Vadim Borisovsky by Aaron Conitz


As violists, we are constantly looking for fresh, new repertoire to play. I remember sitting in studio class (third year of undergraduate?) and listening to a fellow studio mate playing a couple of movements from an arranged version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite by Vadim Borisovsky (1900–72). What an incredible piece! The virtuosity of the arrangement, the beautiful Prokofiev melodies and motives were so striking I felt that I had to play the piece.

Several years passed, and I still hadn’t played the piece, but my affinity to the work and desire to find more about it was still strong. Digging around on WorldCat (a doctoral musician’s dream come true!), I discovered an incredible wealth of works edited and/or transcribed by Borisovksy; approximately 250 works for viola and viola d’amore exist in the literature! As I continued digging, I discovered that the standard four-movement transcription of the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet isn’t a complete representation of Borisovsky’s transcription. Thirteen transcribed “fragments” by Borisovsky exist, but for some odd reason they are not generally all included within one edition. Generally, performers create a set of extracts to present the ballet suite. I wondered why there was such a void in my knowledge of this obviously prolific and renowned violist, and so off I went in search of more information.


Born in Moscow, Borisovsky originally began his training on the violin; upon entry to the Moscow Conservatory, Borisovsky was encouraged to begin studying the viola by the esteemed Vladimir Bakaleynikov. Between the years 1922 and 1923, Borisovsky founded the Beethoven Quartet and performed with the ensemble until 1963. The Beethoven Quartet was famously known for their collaboration with Shostakovich, premiering nearly all of his string chamber works. Borisovksy performed on an extremely large instrument by Gasparo da Salò, measuring 18 1/8 inches! In addition to performing with the Beethoven Quartet, Borisovsky also had a fairly substantial career as a recitalist and recording artist.

Borissovsky Album

In 1927, Borisovsky succeeded his instructor as professor of viola at the Moscow Conservatory (interestingly, Bakaleynikov immigrated to the U. S. that year to perform as principal violist of the Cincinnati Symphony). As an instructor, Borisovsky had incredible influence, leading some biographers to describe him as the “father of the modern Russian viola school.” Notable pupils include Fyodor Druzhinin (dedicatee of the Shostakovich Sonata) and Rudolf Barshai.

While teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, Borisovsky felt that there were large gaps in the repertoire available to violists. As a result, he became so inspired to begin a long tradition of arranging and transcribing works from the standard repertoire for viola and viola d’amore. I was amazed not only at the number of extant transcriptions, but the range of composers Borisovsky chose—From Bach to Chopin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Glinka! While a majority of these works are frustratingly difficult to find, some are available.

Here are some that I’ve been able to find available in libraries around the country. Unless noted, all of them are transcriptions/arrangements.

BorisovskyFour Artistic Studies for Solo Viola

Debussy: Prelude “La fille aux cheveux de lin”

GlinkaSonata (1932)

Note: This sonata was revised and completed by Borisovsky, so it is not a transcription or arrangement.


Ravel: Pavane pour une infant défunte

ScriabinPrelude in C-sharp Minor, op. 9 no. 1

Shostakovich: Viola Suite from “The Gadfly,” Op. 97a (1964–76)

Note: There is a newly available recording by Lars Anders Tomter of this beautiful suite.

Tchaikovsky:  Nocturne in D minor, op. 19, no. 4

For a complete listing of the works of Borisovsky follow this Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vadim_Borisovsky

Numerous recordings exist of the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet ballet suite, but several performers have recorded other Borisovsky works. Among them are Yuri Bashmet, Maxim Rysanov, Lars Anders Tomter, and Tatjana Masurenko.

1010c Masurenko 1010d Rysanov 1010e TomterAlbum cover 3

For further reading on the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet transcription, please refer to the wonderful article by Matthew Jones published in the AVS journal, volume 27, number 2.

I hope this piques your interest in the works of Borisovsky, and maybe we will be able, through our encouragement and scholarship, to make these virtuosic, engaging works more widely available to the viola community.

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