Monday, March 26, 2012

Paganini - Violin Concerto No. 5

Say the name Paganini to a modern music lover and the first impression would most likely be of a virtuoso violinist dazzling the the early 19th century audiences with his 'tricks of the trade'. To be sure, Paganini was a great showman who did barnyard imitations on his violin and other things to please the crowd. But he was much more than a showman. He was also consummate musician in the best sense of the term.  With no technical barriers to hinder his musical expression, he could give wing to his musical imagination and touch the hearts of such outstanding musicians as Schumann, Chopin and Schubert.  The slow movements of his violin concertos were less about the fireworks and more about the passionate musician Paganini could be. His tone could be heart-rending, and he could play as if he were an angel.

Many composers used the piano as an aid to composition in one way or the other. Paganini was not proficient on the piano. The instrument he used as a compositional aid was the guitar. This no doubt shows in his handling of the orchestra. And after all, his primary motive was to showcase the violin with a accompaniment that was as non-instrusive as possible.

The 5th Violin Concerto was written towards the end of his career, and only the solo part exists. The orchestral parts have been reconstructed from the solo part and are a very fair representation of how the concerto could have sounded. The reconstruction was done in 1959 by Frederico Mompellio and follows Paganini's style very well.

Like most of Paganini's concertos, the 5th is very operatic in nature. The first movement is the longest of all three, and it is written in the sonata form mold so prevalent in first movements of the era. After a drum roll and a few chords to get our attention,  the movement begins with a long orchestral introduction of the primary themes, with the first being borrowed from some of his other compositions.  The oboe is entrusted with a theme of its own later in the introduction and the orchestra repeats it which leads to the repeating of the primary theme. There is a rousing cadence and the theme is taken over by the violin. The music shifts back and for the from major to minor keys, and of course the violin is the 'star' of the concerto.   The violin plays with a simpler passion in the second movement as it decorates the music while subduing the technical fireworks.  The finale is a Paganini rondo as much as any he ever wrote as the tune keeps returning, is decorated, is spattered out with remarkable virtuosity in places and is gently stated in others. It is the perfect vehicle to show a violinist's technique and musicality. That is exactly what Paganini wrote it to do.

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