Our music for this week is “Nel cor pui non mi sento” form Giovanni Paisello’s opera “La Molinara,” or “The Miller-Woman.” However, instead of being performed in an operatic format, we’ll be hearing it playing in a transcription for solo violin by the Russian legend Leonid Kogan.
There isn’t much to say about the music. It simply takes the primary themes of the opera and piles them high with tricks for the violinist to utilize in his or her attempt to dazzle the audience. Sarasate, the great 19th-century Spaniard who supposedly mastered all of Paganini’s caprices by the age of 12, did this quite often. For instance, he took all of the famous themes from the most famous opera of his time (Carmen), transcribed them for violin, then stuffed it to the gills with nearly impossible tricks for the violinist to (hopefully) master.
Leonid Kogan, however, deserves significant mention. He was born into a poor Ukranian family who recognized his enormous musical potential and moved to Moscow in order for him to study with the famous pedagogy Abram Yampolsky. After playing for the French virtuoso Jacques Thibaud, Kogan broke onto the world scene when he won the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. However, Kogan’s success was sadly short-lived. The Soviet government had already found its favorite musician in the legendary violinist David Oistrakh, and it endlessly promoted and favored his (admittedly tremendous) talents. This led to an over-shadowing of Kogan’s entire career; his musical gifts were never recognized by his own country. For instance, he was never able to own a Stradavarious violin as he so desperately wanted to. Instead, he had no choice but to use the Guarneri violins that the Soviet government loaned him. Despite these difficulties, he was awarded some of the highest musical honors in the world throughout his lifetime and performed up until the day he died. (This is, believe it or not, not a joke – he performed the Beethoven concerto in Vienna at 7pm on December 17, 1982 and passed away in his sleep later that night).