Biographies compiled by Mårten Falk, with gratitude. They are in chronological order.
Held, Ignaz von (composer, born at Hohenbruck in Bohemia in 1766, died at Břesc-Litewski in Russia in 1816).
Son of a doctor and brother of Johann Theobald Held. In the school of his birthplace, where he studied, instruction was also given in music, for which the boy displayed great talent. Held soon became an alto altar choirboy in the Teinkirche in Prague, and then in Hradec Kralove, where he attended the Humanities classes; at the same time he studied wind and string instruments. When 17 years old he lost his father, who on the deathbed recommended to the children to seek their fortune abroad. Thus commenced the journey of the young man. In 1783 he went to Poland, where he was hospitably received by a relative close to him. His language and musical talents helped him. He then went on to St. Petersburg.
In the aftermath of the Turkish war, he entered Prince Potemkin’s regiment, marched with him to the Crimea, fought Oczakov in the storm, and became lieutenant-in-chief. After Potemkin ‘s death he took service with the king. He then joined the Polish army, became Major in a few years, received the nobility and then the chamberlain key. But when Poland ceased to be an independent state, his luck turned; he was captured by the Russians in one of the unfortunate battles that were fought in Poland. He lost his belongings and remained in detention until the time of Emperor Paul, who on his accession to the throne gave freedom to imprisoned Poles.
Now without office, without fortune, deprived of all means of subsistence, he resorted to the art that he so zealously pursued in his youth. He played the English guitar, and the piano. Fortune was favourable to him, he came to Moscow, and soon became a much sought-after music teacher in the most distinguished houses. Now he threw himself into composition, found publishers who gladly accepted his work and paid him well. Meanwhile, when he applied for a permanent position, he received by intercession of the Grand Duke Constantina, Port Inspectorate to Pernau, but was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1808, where he was appointed to the Imperial Russian Council, and where he died at Břesc-Litewski, only fifty years old.
As a composer, Held has made a name for himself in Russia. His compositions, especially sonatas for pianoforte, choirs, marches, polonaises, variations and salon pieces, betray grace, and in particular his polonaises are praised for their faithful reproduction of the national character, which this piece of music should not be without.
In 1798, Held published his Method for the Russian seven string guitar (only the 1802 edition remains). This is the earliest known publication for the Russian guitar. Whether Held actually invented the instrument – making a blend of the Spanish guitar and the English guittar that he had played since his youth – or if he learned the new instrument while arriving in Russia, is not known. His Method was very influential and was later revised by Semion Aksionov. The Method contains several well crafted pieces such as rondo, several polonaises and a Sonatina.
Dlabacz (Gottfried Joh.) , General. histor. Artist’s Encyclopedia for Bohemia and partly also for Moravia and Silesia (Prague 1815, Haase , small 4 °.) Vol. I, division 599.
Source for the portrait of Held: Anatolii Shirialin in his Poema O Gitare [Поэма О Гитаре], Moscow, 1994. p. 12.
Andrei Osipovich Sychra (Sikhra, Sichra, in Russian Андрей Осипович Сихра Andrej Osipovič Sixra) (born 1773 (?1776) in Vilnius; died November 21/December 3, 1850, in St Petersburg) was a Russian guitarist of Czech ancestry, composer and teacher. Sychra holds a prominent position within Russia, where he is often referred to as the patriarch of the seven-string guitar, and also as its inventor, disputed though that may be. He was a major force in the development of Russian guitar music and one of its most prolific composers, as well as an important teacher who trained a number of students.
Sychra initially played the harp and possibly the torban on which he was reputed to have been a great virtuoso, before dedicating himself to the seven-string guitar. He moved to Moscow early in 1801, and became the dominant figure in the field, gaining a huge following. In 1812, perhaps because of Napoleon’s campaign and the Moscow fire of that year, he moved to St Petersburg, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1802 Sychra published the Journal pour la guitare à sept cordes in Moscow, and in 1813 published a new journal, Sobranie raznogo roda p’es [A collection of various pieces] in St Petersburg. He published another journal in 1818, advertised in the Peterburgskie vedemosti [Petersburg news] as containing 50 pieces in each of its six issues. A further journal appeared in 1824. The most important of his journals, Peterburgskij žurnal dlja gitary [The Petersburg journal for the guitar], first appeared in 1826, and was published, presumably monthly, for the next 12 years; 144 issues survive. He also published many individual pieces. The Stellovsky-Gutheil editions alone contain 75 numbers, of which most consist of several compositions. In all Sychra published more than 1,000 pieces for the seven-string guitar, and left many in manuscript, including complete arrangements for two guitars of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila, with which he was assisted by the composer.
Sychra wrote a large number of pieces for amateurs, including studies, folk song settings, operatic transcriptions and arrangements of Viennese waltzes by Johann Strauss, Carl Maria von Weber and Josef Lanner, an output that may explain his dismissal by Soviet-era musicologists as a mediocre composer. Among these compositions, however, are many that require the highest level of virtuosity, and which not only employ techniques not known in the West, such as the four-finger cross-string trill, but are also musically innovative. Much of Sychra’s guitar music, especially the teaching pieces and studies, reproduces harp sonorities on the guitar, perhaps as a result of his early career as a harpist. His magnum opus, the Praktičeskie pravila igrat’ na gitare [Practical rules for playing the guitar] (St. Petersburg, 1817), which has long been esteemed by Russian guitarists, is only now beginning to attract international attention.
Interest in Sychra’s compositions and guitar techniques have received renewed attention following the revival of his work by Dr. Oleg Timofeyev, whose doctoral dissertation (see LINKS) and subsequent recordings, have been devoted to Sychra. [Copied from Wikipedia]
Semion Aksionov (1784 or 1790 – 1853), Russian seven-string guitarist and composer. He was born in Ryazan, in Western Russia. He took guitar lessons from Sychra and was considered his best disciple, though he differed in a number of issues from his teacher. Aksionov’s playing was considered more melodious and expressive than Sychra’s, and he laid more emphasis on the cantabile techniques such as glissandi. He wrote fantasies, romances, variations and potpourri on Russian folk songs. The Russian melodies form the basis of his guitar compositions. Reputedly, Sychra blamed Aksionov for his bad taste because of his excess of glissandi and legato playing, calling it “bad Gypsy style”.
Aksionov is credited as the first in history to describe artificial harmonics on the guitar. He was also important as a teacher of Mikhail Vyssotsky. Sychra dedicated his most important work: “Practical rules in four large exercises” to Aksionov who also wrote a large introduction to it.
Works published by Aksionov include:
“Theme and Variations of Beethoven’s Septet”, arranged for two guitars, and “New Journal” – a collection of 12 songs with variations.
Aksionov made a new edition of Ignaz von Held’s “School for 7-string guitar” in 1819 and supplemented it with many pieces. In this edition he also, for the first time, described the technique of artificial harmonics, invented by Aksionov. This new feature was also described in newspapers:
“There is no doubt that, in spite of our youth in the arts and sciences, many useful and happy inventions derived from our fatherland, but they are little known, or sent to us afterwards as foreign… Our famous player and lover of the guitar Si Aksionov discovered a way to play upon this instrument harmonics on all the notes. Hitherto known were the three frets – 4, 5, 7, for flageolett sounds. Aksionov however distributed them to all the semitones, worked out and adapted so that anyone who plays the guitar can easily comprehend this discovery, as long as he attentively read the description thereof in the new guitar school. Guitar lovers gratefully recognize this, since nothing could be more pleasant than flageolet sounds on the guitar: it then becomes even more delicate an instrument.” (Notes of the Fatherland, 1821, № 1, . 217).
Kuschenov-Dimitrievsky Dmitry Feodorovich (1772-1835). Guitarist, composer, pedagogue, musical writer. He composed some fifteen variation works for guitar on Russian folks songs, as well as dances, transcriptions, etudes and exercises, and a guitar method book (1808). His compositions were very popular during his lifetime. He also wrote pedagogic literature for piano and translated Italian guitar methods into Russian. He wrote books on music history: for example about Russian music of the 18th century, composer biographies, as well as a full musical history, starting with the music of the ancient Egypt.
Mikhail Timofeevich Vysotsky The birthday of M. T. Vysotsky is not exactly known, but on a manuscript of one of his compositions, his son, Nikolay Mikhaylovich, has written “Compositions of M. T. Vysotsky, died on the 16th of December 1837, in the age of 47 years” So the year of his birth must be 1791.
His childhood and youth were spent close to Moscow, on the estate of the famous poet M. M. Kheraskov, the author of “Russiada” (1733-1807). Vysotsky was a godson of Kheraskov and was named Mikhail in his honour. Vysotsky’s father was a serf and served as a bailiff at Kheraskov’s. After Kheraskov’s death in 1807 Vysotsky lived some time in the estate but 1813 went to Moscow, got registered as a free man and spent the rest of his life in Moscow.
He studied the guitar with S. N. Aksionov, and was interested in the classics, especially J. S. Bach, one whose fugues he arranged for the guitar – this is the first known Bach transcription in the history of the guitar. The largest potion of his works are variations of Russian folk themes (normally built upon 4 or 5 variations, sometimes with an introduction and a coda). There are also arrangements for the guitar of music by Mozart, Beethoven and Field among others. Vysotsky also published a “Practical and theoretical school for the guitar” (1836). From his first published compositions, around 1813, he become a Moscow celebrity and was invited everywhere.
His playing was notable for strength and classical equability of tone; by the unusual quickness and melodiousness. Most of all, he was famous for his improvisations which could go on for long times with great ingenuity. He played without any effort; there were no difficulties for him. Vysotsky was not fond of instrumental effects and never used artificial harmonics, which was such an important part of his teacher’s playing. Seldom did he use the highest register of the instrument, the beauty and strength of his playing were in melody and harmony; but especially his legatos and luxurious arpeggios, in which he combined the power of harp with the melodiousness of violin.
He spent much time playing together with Ilya Sokolov’s popular Gypsy choir and was very influenced by the Gypsy style. He also inspired the players of this genre, and his influence is still noticed among modern gypsy style virtuosi.
Pavel Fedoseevich Beloshein (1799 – 1869) Russian guitarist and composer. Apprentice to A.O Sychra and M.T. Vysotsky. He was perhaps more important as a concert artist than a composer. He performed quite frequently, sometimes in a duo with his teacher Vysotsky.
Beloshein transcribed folk songs and romantic ballads for guitar as well as excerpts from operas. He also composed numerous polonaises, waltzes, quadrilles and other dance pieces. In St. Petersburg, he published a “Journal for the seven-string guitar”.
Vladimir Morkov [1801 St. Petersburg – 25. XI (7.XII), 1864, St. Petersburg] – Russian guitarist, teacher, composer and music historian. Morkov studied with Sychra, who dedicated his “theoretical and practical school for seven-string guitar” to his student.
Vladimir Morkov did himself write a magnificent “Full school for seven-string guitars, with the application of techniques for the newly enhanced ten-string guitar” (1862) Morkov also wrote a number of compositions and transcriptions for the instrument (including transcriptions of several works by Giuliani and Mertz ). His many transcriptions of Glinka’s operatic works for a duo consisting of a quart guitar (a smaller seven string guitar tuned one fourth higher than the normal Russian guitar) and a normal size (or ten-string) Russian guitar are very successful. As a music historian and opera connoisseur, he wrote an important “Historical Sketch of Russian opera from its beginning to 1862” (St. Petersburg, 1862 ).
In the preface to his Method, he wrote: “Of all the currently published schools for seven-string guitar, the best and most affordable to students is the theoretical and practical school, written about twenty-five years ago, by the once famous virtuoso and composer Andrei Osipovich Sychra. Nearly every more or less famous Russian guitarist owe to this school of music his education. But despite its many undeniable advantages, it does not agree with our contemporary requirements of guitar music, and considering recently perfected techniques, it is now far from adequate. This is the reason that has prompted me to compose a new school, with detailed treatments of the rules necessary for the gradual development of the mechanism of the right and left hands and general guitar playing. When presenting examples of the correct distribution of the permutation of the fingers, I have followed the methods taught to me by A O Sychra, who for many years was my guide in music. I dare to say that I hope that my work, which is is based on thirty years of practical experience, shall bring guitar afficionados some benefit”.
Pietro Pettoletti (ca. 1795 – ca. 1870) was a composer of Italian origins. The dates of birth and death are not known. His father Carl Johan (1758–1801) was Kapellmeister in Christiania (Norway). At first he lived in Germany, then, from age 25, in Sweden, where he taught piano and guitar. between 1830-1822, he performed in concerts in Gothenburg and Stockholm (where he moved in 1829). While in Stockholm, he published music for the guitar. Subsequently he moved to Russia, employed by a wealthy landowner to teach guitar to his children. Pettoletti stayed for a long time in St Petersburg where he gained a reputation as concert performer and teacher.
He often performed in duo with his brother Joachim, a violinist in the orchestra of the Italian opera of Saint Petersburg. As guitar virtuoso Pettoletti toured Germany, France, and Russia.
In Petersburg, Pettoletti met with Sychra who inspired him to start playing and composing for the Russian seven-string guitar. He went on to publish several works for the Russian guitar. Although several foreign guitarists, such as Lhoyer, Sor, Zani de Ferranti, lived in Russia for extended periods, Pettoletti was the only one to change to become a player of the Russian guitar.
Feodor Mikhailovich Zimmerman (1806-1888) Russian guitarist and composer of German descendent (the Zimmerman family received the status of Russian nobility in 1773) born in the Bondarsky district in the Tambov region on the family estate of his grandfather. Zimmerman’s father died when he was four years old and together with his three siblings, was raised by his mother Josephine Matveyevna (of Polish nobility) on his grandfather’s estate. According to family tradition, Zimmerman began serving in the military department in St Petersburg, and this is where he met with Andrei Sychra, with whom he began studying. Zimmerman was one of the most important students of Sychra. He was especially famous for his improvisations and he preferred improvising rather than notating his compositions. Often it was his teacher, Sychra, or close friend, Sarenko, who wrote down his compositions for publication, and these pieces probably do not show the true genius of his style. As an improviser, he was often compared to Vysotsky. His surviving compositions are short and consist of Waltzes, Etudes, Capricci and a Fantasia. In his famous essay on the Russian guitarists, Stakhovich wrote: “Among the living seven-string guitar virtuosos, the first place is undoubtedly occupied by F. M. Zimmerman, this Paganini of the seven-string guitar both in terms of his playing and his compositions…His playing these days consists mainly of improvisations merging into fantasias, intermingled with his well-known waltzes, mazurkas, and other themes that brought him his well-deserved fame among guitarists.” The famous (six string) guitarist, M. Sokolovsky, wrote: “Zimmermann’s talent is a musical miracle. If you notate everything he plays, his compositions would overshadow everything written for the guitar so far.”
In the 1840’s the guitar began to be overshadowed by the piano. Zimmerman searched for new ways to promote the guitar and he even approached Nikolai Rubinstein – director of the newly founded St Petersburg conservatory – to open a guitar class, but in vain. At the end of his life he was disappointed of the lack of popularity of his instrument, he stopped playing concerts and focused on taking care his estate in Tambov and on horse breeding.
Alexander Vetrov born 1813(?) died 1877. Vetrov was arguably the most original composer for the Russian seven string guitar. In fact his works are among the most harmonically adventurous and structurally original among the entire guitaristic output from the 19th century (six string guitar music included).
Vetrov graduated from the Moscow University Medical School and thereafter worked as a physician in the Oriol region, where he lived. This means he was not a full time musician, although he did have guitar students. His musical education started with violin and singing before switching to guitar which he studied with Mikhail Vysotsky. As regards to composition, he was very influenced by Beethoven; he was said to always carry a Beethoven score with him which he constantly studied. His own music though was deeply romantic and less classicist than his idol’s music.
Vetrov had the reputation of being a wonderful improviser – reportedly the best since Vysotsky. During his lifetime he only published one work: 100 short folk song arrangements. All his original works lay dormant until 1904 when Russian guitar propagandist, editor and composer Valerian Rusanov tracked down Vetrov’s student Lopatin, who gave him all Vetrov’s manuscripts.
Vetrov was the only Russian guitar composer during the 19th century to write a full three movement Sonata – in fact, Vetrov’s Sonata is the only romantic sonata for any type of guitar during that century.
He also composed Impromptus, Scherzi, Rondoletti, Etudes, an Elegi, a song without words, a Canzona, a Vals, and many other works.
Vasily Sarenko (born 06.29.1814, Voronezh, mind. 06.17.1881, Orel) – Russian/Ukrainian seven-string guitarist and composer. He was born into a family of a civil servant of modest means and was orphaned at an early age. He had a tough childhood, growing up in the household of an older brother in the city of Orël. He studied, on a scholarship from the government, at the medical faculty at Moscow University (graduated in 1833), a few years after graduation he defended his doctoral dissertation, received his medical degree and served as a military physician. He joined the army as a military doctor in Oranienbaum. After a successful treatment of Prince Mikhail Pavlovich (a member of the imperial family), he was promoted and got a position as a doctor at S:t Petersburg officer school. At this time, the economic situation of him, and his family of a wife and several children, improved. Also, this position didn’t require too much of his time, and he was free to devote much time to guitar playing and composing.
He belongs to the last disciples of Andrei Osipovich Sychra and their relationship was very warm – more of a friendship than that of a normal teacher-student connection. Since Sarenko now had a stabile economy, he was able to help his aging teacher who was going through financial difficulties. Sarenko was known to practice 3-4 hours a day and regularly entertained his guest with his guitar playing – guests that often included the foremost Russian composers of his age, such as Mussorgsky, Dargomyzhsky and others. The famous piano pedagogue A. I. Diubiuk wrote of him: “…He was a first class player with a deep knowledge of music. He had a fine taste and imagination and in general was a well-developed musician. His playing was elegant, clean and smooth; the strings under his fingers were singing whether he was playing in fast or slow tempi… and how he loved the guitar!…he spoke of nothing else…”
Sarenko published 14 original pieces for guitar and several transcriptions of piano pieces by Chopin and operas by Bellini and Donizetti. Despite the fact that Sarenko was an outstanding performer, he almost did not perform in public and rarely gave guitar lessons. He was a close friend of the famous Russian guitarist F M Zimmermann (1813-1882) who’s works Sarenko helped transcribe and notate.
Sarenko’s music is deeply romantic and his ingenious use of the instrument is quite exceptional, often reminiscent of what Miguel Llobet would do some sixty years later.
Here is a pdf book in Russian on sarenko: sarenko_book
Nikolay Ivanovich Alexandrov, born December 11. 1818, died December 24. 1884. Guitarist and composer. After graduating from the prestigious imperial lyceum, Tsarskoye Selo (the very same school where Pushkin studied), he served as a guard officer in the Russian army. His career in the military was very successful, and he was decorated with medals. In the 1860s however, he decided to leave the army to be able to completely dedicate his time to guitar playing and composition. In his youth, he studied the guitar under Andrei Sychra – and was said to be one of the master’s favourite students and Sychra dedicated several works to his student (for example “In the Valley”, one of Sychra’s best and most virtuoso variations). After he left the military, he studied composition with the pianist and composer Nikolay Tivolsky, who also edited Alexandrov’s works for publishing.
He left a large number of compositions, all rather short and in Salon style, but very well crafted and in quality comparable to Francisco Tárrega’s works some fifty years later. Often his works has some awkward spots as regards to idiomatic playing which could be the result of Tivolsky’s editing (Tivolsky was a pianist and did not play guitar), it could also be that Alexandrov composed for a ten string guitar (seven strings on the fretboard, and three theorbated strings). He wrote many Etudes, Exercises, small tone poems, songs without words, arrangements of folk songs and Schubert lieder, as well as waltzes, mazurkas galopp’s and other dances.