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ClassicsOnline Home » BERIOT, C.-A. de: Violin Solo Music, Vol. 1 (Hristova) - 12 Scenes / 9 Studies / Prelude or Improvisation
One of the great virtuosos in the history of the violin, Charles-Auguste de Bériot was also an accomplished composer for his instrument. The compositions in which he explores the
technical resources of the violin combine an understanding of the instrument with very considerable lyrical gifts. The 12 Scènes ou Caprices pour le Violon, 9 Studies and Prélude ou Improvisation for solo violin are both works of great charm and study material of the highest order, using all the resources at the command of the romantic violinist.
By Joseph Magil
American Record Guide
By Duncan Druce
By Nick Barnard
Charles-Auguste de Bériot (1802–1870)
Solo Violin Music • 1
Charles Auguste de Bériot was born into a noble family in the Belgian city of Louvain on 20 February 1802. Orphaned at the age of nine, he studied with his guardian, the violinist Jean-François Tiby. On the advice of André Robberechts, with whom he had some lessons, he moved in 1821 to Paris to study with Giovanni Battista Viotti, who advised him to profit by hearing other players but to imitate no one. After a brief period as a student of another great French School violinist, Pierre Baillot, Bériot began his extraordinary concert career, creating a sensation in London and Paris. His life took a decidedly romantic turn when he met María Malibran, perhaps the most famous opera diva of the nineteenth century. Daughter of the great Manuel García, for whom Rossini wrote the rôle of Almaviva, María Malibran had left her French husband in New York in order to pursue her career in Europe, where her singing won wide acclaim. In a highly romanticized account of an early meeting between Bériot and Malibran, probably in 1828, Madame Merle wrote that at the close of
one of Bériot’s concerts, “María walked up to him, pale-faced and with tears in her eyes…and said…‘I am so glad you have done so well.’ ‘Thank you so much,’ said de Bériot…‘I am very much flattered to have earned your good opinion.’ ‘No, no, that isn’t it at all, not at all. Can’t you see that I love you?’” A romantic liaison soon developed, at first well hidden since she was still married to Malibran. After years of effort her marriage to Malibran was annulled by the French courts in 1835, and in March 1836 Bériot and María officially became man and wife. María’s health was broken just several months later in a riding accident that left an egg-sized contusion on her head. She continued to sing despite continual headaches and collapsed onstage at the Manchester Festival. Within days she was dead. After a period of mourning, Bériot returned to the concert stage in 1838, and in 1843 accepted the post of violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory, where he remained until his forced retirement in 1852 due to failing eyesight; by 1858 he was totally blind. Bériot’s most famous student was Henri Vieuxtemps, who succeeded him as violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory in 1870, the year of Bériot’s death (Vieuxtemps refused to occupy the post until his old professor had died). Baron de Tremont, a talented amateur who often played with Bériot, wrote in 1841: “I had heard all the great French and foreign
violinists [including Paganini], beginning with Viotti, and I like Bériot the best.”
Similar to the life he led, Bériot’s music is highly engaging and romantic. He flourished at the height of the romantic era, and his music reflects this. His ten violin concertos and the first Scène de Ballet are probably his best known works. In the former he was quite inventive, writing concertos with only one movement, or connected movements (one “official” movement though each of the traditional three movements is visible in the structure), or using themes in more than one movement as a unifying device—fairly new procedures for the time. Bériot also used many of the same techniques that Paganini was also using in his works: harmonics, extensive use of double stops, ricochet bowing. In his concertos, however, Bériot
is not after mere technique. All of his violin writing, no matter how much it relies on a formidable technique, is very much “within” the capabilities of the violin.
The ability to communicate was evident in all Bériot’s music. Like almost all of the great virtuosos of the period, he was a dedicated pedagogue and spent a great deal of time on his various studies or caprices designed to create mastery of the instrument. He wrote a Méthode de violon in 1857 and l’Ecole transcendante du violon, Op. 123, among many other similar works. The goal was not just technical mastery, though that was, of course, important. It was to create a well-rounded musician who was as good a communicator as technician. Bériot’s mature études and caprices served a dual purpose: to develop (or perhaps display) technique and to stand on their own as finished works of art. Perhaps Chopin achieved this duality of form and function best in his famous Etudes for piano solo. Certainly Bériot attempted, and achieved, this goal often, as the evidence of the works included here amply shows. The technique and style of Bériot eventually became part and parcel of the violinist’s trade. Building on the French School tradition of his youth, he was a door to a modern conception of violin composition and playing.
The present recording begins with Bériot’s 12 Scènes ou Caprices pour le Violon, Op. 109. The first piece, La Séparation, begins with a calm sorrowful largo in double stops, which is soon overtaken by an agitated con moto section. The largo and con moto sections both return to round off the piece. La Polka is a joyful though tranquil piece in moderato tempo, again featuring double stops. Le Lézard (The Lizard) has a flowing gracious melody line in moderato tempo. Le Départ begins with a sad cantabile
section leading to a double stop section of great energy and movement. La Fougue (The Spirit, The Fire) is a tumultuous vivace con fuoco with a martial-sounding section in double stops. La Bannière (The Banner) is a deliberate martial piece featuring ricochet bowing and a pizzicato ending. Le Caprice is an impetuous headlong piece using triplets and double stops as well as a central “singing” section. Saltarella is a steady measured version of the dance, featuring a double stop crescendo leading to fingered harmonics. La Reine (The Queen) begins simply with a noble theme in 3/4 time, which leads to a section of arpeggiated chords. Marche russe begins with a moderate, highly articulated march, followed by a section in double stops and steady rapid notes. The march returns, and the piece ends quietly in alternate pizzicato and arco.
L’Inquiétude (Anxiety, Restlessness) consists of alternate adagio and allegro agitato sections, and well expresses
anxiety by its frequent changes of key. La Consolation begins with an eight-measure introduction followed a highly articulated theme in 6/8 time.
The Nine Studies are vintage Bériot study material that rises to the level of artistry in the hands of a master. Allegro agitato is a study in “agitated” playing, double stopping, and gradation of phrase. Allegro moderato delineates marked contrasts between styles and dynamics. Moderato is a brilliant piece with many double stops, styles of bowing, and multi-note runs, while Energico is a study in musical punctuation—articulation, rests, chromatic runs, and double stops. Melody—Largo is a study in tone production and the creation of singing melody on the G string; Gulnare—Andantino is another melodious piece, this time in double stops, and ending with a cadenza. Marche de Bériot—Moderato is a highly articulated and stately double stopped march with a dolce middle section. Etude de Bériot—Allegro vivace is a study in speed and the series of studies ends with Etude de Bériot—In Imitation of the Old Masters—Moderato, Bériot’s imitation of the rhythmic energy of the fugue.
The last piece is Prélude ou Improvisation (Prelude or Improvisation). The improvisatory character is established at the start (no bar lines for much of the score) as the music alternates between calmness and energy, lyrical output and high-powered virtuosity. All of Bériot’s art is on display—double stops, arpeggios, chromatic runs, pizzicato accompanied melodies, harmonics—and the piece provides a fitting close to the programme.
Bruce R. Schueneman
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