Discourses in Music: Volume 4 Number 3 (Summer 2003)

In Response to Colin Eatock's "Serge Koussevitzky Discovers America"

Serge Koussevitzky's professional life spans more upheaval than a typical episode of E.R, Chicago Hope, or Days of our Lives. Koussevitzky established himself as a conductor in Czarist and Bolshevik Russia before moving on to Europe, and, finally, a twenty-four year reign over the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the U.S.A. Colin Eatock, in "Serge Koussevitzky Discovers America", does a very fine job of presenting an overview of this mammoth figure, attempting to scale Koussevitzky back from superhuman demi-god to extraordinary man. He provides a clear chronology and useful commentary on the pitfalls of Koussevitzky biography which include purposeful misinformation on Koussevitzky's part and possible bias in several key sources concerning his musicianship. However, in covering so much material, concisely and clearly as he does, Eatock is forced to skim over much of Koussevitsky's American history.

It is unfortunate that the American history is cut short because what is there suggests some interesting avenues of exploration. What, exactly, was Koussevitzky's relationship to the Roosevelt campaign? Did Koussevitzky gain anything for his support of Roosevelt? Was his influence in the music world enough to make his support useful to the Roosevelts or was he acting purely in his capacity as a private citizen? Another very complicated nest of inquiry lies in the relationships between musical émigrés. Schoenberg and Stravinsky both make unflattering comments which Eatock quotes but does not explore. Schoenberg had some cause for sour grapes, as he received very little attention in Koussevitzky's programmes. But why did Schoenberg receive so little play from Koussevitzy? Was it because of deficiencies in Koussevitzky's abilities as a conductor? Eatock mentions that allegations like this were made but does not have space to explore the allegations fully.

What Eatock does offer, and this is no small thing, is a clear précis of Koussevitzky's life, a solid description of his influences on American musical life, and the always useful reminder that biography cannot be taken at face value. We may not discover America through Koussevitzky's eyes, but we do discover Serge Koussevitzky and that is exploration enough for one article.