Monday, November 28, 2011

Violin Concertos

The piece that really converted me to classical music from being a pop musician was not something by Bach or Beethoven but the Tchaikovsky violin concerto:

To someone whose most exalted ideal of instrumental virtuosity and expression was Eric Clapton, this was quite a revelation! I soon moved on to Debussy, Dvorak and Bach, but continued to be attracted by the expressivity of the violin accompanied by orchestra:

Of course both Bach and Beethoven wrote concertos for the violin. Here is the Bach E-major:

And the Beethoven, which begins, most unusually, with four beats on the tympani:

The violin concerto has endured through four different eras of music history so far, which is an extraordinary thing in itself. Vivaldi wrote innumerable ones in the Baroque:

Mozart added some in the Classical Era:

Brahms and many others in the Romantic Era:

But it was equally popular in the 20th century with a great one by Sibelius:

And another great one by Berg:

Now, in the 21st century, the violin concerto is still going strong with a new one by Esa-Pekka Salonen from 2009 for which he just won an important award:

The amazing longevity of this particular instrumental--well, form isn't quite the right word, nor style--genre?--is that it has proved so adaptable. The structure of the Baroque concerto is quite different from the Classical and so on. In the 20th and 21st centuries entirely new ways of putting together a violin concerto had to be found. But found they were, because the basic idea of a single violinist opposed and in concert with an orchestra is a compelling one that composers never seem to tire of exploring...


Anonymous said...

To connect this topic to the previous one, I'd like to see a post featuring the most miscast instruments in the history of music.

My candidate: the piano in Tchaikovsky's concerto no1. Boy, is that piano trying so much to sound like a whole symphony orchestra all by itself, and does it fail so miserably? The worst part is when the piano tries to accompany the orchestra! What was Pyotr Ilich thinking? Naturally one of his most famous pieces is also one of his worst...

Bryan Townsend said...

Despite the wonderful ones by Mozart, I've never been quite as fond of the piano concerto as the violin concerto. With one exception: the extraordinary 4th concerto by Beethoven.

Thanks for the tip! Perhaps there is a good post to be written about the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto.