Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978

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Beginning in 1934, Lincoln Kirstein put efforts towards producing a ballet entitled Tom, inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's cabin. Kirstein first commisioned a libretto from poet E.E. Cummings and music from Virgil Thompson. These initial efforts, however, were rejected by choreographer George Balanchine. The following year, Kirstein comissioned set and costume designs from Ben Shahn and a new score from Nicolas Nabokov, working with both artists, as well as Balanchine, to write a more suitable libretto. Despite significant work, however, the ballet Tom was never realized.

From the description of Libretto and score for unproduced ballet Tom. [193-?]- (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 776713303

Russian born composer, organizer of music festivals; Secretary General of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

From the description of Nicolas Nabokov Papers, 1907, 1950-1978. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122419095

The text is in Greek and Latin, from early Christian sources. Commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra. Composed 1956. First performance Louisville, Kentucky, 15 February 1956, Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney conductor, William Pickett baritone soloist.--Cf. Fleisher Collection.

From the description of Symboli Chrestiani : per baritono e orchestro sinfonico, 1955-1956 / Nicolas Nabokov. [19--] (Franklin & Marshall College). WorldCat record id: 53031673

A self described cosmopolitan, Nicolas Nabokov (cousin to novelist Vladimir Nabokov) was born April 4/17, 1903 (Gregorian/Julian), to a family of landed Russian gentry in the town of Lubcza near Minsk. Nabokov's parents divorced while he was still an infant, but this did not prevent the family from enjoying a life of privilege. Nabokov was well educated from an early age by private tutors (he was fluent in at least four languages), but did not show a strong interest in music until age 11. Fleeing the Bolshevik revolution, Nabokov moved to the Crimea with his family in 1918 and there received his first formal instruction in music composition from Vladimir Rebikov. In 1919, the family left Russia and Nabokov continued his music studies in Stuttgart and Berlin. In 1923, he joined the growing community of Russian émigrés in Paris and over the next three years attained the equivalence of a Bachelors and then a Masters degree from the Sorbonne.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nabokov taught private lessons in music, language, and literature in Paris and Berlin. During this period he began to expand his many professional and personal friendships. Nabokov recounts these relationships in his book Igor Stravinsky (1964) and his two volumes of memoirs-- Old Friends and New Music (1951) and Bagazh (1975).

In 1928, Nabokov wrote his first major piece, the ballet-oratorio Ode, for Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes de Monte-Carlo. He wrote his first symphony, Lyrical Symphony in 1931. Two years later, at the invitation of the Barnes Foundation, he moved to the United States as a lecturer on western music. In 1934, Nabokov wrote what he called the first truly American ballet, Union Pacific, on a theme presented to him by Archibald MacLeish.

From 1936 to 1941, Nabokov headed the Music Department at Wells College in New York. He then took a position as the Director of Music at St. John's College in Maryland. He continued to write symphonies and other pieces while in these positions, and also published a number of articles and essays in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and New Republic. He became a US citizen in 1939.

In 1945, Nabokov traveled to occupied Germany as civilian cultural advisor in a series of positions with the American Military Government. He returned to the US in 1947 to teach at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. While at the Peabody he participated in seminars at several Universities, then became the Director of Music at the American Academy in Rome from 1950 to 1951.

In 1951, Nabokov became Secretary General of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), a position he held for the next 15 years. Living in Paris and New York, Nabokov gained widespread acclaim for planning and organizing numerous international conferences on politics, science, and the arts. His series of music festivals: Masterpieces of the XXth Century (Paris, 1952); Music in our Time (Rome, 1954); Eastern and Western Musical Traditions (Venice, 1956); East-West Music Encounter (Tokyo, 1961); and European and Indian Music Traditions (New Delhi, 1963), were some of the largest and most important music events of the time.

Nabokov continued to compose his own music while heading the CCF, scoring Stephen Spender's libretto for the opera Rasputin's End in 1958 and writing Don Quixote for the New York City Ballet in 1966. He also directed three annual arts festivals in West Berlin from 1964 to 1966.

When the CCF ceased functions in 1967 after revelations of secret CIA funding (of which Nabokov denied any knowledge or influence) he took a series of lecturer positions at Princeton, the City University of New York, and the State University of New York at Old Westbury. In 1970, he became resident composer at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Colorado. In 1971, he composed the opera Love's Labour's Lost, to a libretto by W. H. Auden based on Shakespeare's play. After leaving the Aspen Institute in 1973 he continued to lecture and write.

Nabokov was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters, the French Society of Composers, and Commander of the Grand Cross of Merit of the German Federal Republic. At the time of his death, on April 6, 1978, of a heart attack following surgery, he was working on a third volume of memoirs. He was survived by his fourth wife, Dominique, whom he married in 1970, and three sons from previous marriages--Ivan, Alexander, and Peter.

From the guide to the Nicolas Nabokov Papers TXRC98-A21., 1907, 1950-1978, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Cox, Christopher, 1949-1990. Christopher Cox papers, 1927-1990 (bulk 1966-1990). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Josselson, Michael. Michael Josselson Papers, 1914-1991 (bulk 1960-1978). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Nicolas Nabokov Papers, 1907, 1950-1978. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Sonata N. 2 / Nicolas Nabokoff. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. The last flower : a parable in music based on a story in pictures and words by James Thurber : for symphony orchestra / Nicolas Nabokov. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Ormandy, Eugene, 1899-1985. Variations on Happy birthday. : Eugene Ormandy The Academy of Music, 113th anniversary concert and ball, January 24, 1970. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Kallman, Chester, 1921-1975. Chester Kallman collection of papers, 1937-1972. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Job : oratorio / Nicolas Nabokoff. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Le [cœur] de Don Quichotte : suite de 5 pièces pour piano / Nicolas Nabokoff. Yale University Library
referencedIn The Virgil Thomson Papers, 1804-1990 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989. The Virgil Thomson papers, 1804-1990 (inclusive). Yale University, Music Library
referencedIn Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-1990. Leonard Bernstein collection : Part I, circa 1900-1994 (bulk 1933-1990). Library of Congress
referencedIn Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. Papers of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1921-1980 (bulk 1947-1967). Library of Congress
creatorOf Philadelphia Orchestra. Transcription of WFLN radio broadcast [sound recording], 1961 October 28. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh), 1907-1973. W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman Collection, 1929-1976. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Union Pacific : manuscript, [1934]. Princeton University Library
creatorOf Hardwick, Elizabeth. Papers, 1934-1991 (bulk 1960-1990). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, 1799-1980, (bulk 1947-1967) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. The wanderer : a ballet / Nicolas Nabokov ; piano. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Libretto and score for unproduced ballet Tom. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Christopher Cox papers, 1927-1990, 1966-1990 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Leonard Bernstein Collection, circa 1900-1994, (bulk 1933-1990) Music Division Library of Congress
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Les danses de Polichinelle : suite de danses pour orchestre symphonique / Nicholas Nabokoff. Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Concerto per pianoforte in C : ad memoriam di Franz Liszt, 1931 / Nicolas Nabokoff. SUNY at Buffalo, University at Buffalo
referencedIn Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Office of the Director. James Johnson Sweeney correspondence, 1961-1967. Hirsch Library Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
creatorOf Nicolas Nabokov Papers TXRC98-A21., 1907, 1950-1978 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Correspondence, 1937-1944. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750. Orchestersuite aus J.S. Bach's "Aria mit Dreissig Veraenderungen" = Suite for orchestra from J.S. Bach's "Air with 30 variations" / transcribed for orchestra by Nikolai Nabokov. Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Symboli Chrestiani : per baritono e orchestro sinfonico, 1955-1956 / Nicolas Nabokov. Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library
referencedIn Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989. The Virgil Thomson papers, 1804-1990 (inclusive). Yale University, Music Library
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. "The return of Pushkin" : elegy in three parts, for high voice and orchestra / by Nikolai Nabokov. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. J. Robert Oppenheimer papers, 1799-1980 (bulk 1947-1967). Library of Congress
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Correspondence with Eugene Ormandy, 1953-1979. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Koussevitzky Music Foundation. Cancelled checks paid to composers by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, 1944 June 9 -1956 January 25. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Elizabeth Fuller Chapman papers and films, 1932-1976 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Vera Zorina papers, 1910-2001 (inclusive), 1933-2001 (bulk). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Horowitz, Vladimir, 1903-1989. The papers of Vladimir and Wanda Toscanini Horowitz, 1784-1991 (inclusive). Yale University, Music Library
creatorOf Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978. Second symphony / Nicolas Nabokoff. New York Public Library System, NYPL
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Office of the Director. corporateBody
associatedWith Nabokov, Dominique. person
associatedWith Nabokov family family
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associatedWith Nabokov, Peter person
associatedWith Nabokov, Peter. person
associatedWith Nabokov, Vladimirovich, 1899-1977 person
associatedWith Nestler, Peter, 1937- person
associatedWith Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967 person
associatedWith Ormandy, Eugene, 1899-1985 person
associatedWith Pablo, Luis de person
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associatedWith Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich, 1799-1837. person
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associatedWith Robin, Jean person
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associatedWith Schlesinger, Authur Meier, 1917- person
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associatedWith Spender, Stephen, 1909- person
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associatedWith Stajanovic, Josip. person
associatedWith St. Aubyn, Frederic C. (Frederic Chase), 1921- person
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associatedWith Stone, Shepard. person
associatedWith Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896. person
associatedWith Stravinsky, Ivan, 1882-1971 person
associatedWith Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, 1901- person
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Concertos (Piano)--2 piano scores
Don Quixote (Fictitious character)--Songs and music
Orchestral music--Scores
Congress for Cultural Freedom
Sonatas (piano)
Music--Manuscripts--Facsimiles
Symphonies--Scores
Oratorios--Excerpts--Vocal scores with piano
Ballets--Scores
Suites (Orchestra)--Scores and parts
Songs (Medium voice) with orchestra--Scores and parts
Music--Twentieth century
Suites (Piano)
Ballets--Piano scores
Music--Manuscripts
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1903-04-17

Death 1978-04-06

Americans

Japanese,

German,

Russian,

French,

Italian,

English

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