Karl Davidov

Russian-Latvian Karl Davidov was one of the most prominent cellists of the nineteenth century. Davidov was also a composer of skill whose work follows neither the Nationalistic nor the Conservatory-bred Russian schools of that era, but does bear some commonality with German models and a resemblance to the music of Tchaikovsky, on whom Davidov was an influence. Davidov was born in the province of Courland in what is now part of Latvia to a Jewish doctor named Julius Davidhoff. Davidov's father was an amateur violinist who did not object to Davidov's interest in the cello as long as it didn't dissuade him from more practical matters, and in 1859 the younger Davidov duly earned a degree in mathematics. At the same time, Davidov completed his studies with cellist Carl Schuberth in St. Petersburg and, approached to join the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, decided to follow music as a career rather than math. By the end of 1859, Davidov was named section leader among the cellos, and premiered the first of five cello concerti that he would ultimately compose. After three seasons in Leipzig, Davidov returned to Russia to replace Schuberth, who had died, at the St. Petersburg Conservatory; among other duties was his membership in the string quartet belonging to the Russian Musical Society, which from 1868 boasted Leopold Auer as leader and first violinist. Although no one doubted Davidov's acumen as a cellist -- his stint in Leipzig won him recognition as one of the world's best -- Davidov encountered considerable difficulty establishing himself as a composer. Nevertheless, he produced at least 40 opus numbers, including concerti for cello, violin, orchestral pieces, and chamber works of significant size and serious import. As Davidov was forced to abandon his opera Poltava upon being named to the directorship of St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1876, he later sent the libretto off to his friend Tchaikovsky, who realized it as the opera Mazeppa. Davidov's tenure as director of St. Petersburg Conservatory continued without notable incident for about a decade, but in 1887 he was victim to an intrigue through which Anton Rubinstein -- who had initially founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory -- was returned to the position of director, and Davidov was forced out. Davidov took this demotion in stride, resumed touring as a soloist and even undertook a non-musical job as a factory supervisor. Nevertheless, Davidov didn't enjoy his newfound freedom very long, as he died suddenly at age 51 in early 1889. Despite Rubinstein's anxiousness to get his old job back, he didn't keep it very long, resigning from the post of director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in early 1891.

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