Leonid Kogan
A Tribute - by Roland Herrera

Leonid ( " Leonia " to his friends ) Borisovitch Kogan ( b. ( Ekaterinoslav ) Dnepropetrovsk ( Ukraine ) 14 November 1924 - 17 November 1982 ) received his first violin lessons at the age of 7 at his local elementary school. His parents, both photographers, did not consider themselves a musical couple, though Leonid's father did play the violin, and at the age of three, Leonid was so fascinated that he would not go to sleep unless he had his father's violin beside him. At the age of 5 his parents started thinking about a correct sized violin and a suitable teacher, after constant begging from Leonid. Kogan himself recalls having started music lessons at the age of 6 years. His first teacher was Philip Yampolsky, ( a pupil of Auer ). Leonid almost gave up after only two lessons, but by playing just a few minutes each day he kept his enthusiasm alive. " I cannot say that in my childhood I played with pleasure " remembers Kogan, as he enjoyed playing pieces at which he had to work least ! Kogan recalls : " For the first 2 months I could not play for more than five minutes without interruptions. My left hand felt full of lead, and my head much heavier. " But, in reflection Kogan says that Philip Yampolsky had inspired in him " a love of work, which I think is most important. Also he gave me a very solid foundation, as he himself was an excellent violinist.".

Leonid made a public appearance in Kharkov at about this stage, after which it was decided to further Leonid's education in Moscow. At the age of 10 his family moved to Moscow, where he was able to study with Abram Yampolsky ( curiously no relation to Philip Yampolsky ) , himself a famous disciple of Auer. One day, when Kogan was 12 years old, Jacques Thibaud paid a visit to Moscow, and listened to Kogan play during his classes with Yampolsky. Thibaud was most impressed and predicted a great career for this young musician. Abram Yampolsky was soon to be so impressed and interested in the gifted boy, that he arranged for him to live at his home.

There was daily guidance in addition to the classroom work, and Leonid progressed rapidly. Among early works he studied were Corelli's " La Folia " and Ries's " Perpetuum Mobile ". Also the studies that he had at that time were those of Kreutzer, Gavinies, ( Fiorillo ), Dont and Rode. About Rode Kogan says " In my opinion the best are studies by Rode. They give the violinist the full technical background he needs." Leonid Kogan once remarked during later life : " I play scales every day - I find it just as important as eating or sleeping or brushing my teeth ". Having one hour to study, Kogan devotes half to scales and the other half to etudes. On scales Kogan remarks : " I do not recognize the three-octave scale, but only the four-octave. The reason is that the four-octave in the final octave gives an opportunity for a violinist to develop fully the dexterity of hands on the upper positions. For the sake of sonority and correct intonation it is necessary to master all the highest positions on the fingerboard." Kogan stresses the use of scales in which all the notes are equal, thus enabling one to ascend from the lowest A say to the highest in an uninterrupted flow, without stopping the left hand.

Kogan studied at the Central Music School in Moscow, then at the Moscow Conservatory ( 1943-48 ) and as a postgraduate ( 1948-51 ). The special curriculum at the Central Music School combined intense musical study, and a standard general education, all designed for particularly gifted children. At the age of 17 he gave his first concert, and started touring the USSR even though still a student. Fortunately, despite his early success in concert, he was sparred from the exploitation as a child prodigy by his parents. While still a student, he was co-winner of the first prize at the World Youth Festival, in Prague. Then an important breakthrough occurred : in 1951 Kogan won first prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. His interpretation of Paganini's first concerto was performed with stunning virtuosity and in a classical fashion ( Sauret cadenza ). Both audience and jury were enchanted by the artistic mastery and virtuosity of the brilliant Soviet violinist. Also participating were the Soviet violinists Michail Waiman and Olga Kaworsnewa. David Oistrakh, in the jury ( together with Jacques Thibaud ) said " You of course know that our position is good, our youngsters play very well, they are at the centre of the audience's attention - above all, of course, Leonia, then Mischa. This pair have no serious rivals...Leonia and Mischa will probably get the first two prizes. " He was right : Leonid Kogan ( aged 26 ) came first, followed by Michail Waiman ( aged 24 ), second prize. Together with David Oistrach and Eduard Gratch, Leonid Kogan ranked among the best representatives of the Russian / Jewish school of violin playing. However, Oistrakh's name was always promoted so strongly by Soviet authorities, that Kogan was slightly over-shadowed by him in his lifetime. This was also because Kogan shunned publicity by nature. Kogan was a great friend of David Oistrakh, and Kogan would often listen to Oistrakh's evening classes and performance. Though sixteen years older than Kogan, Oistrakh always treated him as an equal, a colleague, without any trace of superiority. Another violinist that was linked to Kogan was Heifetz. Recalling Heifetz's concerts of 1934, Kogan says " I attended all of his concerts and can remember until now every note played by him....Heifetz was the ideal artist for me. ". Also Szigeti seems to have inspired Kogan. He wrote to Szigeti, after the latter's concert; " I resolve to follow in your footsteps, a difficult undertaking indeed."

His official debut was made in 1941 when he first played the Brahms Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. In Europe, he made his debuts in Paris and London in 1955, and then toured South America and the USA in the following years. In 1952 ( virtually from the time he finished his post graduate studies there ) he joined the Teaching Staff at the Moscow Conservatory, and was appointed Professor there in 1963. Kogan married Elizaveta Gilels ( sister of the famous pianist Emil Gilels ) also a concert violinist. With Emil Gilels and Rostropovich, Kogan formed a Trio recording Beethoven's " Archduke", the Schumann D minor, the Tchaikovsky, the Saint Saens, the Brahms Horn Trio, and the Faure C minor Quartet. Kogan later formed another Trio with the conductor Svetlanov ( Pianist ) and cellist Luzanov. Kogan was the first Soviet violinist to play and record Berg's Violin concerto. Among works dedicated to him are concertos by Knipper, Krennikov, Karayev and Bunin, the Concerto-Rhapsody by Khachaturian and Sonatas by Levitin and Vainberg. Kogan had a repertoire of over 18 concertos, including Vivaldi and the Bach E major concerto. These concertos he would play in a grand cycle of 6 evenings under the title of " Development of the Violin Concerto ". In 1976 Kogan was a member of the jury of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. In 1980 Kogan was invited to teach at the Academia Chigiana in Sienna, Italy.

Kogan's recordings and interpretations are impressive. His manner of varying the singing tone of his violin, the intensity of his sound, and the fantasy and sensations he expresses are truly magnificent. Oistrakh, after hearing him play in a concert when Kogan was only 17 years old remarked " Kogan played very precisely, with astonishing mastery and maturity. I was amazed by his sound and the breath of the movement." Kogan would perform all of Paganini's Capricci, for example at the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and these concerts were always a unique experience for those who attended. Kogan's style is considered more modern than that of Oistrakh. Kogan's playing, according to Boris Schwarz, was leaner, more angular and aggressive. It is more rhythmic and propulsive than Oistrakh's meditative approach and his vibrato faster and purer. His style was perhaps more objective than that of Oistrakh, and certainly very different. He avoided flamboyant effects, and was rather reticent on stage.

His violin was a Guarneri del Gesł dated 1726 ( although he also had another one dated 1733 ) , which Oistrakh acquired for him in the early 1960s. Kogan had played a Stradivarius in the early years of his career. His son, Pavel, born in 1952, became a famous violinist and conductor. His daughter, Nina, a pianist, accompanied him in later years. Sadly Leonid Kogan died prematurely, in a train, at the Mytischa railway station while on tour. He was only 58 years old. Kogan was made an Honoured Artist in 1955, a People's Artist of the USSR in 1964, and received the Lenin Prize in 1965.



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Last modified: February 04, 2000