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ClassicsOnline Home » MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor / TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major
"It seems as if Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto has been waiting for Takako Nishizaki, one of Japan's finest violinists, to come along and record it. She performs this work with so musch authority she seems to own it."
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 silver
if not completely kosher spoon in his mouth. The son of a banker, Abraham
Mendelssohn, who was to turn Christian, he was the grandson of the
distinguished Jewish writer Moses Mendelssohn.
As a boy Mendelssohn profited not only
from the comfortable circumstances of his family, but also from their cultural
interests and wide connections. It was in an atmosphere of tolerance and
encouragement that his musical abilities were to flourish, and whatever
reservations his father may at one time have held about the advisability of
becoming a musician were quietened by the positive counsel of old Cherubini,
the dour director of the Paris Conservatoire, impressed, perhaps, by the family
Mendelssohn was a precocious musician and
a prolific composer, even as a child. He was to couple all the qualities of an
educated man, a lively mind and a quick eye, with further ability as a
conductor, and moved to Leipzig at the age of twenty-six as conductor of the
Gewandhaus Orchestra. It was to Leipzig, where he established a Conservatory of
Music, that he later returned, after less happy experiences in Berlin, where
his parents had settled in 1812 and where his family hoped he too would make
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, in
the words of the great violinist Joachim the dearest of all German violin
concertos, the heart's jewel, was written for Ferdinand David, leader of the
Leipzig Orchestra, during the late summer of 1844. Its composition discharged a
debt of gratitude to the violinist and expressed, too, something of the relief
the composer felt at the end of a period that had involved him in the
troublesome musical politics of Berlin. Leipzig was home.
The concerto, the second Mendelssohn had
written for the instrument, opens, after two brief bars of orchestral
accompaniment, with the entry of the soloist playing the principal theme, which
is only then taken up by the full orchestra. There are other structural
innovations in the movement, with the placing of the cadenza at the end of the
central development section, instead of the end of the movement, and with the
use of a sustained bassoon note to link the first movement to the second.
The deftly scored slow movement, of
masterly economy in means, leads to a brief transitional section, followed by a
spirited last movement that offers a fine example of that lightness of touch
that Mendelssohn had shown time and again, not least in his famous Overture to
Shakespere's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in
1840 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 young
woman of part-French extraction, from whom the composer seems to have inherited
both an interest in music and a weakness of nerves, In 1844, with the arrival
of a French governess Fanny Durbach, he enjoyed a period of security and
happiness that was disrupted four years later, when the family moved to Moscow
and then to St. Petersburg, and he was sent to school, from which he had to be
removed the following year, after an illness. His father's appointment to the
management of a private metal works at Alapayevsk led to a further move, but
St. Petersburg had at least provided more direct musical experience than
Votkinsk. A year 1ater, in 1849, Tchaikovsky was sent to the School of Jurisprudence
in St. Petersburg.
The years that Tchaikovsky spent in St.
Petersburg allowed him an opportunity to develop his musical abilities, both as
a pianist and as a composer, and to hear a great deal of music at concerts and
in the opera-house. In 1859 he started work as a clerk in the Ministry of
Justice, but before long began to take lessons in harmony from Nikolay
Ivanovich Zaremba. In 1862 he became a pupil of Zaremba at the newly
established Conservatory, and resigned his official appointment at the Ministry
the 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 Conservatory
in Moscow, established by Nikolay Rubinstein, brother of Anton, who had set up
the institution in St. Petersburg. He was to remain on the teaching staff of
Moscow Conservatory for twelve years, only resigning after the personal
difficulties that followed his disastrous marriage in 1877, an event that
coincided with the acquisition of a measure of financial security through the
patronage of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never to
meet. From 1878 until his death in 1893 he was able to devote himself fully to
composition and to the performance of his music, which had aroused interest
abroad as well as in Russia.
It was in March, 1878, in the Swiss
resort 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, including
Lalo's new Symphonie espagnole. Two days after playing Lalo's work
Tchaikovsky started his own concerto, drawing inspiration from what he
described as the freshness, lightness and piquant rhythms of the French
composer's music. Two days later the first movement of the concerto was
completed 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 general
approval of the composer's brother Modest, who had joined the party. The
original slow movement, however, seemed less satisfactory, and the present
Canzonetta was substituted.
Tchaikovsky would have liked to dedicate
the concerto to Kotek, who had been present at its inception, had advised on
the 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 reject
it as un-violinistic, although he took it into his repertoire shortly before
the composer's death. The concerto received its first performance neither from
Auer nor Kotek, but from Adolf Brodsky, who played it in Vienna two years after
its completion, to the disapproval of the well known critic Eduard Hanslick,
who condemned what he regarded as a trivial Cossack element in a concerto that
must have seemed to him foreign and barbarous.
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