Shostakovich's 1st violin concerto: relative difficulty?

June 14, 2006 at 03:24 AM · For curiosity's sake, I was looking through the "Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music" syllabi for performance diplomas, when I noticed that Shostakovich's Violin Concerto (1st mvt.) was listed at the "LRSM" level. Other pieces mentioned at that level were Lalo, Khachaturian, and Mendelssohn. The pieces suggested for the (higher?) "DipABRSM" level included works like Sibelius, Prokofiev #2, and Chausson's Poeme. Does this mean that Shostakovich's concerto is considered to be a level easier than the Sibelius and other upper-echelon concertos?

I found it odd that it was mentioned alongside Khachaturian and Mendelssohn as opposed to Sibelius, etc., because I had often heard of it (Shostakovich) being one of the most difficult concertos.

Any thoughts? (especially to those who have either played the concerto or are familiar with the "Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music" standards)

Replies (43)

June 14, 2006 at 04:05 AM · Yikes! I can just imagine the poor students, in a fit of giddy ambition, jumping straight to Shosti from Mendelssohn. :)

Shostakovich is definitely among the hardest concertos in the standard repertiore. It is very long, requires incredible bow control and tone colors in the 1st and 3rd mvts and Kubelik-like left hand skill in the 2nd and 4th mvts, not to mention that massive cadenza. Add to all this the dark, philosophical character of the work that really cannot be approached by someone who has not either studied the history of the 20th century in great and painful detail, or lived through some sort of tragedy or repression themselves, and you have an incredibly difficult piece of music.

FYI I haven't played this concerto--too bloody hard, I'm still schlepping through lots of Wieniawski.

June 14, 2006 at 04:09 AM · word, maura. fo shizzle.

June 14, 2006 at 04:17 AM · Great explanation, Maura.

Thanks =)

Maybe the ABRSM should have a separate syllabus that outlines just what experiences one must live through before attempting the Shostakovich. :-P

June 14, 2006 at 04:24 AM · Greetings,


appropriate brain damage regarding Shostakovitch and Mendelssohn?



June 14, 2006 at 02:03 PM · hahaha Buri, brilliant! :)

November 21, 2006 at 09:47 PM · I just got a CD of Vengerov playing the Britten violin concerto. It has a lot of Spanish themes and apparently was Britten's statement of solidarity with the anti-Franco forces in the Spanish civil war. Date of composition was 1939. A very powerful work, and beautifully played by Vengerov.

The connection with Shosty VC1 is this: if you listen to the 3rd movement (passacaglia) of the Britten, exactly 5 minutes in on the Vengerov version is a short horn solo, to which the main theme of the Shosty passacaglia in VC1 has a very strong resemblance. I know that at a later date Shost. and Britten became friends. While I don't know when Shost. first knew Britten's VC, from the similarity I'd have to think he had known and been influenced by the Britten.

Perhaps one powerful work of musical protest influencing another.


November 21, 2006 at 11:29 PM · There's also that little rhythmic figure (a quick da-da-dub) that is all over the 4th movement of the Shostakovich. That's also the same rhythmic figure in the 2nd movement of the Prokofiev Concerto #1, and just as fast. Shostakovich had to have been influenced by the Prokofiev.


November 21, 2006 at 11:35 PM · Greetings,

thanks for that succinct commentary Maura. Right on the button.

To be honest I am not convined the rfeerences to other compoers sheds much light at all on this particular work. Personally I find the links between this cocnerto and the tenth symphony to be utterly compelling. The obvious one is the use of the DSCH theme which occurs earlier in the VC thna the symphony. Others include the overall moods of the movements, alternating introspection with near mania; the choice of movement types; the unusually marked shifting of key; the use of pulsing cello figures etc.



November 22, 2006 at 08:05 AM · Hey

I'm currently working on the Dip ABRSM and it's a great laugh. I'm doing Mozart 3, Barber, Bach Sarabande and Gigue and Simchas Torrah. But as it's my favourite violin concerto i bought the music for Shos 1 about a month ago.

The 3rd movement which is mainly what i've been playing isn't too bad, though it starts to get hairy in the cadenza. The 2nd and 4th movements are insane though, thoroughly difficult.

Also, on a slight side, i was told recently by a player that i was too young to play the shos (i'm only 16) Does anyone agree/disagree with this. I quite annoyed when told this and i would be interrested to hear others opinions.


November 22, 2006 at 08:56 AM · "Too young" actually is supposed to mean "too unexperienced in the hardships of life". To a certain degree, there might be some truth in this notion sometimes for some pieces and some players. Every player will develop a sense of growing more and more mature in his approach to music. You will have found yourself already never playing the same piece in the same manner twice.

On the other hand, remember that fat, naive twelve year-old who entered the stage in the Berlin Philharmonic to play Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, moving a whole critical audience to tears. What did he know of "hardships", having been brought up and watched over by over-protective parents and knowing little more of the "ways of the world" than classical music and literature? That same boy, only four years later, played the Elgar concerto in an incredibly mature and beautiful way.

And you needn't go as far as Menuhin. There were, and still surface again and again, young musical personalities who seem to feel their way into the music with their eyes closed, and give thoroughly valid renditions of serious works.

Maybe if you study the Shostakovich concerto op. 77/99 now, you might arrive at a good version. When, however, you take it out again *after* having read the "GULAG archipelagos" and Elizabeth Wilson's "Shostakovich remembered, *after* having worked your way through DSCH's trio and the string quartets, and having exposed yourself to full concert renditions of the symphonies nos. 4 and 10 through 15 etc. etc., you will want to play the piece different. (And, of course, you will be in your late twenties by then, because it all takes so much time :-))

Maybe that kind of "maturity" is not about hardships at all, but about knowing more possibilities than before. After all, we do learn every day, and every experience will change our perspective more or less deeply. But then, why wait playing music that appeals to us?



November 22, 2006 at 11:30 AM · Hardship is hardship. There's nothing inspiring about it. There's nothing romantic about it. Seriously, who are soloists? Most of them are basically teenage girls. They sound pretty damn profound sometimes. You just have to learn to play. That's all.

November 22, 2006 at 05:54 PM · I think this idea of having to be mature and going through hardship is nice but it doesn't really work. At the end of the day, very few of us will go through any real hardship.

Secondly, if you consider some of the people out there today as major soloists, they are able to play Shostakovich to critical acclaim, and let me tell you, some of them have the intellect of a doorknob. I think the best performances are by people who do have a superior mode of thought, but you can still get some great performances out of people who aren't really that interesting as people.

November 22, 2006 at 07:32 PM · Sure -- the "hardship" thing is straight out of the "Cliché" drawer. Some people, when saying "too young", seem to believe that you can't perform well unless you'd have taken some beating from life. That's rubbish. OF COURSE getting hurt does not inspire at all. 'nuff said.

But then, what DOES inspire is experience, and a larger horizon of what is possible, perceivable, thinkable. For the majority of us it matters if we have gone to the theatre, opera house, have read good books, know what poetry is about and how to read it, know how to watch a painting or a sculpture. It's good for the brain, it's good for the soul, and both do help us perform well.

For example, there is a story behind Chausson's "Poème", a novellette written by the Russian writer Turgenyev. Knowing it, and the circumstances behind that story (they have to do with the singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia and her family) helps a lot if you want to find a way into that piece. (It's about friendship, love, betrayal, exotic music, and, yes, a certain violin.)

To bring this back on-topic, it helps knowing why Shostakovich's 1st violin concerto was awarded two different opus numbers, and that having it performed when it was written might have cost the composer's head -- to know, after all, that under certain circumstances, music can be a matter of life or death. You listen, and play, differently knowing that.



November 22, 2006 at 08:49 PM · Spot on Friedrich, you said what I was just about to say. I don't think that to play something like the Shosti, that you necessarily have to have actually lived through the hardships that Shostakovich experienced, but you absolutely do have to know what kinds of things were going on back then and what hardships people did go through. For me at least, music makes a lot more sense and is a lot more meaningful when I see it in the context of what was going on in the time and place it was written (it also helps to know about the composer as a person).

November 22, 2006 at 10:56 PM · Greetings,

it`s good that people are pouring cold water on all the old cliches about hardship.

In one of Auer`s few interviews he did mention that aside from raw talent on e of the main criteria he uses for judging whether a student will `make it` is having had the experience of hunger.

I think the modern verison of that ties in with Jim`s observation about teenage girls being the superstars. These days most of them are either anorexic or bulimic which tends to confirm Auer`s prescient remarks about hunger,



November 23, 2006 at 01:42 AM · The problem is music transcends the requirements you're trying to place on it here. If you hear a Shosty that touches you, don't make the mistake of thinking it's necessarily coming from some deep understanding of anything at all. Personally, for some things, I also would feel the need to have something to "wrap my head around." But that's probably just my deficiency. There are probably stars out there playing who are just as deluded about this kind of thing. I'd enjoy talking to them to figure it all out more completely.

As for being cultured, educated, aware, etc., that's audience side, really. Like if a piece is programmatic, the story might help the audience enjoy it, it might help the composer create it, but it isn't necessary in order to play it.

I agree that as you mature, you're aware of more options, maybe causing you to do something differently and better later on, but that's a whole different thing. There are also tradeoffs to maturing.

P.S. Buri - I assume what Auer meant was once you've experienced hunger, you're inclined to work hard to avoid the experience again:)

November 23, 2006 at 01:41 AM · Perhaps this plays into the train of thought now in Buri's blogs. Where your mind is at when you play. Is it in "pretend" mode, in "past" mode, in order to feel? Or is it intellectualizing?

I agree that it is probably best to be thinking about the music, and the shape of the music, and how to best portray the beauty in the score. Not the composer's life, which might not have been beautiful at all.

A teacher once told me that I was getting too involved with the music. That in doing so, I was robbing the audience. A performance isn't about the player emoting. It is for the audience's benefit. We are vehicles...

That said, I do agree that one grows and matures and that it affects the interpretation and level of communication in a performance. But it isn't really what one experiences in life that matures a piece. It is the experiences with your instrument and music.

Which is why it is sometimes refreshing to hear someone young play a complicated piece (musically). Just as it is refreshing when children do things innocently.



November 23, 2006 at 08:05 AM · Very interresting,

thanks for your responses.

I have always loved this piece and so know a fair amount about the two opus numbers the DSCH theme used also in Symphony 10 etc. The anti-Stalinist view of the piece is something that interestst me greatly, thanks for puuting forward opinions.

Much appreciated

November 23, 2006 at 10:18 AM · "The problem is music transcends the requirements you're trying to place on it here ...

As for being cultured, educated, aware, etc., that's audience side, really. Like if a piece is programmatic, the story might help the audience enjoy it, it might help the composer create it, but it isn't necessary in order to play it ..."

It's true that music transcends what's "behind" it, and it's an important thing to acknowledge. Music neither "is" nor "represents" background stories or the sentiments of the composer or player. A piece of music ideally is a work of art in its own right that tells its own "story".

I do not think, however, that cultural education and experience is "audience side", and that a player might well cope without it. Knowing more about the piece than just the printed music helps in developing an interpretation. It helps you to find out what you want to communicate to your audience. Thinking that you needn't get into the piece intellectually would be, to me, ignorance.

Three examples.

1st: Claudio Arrau, the late Chilenian pianist. He never even trusted the printed music, but considered it his duty to dig out original sources, and the background stories just came up along with that.

2nd: In a piano masterclass with the eminent Russian pianist Vitaly Margulis, a 16 year-old student played Liszt's "Dante Sonata". She was d**n good, but I thought she played through the piece with little sympathy; there was a lack of appreciation of the musical moments, so too speak. First thing Margulis asked was: "Do you know what the title is about? Do you know Dante?" The girl answered, well, yes, it was, like, about the devil or hell or something. Margulis didn't even flinch, but immediately launched into the rough outlines of the "Divina Commedia", and *then* started to work with the student musically, and very effectively so. When class was over, his last advice was: "And do read Dante."

3rd: In a masterclass with Rolando Prusak, a student played Bloch's "Nigun", and though playing quite passionately, she did not get an ankle to the piece. Then Rolando gave a fascinating rendition of the entire piece, adding explanations on the fly. His concept was that of a synagogue service: The violin, in crucial places, represents the cantor, and the piano/orchestra then mimics the "Amen" from the congregation. "Nigun" are "Songs" being sung during the service, commemorating the fate of Israel, and transcending the immediate service setting, so that the role of the music oscillates between depicting the service and telling the content of the "Nigun". The entire interpretation was modeled on this background concept. Intimate knowledge of the preoceedings in a synagogue service had helped Rolando to arrive at a sound, convincing, and deeply impressive interpretation. Having heard a jewish cantor or not makes a difference in how you play the opening phrase, doesn't it?



November 23, 2006 at 01:43 PM · And you could also give three examples of doorknobs playing beautifully. I write short posts. I usually skip my arguments and defenses. I assume readers make up their own, pro or con.

November 23, 2006 at 01:59 PM ·

From David Rubin

For curiosity's sake, I was looking through the "Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music" syllabi for performance diplomas, when I noticed that Shostakovich's Violin Concerto (1st mvt.) was listed at the "LRSM" level. Other pieces mentioned at that level were Lalo, Khachaturian, and Mendelssohn. The pieces suggested for the (higher?) "DipABRSM" level included works like Sibelius, Prokofiev #2, and Chausson's Poeme. Does this mean that Shostakovich's concerto is considered to be a level easier than the Sibelius and other upper-echelon concertos?

I found it odd that it was mentioned alongside Khachaturian and Mendelssohn as opposed to Sibelius, etc., because I had often heard of it (Shostakovich) being one of the most difficult concertos.

Any thoughts? (especially to those who have either played the concerto or are familiar with the "Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music" standards)

Ok, have just gone through the ABRSM syllabus, and I think you might be a bit confused.

Yes, the Shostakovich Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 77, First Movement is listed in the LRSM level. This is alongside other such concertos as Bruch G Minor (1st Mvmt), Khatchaturian D minor (1st Mvmt), Lalo Symphonie Espagnole (1st Mvmt), and Mendelssohn E minor (1st Mvmt).

The DipABRSM is actually a lesser diploma, and contains concertos such as Barber (1st mvmt), Haydn C Major (1st Mvmt), Kabalevsky (1st Mvmt), Lalo Symphonie Espagnole (2nd Mvmt), or Mozart 3 or 4 (1st Mvmt).

The Concertos you quoted come from the FRSM lists: Bartok 2, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Bruch, Dvorak, Elgar, Prokofiev, Saint-Saens, Sibelius and Tchaik.

However, you need to remember that when players get to this level, there is a vast difference in skills between each level. Early years, you can expect each student to cover the same material and get the same results when it comes to exams, and do one level a year. When you get up towards 8th grade and above, students might be spending two years per examination - in which case each level needs to have both early and late pieces. So, While Shosta and Mendelssohn are in the same category, Mendelssohn might be the first year, and Shosta might be second year...

Remember it all depends on the player, just because you can play some pieces of a higher level doesn't mean you can play all of the pieces of the level below. Each piece presents different challenges and difficulties.

November 24, 2006 at 09:02 AM · Ben,

Yes, we did manage to get on a bit of a tangeant, didn't we?



November 24, 2006 at 10:20 AM · Thank you Jennifer, for trying to get Ben back on topic. Now. I'm not sure they're anorexic or bulimic. Could be they're just scrawny:))

November 24, 2006 at 06:56 PM · so the listing is considered by the difficulty of selected movements, rather than the entire concerto? that would make sense. the shosty's 1st movement has some musical problems but it's technically tame compared to the hair-raising cadenza in the 3rd and the virtuosic 4th.

November 25, 2006 at 04:18 AM · Another perspective re 'hardship'. Daniel Goleman, in 'Social Intelligence' demonstrates that humans are hard-wired to feel empathy. So when seeing someone being hurt, or even hear it described, a decent person biochemically and physically reacts. So a young 'inexperienced' player can feel enough empathy, and draw on their own, albeit much less severe, experiences of grief, pain and fear.

November 25, 2006 at 05:52 AM · Since we're back on this, some people are obviously empathetic, others not. Who plays the best renditons? Within normal bounds I doubt it factors in. My very limited experience is that this kind of thing doesn't come across at least from the conscious level into creating music or playing. I don't think this is the channel for the emotional content exactly. I think the emotional content is the natural result of a very high level of facility, combined with conscious and unconscious shaping of phrases and so on. I think there's a tendency to grasp at straws with very difficult music. It's beyond us at the present time, and we may not be sure what to do about it. If you have an easier piece with similar emotional content you'd be less inclined to think you have to draw on say the Russian revolution for a solution to the problem, and if someone's level of technical skill is very high, they're in the same situation with this as you or I would be with something easy. It gets back to what I said before about the important thing being just being "able to play." Sometimes we might like to think music is "all things" but I think one of the wonderful things about it really is that it doesn't require such a high level of understanding of or sympathy with things that are ultimately mundane. Could be I don't know anything about this at all, and I'd be ok with that, but I think I do.

November 25, 2006 at 06:05 AM · Greetings,

perhaps part of the problem is keeping it within the bounds of rational perspective. Huberman claimed that his ability to play well stylisticaaly stemmed from an intense study of the folk music of the country of origin of the music and ther e is often a lot of truth in that. But I also sometimes think it is possible that thinking of the `story` of the piece gettign better results is not so much triggering some new kind of awarness as getting the players mind off the notes so that the cultural, spiritual doofreewhatsit aspect of the music emerges naturally from the music which is perhaps closer to Jim`s point.

It`s when one starts arguing along the lines of `gotta know the Russian Revolution` that I wonder what is really meant? At what stage do you know the revolution? After reading Das Kapital? Jogging along the pathways of the Gulags? Analysed the cold war from a Chomskian perspective? Does just reading a few plays by Chekov get you suitably into the swing of Russian thingummy jigs?



November 25, 2006 at 03:03 PM · Playing maturity with the Shostakovich, in my mind, is more a matter of style and interpretation of the musical approach, which is not emotionally based. Bow strokes and length of notes and articulation and all the things that make Shostakovich playing distinctive. If a student plays Shostakovich like Beethoven or like Brahms...or like Bach...or like John Williams, then I'd say they lack a certain maturity and experience. If they play it like Prokofiev or like Berg, I'd say they had experience, but still needed to add some maturity to the piece. There are certain things you must learn and do and be capeable of stylistically, musically, and technically before this piece can be completely effective.

Knowing about the Russian revolution or about his life personally is of some importance only if you study it in the context of what was going on musically and how his music was performed under his guidance. Not how he felt about it, really.

You do however have to be able to play musically and perhaps the idea is COMMUNICATION through the composer's music. It takes a certain level of maturity and growth to learn to communicate well enough to touch an audience's artistic sentiment rather than displaying your own experiences emotionally.



November 25, 2006 at 05:22 PM · It would be nice if someone who actually plays this would comment, but that would be way too much to ask for. I guess we'll just...suffer. Over and out.

November 25, 2006 at 05:31 PM · I haven't played the Shostakovich (sorry Jim!) but I assume this discussion could work for other pieces as well. Music would be a lot less interesting if playing was intimately tied to personal experience, I think. The highest levels of the art would be reserved for a certain class of person, perhaps passed down through the generations. That still happens to a certain extent, but then there's a prodigy from who-knows-where playing the heck out of a big piece and throwing a wrench into the works.

I love the fact that I can pursue a piece in any way I like, from the most intellectual and scientific to the most impulsive. And when I'm forced to "manufacture" an experience that isn't already mine, I am enriched. Every great art form encourages that kind of expansion.

November 25, 2006 at 05:50 PM · To add to all the interesting discussions that are going on in this thread, I am copying a paragraph or two I came across in an old local publication.

"Arnold Schoenberg himself suggested that his tone-poem Transfigured Night, a lush, emotionally varied work for string sextet, could be just as effective without any knowledge of the verse that inspired it.

He’s right, of course; any truly worthy piece of music works completely in the abstract, achieving access to the listeners emotions with a directness shared by no other art form."

The article continues on, "But how richer we are to know in advance the pictures that inspired Mussorgsky’s most famous work, or the shenanigans limned in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel"

I don't feel any richer by knowing musical trivia myself.


November 25, 2006 at 10:35 PM · Another comment, that I thought of earlier while listening to Bartok quartets:

The main issue, IMO, is not whether one needs to know about, say, the Russian revolution to play music from that time period. Some people (I am one) find it enlightening, inspiring, interesting and helpful to learn about the social-cultural-political-whateverical background of the music we play, others don't find it so helpful or necessary. That's just a personal choice.

But as for the music itself, it demands to be studied "beyond the notes", you really do have to learn at least a bit about the composer's influences and philosophy of composition, (and if it interests you, a bit about the composer himself). Take Bartok quartets for the example I thought of earlier. An ensemble that knows absolutely nothing about Hungarian folk music and the profound influence of that music in Bartok's life and work will probably end up making the quartets sound like pure modernist, dissonant angst. (I've heard it done, it's rather unpleasant.) But once you learn a bit about the folk melodies and forms, the traditional dance rhythms etc., the quartets suddenly seem that much richer, and you can approach them with an understanding of the brilliant synthesis of traditional and modernist that is the essential aspect of Bartok's work.

(Or, to take a slightly more mundane example, it really helps to know a little bit about the whole fin-de-siecle Viennese cafe-salon mileu and style if you want to play a really good Kreisler miniature. :))

So basically my opinion is this: Hardship? Unnecessary. Thorough knowledge of cultural history? Helpful for some, unneccesary for others. But studying the music itself, beyond just what is written on the page? Essential.

November 26, 2006 at 01:11 AM · Jim, I've performed the burlesque of Shosty con. no.1 and auditioned with the first movement of shosty 2, which I actually prefer. So it isn't too much to ask for an opinion from someone who has played it. You didn't even have to ask, and I didn't think it was necessary to say. I don't know that I did the works justice, but I seem to intuitively play Shosty's style well, where I struggle with other more common pieces. I don't see how you wouldn't like my opinion anyway, since we are pretty much in agreement?


November 26, 2006 at 03:08 AM · Humble apologies. I assumed too much. I figured anybody who'd played it would start by saying "I played it and..." I made that remark because I was wondering what their own successful approach to it might have been. I don't like people agreeing with me, you know. It tends to destroy my confidence in them. Besides, I don't learn anything new that way. I did spend the afternoon in an intense study of Russian history from Lenin through Khrushchev. Wow, so many players, events, twists and turns, and terms. First thing I did when I was finished was put on the Dixie Chicks. Sure enough felt good to be home again after all that business. Even though Stalin would have fallen big for their anti-formalism.

November 26, 2006 at 05:44 AM · Hmm. I did witness a very interesting argument in the first stand at a rehearsal for a Shostakovich Symphony (9, I think? Or 1?) anyway. The concertmistress and assistant concertmistress were at odds with each other on how the bow was supposed to be used to "play Shostakovich". It sounded very much like other, just insert Bach where Shostakovich was, and no one would notice. Except for the harsh or dry stroke they were debating. Ah, well. Do we play Shostakovich stylistically correct, or do we try to make it as artisticly pleasing as we know to do, regardless?

So knowing about the music, history, and context blah blah blah will at least help you get into arguments....he he.

As for the difficulty level of the Shosty 1.... It is so very different than the pieces it is listed next to, but I don't know that it is actually that much harder? It just takes a broader spectrum to play...kind of like, how do you compare a Bach Partita to a concerto? I know the shosty is a concerto, but the things that make it difficult, at least the parts I have played (not the 3rd mvt. cadenza) are not the same as hard passages in romantic concerti.

(now spaghetti falls out of my eyeballs and blue marbles pop out of my mouth instead of words. That may be a sign of fatigue getting in teh way of intellegent debate....)



November 26, 2006 at 09:07 PM · To me it just sounds like the two weren't that smart. But anyway I think stylistic details are different too from what we've been talking about, especially if you mean what part of the bow to use. The longer I exist, the less I care about that kind of thing. If somebody wants to play Bach like Shostakovich it wouldn't bother me a bit, if the result managed to be pleasing or at least interesting to me somehow. But on the technical side if your stand partner was playing very differently from you and everyone else, then sure, argue:)

Professionally, I've had very violent arguments over details of a circuit or a test plan or a development path for some gizmo. At one place I worked, the head of engineering would be present sometimes just to keep it under control. One time I was arguing with a technical writer and made her start crying, and as far as I was concerned that was just her last ditch strategy to have her way. Engineers don't argue like that, but having this kind of experience in music, I just saw it as another way differences get hashed out, ultimately to the benefit of everybody. But on those occasions I had to be sure I was damn right! And that the difference was worth it.

One of the most pleasing and interesting examples of anything I've heard was played once by my computer. I downloaded a midi file of one of the Bach sonatas for violin and piano. I noticed that at one place in the violin part the turn of phrase and something to do with the separation between notes was perfect and so poignant. It wasn't raw midi data, it had been massaged by whoever created the file, but still there was enough randomness of a certain kind in the process that it made me question a lot of things. It made me conclude that just playing in rhythm and in tune was a hugely significant part of the equation. It made me think interpretation isn't necessarilysomething that's injected into a performance as much as it is something that results from the music played technically well, even if you're a computer.

December 6, 2006 at 08:59 AM · On the other hand, there's value to be had in whatever tradition or information or pathos might facilitate whatever is required for you personally. It could be a walk in the park. Just for the record, the woman and I remained friends. Friends who never did like each other very much, but friends nonetheless! And they can be the best kind of friend to have. They don't show up unexpectedly.

December 6, 2006 at 11:57 AM · Ideally, all that is expressed in the music on the notes and between the notes without any need to verbalize.

On the other extreme, I was talking to my brother-in-law the other day how distracting sub- super-titles are in operas. He went further, he doesn't even look at the stages these days. The stage is too distracting for him to listen to music however well it is produced. I would think two thirds of his ticket cost is to produce on stage, and he keeps his head down.


December 12, 2006 at 04:57 AM · shosty takes an enormous amount of musicality and dexterity to play. it can call for the strangest fingerings and scales, not to mention shifting chords.

the first movement is hard because of the accuracy of the notes and dynamic that must go into it. the second mvt calls in practically all fingering techniques in existance and the oddest bow changes. the passacaglia is similar to the first in difficulty until the cadenza. here, your stamina is put to the test. can you play through the longest and not to mention one of the most difficult (its awkward) cadenzas written? the final mvt is not as hard as the first, but there are some very tricky passages.

lucky for us, oistrakh was an extrodinary violinist, so the fingerings are incedible.

if you can pull all of this off by yourself, you're halfway there. now try and put it with the orchestra/piano in a concert hall. your dynamics and rhythm must be impeccable. 3/4 of the way there. now perform it without fainting due to lack of energy for your brain, all of your arm and hand muscles, and your sweat glands.

i may be a 16 year old, but i have made it my business to study this piece with all of my energy. my sources are the 9 recordings i own of the concerto by various artists (3 by oistrakh), my copies of the music (i own 2 violin/piano parts and i have on indefinate loan the score and two more violin/piano parts from a music library), the professional musicians i have talked to about this piece (leila josefowicz being the most recent), and the 50 bajillion biographies and studies of shostakovich's music that i have read.

my friends think i'm insane, but i believe i'm simply passionate.

if you want to learn this whole piece, you'll need more than scales and arpeggios. you'll need to do some research and listen to oistrakh (recordings and sheet music).

i will now stop rambling.

PS please dont treat this as a comment from a random stupid 16 year old (even though that is pretty accurate. i have spent over a year studying this piece, so i'm not shosty-stupid.

now i'll really stop rambling.

December 12, 2006 at 05:10 AM · Greetings,

rambling and stupid?

on the contrary, I think one should approach all music with the same zeal.



December 12, 2006 at 08:09 AM · yeh i agree with buri your passion is immense

i thought i was doing pretty well reading literature of the same period and reading as much as i can find about shos. But you seem to have gone that one step further, i'm impressed

December 14, 2006 at 05:10 AM · thanks.

i'm telling you, i'm "extremely passionate" about this piece. it just gets to me every time i hear it. plus, it is my dream piece. i once had a dream that i played this with the principals/concertmasters of the world's best orchestras in the orchestra. *sighs while fantasizing*

December 30, 2006 at 01:55 AM · It's my favourite violin concerto, much moreso than the 2nd even though I really like it too. I always used to say (up to about 1990) that the best performances of it were by Russians (I'm using the term generally here). There is something tragic about it. Imho, it transcends the usual rhetoric of the aesthetics of music.

Some pieces, for me, demand something beyond the typical crowned achievements of facetious pyrotechnics and mature playing. Oistrakh (still for me the de facto standard) had the sense of tragedy, that is needed for the Shostakovich, because he lived through it (I'm not referring to his own lifestyle as much as to his understanding).

I've done a very close comparison of Hahn's interpretation and what I would say is that she's done what is often done (if not often done well). That is, she's copied Oistrakh, brilliantly mind you. I'm totally fine with that, as that is how art mirrors reality. But Hahn's art was not 'her' reality it was Oistrakhs. So they can't be fairly critiqued as if on the same level.

Other interps I'm not thrilled with, especially the younger Russians (exs., I really admire Vengerov, but not his Shostakovich, evem Mullova's suffers because it never emerges from her self-imposed Oistrakh Syndrome) don't have the tragic sense to it, nor the composer's fascination with death, nor the stark historical reality of the destruction of the jews, nor the ironic sarcasm of Shostakovich's idyll of Stalinist USSR, and so much more (much of this already mentioned in previous posts).

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg got it, though totally differently than Oistrakh, because she thought her life was over when she lost the tip of her finger. The Shostakovich was her return to her career from hell.

So, again, for me, it's not 'always' a matter of being able to play a piece with professional bravado (though mostly I agree it is). There are a few works that demand something beyond this. The Shostakovich is one such work...the Bach Chaconne is another...

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