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From Catherine the Great to Nicholas II

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Peter’s passionate interest in Russian music from the middle of the 18th-century up to the 1917 Revolution, chiefly from the viewpoint of a performer and editor, has been a continuous presence in his conducting career. It was initially inspired by Peter’s Russian history studies at the University of Adelaide during the 1980s with Frederic S. Zuckerman, whose research on the Okhrana (Tsarist secret police) culminated in a definitive 1996 book.

During the 1990s, as Peter became more active as a choral director, he frequently programmed Russian Orthodox sacred music in concerts, firstly the well-known late 19th and early-20th century works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, then music by their lesser-known contemporaries, ultimately researching, in considerable detail, developments in Russian sacred music from the reign of Catherine the Great to Nicholas II.

Since the early 1990s scholarship in Russian music has been opened up by a number of leading musicologists from around the world, and in the last two decades, printed and manuscript sources of choral and instrumental music from the 18th and 19th century Russian Empire (which then encompassed a diverse assembly of unique national identities and regions, notably Ukraine - which generated some of the finest composers of Russian ‘classical’ choral music) have become more widely available both online and in hitherto inaccessible libraries.

Peter has taken advantage of these developments, intensively researching, transcribing, editing and performing lesser-known Russian sacred choral works, with a substantial list of performances now to his credit, as well as CD recordings.

In particular, Peter has performed a variety of vocal and instrumental works by Italian composers working at the court of Catherine the Great (most notably Baldassarre Galuppi, Giuseppe Sarti and Giovanni Paisiello), as well as items by their Russian and Ukrainian contemporaries such as Stepan Degtaryev, Dimitry Bortniansky and Artem Vedel.
He has also performed works by many later masters, including Pyotr Turchaninov, Aleksandr Varlamov, Mikail Glinka, Alexei Fyodorovich Lvov, Grigory Lvovsky, Gavril Yakimovich Lomakin, Anton Arensky and Pavel Chesnokov. Choral works by many of these composers can be found in 19th and early 20th century prints published by Jurgenson. An important Vedel manuscript can be accessed online.

Italian, Russian and Ukrainian composers who worked for Catherine the Great often wrote both secular and sacred vocal and instrumental works for her court. Important copies of these survive in scattered Western archives, yet have been examined by only a relatively small group of Western musicologists. Peter is currently researching and transcribing sacred works (both with and without accompaniment) by Galuppi and Sarti which survive in both Slavonic and Latin sources. The manuscripts not only feature significant rhythmic alterations, but also suggest very different (and not yet precisely identified) original performing environments.

It is Peter’s performing and musicological specialism in choral and instrumental music in the Russia of Catherine the Great, in particular, that has led to recordings, participation in a BBC Radio 3 documentary in collaboration with historian Virginia Rounding and, most recently, his engagement as a historical musical advisor to HBO’s Catherine the Great


Russian Orthodox choral works from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II

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