Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2013 by Fred Flaxman

Program 221
"Anton Rubinstein for Cello"

beginning of "Allegretto con moto" movement from: Anton Rubinstein: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in G, Op. 39, performed by cellist Michal Kaňka and pianist Jaromír Klepáč [Praga PRD/DSD 250 210.11, CD 2, Track 2] [under the following]

    Hello and welcome to another hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m Fred Flaxman. The next 60 minutes will be devoted to the gorgeous, melodious music for cello and piano of the Russian composer, Anton Rubinstein. Stay with me and we’ll listen to Rubinstein’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1, Opus 18, in its entirety. Then we’ll hear one of Three Pieces for Piano and Cello, Op. 11, No. 2.  And finally we’ll have time for two of the four movements of Anton Rubinstein’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, Opus 39. All this courtesy of a Praga multi-channel double compact disc featuring Czech cellist Michal Kaňka and Czech pianist Jaromír Klepáč.

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But first I’d like to tell you a bit about the man behind the music, as Anton Rubinstein was a really interesting guy -- the multi-talented Leonard Bernstein of his day.

He was born to Jewish parents in a village in what was then Russia, but which is now in the Republic of Moldova. Before he was five years old, his paternal grandfather ordered all members of the family to convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodoxy, so Anton was raised as a Christian. But he later became an atheist.

His mother, a competent musician, began giving Anton piano lessons when he was five, and they continued until Alexander Villoing heard Anton play and accepted him as a non-paying student. Rubinstein made his first public appearance at a charity benefit at the age of nine. Later that year Rubinstein’s mother sent him, accompanied by his teacher, to Paris where he sought unsuccessfully to enroll at the Paris Conservatory.

Rubinstein and his teacher remained in Paris for a year, and in December, 1840, Anton played for an audience that included Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt.  Chopin invited Rubinstein to his studio and played for him. Afterwards, Villoing took Rubinstein on an extended concert tour of Europe and Western Russia. They finally returned to Moscow in June, 1843.

Rubinstein’s mother needed to raise money to further the musical careers of both Anton and his younger brother, Nikolai, so she sent Anton and Villoing on a tour of Russia. The brothers then went to Saint Petersburg to play for Tsar Nicholas I and the Imperial family at the Winter Palace. Anton was 14; Nikolai was eight.

I’ll continue the story of Anton Rubinstein’s amazing career and what he and his younger brother did for music in Russia later, but now let’s listen together to his first sonata for cello and piano. I only discovered this work recently and fell in love with it on first hearing. I hope you will too, if you don’t already know it.

Anton Rubinstein: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in D Op. 18, performed by cellist Michal Kaňka and pianist Jaromír Klepáč [Praga PRD/DSD 250 210.11, CD 1, Tracks 1- 3]

Anton Rubinstein’s Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano, Opus 18. The cellist was Michal Kaňka; the pianist Jaromír Klepáč. This was from a Praga multi-channel compact disc recording issued in 2004.

You are listening to an hour of Anton Rubinstein’s melodious music for cello and piano on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional 60-second break not included in the total timing of this program]

In the spring of 1844 Anton Rubinstein, his younger brother Nikolai, his mother, and his sister travelled to Berlin. There Anton met with Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer. Mendelssohn, who had heard Rubinstein play when he was touring with his teacher, said he needed no further piano study.  Meyerbeer sent both boys to study with a teacher of music composition and theory.

When Anton was 17 he realized that he could no longer pass as a child prodigy, so he went to Vienna to meet with Franz Liszt, hoping that Liszt would accept him as a pupil. After Rubinstein played his audition, Liszt is reported to have said: “A talented man must win the goal of his ambition by his own unassisted efforts.”  At this point, Rubinstein was living in poverty and Liszt did nothing to help him, so after an unsuccessful year in Vienna and a concert tour of Hungary, he returned to Berlin and continued giving piano lessons.

We’ll conclude Anton Rubinstein’s story in a few minutes, but first let’s listen to one of his three short pieces for cello and piano. It’s marked Allegro con moto, Opus 12.

Anton Rubinstein: “Allegro con moto, Op. 12,” from Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, performed by cellist Michal Kaňka and pianist Jaromír Klepáč [Praga PRD/DSD 250 210.11, CD 1, Track 5]

Anton Rubinstein’s  “Allegro con moto, Op. 12,” from Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, performed by cellist Michal Kaňka and pianist Jaromír Klepáč.

The Revolution of 1848 forced Rubinstein back to Russia. Spending the next five years mainly in Saint Petersburg, Rubinstein taught, gave concerts and performed frequently at the Imperial court. The Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, the sister of Tsar Nicholas the First, became his most devoted patroness. By 1852, he had become a leading figure in Saint Petersburg's musical life, performing as a soloist and collaborating with some of the outstanding instrumentalists and vocalists who came to the Russian capital.

He also turned seriously to composition, and his first opera was performed at the Bolshoy Theater in St. Petersburg in 1852. And he played and conducted several of his works.

In 1854 Rubinstein began a four-year concert tour of Europe, and very quickly reestablished his reputation as a virtuoso. Much of what Rubinstein played were his own compositions. At several concerts he alternated between conducting his orchestral works and playing as soloist in one of his own piano concertos.

In the winter of 1856-57 Rubinstein spent one tour break with Elena Pavlovna and much of the Imperial royal family in Nice. He participated in discussions with Pavlova on plans to raise the level of musical education in their homeland. These discussions led to the founding of the Russian Musical Society in 1859 and the opening of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1862.  Rubinstein was its founder and first director. His younger brother, Nikolai cofounded the Moscow Conservatory in 1866.

At the request of Steinway & Sons, the piano manufacturer, Rubinstein toured the United States during the 1872-3 season. Steinway's contract called on him to give 200 concerts at the then unheard-of rate of $200 per concert, plus all expenses paid. It was payable in gold because Rubinstein distrusted both U.S. banks and paper money. Rubinstein stayed in America 239 days, giving 215 concerts — sometimes two and three a day in as many cities.

Rubinstein wrote of his American experience, “May Heaven preserve us from such slavery! Under these conditions there is no chance for art—one simply grows into an automaton, performing mechanical work; no dignity remains to the artist; he is lost.… The receipts and the success were invariably gratifying, but it was all so tedious that I began to despise myself and my art. So profound was my dissatisfaction that when several years later I was asked to repeat my American tour, I refused pointblank…”

Nevertheless, Rubinstein made enough money from his American tour to give him financial security for the rest of his life. When he returned to Russia, he purchased a dacha not far from Saint Petersburg for himself and his family.

Rubinstein continued to perform, conduct, compose, and educate, but he suffered from heart disease and died at his home on November 20, 1894. The street where he lived in Saint Petersburg is now name after him.

Rubinstein once wrote: “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.”

Well this “pitiful individual” wrote some very beautiful music, and we’ll conclude this hour devoted to his melodious music for cello and piano with two movements from his Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, Opus 39. Once again Michal Kaňka is the cellist and Jaromír Klepáč is the pianist. The entire sonata is as beautiful as these two movements, but I don’t have time in this hour to play the complete work, so if you want to hear the rest and have it as part of your permanent collection, it is available on the Praga Digitals label.

MUSIC: Anton Rubinstein: two movements from Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op. 39, performed by cellist Michal Kaňka and pianist Jaromír Klepáč [Praga PRD/DSD 250 210.11, CD 2, Tracks 2 and 4]

Two movements from Anton Rubinstein’s Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op. 39. Michal Kaňka was the cellist and Jaromír Klepáč, the pianist.

That concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries, which I devoted to Anton Rubinstein’s works for cello and piano. I hope you enjoyed the music.

If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 221. You can also tune in to Compact Discoveries 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on the SKY.FM Compact Discoveries Channel. You’ll find that at I’m Fred Flaxman. My thanks to Barbara Karpetova of the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., for her help with Czech pronunciation… and to you for listening!

(Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and by an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.

Program Ends at 59:00