During Stalin’s Terror, when millions were murdered, Oistrakh lived in constant fear of arrest. Instead, while many of his fellow artists were imprisoned or killed, Oistrakh became a Soviet brand name. His artistic triumphs were ruthlessly exploited by the state; he was an instrument of totalitarianism. For many years he remained completely unknown in the West, a prisoner of the political system, like all others. He died early, virtually worked to death by the state.
David Oistrakh (1908-1974) was one of the greatest, most beloved violinists who ever lived. His warmly expressive playing is known for its unequalled intensity and technical brilliance. It was the fate of this adorable man to be used as a tool of propaganda by the Soviet Union. The Soviets believed that Oistrakh’s Jewishness would protect them from outside accusations of antisemitism.
A humble, self-effacing artist, Oistrakh was apologetic about his increasing chubbiness, mentioning that he had to be careful that his bow didn’t bump into his tummy. You can see and hear him here, performing Debussy’s familiar, serenely meditative Clair de lune.