Bortkiewicz’s last year (1952)

On 26 February 1952 the Bortkiewicz Gemeinde along with the RAVAG Orchestra celebrated the 75th birthday of the composer during a concert in the Musikverein in Vienna. Bortkiewicz conducted the orchestra.

Felicitas Karrer

Felicitas Karrer

Felicitas Karrer played his Piano Concerto no. 1 opus 16, while the violonist Jaro Schmied (1906-2006) played his Des Frühlings und des Pans Erwachen – ein lyrisches intermezzo nach Gemälden von Sandro Botticelli opus 44 for Violin and Orchestra.

          Jaro Schmied

          Jaro Schmied

The concert was concluded with his Symphony no. 1 opus 52 “Aus meiner Heimat”. This was to be his last great concert and the excitement of the event was illustrated in a letter from 18 March 1952 the composer wrote to Hugo van Dalen: “The concert itself was a great, glittering success with the public and the press (in agreement!). My soloists were first class, the orchestra played with spirit and joy, and I, as was written and said, conducted like a 25 year old. It was really a verry succesful and happy evening. […] Finally I had the opportunity to show, in a large hall with a large orchestra and soloists, what I can do. Not only the critics, but others who know me, were surprised and amazed. If I had a rich Maecenas and manager, to arrange such concerts in large cities, followed by a second one, things would be different for me. […] I can imagine what a success I could have if I were to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Holland. I can always feel happy to have found so much recognition at the age of 75 years, which, really, comes in most cases after death of someone who really earned it.”

Sergei Bortkiewicz (1950)

Sergei Bortkiewicz (1950)

The last year of Bortkiewicz was described by Dr. Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven during a memorial speech on 10 November 1952: “Early in the year [1952] he began to feel ill, but nonetheless appeared in the last Bortkiewicz recitals as accompanist or soloist, during which one noticed distinct signs of his failing strenght and his otherwise so amazing temperament. In the summer of that year he visited the Kurort at Villach, but had to cut off his stay there early due to his stomach ailment, and also could not travel to Reichenhall to attend a performance of his Piano Concerto no. 2 opus 28 for the left hand only by the one-armed pianist Siegfried Rapp, though he very much wanted to do so. On 4 October 1952 we were guests of our friends, the family of Oberbaurat Anton Schubert. Bortkiewicz was also there and accompanied in some of his songs the singer Elisabeth Schubert-Tscharré, who had already sung his songs on Radio Graz. He had also received permission from his physician Dr. Walter Zdrahal, who was also present, to break his recommended diet so that he could enjoy the abundant culinary delicacies. There was some talk of that he would go to the hospital for a check-up, although his relatively good condition did not seem to indicate any danger. […] On 16 October 1952 an examination of the composer was begun in the Urological Department of the General Hospital. I visited him on 17 October 1952 in Room 55, where he lay along with other patients in a small hall. He was out of bed and came with me to the foyer to smoke, complained a lot about the acute pain which the catheter caused and expressed the wish to be able to go home. During my next visit I found he had changed much. He lay in the bed, tossed around in frightful pain and wanted a quick operation so as to be free of these pains. The operation took place on 23 October 1952, apparently produced some relief but also great weakness. My wife found him exhausted on Friday, and it was difficult to understand his words; on Saturday afternoon (25 October 1952) I had the impression that he was doing better. I spoke about our next recital and asked for the score of the melodrama, to which he replied quite clearly that they lay on the grand piano, where they actually were. Full of hope for further improvement, I left him and even miss Schuster and mrs. von Grüber found him relatively better in the afternoon. And yet it was a deception, because that same evening he died as the result of a thrombosis. At 21.45h he was released from his suffering, from a difficult life […].”

Sergei Bortkiewicz was buried on 4 November 1952 at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna. Elisabeth Bortkiewicz-Geraklitowa died eight years later on 9 March 1960 in Vienna.

Grave of Sergei and Elisabeth Bortkiewicz in Vienna

Grave of Sergei and Elisabeth Bortkiewicz at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna

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