Odessa is the fourth largest city in Ukraine, after Kiev, Kharkov, and Donetsk. Located on the northwestern coast of the Black Sea, Odessa is an important seaport, transportation hub, and a major tourist destination, the so-called “Pearl of the Black Sea.”
What today is the city of Odessa has been occupied for nearly 3000 years by a bewildering variety of peoples. The ancient Greeks, various semi-nomadic tribes, the Crimean Taters, Cossacks, and Ottoman Turks have all called the area home over the centuries. The Russian defeat of the Ottoman Turks in the Russian-Turkish War of 1787-1792 saw the region incorporated into the Russian Empire.
In 1795, the Russian authorities named the settlement Odessa after the Greek colony of Odessos which was (erroneously, as it turned out) believed to have been located in the area. With the official Russian creation of the “city” of Odessa, the population exploded, increasing 15-fold between 1795 and 1814. Much of this explosive growth was due to the region and the city’s governor, Duc de Richelieu, who served in that capacity from 1803 to 1814. A refugee from the French Revolution, he oversaw the large-scale grid design of the city (which remains to this day) and its infrastructure. Richelieu was singled out by none-other-than Mark Twain in his famous travelblog, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, which was published in 1867:
“Richelieu founded Odessa – watched over it with paternal care – labored with a fertile brain and a wise understanding for its best interests – spent his fortune freely to the same end – endowed it with a sound prosperity, and one which will yet make it one of the great cities of the Old World.”
With the explosive growth of its port (from 1819 to 1859 the city was a “free port”, meaning that goods shipped through it were exempt from customs duty), wealth and traders flooded in, creating an incredibly diverse population. That population included, in alphabetical order, Albanians, Armenians, Azeris, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars, Frenchmen, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Turks, and Ukrainians. Jews made up a significant portion of Odessa’s population, reaching a high of 37% in 1897, before persecution and pogroms drove many to migrate to Palestine or to the United States.
By the 1860s, Odessa had become Russia’s largest grain-exporting port. But Odessa became famous for exporting more than just grain: it also became famous for exporting home-grown, world-class musicians.
Perhaps it was the water.
Here are but a few of these Odessa-born musicians (in almost alphabetical order; take a deep breath . . .):
- Lev Aronovich Barenboim (1906-1985), Russian pianist and musicologist;
- Simon Barere (1896 – 2 April 1951), Russian pianist;
- Leonid Simeonovich Berladsky (1902-1988), the Russian-American musician and actor;
- Nicholas “Slug” Brodszky (1905-1958), Russian-American popular song composer; nominated five times for an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”;
- Shura Cherkassky (1909 -1995), Russian-American pianist;
- Ania Dorfmann (1899-1984); Russian-American pianist and professor at Juilliard;
- Mikhail Epelbaum (1894-1957) Russian and Yiddish language baritone;
- Oscar Borisovich Feltsman (1921-2013), Russian composer and father of the Russian-American pianist Vladimir Feltsman (born 1952);
- Mikhail Izrailevich Fichtenholz (1920-1985), Russian violinist;
- Emil Grigoryevich Gilels (1916-1985); great Russian pianist;
- Boris Goldstein (1922-1987); Russian-German violinist;
- Mikhail Emmanuilovich Goldstein (1917-1989), Russian-Israeli composer and violinist;
- Maria Grinberg (1908-1978), Russian pianist;
- Boris Kroyt (1897-1969), Russian-American violinist and violist, he was the violist of the Budapest String Quartet from 1936 until 1967, when the quartet disbanded;
- Maria Nikolaevna Kuznetsova (1880-1966), famed Russian opera singer and dancer;
- Tina Lerner (1889-1947), Russian-American pianist;
- Anna Saulowna Luboshutz (1887-1975), Russian cellist;
- Lea Luboshutz (1885-1965); Russian-American violinist, a long time faculty member at the Curtis Institute;
- Pierre Luboshutz (1891-1971), Russian-American pianist, brother of Anna and Lea (above), he taught at the New England Conservatory
- Nathan Mironovich Milstein (1904-1992); great Russian-American violinist;
- Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), Russian-British pianist;
- *Vera Nimidoff (1879-1963), Russian singer;
- Igor Davidovich Oistrakh (born 1931), Russian violinist and son of the great David Oistrakh;
- Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996), Russian-American violinist, played in the Budapest Quartet and taught at Temple University;
- *Vladimir Pachmann (1848-1933), Russian-German pianist;
- Leo Podolsky (1891-1987), Russian-American pianist and educator;
- *Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (1915-1997), great Russian pianist;
- Lazar Saminsky (1882-1959), Russian-American composer and conductor;
- *Wassily Sapellnikoff (1867-1941), Russian pianist, a close associate of Tchaikovsky, reputed to have been among Tchaikovsky’s lovers;
- Nisson Adolfovich Shkarovsky (1904-1964), Russian conductor;
- Zinovy Shulman (1904-1977), Russian-Yiddish tenor;
- Gershon-Yitskhok Leibovich Sirota (1874-1943), Jewish cantor, known as the “Jewish Caruso”;
- Yakov Izrailevich Zak (1913-1976), Russian pianist.
(Asterisks indicate musicians of non-Jewish origin.)
And finally, out of alphabetical order:
Samuil Yevgenyevich Feinberg (1890-1962), Russian pianist and composer.…
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