Veniamin Fleishman. Rothschild’s Violin. Opera. Orchestration by Dmitri Shostakovich
Concert version on 20 June 1960 at the All-Union House of Composers in Moscow. Was performed with the participation of soloists of the Moscow Philharmonic under the baton of Grigori Zinger, with two pianos replacing the orchestra. The stage premiere of Rothschild’s Violin was held on 24 April 1968 at the Leningrad Conservatory.
Volume 146, New Collected Works, DSCH Publishers, Moscow. 2023
Manuscript of Shostakovich’s orchestrated score (RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 1, f. 57)
ROTHSCHILD’S VIOLIN BY FLEISHMAN-SHOSTAKOVICH:
THE DIFFICULT ROAD TO RECOGNITION
The one-act opera Rothschild’s Violin based on Anton Chekhov’s short story of the same name is the only surviving work by composer Veniamin Iosifovich Fleishman (1913-1941), one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s favourite students from the Leningrad Conservatory. Publication of Fleishman’s opera in Shostakovich’s Collected Works is an unusual, but understandable fact. Rothschild’s Violin is the only composition in which Shostakovich featured as a co-author for one of his students. In so doing, he paid tribute to the memory of this young composer who died a heroic death during the first months of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).
The beginning of the Great Patriotic War interrupted Fleishman’s work on the opera. On 5 July 1941, he signed up as a volunteer in the militia of Leningrad’s Oktyabrsky District. On 14 September of the same year, he was killed along with two other composers from the conservatory, Zaur Gagloev and Aleksey Katakin, when a bunker exploded near Krasnoye Selo outside Leningrad.
Before leaving for the front, Fleishman asked his wife, Lyudmila Vasil’evna, to take his briefcase containing the manuscript of Rothschild’s Violin to the Leningrad Union of Composers. Thanks to this, the piano score and the score of the opera survived.
After he found out about his student’s death, Shostakovich was concerned about the fate of his opera, which, in his own words, “he loved very much”. The manuscript of Rothschild’s Violin was sent to Shostakovich at the end of 1943.
After Shostakovich received the manuscript, he began finishing the full score and completed it on 5 February 1944 in Moscow. The piano score of Rothschild’s Violin, written in Shostakovich’s hand, is not dated. When comparing it with the full score, it can be assumed that it was done later. This is evidenced by the fact that the additions (made to the vocal parts in the full score) and the metronome marks (inserted into the full score by someone else and with corrections) were transferred to the piano score without any corrections.
In his preface to the hand-written full score, Shostakovich says that he “finished orchestrating Rothschild’s Violin and rewrote the pencilled score”. The most significant addition he made was the orchestration of the opera’s ending in keeping with Fleishman’s piano score, which accounts for approximately one third of the entire work.
It took a while for Shostakovich to arrange for the premiere of Rothschild’s Violin. After the war, having finished the score, he tried to make arrangements for it to be staged at the Bolshoi Theatre, but in vain. In 1960, Shostakovich returned to editing the opera. This may have been prompted by the preparations for the premiere of its concert version to be held on 20 June 1960 at the All-Union House of Composers in Moscow. It was performed with the participation of soloists of the Moscow Philharmonic under the baton of Grigori Zinger, with two pianos replacing the orchestra.
The piano score of Rothschild’s Violin was put out in 1965 by the Muzyka Publishers in Moscow. This publication was based on Shostakovich’s manuscript, although the hand-written and printed piano scores do not fully coincide—there are differences in the metronome marks, dynamic marks, etc.
The stage premiere of Rothschild’s Violin was held on 24 April 1968 at the Leningrad Conservatory as the final event of the Young Composers of Russia festival organised by the Experimental Studio of Chamber Opera.
Rothschild’s Violin did not really gain true renown until after Shostakovich passed away, at the beginning of the 1980s. This was promoted by the appearance of several of its recordings conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. These recordings reproduced in the feature film Le violon de Rothschild by Argentinean scriptwriter and director Edgardo Cozarinsky (1996). In addition to the opera, the film is based on fragments of the biography of the dead composer; the role of Veniamin Fleishman is played by Dainius Kazlauskas and Dmitri Shostakovich by Sergey Makovetsky.
In the 1980s-1990s, several stage premieres of Rothschild’s Violin were held: in Ufa (1987), in Helsinki (1988), in the Moscow Helikon Opera Theatre (1991), and at TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) in Voronezh (1992). Later concert performances organised by conductors prevailed. Following Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, they were carried out by Vassili Petrenko with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Roman Astakhov in the main role (2006), James Colon in New York at the Opera Theatre of the Juilliard School (2008), Karen Durgarian with the orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre and soloists of the Academy of Young Singers (2016) and others.