Martha von Sabinin (Marfa Stefanovna Sabinina, 1831–1892)

Martha Sabinin or Marfa Sabinina was born in 1831 as daughter of a Russian Orthodox priest in Copenhagen. In 1837 Stefan Sabinin was appointed as confessor to the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Weimar. Marfa had inherited her musicality of the mother and took her first piano lessons at Gustav Kellner and Ulrike Wolf in Weimar. Since 1841 she regularly attended concerts, since 1843 the performances of a singing club.

Her piano teacher was now the organist Johann Gottlob Zöpfer who also taught her music theory. From 28 May to 10 July 1850 Marfa Sabinina took piano lessons with Clara Schumann in Leipzig and from November 1850 to March 1851 in Düsseldorf. There she also sang in the Schumann-led choir, played the first time in a public concert (on 6 February 1851 Clara Schumann's students Martha Sabinin, Nanette Falk and Caroline Dupré performed one of Bach's Concerto for three pianos), took singing lessons with Sophie Schloß and theory lessons with Julius Tausch. After that she returned to Weimar, where she formed a singing quartet in fall of 1851, which resulted in her private choir.

From 1853 to 1860 she was taught by Franz Liszt. Liszt played duets with her​, let her lead his correspondence from time to time, spoke with her about his compositions and passed her some of his students. When she began to compose in the second half of the 1850s, the master reviewed her works before they were sent to a publisher. In 1853 Marfa Sabinina was appointed court pianist of Grand Duchess Sophie, and in 1854 the Grand Duchess offered her a position as music teacher at the Sophia monastic school. At the end of 1855, she went on her first concert tour to Russia. 1860 she was appointed to St. Petersburg and became the music teacher of Princess Maria Alexandrovna. This meant the end of a concert career, for which she had prepared over the years.

Marfa Sabinina stayed employed at the Russian imperial court until 1868. From 1866 to1868 she was involved in the founding of the Russian section of the Red Cross, and after her engagement at court expired, she moved with a friend to the Crimea. There she devoted herself to charitable and pastoral activities. After the murder of her mother and her four sisters in 1892, she retired and died after long disease in December 1892.

About her meeting with Robert and Clara Schumann, Marfa Sabinina left interesting notes that were first published in German by Lossewa Olga in 1997. (OL: Marfa Sabinina und ihre Erinnerungen an Clara und Robert Schumann. In: Schumann Studien. Sinzig 1997, p. 195. -224; the biographical information are taken from this essay).

(J.M.N., translated by Katharina Ma)

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