Pride Of Ownership

Mike Cochrane sent us these thoughts about the Khachaturian violin concerto on the program in preparation for our concerts this weekend, October 29th and 30th, performed by Kevin Chen.

Khachaturian in the 1930’s

Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor was completed in 1940, dedicated to David Oistrakh, and first performed in September 1940. It is worth noting that while the rest of the world was preparing for the nightmare of World War II, the Soviet Union and  Nazi Germany were conspiring allies. This concerto displays none of the intense patriotism that flowed from the pen of Dmitri Shostakovich just a few short years later.

First Movement: Allegro con fermezza. The movement is in Sonata form, although hardly Mozartian or Haydnesque. Slavic folk song melodies abound.  Khachaturian’s birthplace was Armenia, so perhaps his ear remembered some country dances from his teenage years.

Second Movement:
Andante sostenuto.  This movement is notable for its variety of moods and highly expressive solo passages in dialogue with the orchestra. An impressive dialogue between violin and clarinet appears and a soft yet intense conversation transpires.

Third Movement:  Allegro.  A fanfare commences the movement. A Rondo follows based on the second theme from the first movement.  This is another Slavic country dance with rhythmic challenges that keeps the orchestra on its toes. There’s a need to drive the music forward….whatever happens we mustn’t  D..R…A….G..!!

When Khachaturian dedicated the Concerto to David Oistrakh there must have been some camaraderie between them. They were both born and raised in the “Soviet Empire” ….Aram in Armenia, David in the Ukraine, so perhaps there was some antipathy, even in the music itself, towards the Russian masters. This antipathy may well be demonstrated in the following anecdote. It has often been assumed that Oistrakh was a proud owner of as many as 12 Stradivari violins. One would assume that he would treat his violins with tender loving care.

Norman Nelson has the following story:

During an intermission of a rehearsal of a violin concerto, probably Shostakovich, the great man left the violin, probably one of the state-owned Strads, and went off for a coffee with the conductor. Of course, we violinists swarmed around the violin, and the point of the story was that the poor thing was smothered with a thick crust of rosin from the bow hairs, obviously lacking the slightest sign of any loving care by its custodian. Oistrakh. If he had owned it, I can’t imagine him leaving it unattended in the hall, never mind looking like a buskers instrument lying in an open case along with a few coins, unloved and deserted, as it were.  

A few short years later the Soviet Union itself, just like an old rosin-crusted violin, was abandoned in its shabby case, without any accompanying coins, on a lonely pavement.


Khachaturian in 1964