Vasily Kalafati

A bit of a cataloguing conundrum, Kalafati was born in Ukraine (well, technically, on the western side of the Crimean peninsular, which was Russian-owned at the time, in February 1869, but is now de jure Ukrainian, though de facto Russian once more)! His parents, however, were of Greek extraction (his mother’s maiden name was, for instance, Chryssikopoulou). At thge age of 23, he decided to settle permanently in St. Petersburg -where he died, though it was called Leningrad at the time, during the Siege of Leningrad in 1942. He is not exactly a household name, but in his day, he was considered one of the most important musical figures in Russia -having been taught himself by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and, in his turn, going on to teach the likes of Igor Stravinsky and Alexander Scriabin. What little music of his that has been recorded sounds very much ‘High Russian 19th Century’, very much in the tradition of Rimsky-Korsakov or Mussorgsky. He is, accordingly, best thought of as a strictly Russian composer, regardless of ethnic origin or birth place.

Cataloguing him is a little tricky, because the usual Russian issues arise: for example, do we use his Patronymic (or middle) name? On this occasion, the question is made more complex because my edition of The New Grove dictionary of music and musicians contains an error at this point! They list him as Kalafati, Vasily Pavovlich: all three names in bold print, no brackets. That usually indicates ‘Patronymic is not optional’… but it is an oddly-spelled Patronymic! Pavovlich is quite awkward to say, for example, and makes one think, ‘did they mean Pavlovitch?’ which would be a lot easier to pronounce. Well, in Cyrillic, his name is Василий Павлович Калафати -and that middle name can definitely be more accurately rendered as ‘Pavlovich’. The fourth letter is an ‘l’, so the New Grove (1980 edition) can simply be declared incorrect, or containing a typo (which is unusual!)

I had a look at all his printed scores over at IMSLP, too, and none of them mention a middle name or even a middle initial, on their title pages -which makes me think that, however it’s spelled, the Patronymic is essentially optional in his case.

There are also the usual transliteration questions: should we spell his first name ‘Vasily’ or ‘Vassilly’ or ‘Vasili’ and so on, for example? Well, the New Grove renders it as ‘Vasily’; so does Naxos, for whatever that is worth! IMSLP gives multiple possible renditions -but catalogues him as plain ‘Vasily’, too. So: Vasily Kalafati it is, then.


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(since January 9th 2021)

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