MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor / TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840- 1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35
Felix Mendelssohn was born with a silverif not completely kosher spoon in his mouth. The son of a banker, AbrahamMendelssohn, who was to turn Christian, he was the grandson of thedistinguished Jewish writer Moses Mendelssohn.
As a boy Mendelssohn profited not onlyfrom the comfortable circumstances of his family, but also from their culturalinterests and wide connections. It was in an atmosphere of tolerance andencouragement that his musical abilities were to flourish, and whateverreservations his father may at one time have held about the advisability ofbecoming a musician were quietened by the positive counsel of old Cherubini,the dour director of the Paris Conservatoire, impressed, perhaps, by the familymoney.
Mendelssohn was a precocious musician anda prolific composer, even as a child. He was to couple all the qualities of aneducated man, a lively mind and a quick eye, with further ability as aconductor, and moved to Leipzig at the age of twenty-six as conductor of theGewandhaus Orchestra. It was to Leipzig, where he established a Conservatory ofMusic, that he later returned, after less happy experiences in Berlin, wherehis parents had settled in 1812 and where his family hoped he too would makehis career.
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, inthe words of the great violinist Joachim the dearest of all German violinconcertos, the heart's jewel, was written for Ferdinand David, leader of theLeipzig Orchestra, during the late summer of 1844. Its composition discharged adebt of gratitude to the violinist and expressed, too, something of the reliefthe composer felt at the end of a period that had involved him in thetroublesome musical politics of Berlin. Leipzig was home.
The concerto, the second Mendelssohn hadwritten for the instrument, opens, after two brief bars of orchestralaccompaniment, with the entry of the soloist playing the principal theme, whichis only then taken up by the full orchestra. There are other structuralinnovations in the movement, with the placing of the cadenza at the end of thecentral development section, instead of the end of the movement, and with theuse of a sustained bassoon note to link the first movement to the second.
The deftly scored slow movement, ofmasterly economy in means, leads to a brief transitional section, followed by aspirited last movement that offers a fine example of that lightness of touchthat Mendelssohn had shown time and again, not least in his famous Overture toShakespere's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk, the second son of a mining engineer, Ilya Petrovich,who was in charge of the Votkinsk iron foundry, and his second wife, a youngwoman of part-French extraction, from whom the composer seems to have inheritedboth an interest in music and a weakness of nerves, In 1844, with the arrivalof a French governess Fanny Durbach, he enjoyed a period of security andhappiness that was disrupted four years later, when the family moved to Moscowand then to St. Petersburg, and he was sent to school, from which he had to beremoved the following year, after an illness. His father's appointment to themanagement of a private metal works at Alapayevsk led to a further move, butSt. Petersburg had at least provided more direct musical experience thanVotkinsk. A year 1ater, in 1849, Tchaikovsky was sent to the School of Jurisprudencein St. Petersburg.
The years that Tchaikovsky spent in St.
Petersburg allowed him an opportunity to develop his musical abilities, both asa pianist and as a composer, and to hear a great deal of music at concerts andin the opera-house. In 1859 he started work as a clerk in the Ministry ofJustice, but before long began to take lessons in harmony from NikolayIvanovich Zaremba. In 1862 he became a pupil of Zaremba at the newlyestablished Conservatory, and resigned his official appointment at the Ministrythe following year in order to devote himself fully to music.
Tchaikovsky's subsequent career took him,after the completion of his course at the Conservatory, to the new Conservatoryin Moscow, established by Nikolay Rubinstein, brother of Anton, who had set upthe institution in St. Petersburg. He was to remain on the teaching staff ofMoscow Conservatory for twelve years, only resigning after the personaldifficulties that followed his disastrous marriage in 1877, an event thatcoincided with the acquisition of a measure of financial security through thepatronage of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never tomeet. From 1878 until his death in 1893 he was able to devote himself fully tocomposition and to the performance of his music, which had aroused interestabroad as well as in Russia.
It was in March, 1878, in the Swissresort of Clarens that Tchaikovsky set to work on his Violin Concerto. Kotek,who had accompanied him, joined him in playing through a great deal of music, includingLalo's new Symphonie espagnole. Two days after playing Lalo's workTchaikovsky started his own concerto, drawing inspiration from what hedescribed as the freshness, lightness and piquant rhythms of the Frenchcomposer's music. Two days later the first movement of the concerto wascompleted and a week later the whole concerto was ready, so that Kotek - Kotik,or Tom-cat, to Tchaikovsky - was able to play it through, much to the generalapproval of the composer's brother Modest, who had joined the party. Theoriginal slow movement, however, seemed less satisfactory, and the presentCanzonetta was substituted.
Tchaikovsky would have liked to dedicatethe concerto to Kotek, who had been present at its inception, had advised onthe lay-out of the violin part and was, in any case, its initial inspiration.
Discretion and strategy intervened to offer the work to Auer, who was to rejectit as un-violinistic, although he took it into his repertoire shortly beforethe composer's death. The concerto received its first performance neither fromAuer nor Kotek, but from Adolf Brodsky, who played it in Vienna two years afterits completion, to the disapproval of the well known critic Eduard Hanslick,who condemned what he regarded as a trivial Cossack element in a concerto thatmust have seemed to him foreign and barbarous.