Vasily Bessel

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Vasily Bessel (1843–1907)

Russian music publisher, violist and music critic (b. 13/25 April 1843 in Saint Petersburg; d. 1 March 1907 [N.S.] at Zurich), born Vasily Vasilyevich Bessel (Василий Васильевич Бессель).

Tchaikovsky and Bessel

Bessel was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky's at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied the violin with Wienawski and music theory with Nikolay Zaremba, graduating from Ieronim Veikman's viola class in 1865. In November that same year, Bessel had performed the viola part at the premiere of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet in B-flat major. From 1866 to 1874 he played the viola in the ballet orchestra of the Imperial Theatres.

In 1869, together with his brother Ivan, he founded the firm V. Bessel & Co. (В. Бессель и Ко.), opening a music shop on the Nevsky Prospekt, which by 1871 had become a thriving publishing house. At this time Bessel commissioned Tchaikovsky to make piano duet arrangements of two orchestral works by Anton RubinsteinIvan the Terrible and Don Quixote — and he also offered to publish Tchaikovsky's new opera The Oprichnik (1870–72), which had still not yet been performed; given the failures of his two previous operas, Tchaikovsky was only too happy to accept this proposal, and hastily signed an agreement transferring to Bessel all rights to the work (a move he would later regret).

In 1872, Bessel was granted permission to publish piano transcriptions of Tchaikovsky's overture-fantasia Romeo and Juliet (the full score having been printed by Bote & Bock in Berlin), and the Symphony No. 2, Op. 17 (1872). The delay in issuing the full score of the latter work (which eventually appeared in 1881, after Tchaikovsky had revised the symphony), was one of the two main reasons for the breakdown in relations with Bessel, the other being the rights to The Oprichnik. The only other of the composer's works to be issued by Bessel were the Six Romances, Op. 16 (1872–73), Six Pieces on a Single Theme, Op. 21 (1873), and Six Romances, Op. 25 (1875). Thereafter Tchaikovsky's works in Russia were published almost exclusively by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow.

Bessel also published and edited the journals Musical Leaflet (Музыкальный листок) from 1872 to 1877, and published the Music Review (Музыкальное обозрение) from 1885 to 1889. He contributed his own articles to both titles, and also to the German journals Neue allgemeine Musik-Zeitung and Neue Musik-Zeitung (1878–1887). In 1901, he brought out his own book on music publishing — Music matters (Нотное дело).

After Bessel's death in 1907, the firm was managed by his sons Vasily and Aleksandr, who moved the business to Paris in 1920 after the Russian revolution.

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

56 letters from Tchaikovsky to Vasily Bessel have survived, dating from 1869 to 1891, all of which have been translated into English on this website:

7 letters from Bessel to the composer, dating from 1880 to 1891, are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 254–260).


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