Aram Khachaturian. Violin Concerto
“I wrote the music as if on the crest of some wave of happiness,
in a state of utter joy. And then I was expecting the birth of my son.
And that sensation of inspiration, of praising life, flowed into the music.”
Khachaturian composed the Violin Concerto in the summer of 1940 in just under two months. “Having completed the Concerto, I dedicated it to David Oistrakh,” the composer recalled, “… I remember how one musician congratulated me, saying ‘How happy you must be: you have written your Concerto, and now your son has been born.”
David Oistrakh was enchanted by his friend’s latest work and learnt it like lightning. “Very soon, in two or three days,” Khachaturian continued, “Oistrakh came to me at the House of Art in Staraya Ruza to perform the Concerto... My little cottage was full to bursting... And I and everyone else present were staggered by the firework that was Oistrakh’s performance. He performed the Concerto as if he had learnt it over the course of many months, as he subsequently went on to play it at the great venues.”
The picturesque beauty, vivid national flavour, festive optimism and virtuoso effervescence of the Concerto’s music also immediately enchanted professional musicians and the wider audience in general.
The premiere of the Violin Concerto came on 16 November 1940. The State Orchestra of the USSR was conducted by Alexander Gauk. Soon Oistrakh and Gauk presented the Concerto in Leningrad (24 December 1940), after which it came to be performed in Yerevan, Tbilisi, Kiev and Odessa. Abroad, Oistrakh’s recording of the Concerto won huge acclaim. The Concerto has since appeared in the repertoires of the world’s great violinists.
Frantz Liszt. Symphony to Dante’s La divina commedia (1856)
Quite often paintings, architecture and works of literature provided the sources of Frantz Liszt’s inspiration, who had a subtle feel for the close links between various art forms. The visual and verbal images instantly conjured up musical associations for the composer: while he was travelling in Italy, Liszt compared the Coliseum with Beethoven’s symphony Eroica and expressed the hope that the great Dante’s brilliant La divina commedia would also make an echo “in the music of some Beethoven of the future.” This echo was to come with the maestro’s own work: the piano fantasia quasi sonata Après une Lecture de Dante, a vast symphony completed almost twenty years later.
Liszt’s initial idea was to retain the three-part structure of the original text corresponding to the three “locations” of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. But Richard Wagner – the composer’s future son-in-law – noted that it was absurd and sinful for a mere mortal to try to “express the inexpressible” in an attempt to portray in music the joys of heavenly life that are inaccessible to humankind. Having heard his opinion, Liszt made cuts to the final section. One may judge how important Dante’s text was for Liszt by an addition to the score’s manuscript: Dante’s poetic lines are invariably accompanied by the symphony’s purely instrumental sections, latently present in the orchestral fabric, and they come to the surface with the introduction of female voices in the closing chorale.