In theory there is a possibility of perfect happiness: To believe in the indestructible element within one, and not to strive towards it.

Franz Kafka

David Oistrakh - biography

David Fyodorovich Oistrakh (Russian and Ukrainian: Давид Фёдорович Ойстрах, David Fiodorovič Ojstrakh; September 30 [O.S. September 17] 1908 – October 24, 1974) was a Soviet violin master and virtuoso who made many recordings and was the dedicatee of numerous violin works. His recordings and performances of Shostakovich's concerti are particularly well known, but he was also a performer of classical concerti. He worked with orchestras in Russia, and also with musicians in Europe and the United States. The violin concerto of Aram Khachaturian is dedicated to him, as are the two violin concerti by Dmitri Shostakovich.


Early years

He was born in the cosmopolitan city of Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) into a Jewish family of merchants of the second guild. His father was David Kolker and his mother was Isabella Beyle (née Stepanovsky), who later on married Fishl Oistrakh. At the age of five, young David began studying violin and viola seriously with a local teacher named Pyotr Stolyarsky. He was Oistrakh's first and only teacher. Stolyarsky also taught Nathan Milstein, with whom Oistrakh was to share his first concert appearance in 1914, when Milstein graduated from the Conservatoire. Having made his debut in Odessa at the age of 6, Oistrakh entered the Odessa Conservatory in 1923 where he studied until 1926. In the Conservatory he also studied special harmony with famous composer Mykola Vilinsky. There he played the Bach A minor Concerto. His 1926 graduation concert consisted of Bach's Chaconne, Tartini's Devil's Trill Sonata, Rubinstein's Viola Sonata, and Prokofiev's D major Concerto. He appeared as soloist playing the Glazunov Violin Concerto under the composer's direction in Kiev in 1927 - a concert which earned him an invitation to play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto in Leningrad with the Philharmonic Orchestra under Nikolai Malko the following year.

In Moscow

In the same year, Oistrakh decided to move to Moscow where he gave his first recital and met his future wife Tamara Rotareva, a pianist, whom he was to marry a year later. In 1931, their only child Igor was born, a son who was to follow in his father's footsteps and would be heard later playing violin with his father in works such as the Bach Double Concerto and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante.

From 1934 onwards, he obtained a position teaching at the Moscow Conservatory where he was made professor in 1939. There, he was among such greats as Yuri Yankelevich and Boris Goldstein. Oistrakh taught Oleg Kagan, Gidon Kremer, Igor Oistrakh, Victor Danchenko and Cyrus Forough.

From 1940, he played in a trio with the cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky and the pianist Lev Oborin. It was sometimes referred to as the Oistrakh Trio. They performed widely and made many recordings, until Knushevitsky's death in 1963.


Oistrakh found international fame by winning several national and international competitions including the 1935 Soviet Union competition. Oistrakh won second prize at the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Warsaw in the same year, losing first prize to the 16-year-old prodigy Ginette Neveu. (Henri Temianka placed third.) However, in 1937 he captured top prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition (then known as the Eugene Ysaÿe Competition) in Brussels. During this period, he also began a lengthy friendship and partnership with the great pianist Lev Oborin, as well as coming under the influence of violinist Jacques Thibaud.

Within the Soviet Union, David Oistrakh was awarded the Stalin Prize (1943), the title of People's Artist of the USSR (1953), and the Lenin Prize (1960).

During WWII

During World War II, he was active in the Soviet Union, premiering new concerti by Nikolai Miaskovsky and Khachaturian as well as two sonatas by his friend Sergei Prokofiev. He was also awarded the Stalin Prize in 1942. The final years of the war saw the blossoming of a friendship with Shostakovich, which would lead to the two violin concertos and the sonata, all of which were to be premiered by and become firmly associated with Oistrakh in the following years. Oistrakh's career was set from this point, except for one small hitch - the Soviet Union was "protective" of its people and refused to let him leave. He continued to teach in the Moscow Conservatory, but when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, he went to the front lines, playing for soldiers and factory workers under intensely difficult conditions. The most heroic act in his life was his performance of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto to the end in the downtown music hall during the Battle of Stalingrad in winter 1942 while downtown Stalingrad was being massively bombed by the German Luftwaffe.

International travel

Oistrakh was allowed to travel after the end of the war. He traveled to the countries in the Soviet bloc and even to the West. His first foreign engagement was to appear at the newly founded "Prague Spring" Festival where he met with enormous success. In 1949 he gave his first concert in the West - in Helsinki. In 1951, he appeared at the "Maggio Musicale" Festival in Florence, in 1952 he was in East Germany for the Beethoven celebrations, France in 1953, Britain in 1954, and eventually, in 1955, he was allowed to tour the United States. By 1959, he was beginning to establish a second career as a conductor, and in 1960 he was awarded the coveted Lenin Prize. His Moscow conducting debut followed in 1962, and by 1967 he had established a partnership with the celebrated Soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter.

Later years

1968 saw wide celebrations for the violinist's sixtieth birthday, which included a celebratory performance in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory of the Tchaikovsky concerto, one of his favourite works, under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Oistrakh was now seen as one of the great violinists of his time, among such luminaries as Romania's George Enescu and Lithuanian born Jascha Heifetz.

Oistrakh suffered a heart attack as early as 1964. He survived and continued to work at a furious pace. He had already become one of the principal cultural ambassadors for the Soviet Union to the West in live concerts and recordings. After conducting a cycle of Brahms with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, he died of another heart attack in Amsterdam in 1974. His remains were returned to Moscow where he was interred in Novodevichy Cemetery.

The asteroid 42516 Oistrach is named in honour of him and his son, the violinist Igor Oistrakh.


David Oistrakh is known to have played on at least seven state-owned Stradivarius violins. He then settled on the 1702 Conte di Fontana Stradivarius which he played for 10 years, before trading it for the 1705 Marsick Stradivarius in June 1966, which he owned until his death.

David Oistrakh used bows by Albert Nürnberger and Andre Richaume throughout his life. Up until 1957, he used the Nürnberger bow. "The Andre Richaume bow bought by his son Igor Oistrakh in 1957, had filled David with such enthusiasm that Igor made a gift of it." Oistrakh had remarked that this (Richaume) bow gave him great satisfaction, so much so that when in Paris, he had to go meet Richaume in person.

Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   David Oistrakh

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