Monday, August 17, 2020

Paganini - Violin Concerto No. 2 'la Campanella'

When Niccolo Paganini wrote his 2nd violin concerto, he took a different route than his 1st Violin Concerto. The first is full of fiery, virtuoso doings for the violin and was written as a vehicle to show off Paganini's playing ability. In the 2nd, he concentrates more on the melodic and lyric aspects and puts a lid on some of the virtuoso pyrotechnics - but not completely. Paganini knew how to dazzle an audience, whether it was the lightning fast movement of his bow and fingers, to the achingly beautiful melodies he wrote.

I. Allegro maestoso - The first movement begins with the strings playing a B minor chord in tremolos, with two major themes being stated by the orchestra before the entrance of the soloist. The orchestra plays a somewhat larger role than in the first concerto, and has some sections where it carries the structure and development of the music without the soloist. The composer in Paganini strove for more cohesive music making, rather than it being all about the soloist.

II. Adagio -  Paganini made his first visit to Vienna in the first of his concert tours of central Europe in 1828. His reputation had made the rounds before his arrival, and being just as great a showman as musician, he helped fan the flames of expectation by making the social rounds before the first concert. When the evening of the concert came, the hall was not completely full, as Paganini charged what many thought was too high for a ticket. But the concert was a rounding success, and Franz Schubert had the opportunity to attend one of his concerts, and is said to have remarked, I have heard an angel sing. Perhaps this adagio movement was what Schubert spoke of.  The orchestra sets the mood for the soloist in the opening of this movement. The solo violin sings an aria that shows Paganini's fondness for Italian opera.

III. Rondo à la clochette - The cohesiveness of the violin and orchestra in the first movement and the violin's singing of the operatic aria in the second are all well and good, but it is this last movement that caused the riotous success of the concerto. Paganini takes every opportunity to showcase his abilities in violin technique, some of which he developed himself. And he was very secretive about his music. His concertos were not published until after his death, at concerts he distributed the orchestral parts only at the last minute and showed no one the solo part. Clochette is French for 'little bell', and indeed a little bell is heard throughout the movement, with the soloist imitating it with harmonics on occasion. The movement was such a success that it spawned all kinds of transcriptions and popular arrangements of it. Franz Liszt used it in his interpretive set of six Paganini compositions, Grandes Études de Paganini.

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