The late violinist Samuel Dushkin (1891–1976) is a champion within the ‘Marwood’s Serenade‘ program: he was the talented violinist and collaborator who befriended Stravinsky and guided him towards a deep understanding of the instrument’s technical possibilities. Dushkin was born in Poland, but immigrated to New York as a child. He was a protege of the composer Blair Fairchild, and studied in Paris with Guillaume Remy, and with Leopold Auer and Fritz Kreisler in New York. In 1930, it was at the invitation of Stravinsky’s German publisher Willy Strecker that the violinist attend dinner hosted by the publisher, to introduce him to the composer and discuss the idea of a violin concerto. As history has shown, the composer and violinist clearly got along.
Dushkin recalled his impressions of his initial meeting with Stravinsky, which belied the composer’s prickly reputation:
‘Here, among friends, his personal charm was evident at once. It was not long before I realised that he was not only capable of giving tenderness and affection but seemed to be in great need of them himself. In fact, I sensed very soon something tense and anguished about him which made one want to comfort and reassure him. The Stravinsky I had heard about and imagined and the Igor Fedorovich I met seemed two different people.’
Stravinsky, with Dushkin as advisor and soloist, composed his Violin Concerto, which was premiered in Berlin in 1931 under Stravinsky’s baton. Dushkin wrote that ‘Stravinsky’s music is so original and so personal that it constantly posed new problems of technique and sound for the violin. These problems often touched the very core of the composition itself and led to most of our discussions.’ And Stravinsky recounted: ‘A deeper knowledge of the violin and close collaboration with a technician like Dushkin had revealed possibilities which I longed to explore.’
Soon after, the pair hatched the idea of offering a recital package, which would foster their mutually enjoyable musical partnership, and which would also streamline (or rather, sideline) the onerous considerations around planning and securing orchestral engagements. After their first recital together in Milan in 1932, it became apparent that the duo had a problem of repertoire, specifically repertoire by the composer. The Duo Concertante, Stravinsky’s only original work for violin and piano, was written specifically for Dushkin, and was introduced into their programs. Other works of Stravinsky’s were arranged for the pair, including material from Petrushka, The Firebird, The Nightingale, Pulcinella, and ultimately, the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss. While their collaboration initially took form in a handful of recital tours across Europe and the United States, Dushkin remained a loyal and supportive champion of Stravinsky (and his works) throughout the composer’s lifetime.
In reviewing the duo performance in New York’s Town Hall during their final 1937 tour across the United States, Olin Downes of the New York Times wrote:
‘The fortunate effect of the evening was in very considerable measure due to the performances. Mr. Stravinsky, who often has appeared as pianist due in orchestral and other ensemble compositions of his own, had never, in the writer’s experience, played the piano so smoothly and clearly; and this with polish, almost with zest, if one might be permitted to harbor this impression of apostles of anti-emotionalism in music. Mr. Dushkin was efficient and authoritative. The ensemble was excellently adjusted. It was a pleasure to see two performers, so simple in manner, so intent on their business, and free of the grandstand manner.’
The arrangement in ‘Marwood’s Serenade’ by Australian composer James Ledger maintains the Dushkin-inspired solo violin line. However it is from Stravinsky’s full orchestration of The Fairy’s Kiss, as well as his Divertimento arrangement for Dushkin, upon which Ledger’s orchestration for ACO strings is based.
By Alan J Benson
Anthony Marwood joins the ACO’s for a season finale to remember. Stravinsky’s Divertimento, Dvo?ák’s uplifting Serenade and late-Romantic composer Enescu’s gutsy Octet arranged for string orchestra.
Hear this acclaimed British violinist at venues across Australia from 14–30 November. Book now.