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Laurie Niles

Finally: Music for the Shostakovich Violin Concerto

June 27, 2011 at 5:20 PM

A few weeks ago I was helping my daughter track down books for a research project, and after visiting every library in our little neck of Los Angeles, we concluded that all the books she needed were in the next suburb over, at the Brand Library in Glendale.

Secretly, I'd been wanting to go to the Brand Library for about 10 years. Though her research was not about music, the Brand has one of the biggest public music libraries around. Whenever someone can't find a piece of music, musician-types advise, "Have you checked the Brand?"

Well, I never had, and here was my chance. So we hopped on the highway.

It's a gorgeous place, nestled high on a hill in a mansion called "El Miradero," where Leslie C. Brand and his wife once lived. They willed their home to the city of Glendale, which made it into a library in 1956. It's surrounded by a beautiful park where kids were playing soccer on the Saturday when we drove up the palm-lined driveway. Between my daughter's love of libraries and my love of music, we were ready to move in.

When we finally arrived in the room with all the music, I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I wanted to look at sheet music, but I have a pretty full music library. What is it that I've always wanted, that I haven't been able to find, in all my years of looking?

Of course: the Shostakovich Violin Concerto (Op. 77). For years, it was literally impossible to get this music, and in more recent years, it's been simply difficult and crazy expensive. Finally, it is possible to procure the music through Sheet Music Plus for $53, which, as high as that price is, it's lower than the price tag I've seen on this music over the years.

So yes, it's possible now to get this music online, but I remain affected by the long search. The Violin Concerto, to begin with, was kept under wraps by Shostakovich himself, who wrote it in the late 1940s, at a time when the Soviet government was breathing down his neck. He finally published it after the death of Stalin in 1953, then David Oistrakh premiered it in 1955.

I'm old enough to remember the Cold War, when culture, communication and travel between Here and There seemed completely walled off. Holding this music in my hands, I could imagine some KGB agent looking over my shoulder, "Where deed you get thees?"

I don't know why this music has remained somewhat difficult to obtain; members have reported not being able to fill an order for it, even when it was supposedly available, and it's always been available only at a high price.

So I've been playing through Shostakovich's violin concerto, thrilled with finally being able to make this music happen under my own chin. It is so haunting, so beautiful, so much a part of its time and place.

I might actually have to give the music back to the library at some point!

Here is a performance by violinist David Oistrakh in Berlin. 

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 28, 2011 at 2:17 AM

I adore this piece.  King David owns this piece.

I bought this sheet music last summer at Performer's (Chicago) for $53.00.  It is fun to hack through. 


As for $53.00 for music, let us do some math:

I've owned this music for about 365 days.  That comes to 15 cents a day, not including the tax write-off I took.  And that's just for one year.  Barring fire or carelessness, this music will last longer than I will, years and years.

Not so bad now?


From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 28, 2011 at 4:32 AM

 These are good calculations, Anne!

From Asher Wade
Posted on June 28, 2011 at 11:28 AM

But, surely, his music must come under the "after-the-50th-year" copyright provision which make this music part of the "public domain", yes???  Technically, one should be able to find his works at, but apparently not [yet], - or?  

As for me, though I love all his work, the oft ignored "2nd" Violin Concerto is {for me} the most hauntingly beautiful.  Years ago, I also went to my local university library and (get this!) hand copied out my favorite part; the "second" movement of this 2nd Violin Concerto - take a listen to this & then ...fall over!

From Robert Niles
Posted on June 28, 2011 at 11:40 PM

It's 95 years after publication date now. Going forward from 2002, it's 70 years after the death of the author for a work to go into public domain. (If it's a work for hire for a corporation, it's also 95 years after publication date.)

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on July 2, 2011 at 1:11 AM

Robert, those figures are for the USA, are they not?  I understand the corresponding figures for other territories throughout the world vary quite markedly.

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