MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 / BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major, K. 216
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61 (Cadenzas by Kreisler)
Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus and the subsequent film based on the play presented an apparent paradox. For dramatic rather than historical purposes Mozart was shown as a thoroughly unworthy vehicle for divine inspiration, as opposed to the jealous old court composer Antonio Salieri, worthy but uninspired. The truth of the matter must be rather different. Mozart had been brought up to mix with a higher level of society and to avoid too much contact with humble musicians, in this following the example of his father.
The five violin concertos that Mozart wrote in Salzburg in 1775 might seem to offer a similar paradox, at least when they were performed by the violinist Antonio Brunetti, a man whom Mozart was later to describe as a disgrace to his profession, coarse and dirty. Brunetti, a Neapolitan by birth, had been appointed Hofmusikdirektor and Hofkonzertmeister in Salzburg in 1776 and in the following year he succeeded Mozart as Konzertmeister, when the latter left the services of the Archbishop of Salzburg to seek his fortune in Mannheim and Paris. In 1778 Brunetti had to marry Maria Judith Lipps, the sister-in-law of Michael Haydn, who had already born him a child. Mozart himself was fastidious about the company he kept and he clearly regarded Brunetti as uncouth. Nevertheless the exigencies of his profession found Brunetti providing tolerable performances of the concertos. The first soloist, however, seems to have been Franz Xaver Kolb, a Salzburg musician and a competent enough violinist. We hear in passing of these performances by Kolb and by Brunetti in letters from Leopold Mozart to his son written during the latter's absence in 1777 and 1778, letters that paint a clear enough picture of the kind of music-making there was to be had in Salzburg, and from Mozart's own letters, the vastly superior standards of Mannheim, and given the exaggerations of French taste, of Paris.
By the age of nineteen Mozart encouraged by his father Leopold had become increasingly anxious that a place should be found for him in a more distinguished position than Salzburg could ever offer. His dissatisfaction was to lead to his attempt to find employment in Mannheim or in Paris, and finally, in 1781, to a breach with his patron the Archbishop and to a final decade of precarious independence in Vienna.
Limited as it might have been, Salzburg, all the same, offered some opportunities. In 1775 the Archbishop commissioned a setting of a Metastasio libretto, Il re pastore, for the official visit to the town of the Archduke Maximilian Franz in April. The violin concertos were written later in the year and as we have seen provided at least a reminder of Mozart's achievement during his long absence.
The Concerto in G Major, K. 216, shares the greater popularity of the last three of the series. The opening Allegro offers an orchestral exposition in which the principal themes are declared, the first of them having already appeared in Il re pastore. The soloist repeats the principal theme and by means of new material leads to the second subject, both duly developed and re-established in the final section of the movement.
1re Adagio is an assured example of Mozart's handling of the solo violin cantilena, a finely sustained violin melody, to which the orchestra provides a subtle foil. This D Major slow movement is succeeded by a final rondo with a profusion of varied ideas in its contrasting episodes, which include a courtly dance and a less urbane folk-dance before the final re-appearance of the principal theme.
Ludwig van Beethoven, named after his illustrious grandfather, Kapellmeister to the Archbishop Elector of Cologne, was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a singer employed by the Archbishop. Beethoven's father was to prove inadequate paternally and professionally, although he saw to it that his son was trained, in one way and another, to assume his due position in the archiepiscopal Kapelle. It was with the encouragement of the Archbishop, a younger son of the Empress Maria Theresia, that the young musician made his way to Vienna in 1792, armed with introductions to the leading aristocratic amateurs of the day. He was to remain in Vienna for the rest of his life, at first establishing a reputation as a pianist and composer and later, after increasing deafness had barred him from performance and, to a large extent, from society, as a genius of known and tolerated eccentricity, a giant among composers.
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 61, his only completed concerto for the instrument, was written in 1806 and at first dedicated to Franz Clement, the principal violinist and conductor at the Theater an der Wien, who gave the first performance of the work, adding a further item of variations played with the violin upside down, an unusual testimony to his technical proficiency. A later edition of the concerto carried a dedication to Beethoven's friend Stephan von Breuning.
The concerto was well enough received in Vienna, although some complained of the excessive length of the first movement, one critic writing of the endless repetition of unimportant passages, which he alleged produced a tiring effect. It was not until 1844 that the work became part of the standard repertoire, when it was performed by Brahms's friend Joachim in London, with the orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. Since then it has become a favourite with audiences and players, its position unassailable.
Beethoven, with more than usual assistance from a copyist, transcribed the Violin Concerto for piano and orchestra, adding cadenzas, the whole undertaken in response to a commission from the pianist and composer Clementi in London. Although Beethoven's piano cadenzas have been transcribed for violin, it is usual for soloists to prefer cadenzas from other sources better suited to a string instrument.
The first movement of the concerto opens with five ominous drum-beats, in a long exposition, goes on to introduce the principal material of the movement, leading to a treacherously exposed opening octave arpeggio for the soloist. The movement, in all its beauty and variety, continues in broadly classical form.
The Larghetto allows the violinist an accompanying role, before he finally comes into his own with a fine, singing melody, later to be embellished, before the weighty chords that introduce the final Rondo. Here the soloist introduces the first and principal melody, playing on the lowest string of the violin. An episode of peasant simplicity follows, and the movement continues in the prescribed form, the first theme re-appearing between contrasting sections. As the concerto seems about to end in a whisper, the composer re-asserts himself with two forceful final chords.
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Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Mingxin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin c