While living in London in late November of 1984, Dukov received an invitation to attend a gala celebration of Nathan Milstein’s 80th birthday, hosted by “The Bohemians” Musicians Club in New York City, on December 7th.
He accepted the invitation, and inquired what will be performed at the event. The answer surprised him.
A gathering of great violinists including Perlman, Stern, Friedman, Dicterow plus many other local violinist luminaries, were all going to play the Bach Preludio (one of Milstein’s favorite encores) in UNISON!!
Believing this to be a fun idea, but by no means a real “gift” to the Maestro, Dukov asked if he could write something especially for the occasion.
He was given the green light to do so, but was told that it couldn’t exceed 5 minutes in length!
And that is how, in the spur of the moment, the idea came to him to write the “Variations on a Birthday Theme in the Style of Paganini & Wieniawski for 2 Violins.
Within that week, Dukov then wrote the piece and had it professionally hand-copied (no computer music writing programs back then), leather bound and ready to present to Milstein at the gala.
He used actual passages from Paganini’s “Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento”, 16th Caprice and Wieniawski’s “Scherzo Tarantelle”, in their original keys, all against the theme of “Happy Birthday”!
He also cleverly used idiomatic passages and writing styles from these giants of violin composition, to compose original variations that sound as if they were written by the masters themselves! And as a kicker, he used the opening of Milstein’s favorite encore, the Bach Preludio to end the piece!
Dukov performed it at the gala event in December 1983, along with Itzhak Perlman.
It has since been performed worldwide for innumerable birthday celebrations!
Here is what some of the greats say about the piece:
"The variations are very clever and innovative and very effective for the violin. I thank you for this wonderful present."
"A true bravo for a brilliant arrangement and performance."
Hilary Hahn: (who has been playing this piece since the age of 14!)
"At Marlboro and Curtis, people were laughing and cheering with each new variation -- and the final Bach quote brought the house down."
Henry Roth: (reviewer, "Strad Magazine")
"Your 'Happy Birthday' is certainly unique.
I have no doubt that both Paganini and Wieniawski, whose music you so skillfully utilize in your transcription, would be delighted to be associated with so devilishly clever a creation.
And needless to say, your virtuoso performance is stunning.
Good Luck and Bravo!"
You are such a fabulous violinist and virtuoso and performer. It is stupendous playing and musicianship. You are like a Shumsky: a secret known and appreciated by the knowledgable minority! I embrace you dear friend!