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Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)

This season’s BSO archival exhibits focus on the legacy of Serge Koussevitzky, the BSO’s 9th conductor, and the first to hold the title of Music Director. The year 2024 marks the 150th anniversary of Koussevitzky’s birth and the 100th anniversary of his appointment as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As this series of exhibits will illuminate, his commitment to supporting the next generation of musical artistry (both performers and composers) was profound and myriad.

Painting of Serge Koussevitzky playing the double bass

Serge Koussevitzky

Painting by Basil Schoukhaeff, Paris, 1934

Photograph of painting by Robert Torres

Milestones in Serge Koussevitzky's Life

  • July 26, 1874

    Serge Koussevitzky is born in Vyshny Volochyok, Russia.

  • ca. 1888

    Teenage Serge Koussevitzky is dressed in heavy coat, scarf and hat

    Receives scholarship to play bass at the Moscow Philharmonic Institute.

  • ca. 1894

    A young Serge Koussevitzky, with dark hair and a moustache, plays the double bass

    Joins the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra as a bass player.

    Sources differ on whether his first solo debut was in 1896 or 1901.

  • 1902

    Marries dancer Nadezhda Galat.

  • 1903

    First recital in Berlin.

  • 1905

    Portrait of Natalie Koussevitzky wearing a pearl necklace and furs

    Natalie Ushkova Koussevitzky

    Divorces Nadezhda and marries Natalie Ushkova, heiress to a tea merchant family fortune.

  • 1906

    Hires a student orchestra in Berlin to learn conducting.

  • 1908

    Hires the Berlin Philharmonic and makes his conducting debut.

  • 1909

    Title page of Editions Russes published score for Scriabin's Prometheus

    Founds the publishing company Éditions Russes de Musique to create economic opportunities for composers.

    A related independent imprint is formed in 1914 based on the German company Gutheil which Koussevitzky purchases. Headquarters move to Paris in 1920. Firm is sold to Boosey & Hawkes on March 1, 1947.

  • 1910, 1912, 1914

    Pen and ink drawing of a steamship on the river entitled The Boat of the Third Volga Tour in 1914 by Robert Sterl

    Takes an orchestra by riverboat to towns along the Volga River.

  • 1917-1920

    A reddish brown baton with flame engraved metal tips and band inscribed with Serge Alexandrovich Koussevitzky in Cyrillic

    After the Russian Revolution, Koussevitzky accepts a position as conductor of the newly named State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd.

  • 1920

    Leaves Soviet Russia for Europe.

  • 1921-1928

    Organizes and conducts the Concerts Koussevitzky series in Paris.

    After his appointment to the BSO in 1924, he would return to Paris to continue the series in between duties in Boston. The concert series focuses on contemporary music.

    View dossier on the Koussevitzky concerts in Paris (1921-1928)
  • 1924

    Appointment as the BSO's ninth conductor.

    The first season is full of new music previously performed in Paris.

  • 1925

    France awards him “the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.”

  • 1926

    Newspaper article covering the first broadcast of the BSO in January 1926

    Conducts the BSO in the orchestra's second ever radio broadcast.

    The BSO's first ever radio broadcast was conducted by guest conductor Eugene Goossens on January 23, 1926.

  • 1926

    Brown University awards him an honorary doctorate; thereafter he is referred to as Dr. Koussevitzky.

  • March 1927

    Scrapbook page with newspaper clipping with several photos and artistic renderings depicting Koussevitzky, the orchestra in Symphony Hall, Beethoven, and soloist headshots

    Organizes a week long festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of Beethoven's death.

  • 1927-28

    Harvard awards Koussevitzky an honorary doctorate degree.

  • 1928

    Victor Talking Machine 78 rpm recording of Stravinsky's Petrouchka from 1928

    Conducts the BSO in the orchestra's first electrical recording.

  • 1929-1931

    First and last page of draft manuscript for Prokofiev's Symphony No. 4

    Draft manuscript score for Prokofiev's Symphony No. 4

    Organizes and conducts premieres of commissions for the BSO's 50th anniversary.

    This marks the first time the orchestra has ever commissioned new works.

  • 1936

    Conducts first BSO concert in the Berkshires.

  • 1939

    The Koussevitzkys purchase the Buckingham Estate in Lenox, Mass as their permanent home in the Berkshires.

    The two name the estate Seranak, an anagram for Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky.

  • 1939

    Program book cover and two program pages for the two-day festival celebrating music by American composers

    Organizes a festival to celebrate American Composers.

  • 1940

    Several students holding instrument cases and wearing vintage attire walk across the Tanglewood lawn with the Music Shed in the background.

    A group of Tanglewood Music Center students walk across the Tanglewood lawn, 1940. Photographer unknown.

    Founds the Tanglewood Music Center.

  • 1941

    Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky become U.S. citizens.

  • 1942

    The Boston Symphony Orchestra is unionized.

  • 1942

    Catalog cover for the Koussevitzky Music Foundation with a profile view of Koussevitzky conducting and an elaborately designed medallion

    Cover for the catalog of works commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation

    Founds the Koussevitzky Music Foundation to commission new works, in memory of his wife Natalie.

    Natalie Koussevitzky died on January 11, 1942.

    Learn More About the Koussevitzky Music Foundation
  • 1944

    Dinner card and program for the American Composers Testimonial Dinner tied with a cord and tassel

    American composers honor Koussevitzky with a dinner to thank him for his dedication in promoting American works.

  • 1947

    Becomes the first BSO conductor to be given the title Music Director.

  • 1947

    Sketch by Olga Naumova Koussevitzky: self-portrait

    Marries Olga Naumova.

  • 1949

    Retires from post as BSO Music Director.

  • 1950

    A group of laughing and smiling people (mostly men) in suits siting on benches and on the grass at Tanglewood

    TMC Faculty, with Aaron Copland, Serge Koussevitzky, and Eleazar de Carvalho in the center, ca. 1950. Photograph by Howard S. Babbitt

    Serves as Tanglewood’s Music Director, and conducts his last concert at Tanglewood on August 13, 1950.

  • June 4, 1951

    Page from the first program book of the 1951-1952 season commemorating Koussevitzky's legacy

    Dies in Boston.

Learn More About Koussevitzky's Impact