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Timeline: A Violin's Journey - Part 1

Sergei Palchikoff's violin began it's journey from Russia to Japan as Sergei fought with the "White Russian" resistance to Soviet control.
Images U.S. Public Domain - collage by James Stewart
Sergei Palchikoff's violin began it's journey from Russia to Japan as Sergei fought with the "White Russian" resistance to Soviet control.

We begin with a performance by violinist, Soichi Sakuma playing at a school in 2017 on a hibaku-violin, an instrument that survived the atomic blast of Hiroshima in 1945. On Timeline we’ve been telling the stories of instruments just like this, relics of a time of great suffering and how they have been rescued, restored and are now being used to play songs of peace. This violin has a history of violence and conflict spanning well over a hundred years. The story of this instrument is really the story of its original owner, Sergei Palchikoff and his family.


Sergei Palchikoff was born in Russia in 1893 to a wealthy, noble family. His musical talents were encouraged from an early age. His parents bought Sergei a violin made in Italy, home of the finest violin makers in the world. Later in life, Sergei would become a music teacher, leading and conducting orchestras and playing multiple stringed instruments; but as a young man, Sergei Palchikoff was employed as an officer of the Palace Guard for the Romanov family.

The Romanov’s were the imperial house of Russia for over 300 years establishing the Russian Empire as a major power on the world stage. In 1917, everything came crashing down as a series of revolutions saw the abdication of the Tsar and the eventual execution and exile of the entire Romanov family. The October Revolution was one of the bloodiest coups in modern history, as the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Vladmir Lenin, sought to overthrow the monarchy in favor of a soviet, socialist republic, a “Red” Army.

In the midst of this turmoil and revolution, Sergei Palchikoff remained loyal to the empire and to the Tsar. He joined the “White Russian” movement, a counter-revolutionary/anti-communist group symbolized by the color white opposing the color red. Palchikoff was quickly made a captain and was given his own troops to command.

Civil war raged across Russia. The “White” Army was pushed back, further and further until Palchikoff and his family found themselves stranded in Siberia, with the Bolsheviks on one side and the East Sea on the other. It was here, at the port of Vladivostok that Sergei’s first child, Kaleria was born. Perhaps the birth of his daughter is the reason way Sergei and his troops decided to hijack a cargo ship headed for Japan, leaving Russian soil, maybe forever.

To call it a hijacking is not entirely accurate. It was more a surrender. Palchikoff and his troops were now international fugitives. They were forced to give up their uniforms, weapons and many personal items. However, in the midst of all of this turmoil and upheaval, through a war that crossed a continent, to becoming a political refugee, Sergei Palchikoff still kept his beloved violin with him through it all.

The Palchikoff family and Sergei’s violin arrived in Japan in 1921. They made a new home for themselves in the city of Hiroshima.

Join us as we continue the story of Palchikoff’s violin and follow the Timeline.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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