Vissarion Shebalin: Orientalia


Close friend and colleague of Dmitri Shostakovich, Vissarion Shebalin (1902-63) has remained a largely unexplored Soviet composer. Although unexplored, his music has such depth to it, as well as holding on to integrity. Shostakovich described Shebalin:


“His kindness, honesty and absolute adherence to principle always amazed me. His enormous talent and great mastery immediately earned him burning love and authority with friends and the musical community.”


The Music

Orientalia was composed in 1946 and is an emotionally-driven work for solo violin and piano. Set into three movements, Shebalin explores the integrity of the violin through music, utilising its depth of sound and dynamic range. 


Movement I – Moderato

The opening movement starts quietly with a gentle pulsating figure from the piano. The violin enters with a dance-like theme which sees Shebalin using double stops and other such techniques to bring the violin to the forefront of the duo. The simplicity of the music adds to the effect as the duo develop through nuanced harmony and rhythm. There is an attractive depth of sound in the music which Shebalin utilises through elongated phrases and the piano’s accompaniment. After a short reprise of the opening theme, the movement concludes quietly. 


Movement II – Andante assai

The lyrical second movement is where Shebalin tries to tug at your heartstrings. Long sweeping melodies paired with highly Romantic harmony creates a delicate melody that the violin develops. Rich in texture and harmony, Shebalin’s melodic writing is at the forefront of this movement. Nuanced harmony changes adds dissonance into the music, whilst still making this such a beautiful lyrical movement. As the duo reach the climax in the final reprise, we hear so many colours burst from within. Playing in its highest register, the violin brings this movement to a close. 


Movement III – Allegro molto

After a fast flourish at the beginning, the finale movement is by far the fastest of the three movements. The cheeky character is carried by the intricate violin part that sweeps in and out of the piano accompaniment. There is a buzz in this movement not previously experienced, which adds a new dimension to this trio of pieces. As the tempo speeds up, the movement ends with the duo uniting to play the final chords together. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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