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Echoes of the past: Stylistic and compositional influences in the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz

Jeremiah A Johnson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Despite the wide array of his compositional output in the first half of the twentieth century, the late Romantic composer, Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952), remains relatively unknown. Bortkiewicz was born and raised near Kharkov, Ukraine, but considered himself Russian. Bortkiewicz studied in St. Petersburg and Leipzig, lived in Berlin, and later returned to Kharkov during World War I. During the Russian Revolution, he fled to Istanbul as a refugee. Eventually, he returned to Berlin and then to Vienna, where he would remain during World War II and for the rest of his life. Substantial modern-day recording efforts have rekindled interest in this composer who was faced with difficult circumstances throughout his life; however, a paucity of scholarly contributions exist. This project seeks to address some of these shortages.^ The first chapter provides historical perspective concerning Kharkov and Ukraine in the decades prior to the birth of Bortkiewicz. The second chapter presents a biography of Bortkiewicz against the backdrop of important events in world history. The third chapter contains commentary regarding Bortkiewicz’s compositional output which consisted primarily of works for the piano, but also included orchestral works, solo concerti, one opera, and several collections of songs. Unfortunately, some of these pieces have been lost as a result of World War II.^ The fourth chapter examines the compositional style of Sergei Bortkiewicz. Despite Bortkiewicz’s pro-Russian sentiments, some of his music appears to contain Ukrainian folk idioms. Other observations in this chapter supplement the work of Nils Franke regarding musical retrospection in Bortkiewicz’s works. These additional examples reaffirm harmonic and textural similarities and other stylistic connections in Bortkiewicz’s music. Ultimately, these similarities have pedagogical advantages notably through stylistic comparisons and might affect one’s approach to interpreting Bortkiewicz’s music.^

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Recommended Citation

Johnson, Jeremiah A, "Echoes of the past: Stylistic and compositional influences in the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10243270.