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Alexander Borowsky (Piano)

Born: March 181 (or 192), 1889 - Mitau, Russia
Died: April 27, 1968 - Waban, Massachusetts, USA

The Russian American pianist, Alexander Borowsky [Borovsky], learned his first scales in Enisseysk, a small outpost of civilisation in Siberia, where his father held a government position. Here, the winter lasts eight months of the year, and the temperature freezes the unwary nose that ventures out too long. The youthful Borowsky began his musical studies under his mother's devoted guidance (she was a pupil of Stefanov). The piano was one regularly loaned to the family by the captain of the ship which put into port every year before the ice season set in, and stayed until the ice broke up in the Spring. Thus Borowsky was taught early to make music while the piano lasted.

From the first his mother realised that her child had marvellous gifts. He mastered scales, double thirds, and octaves without any trouble, and asked for more. He was only seven when his mother overheard him playing a Frédéric Chopin Scherzo, which she herself had been studying. When the family returned later to St. Petersburg, Alexander was sent to the Conservatory of Music - where he studied under Mme Essipova, and received honorary mention in the Anton Rubinstein competition of 1912. But his mother decided that he should not be exploited as a wonder-child, and so he was not allowed to give public concerts until he had finished his course at the Conservatory. He continued quietly at his musical studies throughout his University course, and received his degree in law before he made his bow as a professional musician to the public. The wisdom of this course was apparent to all who heard the young artist on the occasion of his debut. Like Minerva who sprang full-grown from the head of Jove, he appeared suddenly before the public a finished artist. His concerts were crowded wherever he played, even during the early Soviet regime when coal was scarce and the heating of concert hall a problem.

Alexander Borowsky taught master-classes at the Moscow Conservatory from 1915 to 1920. After five years of concert work in Russia, he decided he would like to see the world. He found, however, that it was not so easy for a Russian to leave his country, and it was only after countless visits to high officials that at last he received permission to cross the frontier. That was in 1921. After giving recitals in Poland and the Balkan countries, Borowsky arrived in Paris at the time of the Music Festival, which was under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. Here in two orchestral concerts conducted by the famous Russian, Borowsky made his bow to a French audience. His success was extraordinary, and one recital followed another. In the three seasons since his first appearance he has appeared twenty-seven times in the French capital. In fact, throughout Europe, including Turkey, Germany, France and England, Borowsky has appeared with marked success. He was a soloist with virtually all major European orchestras. He also made several successful tours to South America. In his five seasons before the western public he has appeared in nearly 400 recitals or concerts.

His American debut was made in two recitals in Carnegie Hall, in 1923, on which occasion he impressed all who heard him as a genuine artist. The following season (1924-1925) he returned to America for a brief tour, owing to the fact that he was booked for a concert tour of twelve concerts in the Balkans, eight in Germany, twelve in Scandinavia, five in London and six in Paris. The next season he returned to America for the months of January and February.

Borowsky was also a favourite in Berlin, where his twelve recitals and his appearances as soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker created a furore. He was known as a colossus of the tonal world. The interest in his concerts was very great, and his large and representative audiences have included Sergei Rachmaninov, Leopold Godowsky, Levitzki, Rubinstein, Nikisch, Alexander Siloti, Claudio Arrau, Elly Ney, Marcella Sembrich, Huberman, and many other important artists.

The American press was particularly enthusiastic over Borowsky's performances. Lawrence Gillman of the New York Tribune wrote: "Mr. Borowsky's rapid achievement of distinction is not surprising. He is a pianist of imposing technical equipment."
Pitts Sanborn wrote: "Borowsky has a tremendous technique; he plays with crystalline clearness, with a sure command of dynamic gradations, with unlimited nerve and dash. But it is always scrupulously clean playing, even when he splashes the tonal canvas with ochre and vermilion. His crescendo is one of the most thrilling things to be heard in' our concert rooms these days, and his diminuendo is as faultlessly, controlled."

In 1941 Alexander Borowsky settled in the USA, appeared regularly in public and made many recordings, most of which have never been transferred to CD. In 1956 he became professor at the Boston University.

Although he was veteran of some 2,500 world-wide concerts in his 47 years of performing, Alexander Borovsky never achieved quite the reputation he deserved. wrote of reissue of his recordings on Piano Library 2-CD album: "brings us two all-Liszt discs, recorded in the mid-1930's in adequate sound, containing Hungarian Rhapsodies 1-15 plus three other pieces, including a transcription of J.S. Bach's Prélude and Fugue in G minor that I don't remember hearing before. His playing is far from the antiseptic objectivity of today's competition winners; he paid more attention to romance and drama than to linear coherence, using lots of rubato and flexibility of rhythm to achieve a variety of stunning effects."

1. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
2. Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race by Gdal Salesi (Bloch Publishing Hose, New York, 1927)
3. Bits & pieces from several websites
Contributed by
Teddy Kaufman (February 2007); Aryeh Oron (February-March 2007)

Alexander Borowsky: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
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