The art of Russian Masters

The art of Russian Masters
State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Arts at 10 Gogolevsky Boulevard
December 17, 2009 – January 17, 2010

The State Collection of Unique Musical Instruments is one among the oldest collections in Russia. It was initiated by cellist Victor L. Kubatsky (1891-1970). According to the founders’ idea, nationalized instruments from the collection were to be distributed among best performers after a competition; however, such a competition was held one time only.
It is important that the beginnings of this collection are connected with Konstantin V. Tretyakov, namesake of the famous founder of the Tretyakov Gallery. For many years, he collected rare Italian pieces and also commissioned violins from contemporary – mostly French – masters. In 1877-1878, Tretyakov gifted first ten, and after that, five more violins to the Moscow Conservatory; in his letter to Professor I. Grzhimali he stressed one indispensable condition: those violins should never be “sold or changed for others; they should always remain in possession of the Conservatory to be used by poorest students”. The Conservatory has fulfilled this condition: for many years, talented young musicians have played instruments from Tretyakov’s collection. In total, Tretyakov passed about 30 instruments of the highest quality to the Conservatory – among them were items made by Antonio Stradivari.
Tretyakov’s collection, which was kept in the Conservatory for about 40 years, neatly joined the State Collection; the instruments were handled over in 1920. The State Collection carried on the tradition of supporting gifted musicians. Among the major concerns of the State Collection was promoting the Russian violin school and providing performers with quality instruments. Right away, instruments from the collection were used by Russian performers of the 20s – from the Bolshoi Theatre, from the famous Stradivari Quartet, from Persimfans (the first symphonic orchestra without conductor), from Viliom Quartet, and so on.
In the 1920s, Kubatsky found some unique instruments in the Crimea and brought them to Moscow. Among them was a cello made by Niccolo Amati and discovered in a derelict mansion in Simferopol; later, Mstislav Rostropovich played this instrument.
In the first stage of forming the collection, which can be roughly defined as 1919-1924, it comprised 111 instruments that still constitute its most valuable part. In 1924, the collection kept in the Bolshoi Theatre was transferred to the State Institute of Musical Science (SIMS). From the very beginning, the collection attracted various professionals, including performing musicians, conservators of old instruments and makers of new ones, historians of music etc. As a result, three independent but interrelated departments appeared – the collection, the scientific commission for instruments, and the workshops. There well-known specialists worked, such as G.A. Morozov, V.N. Oznobischev, A.A. Rozhdestvensky, N.M. Frolov, N.A. Dubinin, I.V. Shamraevsky, and others. One person should be noted specially – E.F. Vitachek, violin-maker and first conservator of the collection.
The work of SIMS employees was fully based on the research of items from the State Collection, made by Stradivari and other great masters. Studying classic violins, Russian masters of those years interpreted old methods in their new works. The SIMS period was the most productive in studying antique instruments from the State Collection. It was then when numerous articles, collected and monographic works on violin were published.
During World War II, the State Collection didn’t lose a single instrument. Owing to its employees and the superintendent of the Bolshoi Theatre, the State Collection was evacuated to the Urals, and after the war it returned to Moscow safe.
In the 1980s-1990s, several exhibitions involving instruments from the State Collection were organized in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Tretyakov Gallery, as well as in Cremona, Italy. Two massive volumes were published: “The State Collection in Italy” and “The Great Russian Collection”.
Since the early 1990s, new opportunities in expertise, conservation and research of the instruments appeared, as well as new digital archive technologies. It was now possible to exhibit within the walls of the State Collection. For the first time ever, sound quality of the instruments was tested in a cosy musical salon, which hosted some finest performances.
It seems that the world hasn’t seen any considerable music competition that didn’t involve violins from the State Collection. These competitions include Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Marguerite Long – Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris, Paganini Competition in Genoa, etc.
The State Collection of Unique Musical Instruments is the only “sounding” collection in the world: the instruments aren’t kept on shelves as museum exhibits, but rather are constantly played. The musicians who cooperated with the State Collection include David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonid Kogan, Vladimir Spivakov, Victor Tretyakov, Yuri Bashmet, orchestras of Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, “Moscow Virtuosos” and “Moscow Soloists” orchestras, the Tchaikovsky Great Symphonic Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, as well as various quartets and companies.

Moscow Museum of Modern Art