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EDUARD NAPRAVNIK  - CONDUCTOR & COMPOSER

Original 5” x 7” Alfred Lorens of St. Petersburg cabinet photograph of the legendary Bohemian born, Russian conductor, c. 1873.

Napravnik (1839-1916) was born in what is now the Czech Republic.  He studied at the Prague Organ School, the largest conservatory there at the time.  He then studied piano with Petr Maydl and composition with Johann Kittl at the private Maydl Institute in Prague from 1856-1861 where he subsequently taught.  Kittl offered him a post as Conductor of the Frankfurt Opera.  However, he also offered him a second opportunity, as Prince Nicholas Borisovich Yusupov’s private orchestra conductor in St. Petersburg.  Yusupov was the nephew and Marshall of Nicholas I’s court which he accepted.  Thus began Napravnik’s long and important history in late 19th Century Russian music.  The conductor remained in the Princes employ until 1863 when the orchestra was disbanded and he was then hired by Liadov as his assistant at the St. Petersburg branch of the Imperial Opera, the Mariinsky.  In 1867 he was appointed 2nd Conductor and in 1869 he was appointed Chief Conductor there, a position he held until his death.  He also was appointed Chief Conductor of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Russian Music Society. In addition, he was also the Chief Conductor of the Red Cross Concerts from 1869-1887 and the Patriotic Concerts from 1871-1887.  Napravnik was known for his ear, pitch, memory, tempi and demand for excellence from his performers. As a conductor and as a consummate politician he bridged the gap between the composers, musicians, functionaries and royalty.  He conducted over 80 opera world premiers at the Imperial Mariinsky and the Imperial Bolshoi Theatres including, Mussorgsky’s 1874 “Boris Godunov”, Rimsky’s “Christmas Eve”, “Maid of Pskov”,  “May Night”, “Mlada”,  “Sadko” (St. Petersburg premiere), “Snow Maiden”, Rubinstein’s “Demon”, Tchaikovskys “Iolanta”, “Maid of Orleans”, “The Oprichnik”, “Pique Dame”, “Tsar’s Bride (St. Petersburg premiere) “Vakula the Smith”  and the 1st professional performance of “Yevgeny Onegin”.  He also brought Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Russia for the first performance there. Napravnik gave the first St. Petersburg performance of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd Symphony and after Tchaikovsky’s death gave the first performance of the 6th not conducted by Tchaikovsky and the first success of the work.  He also conducted the World Premiere of the Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto, the 2nd version of his orchestral piece Romeo et Juliette and his Serenade for Strings.  Another important work where Napravnik led the first performance was Borodin’s 2nd Symphony.

As a composer, Napravnik was inspired by Glinka and wrote several operas which are still important in Russia including, “Dubrovsky” where Modest Tchaikovsky wrote the libretto, “Francesca da Rimini”, as well as “Harold” and “Nizhegorodtzy”.  He further wrote 4 symphonies, overtures and fantasies for orchestra, a piano concerto, three string quartets and other chamber combinations and the incidental music for Tolstoy’s play “Don Juan”.

The importance of this image is the rarity of photographs of this size of Napravnik in his early 30’s.

  

 

         

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