The violin, or fiddle, has been used in a wide variety of music styles ranging from classic, jazz, folk and even rock. It's a day to appreciate the instrument and the music it makes.
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (sometimes spelled Strawinsky or Stravinskii; 17 June /O.S. 5 June/ 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian (and later, a naturalized French and American) composer, pianist and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).
The Rite of Spring, which provoked a riot during its premiere, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design.
Stravinsky has been called "one of music's truly epochal innovators". The most important aspect of Stravinsky's work, aside from his technical innovations (including in rhythm and harmony), is the 'changing face' of his compositional style while always 'retaining a distinctive, essential identity'.
The idea of writing a violin concerto was suggested to Stravinsky in 1930 by Willy Strecker, head of the Schott publishing firm in Mainz, as a vehicle for a young Polish-American violinist named Samuel Dushkin. The composer's initial, seemingly alarmed response was, "But I am not a violinist!" He was, in fact, a pianist, whose two previous concertos had been written for his own performance. But this turned out not to be a rejection of the notion of writing for the violin; it was a qualified yes.
Stravinsky sought the advice of fellow composer Paul Hindemith, who was also a professional violist. Hindemith assured Stravinsky that the lack of first-hand experience with the violin would not be an impediment; on the contrary, he was certain that it would help Stravinsky "avoid a routine technique and would give rise to ideas which would not be suggested by the familiar movement of the fingers." Stravinsky, who seldom (ever?) lacked self-confidence was reassured by these words and set himself to the task.
Dushkin would himself recall of the earliest stages of work on the Concerto. "One day when we were lunching in a restaurant, Stravinsky took out a piece of paper and wrote down this chord and asked me if it could be played. I had never seen a chord with such an enormous stretch, from the E to the top A, and I said 'No.' Stravinsky said sadly 'Quel dommage!' (What a pity!) After I got home, I tried it, and, to my astonishment, found that in that register, the stretch of the eleventh was relatively easy to play, and the sound fascinated me. I telephoned Stravinsky at once to tell him that it could be done. When the Concerto was finished, more than six months later, I understood his disappointment when I first said 'No.' This chord, in a different dress, begins each of the four movements." Stravinsky himself calls it his "passport" to the Concerto.
The world premiere took place on October 23, 1931, in Berlin, the composer conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony with, of course, Dushkin as soloist.
Stravinsky's Violin Concerto followed the reverse procedure of the composer's ballet scores, which began life as music for the stage and then became even more popular in concert, e.g. Le sacre du printemps and Petrushka. George Balanchine, with the composer looking over his shoulder, choreographed the Concerto in 1941 as Balustrade for Col. De Basil's Ballet Russe. This version quickly disappeared. And although the Concerto had by the late 1950s been taken up by such celebrated artists as Arthur Grumiaux and Isaac Stern, it did not, ironically, become part of the repertoire of every young violin virtuoso with the fingers (a given these days) and, perhaps more importantly, the requisite rhythmic acuity and saucy wit until after 1972, when Balanchine returned to the score with new choreography - now titled, simply, Violin Concerto - for his own New York City Ballet. It proved to be one of the great successes of his later career and, incidentally or not, an inspiration to concert violinists as well.