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Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, baptized on December 17, 1770 and died in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1827. He composed his Violin Concerto in 1806. It runs approximately 42 minutes in performance and is scored for solo violin, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and orchestral strings
Beethoven studied the violin in childhood, and though he was never more than a mediocre player—his performances of his own violin sonatas, according to his accompanist, were “dreadful”—he came to know the instrument’s resources intimately. He composed his only violin concerto for a leading Viennese virtuoso, Franz Clement, whose playing was admired not so much for power and bravura as for beauty, elegance, and delicacy. Beethoven obviously kept this in mind: witness the insistent lyricism of the solo part in the first movement, and the gracious ornamentation in the second. The concerto was written in haste, apparently in just four or five weeks and finished just in time for the première on December 23, 1806.
The first movement has the heroic, occasionally militaristic tone of many of Beethoven’s middle-period works, but it is also leisurely, lyrical, and quiet to a degree unusual in a fast movement of a concerto. Beethoven was thinking symphonically; note, for instance, how the motif of five repeated notes, quietly introduced by the timpani in the opening bars, pervades the movement. Indeed, the soloist often seems incidental, embellishing and commenting on ideas that are introduced and primarily developed by the orchestra.
The slow movement, its solemn, hymnlike theme quietly introduced by muted strings, unfolds at first as a conventional set of variations, but changes course midway, becoming something altogether more remarkable and profound. A second theme is introduced among the variations, then a third, and the movement evolves as a kind of rhapsodic fantasy. The music is deeply expressive, dreamy, poetic, and the pastoral mood and picturesque solo-orchestra dialogues hint that Beethoven may have been composing with some private programme in mind.
The finale, which follows without a break, is also pastoral: it has the rhythm of traditional “hunting” music. The wit, playfulness, and studied naïveté of the music nicely balance the grandeur of the first movement, though there is also a sweetly melancholy episode in the middle. The long, jubilant coda is founded on transformations of the main theme, and the violin gets one last, charming solo—pianissimo!—just before the final chords.
Programme Note by Kevin Bazzana
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