About this Recording
8.570028 - KHANDOSHKIN: 3 Violin Sonatas, Op. 3 / 6 Russian Songs
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Ivan Yevstafyevich Khandoshkin (1747-1804)
Virtuoso Violin Music at the Court of Catherine the Great


One of the most remarkable composers in the first century of Russia's secular musical life, Ivan Yevstafyevich Khandoshkin, is largely unknown today. The first Russian violinist-composer at the Imperial court of St Petersburg, Khandoshkin's reputation had spread to Europe by his death, earning him great, if fleeting, renown.

Tsar Peter III was so much a music-lover that when he was forced to cede the throne, he asked only 'for his mistress, his dog, his negro, and his violin'. Khandoshkin is believed to have been apprenticed in Peter's court orchestra at the age of 13, while studying with Tito Porta. Italian performers, including the co-concertmasters Domenico dall'Oglio and Pietro Peri, became major influences on Khandoshkin. When Catherine the Great took the throne, she kept him at court as first violinist, court soloist and Kapellmeister.

Catherine enjoyed Italian comic opera, the simpler the better. She also favoured Russian song and dance, through which she could down-play her German heritage, and Khandoshkin was uniquely qualified to entertain her. In his violin-playing at court and in public concerts he held his own against the best Italians of his day. For European musicians, Russia's financial beneficence compensated for the raw life-style and cold weather. Italian violinists dominated at salons, in theatres, and at court, although French and German violinists also took posts in St Petersburg.

Because so little is known about Khandoshkin, many compositions have been falsely attributed to him, and Soviet composer Michael Goldstein is believed to have written some of them. Khandoshkin's known compositions offer a special blend of European schooling and Russian sensibility. The violin idiom includes a panoply of demanding double-stops, ornamentation, bariolage (alternating 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.

Trois Sonates pour le Violon seul, Oeuv. 3, by Khandoshkin was published by Dittmar in St Petersburg between 1800 and 1808. The Soviet edition used for these performances has been expanded from earlier versions. The set comprises the only known examples of unaccompanied violin sonatas or capriccios from Russia in the 18th or 19th centuries.

Few composers contributed to the unaccompanied sonata repertoire after Bach's two great sets of sonatas and partitas and suites, although Khandoshkin could have been aware of examples by Isidore Bertheaume. Khandoshkin's sonatas are like multi-movement caprices, combining brilliant violin technique, strong emotionality, and even whimsical writing. Their structures and phrasing are highly asymmetric, and all three are demanding to play.

The Sonata in G minor is the longest and most dramatic. In the opening Marcia Khandoshkin looks back to the Empfindsamer Stil associated with C.P.E. Bach. Expressive suspensions, dotted rhythms, appoggiaturas, chromaticism, seventh chords, and turns permeate the texture. The emotional quality is intensified in the second part of the lop-sided binary structure, with quadruple-stops and a modulation to D minor. A diminished seventh chord is set in stark spacing that exploits the open G and E strings before the move back to G minor; a tonic pedal closes the section. The second movement reflects a more open style and combines an energetic ostinato motive with a descending series of sixths in suspensions for a first theme. A second theme, a repetitive up-bow staccato figure, recalls the hen-pecking (la poule) pictorial pieces of earlier European composers. As a conclusion to the sonata, Khandoshkin fashions a highly ornamented Russian song with variations. Using a descending line, repetition, fast scales, sighing figures, and suspensions, he looks back to the opening Marcia. Six variations bring back the martial dotted figure and florid ornaments of the earlier movement. Khandoshkin reharmonizes the theme, ornaments it, brings out the violin's lower register, and includes a glut of double-stops. The final three variations are athletic, using octaves, perpetual motion, and vigorous brisures.

A gentler Sonata in E flat includes three movements in progressively faster tempos. It begins with an Andante in a graceful, galant style. Its phrase scansion is irregular, and the harmony lacks strong progressions. There are two-measure segments characterized by delayed resolutions, diminished sevenths, and secondary dominants that look forward to the harmonic style of half a century later. More of a fantasia, the movement has cadenza-like figuration and long slurs. A highly stylized minuet in E flat major, filled with embellishments and double-stops, leads to a more unusual trio in C minor. The two sections are motivically related, and Khandoshkin expands the second section by playing with tenths and other interpolations to surprising effect. He concludes the sonata with an unusual rondo based on an infectious rigaudon. Like many Russian songs and dances, the rondo theme reiterates a simple, circular idea, in this instance waving between the G and D strings. A motoric finish to the sonata, the rondo is cast as a distinctive suite of khorovod dances.

The Sonata in D major is the shortest and most individual of the three. The first movement has broad proportions, encompassing both contemplative and dramatic moods that draw from suspensions and seventh chords. Its second section is like an improvised capriccio, restless in harmony and rich in batteries, reminiscent of Tartini or Locatelli. The movement ends with a brilliant use of pedal point, a "saw-tooth" alternation of low notes against double-stops on the upper strings. The graceful Minuet that follows leads to a charming and wistful trio in D minor. The sonata closes with a short movement in march style.

Khandoshkin's strength lay in his lively and imaginative violin idiom and driving rhythms: leaps, upbow staccato, extensive and colourful double-stops (that include seconds and tenths, diminished-seventh chords and augmented-sixth relations), changes of register, expansive sequences, thirty-second note (demisemiquaver) interjections, and syncopations, at times creating drama at an almost breathless pace. Khandoshkin's sonatas seem the instrumentalist's answer to Russian opera of the time, particularly that of Fomin (1761-1800).

Russia was a country enamoured of its song. The aristocracy displayed a feverish Francomania (parodied in Russian comic operas) in dress, conversations, and social manners. Yet both rural peasants and upper-class city dwellers shared a love for the national songs and lively, rhythmic dances. Russian songs told the stories of war, political oppression, work, mourning, harvest, and romance. Several publications assembled the texts and melodies of these songs and reached Europe; among the compilers of these collections were Vasiliy Fyodorovich Trutovsky, Nikolay Alexandrovich L'vov and Ivan Prach, A.I. Polezhaev, Friedrich Meyer, and Johann Daniel Gerstenberg-Friedrich August Ditmar.

In setting Russian songs for violin, Khandoshkin used his Russian origins to advantage, combining his feeling for national music with his westernized violin training. Khandoshkin chose simple melodies to vary, often those revolving around a few notes, but he ornamented them, adding more complicated rhythms and double-stops. One of the oldest types of song was kant, strophic songs for two singers in parallel thirds along with a bass, which developed into more sentimental salon songs by the 1790s. Khandoshkin set many of these for violin, adapting the folk intonations from older melodies into newer town songs. Pride of place among Khandoshkin's compositions goes to the settings he made of his native Russian songs, creating a distinctive fingerprint and style through his double-stopping. The first set published in Russia as Six ancient Russian songs with variations added to them for one violin and an alto-viola, and recorded here, is believed to date from 1783. Only the first song is scored with viola; the others are accompanied by 'bass' (cello). Khandoshkin set some of the songs more than once; the versions recorded here were expanded and enhanced for Soviet publication.

'Along the Bridge' is a dance-like city song found in L'vov-Prach (No. 89), Trutovsky (v. II, No. 35), and in five different publications or settings by Khandoshkin. A joyful and rhythmic set in A major, it originally was published with 13 variations; the pizzicato invokes images of a balalaika. 'Is this my fate' is well-known from its settings in Beethoven's Op. 59, Razumovsky Quartets. Beethoven turned to L'vov-Prach (No. 9) as his source. An urban song of the drawn-out (protiazhenyi) sort, it appears in at least two settings by Khandoshkin. 'Little dove, why do you sit so sadly' is also a drawn-out song, found in L'vov-Prach (No. 18), Trutovsky (v. I, No. 5), and in three quite lyrical settings (including his Op. 1) by Khandoshkin. 'What happened' was first published without title, although the song was known as "Should I teach you, Vanya (Nauchit' lit e, Vaniusha)" in the nineteenth century. An expressive song, the setting here mixes major and minor modes. Once I gathered golden sheaves is the shortest set of variations, in minor mode but mixing in major harmony and using a mixture of dotted rhythms. 'Once I was a young man' is a dance-song found in L'vov-Prach (No. 84), Trutovsky (v. III, No. 50), and two settings by Khandoshkin. An effective and brilliant set of variations, it has a perky insouciance running through a wide variety of ideas.

Anastasia Khitruk's performances are virtuosic and colourful. The clear phrasing, rhythmic verve, and imaginative playing recreate Catherine's court and Khandoshkin's music with a vivacity the composer himself would have envied.

Anne Mischakoff Heiles

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