Biography of Simeon Bellison

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Posted by Dan Leeson, 27 Jan 1996.

As many of you probably know, I have been slowly donating the entire contents of my clarinet library to the Univ. of Maryland's clarinet collection. In order to do that, I have had to deal with each work in terms of describing it, estimating its cost, etc. Thus, I have to go through every work with some care.

Today, while prepare a shipment, I was pleased to see a work that I had completely forgotten I owned.It is a clarinet quartet of Mozart arranged by Simeon Bellison for 2 B-flats, basset horn, and bass clarinet. I think the arrangement dates from much earlier than the publication date of 1954 by G. Ricordi and sons, but this is speculation on my part. I don't remember what the quartet cost when I bought it, but the cover price determined at the time of publication ws $2.50.

Makes one grit their teeth, eh?

Anyway, in the back of the edition, and written by Bellison himself, there was a very fine and authentic biographyof the great man, one who I had the pleasure of hearing when I was a kid. He used to give one recital a year in New York and I always went.

I know that many biographies of the man exist but this one was done by himself and has an interesting insight that the other might have missed. For example, I did not know that Bellison had a fiction novel published!

Here is the biography. The reference to the music arranged by Bellison for his Clarinet Ensemble is particularly interesting because it is all in Israel where it was donated by his wife and his death.

Simeon Bellison, clarinet virtuoso, was born in Moscow on Sept. 4, 1881. He showed musical talent at an early age and began studying the clarinet at nine with his father. A year later, he played in the Voluntary Fireman's Band, which his father conducted, and in several military bands. At eleven, he was heard by the late Wassily Safonoff, former conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, who was then director of the Imperial Conservatory in Moscow. Safonoff placed the young musician in the clarinet class of Prof. Joseph Friedrich. Seven years later, Mr. Bellison was graduate with honors and a degree of Bachelor of Music which is the highest degree obtainable for music in his native country. He began teaching the clarinet in some of the leading schools in Moscow and became first clarinetist of the opera and symphony orchestras there. For the thirteen years of this period he took part in the presentation of many operas, operettas and ballets.

In 1908 Mr. Bellison toured northern Europe with a chamber music organization. In 1915, he won the coveted post of first clarinetist in the orchestra of the St. Petersburg Imperial Opera, which was the goal of every orchestra musician in Russia.

In 1902 Mr. Bellison organized the Moscow Quintet and gave a series of concerts throughout Russia, Poland and Latvia. In 1918 when musical activities were at a standstill in Russia, he organized a second ensemble in St. Petersburg. He named the group "Zimro," and under the flag of the Russian Zionist Organization, started a pilgrimage throughout the world. During its three years of activity, the ensemble played in the Urals, Altay, all the large Siberian cities, China, Japan, India, Canada, and the United States.

In 1920 Mr. Bellison was engaged as first clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, which position he held until 1948. During that time, he also was affiliated with almost every chamber music organization in the United States and Canada and played under all of the greatest conductors of this period here and in many capitols of Europe. He is perhaps the only clarinetist who has appeared as soloist on the legitimate stages of Europe, Asia, and America.

When he made his home in New York in 1920, he opened his clarinet studio, which is attended by students from every part of the United States and Europe. In 1927, with the patronage of the New York Philharmonic Society, he organized the Clarinet Ensemble of seventy- five players. He arranged, personally, a large library for this unique group.

Mr. Bellison has arranged and has had published more than 100 pieces for clarinet and piano and for various chamber music combinations. He also wrote a novel, "Jivoglot," (Eat 'em Alive), portraying the life of the poor and obscure musicians in Old Russia.

In 1948 he retired from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to give all his time to teaching, arranging music and playing chamber music concerts. His 57 years as a clarinetist include 28 years as first clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic.

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