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Violin Concerto (Stravinsky)

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Subject: Igor Stravinsky, Neoclassicism (music), Ebony Concerto (Stravinsky), Piano-Rag-Music, Tibor Varga (violinist)
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Violin Concerto (Stravinsky)

Samuel Dushkin and Igor Stravinsky, c.1930

Igor Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D is a neoclassical violin concerto in four movements, composed in the summer of 1931 and premiered on October 23, 1931. It lasts approximately twenty minutes.

It was used by George Balanchine as music for two ballets.


  • History 1
    • Conception 1.1
    • Composition 1.2
    • Performances 1.3
  • Movements 2
  • Instrumentation 3
  • Ballet 4
  • See also 5
  • Discography 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8



The Violin Concerto was commissioned by Blair Fairchild, an American composer, diplomat, and the patron of the young Polish violinist Samuel Dushkin (Stravinsky and Craft 1963, 79).

Willy Strecker of B. Schotts Söhne, Stravinsky's music publisher at the time (and also a friend of Dushkin's), asked Stravinsky to compose a concerto for Dushkin. Though Stravinsky was reluctant, citing unfamiliarity with the instrument, Strecker assured the composer that Dushkin would consult about technical matters (White 1979, 368). Stravinsky noted in his autobiography that Dushkin's availability for such advice was a factor in his undertaking the Violin Concerto (Stravinsky 1962, 165) He also sought the opinion of composer and violist Paul Hindemith, who allayed Stravinsky's fears, suggesting that his unfamiliarity with the instrument might help him come up with new possibilities. Stravinsky met with Dushkin at Strecker's residence in Wiesbaden and decided to go ahead.


Early in the compositional process, Stravinsky devised a chord which stretches from D4 to E5 to A6. One day while he and Dushkin were having lunch in a Paris restaurant, he sketched the chord on a napkin for the violinist, who thought the chord unplayable, to Stravinsky's disappointment. On returning home, however, Dushkin tried it out on his violin and was surprised to discover it was actually quite easy to play. He immediately telephoned Stravinsky to say that it could be played after all. The composer later referred to this chord as his "passport to the Concerto" (Dushkin 1949, 182).

Stravinsky began sketching the Concerto in Paris early in 1931, with composition beginning in earnest in Nice, where the first two movements were completed and the third begun. In the summer, Stravinsky moved to the Château de la Véronnière in Voreppe in Isère, where he completed the third movement and wrote all of the fourth (White 1979, 369).

The manuscripts are dated May 20, 1931 for the first two movements and June 10, 1931 for the third, all in Nice, with no date given for the fourth. The full orchestral score is signed and dated "Voreppe (Isère) la Vironnière, 13/25. Sept. 1931" (White 1979, 368).

Though Stravinsky told his publisher he wanted to write "a true virtuoso concerto", "the texture is always more characteristic of chamber music than orchestral music" (V. Stravinsky and Craft 1978, 306). He also observed "I did not compose a cadenza, not because I did not care about exploiting violin virtuosity, but because the violin in combination was my real interest. But virtuosity for its own sake has only a small role in my Concerto, and the technical demands of the piece are relatively tame" (Stravinsky and Craft 1963, 80).


The work was premiered on October 23, 1931 in Berlin, being broadcast, with Dushkin playing the violin and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stravinsky himself. Dushkin also gave the work's first US performance in January 1932, with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also made the first recording of the piece in 1935, with Stravinsky conducting the Orchestre Lamoureux.


The Violin Concerto contains four movements:

  1. Toccata
  2. Aria I
  3. Aria II
  4. Capriccio

The descriptive titles were added by the composer after the work was complete.

The "passport chord" is heard at the beginning of every movement, each time in a different configuration.

A typical performance of the concerto will last approximately 20 minutes.


In addition to the solo violin, the score calls for: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, strings.


The concerto was choreographed by Colonel de Basil's company Original Ballet Russe. In 1972 Balanchine created a new Ballet to the music, entitled "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." It was premiered by New York City Ballet as part of the Stravinsky Festival.

See also


Stravinsky himself recorded the work twice:

  • Stravinsky: Concerto in D major. Samuel Dushkin (violin), Orchestre des concerts Lamoureux, Igor Stravinsky (cond.). Recorded in Paris, 1935. 78 RPM recording, 3 discs. Brunswick Polydor BP-1 (set); Brunswick Polydor 95500, 95001, 95002 (manual sequence); 95003, 95004, 95005 (automatic sequence); matrix numbers 771 GEP, 772 GEP, 768 GEP, 767 GEP, 769 GEP, and 770 GEP. [Chicago?]: Brunswick Polydor, [1938 or 1939].
    • Reissued as Vox album 173 (Vox 12014, 12015, 12016, automatic sequence). New York: Vox, 1947.
    • Reissued on LP, coupled with Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Pianos (Vera Appleton and Michael Field, pianos), New York: Vox, [ca. 1950–59].
    • Reissued as part of 5-CD set, Igor Stravinsky plays Igor Stravinsky. Vogue 665002 (VG 665 665002/1, VG 665 665002/2, VG 665 665002/3, VG 665 665002/4, VG 665 665002/5). [France]: Vogue, 1991.
    • Reissued on CD as part of Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky: L'histoire du soldat; Pulcinella (excerpts); Violin Concerto; Jeu de cartes. Biddulph WHL 037. [France?]: Biddulph, 1997.
    • Reissued on CD, as part of Early Concerto Recordings 1934-1943. Jubiläums Edition. 5-CD set. Deutsche Grammophon 459 065-2 (Stravinsky concerto on disc 459 002-2) Deutsche Grammophon: Hamburg: Deutsche Grammophon, 1998.
  • Igor Stravinsky: Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Symphony in Three Movements. Isaac Stern (violin), Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky (cond.). Recorded 12 February 1961. LP recording, 12 inch, stereo. Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky. Columbia Masterworks ML 5731 (mono), MS 6331 (stereo). [New York]: Columbia, 1962. Also as CBS 72038. [England]: CBS, n.d.
    • Reissued on LP, in a new coupling with Concerto in D for String Orchestra, and Ode. CBS 74053. [Frankfurt am Main]: CBS, 1981. This same disc also as part of 2-LP set: Igor Stravinsky: The Recorded Legacy 3: Piano (Klavier) & Orchestra, Violin (violon, Geige) & Orchestra. On the second disc: Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra; Movements for piano and orchestra. CBS masterworks 79241. [Frankfurt am Main]: CBC Masterworks, 1981. CBS Masterworks GM31/LXX36940; CBS Masterworks [New York]: CBS Masterworks, 1981.
    • Reissued on CD, as part of Isaac Stern, a Life in Music v. 12: Artist Laureate. Sony Classical SMK 64 505. With George Rochberg: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, conductor). New York: Sony Classical, 1995.
    • Reissued on CD, Stravinsky Edition, vol. 5. Sony Classical SMK 46295 With: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (both with Philippe Entremont, piano), Movements for Piano and Orchestra (Charles Rosen, piano). [Great Britain]: Sony Classical, 1991. This same disc reissued as part of 22-disc set, Works of Igor Stravinsky. Disc 10: Concertos. Sony Classical 88697103112-10; [New York, N.Y.]: Sony Classical, 2007.


  • Dushkin, Samuel. 1949. "Working with Stravinsky". In Stravinsky, compiled by Merle Armitage, edited by Edwin Corle, 179–92. A Merle Armitage Book. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce. Reprinted, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969.
  • Pople, Anthony. 1991. Berg: Violin Concerto. Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN ISBN 0-521-39066-4 (cloth). ISBN 0-521-39976-9 (pbk).
  • Stravinsky, Igor. 1962. An Autobiography. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. 1963. Dialogues and a Diary. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co.
  • Stravinsky, Vera, and Robert Craft. 1978. Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • White, Eric Walter. 1979. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, second edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03985-8.

Further reading

  • Chalmers, Kenneth. 2006. "Stravinsky: Violin Concerto in D". Part of liner notes for Philips 4757457, published 2006. Viktoria Mullova, violin, LA Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen (for the Stravinsky concerto)
  • Rogers, Lynne. 1995. "Stravinsky's Break with Contrapuntal Tradition: A Sketch Study". Journal of Musicology 13, no. 4 (Autumn): 476–507.
  • Rogers, Lynne. 1999. "Rethinking Form: Stravinsky's Eleventh-Hour Revision of the Third Movement of His Violin Concerto". Journal of Musicology 17, no. 2 (Spring): 272–303.
  • Souche, Estelle. n.d. Balustrade. Estelle Souche personal page (Accessed 16 March 2012).
  • Steinberg, Michael. 1998. The Concerto: A Listener's Guide, 468–72. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510330-4 (cloth); ISBN 978-0-19-513931-0 (pbk)
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