IGOR STRAVINSKY’S VIOLIN CONCERTO has a history of creation that is formally reminiscent of the creation of Brahms’ Violin Concerto and his collaborations with Joseph Joachim, as well as Mendelssohn’s – with Ferdinand David. In 1930 Blair Fairchild, an American composer, diplomat and patron of the arts, took an interest in the possibility of commissioning a violin concerto for the Polish-born violinist Samuel Dushkin. The latter was a friend of Willy Strecker, the then owner of the German publishing house Schott & Sons and agent for most of Stravinsky’s works. Strecker made the proposal to the composer. Stravinsky, in his turn, approached the idea with some reservations because of his detachment from solo violin works and virtuosos in particular. Hindemith and Strecker intervened and persuaded him to accept.
In early 1931, Stravinsky and Dushkin would meet in various places: in Paris, at Stravinsky’s house near Nice, and in Voreppe, near Grenoble, where Stravinsky wrote the finale while Dushkin studied the first three movements. According to the violinist, ‘his role was to advise Stravinsky on how his ideas could best be adapted to the needs of the violin as a concert instrument’.
Dushkin wrote in his memoirs, “At various times he would show me what he had just written, sometimes a page, sometimes just a few lines, sometimes half a paragraph. Then we discussed all the suggestions I could make. He behaved like an architect who, if asked to change a room on the third floor, has to go down to the base to keep the proportions of the whole structure.” Once at lunch in a Parisian restaurant, Stravinsky “took out a piece of paper and wrote down a chord and asked me if it could be played. I had never seen a chord with such a huge stretch, from E flat to top A flat, and I said no. Stravinsky said sadly “Quel dommage” [How pitiful]. After I got home, I tried it, and to my surprise I found that in this register the stretch from the eleventh was relatively easy to play, and the sound fascinated me. I immediately called Stravinsky to tell him it could be done. That same chord, in a different outfit, opens each of the four movements. Stravinsky himself calls it his “passport” for this concerto.
As a result of this collaboration, Stravinsky composed more violin works and several transcriptions. Their friendship also continued until Stravinsky’s death, and Dushkin himself passed away in 1976. He presented the Concerto in dozens of cities in Europe and America, and in 1932 made its first recording.
Stravinsky’s flair for creating new sound ideas is obvious. The two arias in the middle of the concerto contrast each other: the Aria I, like the Toccata, begins with the composer’s ‘passport chord’ in the style of ‘sublimely elegant salon music’. Aria II recalls an expressively ornate Adagio in the style of Bach, proving Stravinsky to be one of the most accomplished melodists of the twentieth century. The Capriccio is the virtuoso movement for the soloist, in which he engages in a contest with the concertmaster.