IVAN KHANDOSHKIN (1747 - 1804)
One of the most remarkable composers in the first century of Russia’s
secular musical life, Ivan Evstaf’evich Khandoshkin (1747-1804) is largely
unknown to twenty-first century listeners. The first Russian violinist-composer
at the Imperial court of St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great on the shores
of the Neva, Khandoshkin’s reputation had spread to Europe by his death,
earning him temporary, if limited, renown.
Tsar Peter III was so much a music lover that when he was forced to cede
the throne to his strong-willed wife, Catherine, he reportedly (according to
her memoirs) asked only “for his mistress, his dog, his negro, and his
violin.” Khandoshkin is believed to have been apprenticed in Peter III’s
court orchestra at the age of thirteen, while studying with Tito Porta, an Italian
violinist in the ensemble since 1743. Italian players in the orchestra, including
the co-concertmasters Domenico dall’Oglio and Pietro Peri, became major
influences on Khandoshkin, and when Catherine took the throne, she kept the
youth on in the Italian troupe at court. Little is known about his later career,
although he is believed to have taught briefly at the newly opened Academy
of Arts in 1764, served as first violinist and court soloist, and been
Kapellmeister for ballets.
Catherine enjoyed Italian comic opera, the simpler the better. She also
favored Russian song and dance, through which she could downplay her German
heritage. Madonis and dall’Oglio (a pupil of Tartini) incorporated Russian
tunes and elements of Russian songs into their compositions at court. Khandoshkin,
however, was uniquely qualified to entertain her with Russian songs, which he
embellished like a virtuoso. In his violin playing at court and in public concerts
he held his own against the best Italians of his day.
Russia hosted an active winter concert season that took advantage
of the Lenten period to present serious concerts as a substitute for theatrical
fare. For European solo artists and orchestra musicians, Russia’s financial
beneficence compensated for the raw lifestyle and cold weather. They traveled
by sleigh and horseback, when waterways had frozen over, and raked in rubles,
although inflation ate into their profits by the turn of the nineteenth century.
Italian violinists dominated at salons, in theaters, and at court, although
French and German violinists also concertized and took posts in St. Petersburg.
Khandoshkin was able thus to hear and to compete with many of the leading
violin figures of his day: Federigo Fiorillo, Giovanni Battista Viotti and his
pupil Gaetano Pugnani, Giuseppe Tartini’s pupil Antonio Lolli (a direct
competitor in Russia to Khandoshkin and a man whose violin stunts and showmanship
anticipated Paganini’s). In addition, the “French Tartini,”
Pierre Gaviniès, was known through his two pupils, Louis Henri Paisible
(who lived in St. Petersburg from 1778 until his suicide in 1782) and
Isidore Bertheaume (who lived in St. Petersburg in the 1790s). Lolli’s
pupil Giovanni Mâne Giornovicchi lived in St. Petersburg from 1783 to
1786 and 1802 to 1804; Karl Stamitz, Ludwig Spohr, and the Pixis brothers also
performed in Russia.
Because so little is known about Khandoshkin, many compositions from later
times have been falsely attributed to him; Soviet composer Michael Goldstein
is believed to have written some of them, just as Fritz Kreisler attributed
a number of his pieces to Pugnani and other lesser-known composers.
Khandoshkin’s known compositions, however, offer a special blend
of European schooling and Russian sensibility. The violin idiom includes a panoply
of demanding double-stops, ornamentation, bariolage (playing off the different
sonorities of open- string and stopped notes), scales, brisures (the
wide leaps that skip strings), batteries (arpeggiation patterns), and
varied bow strokes. His composing concentrates on the rich and melancholy lower
register of the violin more tellingly than on the very highest tessitura.