About this Recording
8.559286 - DUKE: Piano Concerto / Cello Concerto / Homage to Boston

Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky) (1903-1969)
Piano Concerto • Cello Concerto
Homage to Boston


The present release is the first recording of two concertos and a solo piano suite by the Russian-born composer Vernon Duke. Duke, under his original name, Vladimir Dukelsky, produced a distinguished body of concert music, including three symphonies, several ballets, one opera, many orchestral works, chamber works, numerous art songs and the works included here. When Dukelsky became fascinated with writing for the London and Broadway stages, his good friend George Gershwin suggested he abbreviate his name to 'Vernon Duke'. In his subsequent career as 'Vernon Duke' he contributed material to more than seventeen West End and Broadway shows and worked routinely with such distinguished lyricists as Ira Gershwin, Yip Harburg, and Ogden Nash. A number of his songs such as 'April in Paris', 'Autumn in New York', 'I Can't Get Started', and 'Taking a Chance on Love'were huge hits and have become standards of jazz and American popular song. Perhaps his most notable Broadway success was the 1940 hit Cabin in the Sky with an all-black cast, starring Ethel Waters, and choreographed by George Balanchine.

Dukelsky was born in a railway station near the village of Parfianovka in 1903. At the age of twelve he was admitted to the prestigious Kiev Conservatory as a composition student of Reinhold Glière; among his fellow students was Sergey Prokofiev, who was to become a lifelong friend and mentor. In 1920 Dukelsky, with his mother and brother Alexis, fled the Bolshevik Revolution. They spent two years in Constantinople before immigrating to the United States and arriving in New York City in 1922.

In New York such prominent figures as Arthur Rubinstein and George Gershwin took an interest in Dukelsky's talent. After hearing some of his piano pieces, Rubinstein asked the nineteen-year-old composer to write him a 'one-movement piano concerto, pianistically grateful and not too cerebral'. In the summer of 1923 Dukelsky completed a two-piano score of Concerto in C for Piano and Orchestra. Both Gershwin and Rubinstein reportedly liked the new work; Rubinstein declared that he would like to perform it, and Gershwin would often ask Dukelsky to play the lyrical second theme at parties. Rubinstein suggested that the young composer bring the orchestrated concerto to him in Europe where together they could secure its première. This plan was only partially realised.

Dukelsky arrived in Paris the summer of 1924, hoping to orchestrate his concerto, secure its première and 'find his musical way'. In Europe he soon met Sergey Koussevitsky, who offered Dukelsky a music publishing deal, and Sergey Diaghilev, who upon hearing a two-piano performance of the new piano concerto by the composer (with 'Les Six' composer Georges Auric on second piano) engaged Dukelsky to compose a new ballet for his Ballets Russes. Dukelsky enthusiastically composed the ballet, Zephyr et Flore, which was presented in Paris and Monte Carlo in 1925 with a scenario by Boris Kochno, sets by Georges Braques, choreography by Leonide Massine, and costumes by Coco Chanel, a very heady success for such a young man.

The Concerto in C, for reasons that are not entirely clear, was never orchestrated by the composer and therefore never performed during his lifetime. Perhaps with the ballet commission from Diaghilev and the successes that soon followed on London's West End, Dukelsky just lost interest in his early work. The French publisher Heugel did publish the two-piano version of the concerto in 1926 – apparently with a promise from the composer to subsequently deliver the orchestration – but the work languished on the shelf until 1998, when the American pianist and conductor Scott Dunn received permission to finish the long neglected composition. Working only from the published two-piano score he orchestrated the entire concerto in time for the official Gershwin Centennial concerts of 1999. At long last, the concerto had its première on 10 January 1999, at Carnegie Hall in New York City with the orchestrator Scott Dunn at the piano, the American Composers Orchestra and the conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

In contrast to the modernist one-movement piano concerto, Dukelsky's Cello Concerto is a large-scale, mature, overtly romantic three-movement work: the first movement begins and ends with poignant solo cello cadenzas; the second is elegiac and suggests the sadness following the World Wars; the third movement is a bracing scherzo militaire. Throughout this fine concerto, one hears the influence of Prokofiev, Stravinsky and also Shostakovich. The concerto was commissioned in 1942 by Sergey Koussevitzky and the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Completion of the commission was delayed somewhat by Dukelsky's service in the United States Coast Guard (during which he even wrote and produced a musical revue, Tars and Spars). Dukelsky completed the concerto in 1945, collaborating with Piatigorsky on the solo cello part and the work's overall shape. The new concerto had its première in January 1947 at Symphony Hall in Boston with Koussevitsky, the Boston Symphony and Piatigorsky. Piatigorsky also performed the work in New York, Montreal, Paris and Brussels with conductors Dann Sternefeld, Artur Rodzinsky and Bernard Hermann.

Dating from the same period as the Cello Concerto, the Homage to Boston suite for solo piano was published in 1945 and is dedicated "to the members of the Boston Symphony". Its seven short movements are descriptively titled and portray various people and places in Boston familiar to the composer; the Charles River, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, and Boston Common; a young woman, "Molly" of whom the composer was quite enamoured; even Dukelsky's mentor Prokofiev is parodied in a charming gavotte before Midnight Train brings the suite to a fitting close.

The present recording was made in September 2005 at the well-known Moscow Radio House Studios. Shortly before that, the presence of a surviving manuscript of the Piano Concerto in C at the Moscow Glinka Museum was made known. The story goes that in 1940 the German army seized all the valuables from the Paris apartment of Arthur Rubinstein. Among those items was a manuscript copy of the Dukelsky piano concerto, which the Germans deposited in the Prussian State Library. In 1945, with the end of World War II, the entire Prussian Library was taken by the Russian Red Army, who secretly deposited the 'expropriated' piano concerto manuscript in the Glinka Museum, where it has now become available for inspection. The surviving 'Rubinstein' manuscript of the concerto is in a copyist's hand (not Dukelsky's) and differs only slightly from the published version. Of great interest, however, is a preface in the manuscript in Dukelsky's hand, in Russian, which states that he initially conceived the work as early as 1919-1921 in Kiev and Constantinople and then completed the concerto in the summer of 1923 in New York (after receiving the request for a concerto from Rubinstein). Vernon Duke's early Piano Concerto and the 1947 Cello Concerto and Homage to Boston only partially represent the exceptional output of a great composing talent, a composer whose other concert works, along with his numerous musicals, revues and operas, certainly deserve further attention, scholarship, revival and performance.

Scott Dunn and Kay Duke Ingalls



Baker, Theodor, revised by Nicholas Slonimsky, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial ed. Schirmer Books, N.Y., 2001

Byrnside, Ronald, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. V, Macmillan Publishers Limited, London, 1980

Duke, Vernon, Passport to Paris, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1955

Robinson, Harlow, editors and translators, Selected Letters of Sergei Prokofiev, Northeastern University Press, 1998

Vishnevetsky, Igor, Personal Correspondence, Moscow 2005


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