-Century Russian Music (Ashgate) ISBN 978-0-7546-3466-9
  • Yurchenko, Mstyslav (2000). Text of booklet to the CD Ukrainian Sacred Music Vol. 1: Maksym Berezovsky
  • Yurchenko, Mstyslav (2001). Text of booklet to the CD Sacred Music by Maksym Berezovsky

External links[edit]