Violin Concerto No. 2
Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. State Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonia. Conductor K.Kondrashin. Soloist D. Oistrakh. Premiere abroad: November 19, 1967 in London. Conductor. E. Ormandy. Soloist D. Oistrakh. January 11, 1968. New York. Conductor L. Bernstein. Soloist D. Oistrakh.
1970. Score, “Sovietskii kompozitor” Publishers, Moscow.
The hand-written score is in the archive of the composer’s family.
Dedication: “To David Fyodorovich Oistrakh”.
“Shostakovich had the idea of making me a gift and writing a new, second concerto to coincide with my sixtieth birthday. He was a year out though. The concerto was ready by my fifty-ninth birthday.”
Violin Concerto No. 2
Shostakovich composed his Second Violin Concerto as a gift for David Oistrakh on his birthday. ‘Dmitri Dmitriyevich decided to give me a present and wrote his new Second Concerto for my 60th birthday,’ recalled Oistrakh. ‘But he was a year off. The Concerto was ready for my 59th birthday.’
The composer and violinist became acquainted in 1935 and their relationship quickly blossomed into creative cooperation and friendship. Making music together was one of the highlights of their relationship.
Shostakovich often spoke directly of the effect Oistrakh’s performing skills and his artistic individuality had on his creative work: ‘David’s extraordinary musicianship, the beauty of his sounds, and his magnificent technique could not, of course, pass me by unnoticed, and I was apparently able to reflect all of this in my violin compositions, particularly since I wrote them with the very thought in mind that David would be the first to perform them.’
Oistrakh was a fervent admirer and active propagandist of Shostakovich’s creative work, calling him ‘one of the greatest composers of the 20th century’. When Shostakovich’s creative work gave rise to pointed remarks from critics, Oistrakh, using his immense artistic authority and independence from the composer-music expert circles, produced articles on the composer’s new works.
In the final paragraph of the article on the composer’s 60th birthday, Oistrakh wrote: ‘I will not hide the fact that I personally, as well as all my violinist colleagues throughout the world, am expecting a new contribution from Dmitri Dmitriyevich, the Second Violin Concerto, or ‘at least’ a violin sonata! This will bring all of us, all true friends of music, immense joy. We are anxiously waiting and hoping that we can soon enjoy hearing this gift.’
It might be thought that the idea of a new violin concerto was to a certain extent inspired by this fervent request from Shostakovich’s musician friend, which sounded almost like a congratulatory anniversary toast.
Composition of the Concerto probably began at the end of the winter or at the beginning of the spring of 1967. Apparently, things did not flow too easily in the beginning. The composer mentioned this in particular in a letter of 8 April to Isaak Glikman, when he told his friend for the first time about the new opus: ‘I am writing a Violin Concerto, very slowly, with difficulty, squeezing each note out of me one after the other.’
The author’s manuscript of a large fragment, which is evidently the preliminary version of the beginning of the first movement of the Concerto, has survived: 136 bars of a score for a triple orchestra in the fis-moll key, with solo violin which does not enter until bar 105.
the fis-moll key, with solo violin which does not enter until bar 105.
There are some clear associations with this first sketch in the final version, but the composer arrived at entirely different solutions with respect to certain elements: he chose a different key, dramatically reduced the number of orchestral instruments, and began the Concerto not with a flamboyant orchestral overture, but with a solo violin that enters as early as the third bar. This latter element was apparently conceptually important. When talking about the Concerto not long before its premiere, Shostakovich made special note of the fact that, in contrast to the First Violin Concerto, this composition ‘is almost entirely performed by a solo violin, everything is concentrated in its part, while the orchestra just seems to play along.’
Evidently work on the composition took an abrupt turn for the better in mid-April. On 21 April, two weeks after the cited letter to Glikman, the complete rough draft of the first movement of the Concerto was finished.
The rest of the Concerto was written at Shostakovich’s usual rapid pace.
On 6 May, the composer arrived in Repino, where he continued to work. On 18 May, the Concerto was entirely finished and the composer placed this date on the last page of the score.
On 20 May, at his dacha in Zhukovka near Moscow, Shostakovich told Oistrakh about the Concerto:
‘I have finished the new Violin Concerto. I wrote it with you in mind. I phoned you many times, but no one answered.
‘When you return home, please phone me (my phone numbers are B-9-95-29 or AD 8-66-40). I really want to show you the Concerto, although it will be extremely difficult for me.
‘I will be extremely happy if you have no objections to the Concerto. And if you play it, my happiness will know no bounds.
‘If you don’t object, I would very much like to dedicate the Concerto to you.
‘With great respect. Please phone me.’
The meeting with Oistrakh apparently took place at the end of May. Composer Mieczysław Weinberg, who helped Shostakovich play the Concerto, was also present. ‘Along with the author, we showed Oistrakh the Second Violin Concerto,’ he recalled, ‘I played the part of the solo violin on the piano, and Dmitri Dmitriyevich performed the orchestra’s part.’
On 26 September 1967, the official premiere of the Concerto was held in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Shostakovich made a note of this important event in his diary: ‘Premiere of the 2nd Violin Concerto in G.H.C.’
The premiere of the Concerto abroad was held on 19 November 1967 in London performed by David Oistrakh and the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of eugene Ormandy. Shostakovich was not present since he was in the hospital, but he listened to a broadcast of the premiere on the radio.
After the premiere in london, Oistrakh told Dmitri Dmitriyevich in a letter: ‘Your 2nd Concerto was an immense and resounding success, and I hope that you heard on the radio how rapturously the audience received it... many reviews appeared in the press, one of them, the most serious and analytical, was posted in The Times, I am sending it to you...” The matter concerned an extensive review by a popular english music critic of that time, chief observer of the London Times william Mann, published in the newspaper several days after the premiere of the Concerto.
Shostakovich’s new Violin Concerto quickly gained popularity among musicians.
The author’s manuscript of the piano score of Violin Concerto No. 2 is kept in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive.
The author’s arrangement of Violin Concerto No. 2 was first published by Sovetsky kompozitor Publishers in 1969 with the violin part in David Oistrakh’s rendition.
The second edition of the piano score was published in 1976 by Muzyka Publishers.
The third edition of the piano score was published in 1981 in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Collected Works by Muzyka Publishers in Volume 15 along with the piano score of Violin Concerto No. 1. Editor of this volume A. Nikolayev asserted that this publication was based on the edition that the author looked through. When preparing the publication, Shostakovich’s proofreading notes and the comments he made after the author’s arrangement of the Concerto was published were taken into account. The music text was collated with the author’s manuscripts.
The foreign editions of the piano score of the Concerto were published by Peters Publishers in 1970 and Hans Sikorski Publishers (edition number 2163).
- Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: Tomaszek I. Conductor: Makerras Ch. 1982 // PRAGA PRODUCTION PR 250 052, 1994
- Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic. Soloist: Oistrakh D.F. Conductor: Kondrashin K.P. 1967 // CHANT DU MONDE 278 882
- Symphony Orchestra of the Polish National Radio. Soloist: Kaler I. Conductor: Vit A. 1996 // NAXOS 8.550814, 1997
- BBC Symphony Orchestra. Soloist: Sitkovetsky D.Yu. Conductor: Davis E. 1989 // VC 7596012, 1990
- Boston Symphony Orchestra Soloist: Kremer G.M. Conductor: Ozawa S. 1992 // Deutsche Grammophon 439 890-2 G H, 1994