Safonoff, Wassily Ilyitch



Famous Russian conductor, pianist and teacher, who was born in the Cossack village of Istchory, on the river Terek; his father being a well-known Cossack general. Until the age of ten, Safonoff lived in the Caucasus. He then became a student at the first Gymnasium of St. Petersburg, where he remained until 1866, when he was chosen as a pensioner of the Emperor Alexander II., to be placed at the Imperial Alexander Lyceum. While at that institution he became a private pupil of Theodore Leschetizky in piano and Zaremba in musical theory. He later studied piano with Brassin at the Imperial Conservatory of St. Petersburg, winning, in 1881, the gold medal. Soon afterward he was appointed teacher of piano at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, a post he held until 1885, when he was engaged as professor of the piano by the Moscow Conservatory. While at the St. Petersburg Conservatory Safonoff formed an orchestra among the pupils, and improved it to the point of being able to give public performances. In 1889 he was appointed director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and in 1890 combined with this position the post of conductor of the Imperial Society of Music of Moscow, both of which posts he continued to hold until 1905, when he was engaged as permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society of New York and director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, which posts he holds at the present time. As a conductor Safonoff is without a superior, and at the Symphony concerts of the Imperial Society during the last twenty years he has achieved striking results in planning programs and in the performance of good music. He has been active in promoting the work of the younger Russian School, bringing out works by Rimsky-Korsakpv, Glazounoff and those of the Belgian, Cesar Franck, and of the Frenchmen, Lalo and Charpentier. Safonoff commenced his career as a pianist, giving many concert tours through Russia, Germany, Austria and Hungary with the celebrated cellist, Charles Davidoff, but after his engagement as conductor of the Imperial Society of Music he devoted himself exclusively to his new vocation, and has conducted in all the principal cities of Russia, as well as in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Rome, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. His debut in Vienna, in the winter of 1893, resulted in his engagement as visiting conductor of the New York Philharmonic Society. This honor he shared with several noted European conductors, until the Philharmonic Society decided to make a contract with him as permanent conductor for three years. Safonoff is a tireless worker, and while connected with the St. Petersburg Conservatory it is said there was not a pupil in the great institution whose name he did not know and with whose progress he was not familiar. Besides his pedagogical work, Safonoff accomplished the construction of the new building of the Moscow Conservatory, which was erected according to his plans and suggestions and opened in April, 1901. On the occasion Safonoff was nominated an honorary member of the Imperial Russian Society of Music and was presented with the high decoration of St. Stanislas* star by the Emperor, receiving the title of excellency, conferred by the Emperor for his services in the musical field. Safonoff took part as conductor at the coronation festivities of the Emperor Nicholas II. in 1896, conducting the festival cantata in Moscow. He also conducted the musical performance at the jubilee of the poet, Pushkin, in Moscow, where a cantata was sun by 2000 children's voices, with four military bands taking part. He is married to the daughter of the late minister of finance of Russia, M. Wyschnegradsky.