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Alexander Siloti (Composer, Arranger)

Born: October 9, 1863 - near Kharkov, Russia/Ukraine
Died: December 8, 1945 - New York City, New York, USA

Alexander Ilich [Il'yich] Siloti or Ziloti [Russian: Александр Ильич Зилоти], was a Russian-Ukrainian pianist, conductor and composer.

Alexander Siloti studied at the Moscow Conservatory, piano with Nikolai Zverev from 1871, and under Nikolai Rubinstein (and for a brief time with Nicholas' brother, Anton Rubinstein), Taneyev, Tchaikovsky (composition), and Hubert from 1875. He graduated with the Gold Medal in Piano in 1881. He made his debut as pianist in 1880. Then made a tour in Germany. Franz Liszt accepted him as a student, and Siloti continued his study with him in Weimar until Liszt's death in 1886. He co-founded the Liszt-Verein in Leipzig, and there made his professional debut on November 19, 1883.

Returning in 1887, Alexander Siloti taught at the Moscow Conservatory, where his students included Goldenweiser, Maximov, and first-cousin Sergei Rachmaninov. In this period he began work as editor for Tchaikovsky, particularly on the First and Second piano concerti. He quit the Conservatory in May 1891, and from 1891 to 1900 (or 1901) lived in Frankfurt am Main, Antwerp, and Leipzig, pursuing a career as concert pianist. He also toured New York, Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago in 1898, and played again in the USA in 1899. It was on these tours that he first introduced to the West the famous C-sharp Minor Prelude composed by his cousin S. Rachmaninov. Together with S. Rachmaninov he also gave the world premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2.

Alexander Siloti began a conducting career in 1901 by accepting the directorship of the Moscow Philharmonic, which he led until 1903. In 1903 he founded his own orchestra in St. Petersburg, and organised, financed, and conducted the supremely influential Siloti Concerts in St Petersburg. He introduced much new music, including works of the French impressionists (Debussy), Edward Elgar and Sibelius. He also championed the music of F. Liszt and the younger Russian composers, including Gnessin, Glazunov, Igor Stravinsky, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and, of course, S. Rachmaninov, and gave local and world premieres of many modern works. Diaghilev first heard I. Stravinsky at a Ziloti Concert. As a conductor and musical director he offered performance opportunities to young artists such as Pablo Casals, Wanda Landowska, Fritz Kreisler, and Rosina Lhevinne, Auer, Chaliapin, George Enescu, Hofmann, Willem Mengelberg, Mottl (both as guest conductors), Nikisch, Arnold Schoenberg and Weingartner. In 1915 he began a series of popular free concerts, and in 1916 stated a Russian Musical Fund to aid indigent musicians. He continued with his orchestra for 15 years, becoming Manager of the St. Petersburg State Opera in 1917.

In 1918 Alexander Siloti was appointed Intendant of the Mariinsky Theatre, but in 1919 (or 1920) fled Soviet Russia, and lived in Finland, France and England, before finally immigrating to the USA and settling in New York in December 1921. From 1924 (or 1925) until his retirement 1942 he taught at the Juilliard Graduate School, performing occasionally in recital and as a soloist with American orchestras. In November 1930 gave a legendary all-F. Liszt concert with Arturo Toscanini. Siloti's private students included Marc Blitzstein and Eugene Istomin. As a teacher, Siloti influenced such diverse artists as Konstantin Igumnov, Bernhard Stavenhagen (another F. Liszt pupil), Alexei Haieff, Marc Blitzstein and S. Rachmaninov.

Alexander Siloti was one of the few pianists to carry into the 20th century the "grand manner" of pianistic interpretations typified by the F. Liszt-A. Rubinstein schools. In the generation prior to 1917, Siloti was one of Russia's most important artists, with music by Arensky, F. Liszt, S. Rachmaninov, I. Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky dedicated to him. Siloti was dedicatee of S. Rachmaninov's first Piano Concerto and his ten Preludes Op. 23 and I. Stravinsky's Scherzo (1903).

Alexander Siloti made major contributions to music literature through his writing of over 200 piano arrangements and transcriptions, and orchestral editions of J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, F. Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Antonio Vivaldi and others. Perhaps his most famous publication was his concert transcription of the B minor Prelude from J.S. Bach's Clavier-Büchlein, dedicated to his daughter Kyriena. It was played by many of the great pianists, especially the Russians, and has been recorded by Emil Gilels. He also made important revisions to the first and second piano concertos of Tchaikovsky, with the composer's consent. Siloti published a book of reminiscences of F. Liszt (St. Petersburg, 1911; English translation, Edinburg, 1913). He also made 8 piano rolls and 26 minutes of home-cut discs.

In the 21st century the art of transcription has made a significant return. Such music from great artists of the past, including J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, Tchaikovsky and F. Liszt, has now resumed its formidable importance. One of the great exponents of that art is also seeing his name rapidly restored to the pantheon. Alexander Siloti is a figure just now being returned from legend. Carl Fischer of New York has published a large anthology of Siloti piano transcriptions, and Rowman and Littlefield has published the first full-scale biography. Since both volumes were released there has been a marked upswing in public interest and critical examination.

Source: Wikipedia Website; University of Maryland Website; Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (March 2007)

Alexander Siloti: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings | Other Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Alexander Siloti (Wikipedia)
Alexander Siloti: Lost in the Stars

Alexander Siloti (Arbiter Records)
International Piano Archives at Maryland, UM Libraries: Alexander Siloti


Charles Barber. Lost in the Stars - The Forgotten Musical Life of Alexander Siloti (Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 2003). Buy this book at:
S. Bertensson. "Knight of Music." Etude 64:369, July 1946
B. Dexter. "Remembering Siloti, A Russian Star." American Music Teacher, April/May 1989
J. Gottlieb. "Remembering Alexander Siloti." Juilliard Journal, Nov 1990
L.M. Kutateladze and L.N. Raaben, eds., Alexander Il'yich Ziloti, 1863-1945: vospominaniya i pis'ma (Leningrad, 1963)
A. Ziloti. Moi vospominaniya o F. Liste (St Petersburg, 1911; My Memories of Liszt, Eng. trl. Edinburgh, 1913 and New York, 1986)

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