ERNST: Music for Violin and Orchestra
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Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814-1865)
Othello Fantasy • Concerto Pathétique • Elégie • Concertino • Rondo Papageno
The violinist and composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst was born in Brno in 1814 and after early study and appearances in his native city entered the Vienna Conservatory in 1825 as a pupil of Joseph Böhm, whose pupils were to include Joseph Joachim and Brahms's early collaborator, Ede Reményi. He took composition lessons with Ignaz von Seyfried, who had been a piano pupil of Mozart and a composition pupil of Albrechtsberger and Winter. In 1828 he heard Paganini in Vienna later and soon abandoned his studies, after disciplinary action against him for unauthorised absence. Setting out on a concert tour, he made his way to Paris, where he was able to hear more of Paganini, whose unpublished compositions he played by ear, in 1837 anticipating Paganini's arrival in Marseille by giving his own concert there. He visited London in 1843 and settled there in the 1850s. He continued to appear throughout Europe until about 1857, when he turned his attention rather to chamber music, collaborating from 1859 with Joachim, Wienawski and Piatti in the Beethoven Quartet Society. In 1864 he retired to Nice, to find some relief from gout, and died there the following year.
Ernst's compositions were chiefly for his own instrument, including, in addition to the works given here, another concerto, a Boléro, a Polonaise, Variations on a Dutch National Air/Anthem, Carnaval de Venise, Variations on Hungarian Airs and a work based on themes from Bellini's opera Il pirata. He duly provided cadenzas for Beethoven's Violin Concerto and for one of Spohr's concertos, extended the string quartet repertoire with further operatic variations, and wrote a number of virtuoso pieces for violin and piano, including variations on operas in current repertoire. His compositions for unaccompanied violin include a set of Six Polyphonic Studies, published posthumously. The last of these is a technically demanding treatment of The Last Rose of Summer, dedicated to the Italian virtuoso Antonio Bazzini. Ernst was greatly respected as a performer and as a musician. He collaborated with Berlioz in performances of Harold en Italie, was accompanied by Mendelssohn, and was regarded by Joachim as the greatest violinist of the time. Berlioz, indeed, had the highest praise for him as a man and as a musician. His technical accomplishments reflected the strong influence of Paganini, many of whose innovations he made part of his virtuoso armoury.
Ernst's Fantaisie Brillante sur la Marche et la Romance d'Otello de Rossini takes themes from the first act of Rossini's opera and the famous Romance sung in the last act by Desdemona. The opera had had its first performance in Naples in 1816, and Ernst's Fantasy was published in 1839. The orchestra starts the introduction, marked Andante non troppo, sounding the opening of the March, before the more lyrical entry of the violin, leading to double stopping, with an ascending chromatic scale in thirds and a passage in octaves, before a brief cadenza. The orchestra leads to the soloist's treatment of the March. The violin then offers a first variation, with further feats of virtuosity in the slower second variation, with its interspersed harmonics. The orchestra returns before a change of key and the violin version of Desdemona's Willow Song, which is then embellished, a passage of greater rapidity leading to a cadenza before the third variation, a return to the introduction, and a conclusion.
The Concerto Allegro-Pathétique in F sharp minor, Op. 23, was dedicated to the violinist Ferdinand David, Mendelssohn's colleague in Leipzig, and published there in 1850. In one movement, the work opens with an orchestral exposition in which the two principal themes are heard. The soloist's entry brings the expected demands in a treatment of the first subject, leading to the more lyrical secondary material. The themes are developed with a subtle display of technique. The last section, now in F sharp major, allows a final show of virtuosity. The soloist, in a short recitative, offers melancholy fragments of the first theme, echoed by the horn, before embarking on the demanding concluding section with its octaves.
Ernst's Elégie sur la mort d'un objet chéri, Op. 10, described as a Chant pour violon and published in Vienna in 1840, was later to appear with an Introduction by Spohr. It enjoyed great contemporary popularity, as Berlioz testified. Unpretentiously lyrical, it limits its demands for virtuosity, only moving into double stopping in the final section, where any virtuosity is subject to the general mood of the piece.
There is a return to sheer technical display at the solo entry in the Concertino in D major, Op. 12, published in Brunswick in 1839. It offers the expected contrast of themes in this form, couched in the violinist-composer idioms of the time in which the pyrotechnic is coupled with the lyrical. There is an emphatic and dramatic orchestral introduction, before the entry of the soloist, who goes on from technical display to more overtly romantic thematic material. This is the kind of work that would provide opportunity for what he regarded as his own strength, as opposed to the technical mastery of Paganini, an ability to play with greater feeling. The Concertino moves forward to a gently lilting passage, then to a decorative further development of the material and a conclusion of some panache in which the technical demands remain always subservient to the musical.
The Rondo Papageno, Op. 21, published in 1846, brings an opening reference to The Magic Flute, the flute itself answered by the violin. True to its declared form, the Rondo offers a series of contrasting episodes, replete with saltando bowing and an aptly flute-like use of harmonics, before coming to an end in a passage of virtuoso rapidity.