Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique: A Russian Lament

In January of 1875, Tchaikovsky met the great violinist and pedagogue, Leopold Auer. Tchaikovsky, who at the time was putting the finishing touches on his First Piano Concerto, accepted Auer’s request for a piece for violin and orchestra. The result was the single-movement Sérénade mélancolique, Op. 26. Auer’s initial rejection of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto led the composer to remove the dedication to Auer from both works. The first performance of the Sérénade …

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Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Milstein, Heifetz

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major has long held a cherished position in the musical canon. Yet, the value of this popular work was not always appreciated. Following the premiere on December 4, 1881, performed by the Russian violinist Adolph Brodsky with Hans Richter leading the Vienna Philharmonic, the influential critic Eduard Hanslick wrote savagely, “Tchaikovsky is surely no ordinary talent, but rather, an inflated one…lacking discrimination and taste.” He continued, “The same …

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Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata: Oistrakh and Richter in 1969

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata, Op. 134 was completed in the autumn of 1968. The title page bears the inscription, “For the 60th birthday of David Oistrakh.” Shostakovich had attempted to commemorate the great Ukrainian violinist’s 60th birthday a year too early with the Second Violin Concerto. Oistrakh explained, Dmitri had been wanting to write a new, second concerto for me as a present for my 60th birthday. However, there was an error …

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Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata: Five Key Recordings

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47—better known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata—was first performed on May 24, 1803. 216 years ago today, Beethoven and the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) premiered this convention-shattering music at Vienna’s Augarten Theatre. Beethoven was so late in completing the manuscript that Bridgetower was forced to sightread the performance, at times looking over the composer’s shoulder at the full score. Originally, the manuscript was inscribed with the lighthearted …

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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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Tartini’s “Didone Abbandonata”

Giuseppe Tartini, the Italian Baroque composer and violinist, was born on this date in 1692. The most famous of Tartini’s over 400 works is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata” in G minor for violin, named after the composer’s alleged dream in which the devil appeared, playing the music with breathtaking virtuosity. But today, let’s explore another G minor Sonata by Tartini— the “Didone abbandonata” (“Dido the Forsaken”), written around 1731 and named after a …

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From Flute to Violin: The Evolution of Prokofiev’s D Major Sonata

During the summer of 1943, Sergei Prokofiev escaped the war-torn Eastern Front for the isolation of the Central Asian city of Alma-Ata, where he was hard at work on the sprawling film score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In the middle of this massive project, Prokofiev found himself drawn to music on the other end of the spectrum- something he described as a “sonata in a gentle, flowing classical style.” This piece was born as the Flute Sonata in …

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