Monday, July 7, 2014

Bruch - Violin Concerto No. 1 In G Minor

While many concertos for violin were written by virtuoso violinists, the acknowledged masterpieces of the genre were written by non-violinist composers. There are of course exceptions, such as Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2 In D Minor, but the violin concertos of  Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky are the acknowledged masterpieces of the genre. While these composers were not virtuosos of the instrument, often times they had the assistance of violinists who gave them advice on the technical aspects of their works.

Another of the non-violinist composers was Max Bruch, who finished composing his popular Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1866, although the concerto was begun as early as 1857.  Bruch also had a violinist assist him in the technical aspect of the solo part, Johann Naret-Koning, the concertmaster of the Mannheim Orchestra. Bruch conducted the premiere later in 1866, and made substantial revisions to the work shortly thereafter. The violinist who gave Bruch help with the revision was Joseph Joachim, who twelve years later gave advice to Brahms on his violin concerto. Bruch's revised concerto was given its first performance by Joachim,and it was a rousing success. It was not only Bruch's first major composition for orchestra, but was the work that brought him his earliest fame.

As with any exceedingly popular work, the first violin concerto came to overshadow Bruch's other compositions, especially those for violin and orchestra. He composed two more concertos for violin, but neither came close to the popularity of the first. Bruch grew quite vexed about the whole thing, not only from an artistic viewpoint, but because he had sold the work to a publisher for a one-time payment and never reaped any of the benefits of the concertos repeated performances. it is in three movements:

I. Vorspiel: Allegro moderato -  Bruch designates the first movement vorspiel, or prelude. This acts as an extended introduction to the slow movement. The work begins with a quiet roll of the timpani, the orchestra follows with a short section, after which the violin plays a short cadenza. The orchestra and violin alternate like this again. The orchestra then increases in volume and leads to the first theme by the violin. A second theme of a more lyrical nature is played by the violin.  The violin embellishes the first theme, and the orchestra plays a section that recalls the drama of the opening. The music grows more quiet and the orchestra and violin alternate twice as in the beginning. The orchestra once again plays a short interlude that leads to the slow movement without a break.

II. Adagio - This movement has three powerfully romantic themes that are presented by the soloist with a gently moving orchestral accompaniment. The movement builds to a powerful climax after which it reaches a peaceful end. The last movement begins directly after.

III. Finale: Allegro energico -  A short introduction is played by the orchestra before the violin presents the dancing first theme of the finale, which is adorned with multiple stops.  The second theme is begun by the orchestra before it is clarified by the soloist. There is a short development section based on the first theme, which leads to the recapitulation of both themes. In the coda the tempo increases as the first theme returns as the violin plays virtuoso figures and fragments of the first theme before it rises to the top of its range. The movement ends with two brief chords.

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