Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64
Born in Hamburg, Germany (3 February 1809)
Died in Leipzig, Germany (4 November 1847)
Hailed as one of the most popular and most frequently performed concertos in history, this was Mendelssohn’s last large orchestral work. This concerto is extremely lyrical and flowing. The idea of writing a violin concerto was first mentioned in 1838, to his close friend Ferdinand David who was then the concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, while Mendelssohn was the conductor. However, this concerto was not completed until 6 years later in 1844, with David closely working with him and giving him technical and compositional advice up till the day of its premiere. When premiered on 13 March 1845, it was immediately well received and gained much fame. This concerto, although in a standard fast-slow-fast structure, features unusual elements of breaking away from normal classical concerto conventions, such as an immediate introduction of the soloist in the beginning and a cadenza in the middle of the first movement. Moreover, this concerto has no stops between the movements and is a continuous concerto, as Mendelssohn had thought mid-composition applause to be distracting to the performer.
Allegro molto appassionato
This movement is written in sonata form like a normal classical concerto. However, instead of a long orchestral opening which would feature the principal themes of the work, this movement features a ‘haunting’ 1 ½ bar introduction by the orchestra, before the solo violin immediately enters with a melody that ‘the beginning of which would not leave (him) in peace’. After a virtuosic passage that features the solo violinist playing octaves, the orchestra then restates the opening theme which was first introduced in e minor by the solo violin. After that, there is a chromatic transition passage as the music softens and leads into a tranquil lyrical melodic line in G major, where the soloist reaches a high ‘B’, then descends gently down to the lowest note, an open G string played in pedal point to accompany the orchestra stating the theme. This melodic line is then passed to the solo violin, before a short coda concludes the end of the exposition. The opening two themes are combined in the development section, where the music builds up to the cadenza. Approaching the cadenza, there is a feeling of reluctance on the soloist’s part to “hog the limelight” The cadenza, written by Ferdinand David, at this point of the movement, is uncommon as it is before the recapitulation and in the middle, whereas normal cadenzas are usually after the recapitulation and at the end of the movement. Moreover, Mendelssohn manually writes out the cadenza, instead of usually leaving soloists to improvise their own cadenza. After featuring an ascending line of trills from the soloist, there are rhythmic shifts from triplets to semiquavers, giving a transition to the recapitulation which melody is heard in the orchestra section, with the soloist accompanying with ricochet-bowing semiquavers. In the recapitulation, the opening themes are stated again, with the second theme in E major, but quickly resolves back to E minor near the end of the movement. As the movement concludes, the music increases in speed to an eventual presto, before the chromatic passage heard in the beginning marks the end of the first movement.
Instead of properly bringing the first movement to a defined close, a single note ‘B’ is sustained between the first and second movement, before going up a semitone C, also signifying a key change from the turbulent E minor in the first movement, to a lyrical and pure C major in this second movement. In the principal theme, there is a beautiful long lyrical line, with rich harmonies. The movement then moves to a more dismal, sweet melancholy theme, in its relative A minor key, which is first introduced by the orchestra, then by the solo violin. Here, the soloist plays the main theme of this darker section, but at the same time playing its own accompaniment simultaneously, which requires nimble dexterity. The movement then returns to the lyrical C major theme, making this movement in ternary form and leading to a conclusion.
Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace
Again eliminating normal classical concerto conventions, Mendelssohn goes continuously straight into the 3rd movement, with a very brief pause from the second movement. There is a 14 bar transitional passage in E minor, which leads into the brilliant, lively E major theme. This movement features the soloist’s technical ability, through all the semiquaver passages and running notes. This movement is in sonata rondo form, with a fast and energetic theme, and leading into a short B major theme where the soloist plays rapid arpeggios, similar to that in the cadenza of the first movement. After that, the music moves into a G major theme, with the orchestra playing variations of the opening melody. The recapitulation is then heard, however this time the orchestra is playing a counter-melody to it. The second theme is repeated, but this time in the tonic E major key. There is then a very short cadenza, with the solo violinist playing trills in an ascending arpeggio manner, with the orchestra playing the main theme. The concerto then concludes in a very fast and wild manner. Although this movement is more on the virtuosic side, this movement still has moments where it shows the more expressive side of the piece and has elegance in it.
Szymanowski – Mythes, op. 30
Born in Tymoshivka, Ukraine (3 October 1882)
Died in Lausanne, Switzerland (29 March, 1937)
Known as one of Szymanowski’s most famous violin works, this three-piece cycle was composed in the spring of 1915 in Zarudzie, Ukraine, during war years. This piece was dedicated to Zofia Kocha?ska, the wife of accomplished violinist Pawe? Kocha?ski. Quoted by Szymanowski, these were ‘(his) favourite works, very original timbrally and technically, and apart from that it is also good music’. Each movement of this cycle’s pieces is derived from Greek mythology. The first movement is taken from the nymph Arethusa, the second movement from Narcissus. This piece is evocative of impressionistic music, the composing techniques by Szymanowski feature much colour, on top of that beautiful melodies which reflects his individual style.
I – La Fontaine d’Arethuse
This movement is obtained from greek mythology, nymph Arethusa. Her transformation starts when she discovers a stream and begins bathing in it, however the stream turns out to be the river god of eponymous river, Alpheus (disguised), who falls in love with her. Arethusa tries to escapes from Alpheus upon learning about his intentions and is turned into a stream by Artemis, the goddess of the wild, in a bid to flee from him. Therefore, in this movement, the sound of flowing water can be heard when the piano first starts. Moreover, the trills and tremolos in the violin part imitate water, also thus making this movement dream-like and impressionistic. The melody in this movement is also one of the most beautiful melodies Szymanowski has ever composed
II – Narcisse
Again based on greek mythology, this movement is about Narcissus, the son of river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope. Narcissus was a hunter and was known for his beauty. It is believed that one day he went to a pool to quench his thirst, and saw his beautiful reflection on the surface of the water. Upon seeing this, he immediately fell in love with his reflection, but in the end died of sorrow by the same pool as he was unable to obtain the object of his love. After he dies, all that is left is nothing but a narcissus flower. In this movement, we can hear the sound of still water imitating the pool from the melody line.