Sunday, August 5, 2012

Russian composer names

Owing to the generosity of the Eastman School of Music Sibley library online collection, I have had the opportunity recently to play lots of Russian music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  However, it has been quite a task to research the little-known composers represented.  This arises from the fact that in the late 18th and early 19th century, the use of French language was pervasive amongst the Russian nobility and higher echelons of society - see for more on this.  Although the Russian language seems to have gained ground in the later 19th century, music publishers often used French nomenclature and titling in their scores (eg, Jurgenson, Beliaeff) - presumably because this was what their privileged clientele would have expected. 

Most information on Russian composers available on the Web is in Russian (from online editions of Russian encyclopedias etc., often originally compiled in the Soviet era).  Therefore, as a non-Russian speaker, I have to work hard to move from French transliterations to native Russian, and then to modern English transliterations for my video descriptions.

Here are two examples, which might be helpful to anyone else trying to research Russian music or literature.

1 - Léocadie Kaschperow

This is the composer name used by Jurgenson for some attractive pieces by a significant female composer.  However, if you search for that name on Google, you will find little information (eight entries in all, referring to German texts, mostly about another person with the same surname).  So what I did was to put the name into Google Translate (changing it on the way to Leocadia Kaschperov because that is more in line with modern transliteration of Russian names) and seek a version of that in Russian script.  I then searched Google with the derived name in Russian - леокадия кашперова, and found many hundreds of entries, including this one, which gave me the facts I needed:

2 - Etienne Mirzoeff

I was interested to find out something about this person, as he was the dedicatee of a set of studies by Leonid Knina.  A Google search on this name gives nothing at all other than the Sibley catalogue entry.  Knowing that Etienne is the French equivalent of the English name Stephen, and that the Russian version of that is often transliterated as Stepan, I entered into Google Translate Stepan Mirzoev (changing the two ff's to a v in accordance with current practice) and ended up with Степан Мирзоев .  Even that was not enough, as I came up with a present day person with the same name.  I then tinkered around, adding the word 'piano' in Russian, and eventually arrived at Степану Гавриловичу Мирзоеву, the name of the head of the Russian Musical Academy in Tbilisi at the turn of the last century.  I knew this was the right person, because I knew that Knina lived there.  The following web page gave me exactly what I needed to know:

Of course, having found the Russian web pages, Google Translate then does an excellent job of translating them back into English, and providing convincing English transliterations of the names, which I then use on the videos and descriptions!