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Violin Concerto

Composer: Beethoven Ludwig van

Instruments: Piano Orchestra

Tags: Concerto


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Piano + String quartet (Kowalewski, Jakub)
Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, in 1806. Its first performance by Franz Clement was unsuccessful and for some decades the work languished in obscurity, until revived in 1844 by the then 12-year-old violinist Joseph Joachim with the orchestra of the London Philharmonic Society conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. Since then it has become one of the best-known violin concertos.
Beethoven had previously written a number of pieces for violin and orchestra. At some point in 1790–2, before his musical maturity, he began a Violin Concerto in C, of which only a fragment of the first movement survives. Whether the work, or even the first movement, had ever been completed is not known. In any event, it was neither performed nor published. Later in the 1790s, Beethoven had completed two Romances for violin – first the Romance in F and later the Romance in G.
These works show a strong influence from the French school of violin playing, exemplified by violinists such as Giovanni Battista Viotti, Pierre Rode and Rodolphe Kreutzer. The two Romances, for instance, are in a similar style to slow movements of concerti by Viotti. This influence can also be seen in the D major Concerto; the 'martial' opening with the beat of the timpani follows the style of French music at the time, while the prevalence of figures in broken sixths and broken octaves closely resembles elements of compositions by Kreutzer and Viotti.
Beethoven wrote the concerto for his colleague Franz Clement, a leading violinist of the day, who had earlier given him helpful advice on his opera Fidelio. The work was premiered on 23 December 1806 in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, the occasion being a benefit concert for Clement. The first printed edition (1808) was dedicated to Stephan von Breuning.
It is believed that Beethoven finished the solo part so late that Clement had to sight-read part of his performance. Perhaps to express his annoyance, or to show what he could do when he had time to prepare, Clement is said to have interrupted the concerto between the first and second movements with a solo composition of his own, played on one string of the violin held upside down; however, other sources claim that he did play such a piece but only at the end of the performance.
The premiere was not a success, and the concerto was little performed in the following decades.
The work was revived in 1844, well after Beethoven's death, with a performance by the then 12-year-old violinist Joseph Joachim with the orchestra of the London Philharmonic Society conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. Ever since, it has been one of the most important works of the violin concerto repertoire, and is frequently performed and recorded today.
It has been said that not only in this piece, but generally, "Recordings demonstrate that ... it was the practice in the early twentieth century to vary the tempo considerably within a movement," and that in the concerto, there is "often one big trough (slowing?) in the central G major passage."
The work is in three movements:
It is scored, in addition to the solo violin, for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The first movement starts with four beats on the timpani and has a duration of about 25 minutes. The second and third movements last about 10 minutes each. There is no break between the second and third movements. The entire work itself is approximately 45 minutes in duration.
Cadenzas for the work have been written by several notable violinists, including Joachim. The cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler are probably most often employed. More recently, composer Alfred Schnittke provided controversial cadenzas with a characteristically 20th-century style; violinist Gidon Kremer has recorded the concerto with the Schnittke cadenzas. New klezmer-inspired cadenzas written by Montreal based klezmer clarinetist and composer Airat Ichmouratov for Alexandre Da Costa in 2011 have been recorded by the Taipei Symphony Orchestra for Warner Classics.
The following violinists and composers have written cadenzas:
Perhaps due to the Violin Concerto's lack of success at its premiere, and at the request of Muzio Clementi, Beethoven revised it in a version for piano and orchestra, which was later published as Op. 61a. For this version, which is present as a sketch in the Violin Concerto's autograph alongside revisions to the solo part, Beethoven wrote a lengthy first movement cadenza which features the orchestra's timpanist along with the solo pianist. This and the cadenzas for the other movements were later arranged for the violin (and timpani) by Max Rostal, Ottokar Nováček, Christian Tetzlaff and Wolfgang Schneiderhan. Gidon Kremer, on his recording with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, adapts these cadenzas for violin, timpani and piano, although the piano does not play in any other parts of the recording. Patricia Kopatchinskaja adapted the cadenza of the first movement for two violins, celli and timpani, for the other movements for violin. Seiji Ozawa also wrote an arrangement for piano. More recently, it has been arranged as a concerto for clarinet and orchestra by Mikhail Pletnev. Robert Bockmühl (1820/21–1881) arranged the solo violin part for cello & played it as a Cello Concerto; Gary Karr played Bockmühl's arrangement on a double-bass tuned in fifths as a double bass concerto.
The first known recording of Beethoven's violin concerto was made in 1925 for Polydor by violinist Josef Wolfsthal, with Hans Thierfelder conducting the Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra. Hundreds of recordings have been made since, among which the following have received awards and outstanding reviews: