Anton (Grigor'yevich) Rubinstein


Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (Russian: Антóн Григóрьевич Рубинштéйн) (November 28, 1829 – November 20, 1894) was a Russian pianist, composer and conductor. As a pianist he was regarded as a rival of Franz Liszt, and he ranks amongst the great keyboard virtuosos. He also founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which, together with Moscow Conservatory founded by his brother Nikolai Rubinstein, helped establish a reputation for musical skill among the subjects of the czar of Russia.

Rubinstein was the twentieth child born to Jewish parents in Ofatinţi (a village now in Transnistria, Republic of Moldova), a city on the Dniestr River, about 150 kilometers northwest of Odessa. Before he was 5 years old, his paternal grandfather ordered all members of the Rubinstein family to convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodoxy.

Rubinstein, brought up as a Christian at least in name, lived in a household where three languages were spoken—Yiddish, Russian and German[1]. Much later, when his musical "Russianness" was called into question by musical nationalist Mily Balakirev and others in The Five, Rubinstein might have been thinking of this part of his childhood, among other things, when he wrote of himself in his notebooks,

“Russians call me German, Germans call me Russian, Jews call me a Christian, Christians a Jew. Pianists call me a composer, composers call me a pianist. The classicists think me a futurist, and the futurists call me a reactionary. My conclusion is that I am neither fish nor fowl – a pitiful individual”.

Conversion allowed the Rubinsteins to travel freely, something not permitted for Jews in Russia at the time. Rubinstein's father opened a pencil factory in Moscow. His mother, a competent musician, began giving him piano lessons at five. He apparently progressed rapidly. Within a year and a half Alexander Villoin, Moscow's leading piano teacher at the time, heard and accepted Rubinstein as a non-paying student. Rubinstein made his first public appearance, a charity benefit concert, in Moscow's Petrovsky Park at the age of nine. Later that year Rubinstein's mother sent him, accompanied by Villoin, to enroll at the Paris Conservatoire. Director Luigi Cherubini, however, refused even an audition to Rubinstein, due to the many young prodigies who had flooded the Paris musical scene.

Rubinstein and Villoing remained in Paris a year. In December 1840, Rubinstein played in the Salle Erard for an audience that included Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. Chopin invited Rubinstein to his studio and played for him. Liszt acclaimed the young Rubinstein as his successor but advised Villoing to take him to Germany to study composition. Instead of following Liszt's advice, Villoin took Rubinstein on an extended concert tour of Europe and Western Russia. They finally returned to Moscow in June 1843, after an absence of three and a half years. Shortly before the pair returned, Liszt had played in Saint Petersburg and reiterated to Rubinstein's mother the advice he had given Villoin. Determined to follow Liszt's advice, she wanted a thorough grounding in musical theory for both Rubinstein and his younger brother Nikolai. To raise money for this, she sent Rubinstein and Villoin on a tour of Russia. When the tour ended, Rubinstein and Nikolai were dispatched by themselves to Saint Petersburg to play for Tsar Nicholas I and the Imperial family at the Winter Palace. Rubinstein was 14 years old; Nikolai was eight.


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