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(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. 

Role: Classical Composer 
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