Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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Nicolas Kedroff-Senior

Nicolas Kedroff Senior

Photo famille Kedroff

Nicolas N. Kedroff senior was born in St-Petersburg on October 23, 1871. Elder son of a priest, he chose a musical career. His father, Archpriest Nicolas Kedroff, from a line of priests, was rector of the Imperial Church of Strelna dedicated to the Transfiguration in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, where he knew the saint John of Kronstadt, who was the first cousin of his wife. In 1897, N. Kedroff senior graduated from the choir direction class of the Imperial Chapel; he also sang at the Moscow Private Opera and completed his studies at the Imperial Conservatory, with a diploma of lyrical art. He also followed the courses of the great master and composer N. Rimsky-Korsakov, and, taught at the Imperial Conservatory with his wife.

In 1897, Nicolas Kedroff founded the Saint-Petersburg Vocal Quartet. The first prestigious concert was given in the spring of the following year in the small concert hall of the Conservatory, in presence of César Cui. The Quartet's repertoire consisted of operatic arias, romances and popular songs. At that time, thanks to T. Philippov member of State Control, a reception was given at the Winter Palace in honor of the Quartet, followed by a tour of Russia with resounding success. The press celebrated the debut of the First Russian Vocal Quartet.

In 1908, the Quartet made its first tours abroad: Paris, then London. From then on, the European tours would be repeated every year until 1915. In 1911, Konstantin N. Kedroff, brother of Nicolas, joined the Quartet. During this period, Fyodor Ivanovitch Chaliapin accompanied the Quartet's tours and recorded with it a disc of popular songs. Chaliapin, referring to the qualities of the Ensemble, calls it a "miracle of vocal art". In 1917, in the turmoil of the First World War, the civil war broke out in Russia. The Quartet then put an end to its activities. The memoirs of Kedroff-Sr tell us: "In September of the year 1922, my wife and my youngest daughter were able to leave for Berlin, and in April 1923, with my two eldest children, I also left my homeland".

N. Kedroff stayed a few months in Germany before moving to Paris. During this period he was able to reconstruct many of his compositions and harmonizations which were destroyed along with his library in St. Petersburg. It should be mentioned that several renowned composers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Gretchaninov, Cui or Nicolas Tcherepnin wrote for the Quartet. César Cui dedicated to him his opus 98 comprising nine vocal quartets, S. Liapounoff, his “Legend on Tsar Ivan the Terrible” as well as “five quartets on popular themes for equal voices (opus 48)”. By this time, writes Kedroff, “my associates had taken steps in St Petersburg and Moscow to obtain a authorization to leave the country with the intention of joining me. The Quartet was then composed of Ivan Kouzmitch Denisoff (1st tenor), T. F. Kazakoff (2nd tenor), Nicolas Nikolaevitch Kedroff (baritone), Konstantin Nikolaevitch Kedroff (bass).

The Quartet then gave a concert in Berlin, described by N.N. Kedroff himself: “The audience had gathered very large. The Quartet's arrival was greeted with long, uninterrupted applause, and it was felt that the sympathy enjoyed by the old quartet had carried over to the new one. We, frozen with emotion, being unable to begin for a long time, responding with repeated greetings to such an enthusiastic welcome. Finally, the concert began. At the first melodic accents of the song known to every Russian "Along Mother Volga", we felt, overwhelmed, that the emotion caused by the inflections of such a familiar song was transformed into a swarm of memories of an infinite extent, and that this emotion echoed in the soul of every Russian who came to witness our first debuts abroad. You could see how, in various parts of the Beethoven Hall, white handkerchiefs were appearing, wiping away tears of joy and sadness at the same time. Our emotion, as well as that of our compatriots, also contaminated the Germans who came in large numbers to this first Russian concert of the season.

Concert tours continued in France and Europe. It was then that the religious repertoire appeared in the Quartet's programs. It would seem that the past trials inspired N. Kedroff a new mission: the spiritual testimony of the Orthodox Faith to which he was strongly attached. This new direction was manifested not only through the concerts but also in his compositions and harmonizations, a great number of which have come down to us. Among these is the famous "Our Father" which he wrote in Petrograd in 1921, shortly before his departure. The beauty and simplicity of this chant places it among the masterpieces of the liturgical heritage of the Russian emigration.

In 1927, the Quartet celebrated its 30th anniversary in Paris, before touring the United States for the first time. The Quartet's overseas trips were an unparalleled success. Decades later, musical circles remember them vividly, not to mention the imprint the Quartet left on local Russian emigration. In Paris, the Quartet regularly gave charity concerts to help the various emigration organizations, often very poor at the time, including the Saint Serge Institut.

Hymn to the Mother of God