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8.550153 - MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor / TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840- 1893)
Felix Mendelssohn was born with a silver if not completely kosher spoon in his mouth. The son of a banker, Abraham Mendelssohn, who was to turn Christian, he was the grandson of the distinguished Jewish writer Moses Mendelssohn.
As a boy Mendelssohn profited not only from the comfortable circumstances of his family, but also from their cultural interests and wide connections. It was in an atmosphere of tolerance and encouragement that his musical abilities were to flourish, and whatever reservations his father may at one time have held about the advisability of becoming a musician were quietened by the positive counsel of old Cherubini, the dour director of the Paris Conservatoire, impressed, perhaps, by the family money.
Mendelssohn was a precocious musician and a prolific composer, even as a child. He was to couple all the qualities of an educated man, a lively mind and a quick eye, with further ability as a conductor, and moved to Leipzig at the age of twenty-six as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. It was to Leipzig, where he established a Conservatory of Music, that he later returned, after less happy experiences in Berlin, where his parents had settled in 1812 and where his family hoped he too would make his career.
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, in the words of the great violinist Joachim the dearest of all German violin concertos, the heart's jewel, was written for Ferdinand David, leader of the Leipzig Orchestra, during the late summer of 1844. Its composition discharged a debt of gratitude to the violinist and expressed, too, something of the relief the composer felt at the end of a period that had involved him in the troublesome musical politics of Berlin. Leipzig was home.
The concerto, the second Mendelssohn had written for the instrument, opens, after two brief bars of orchestral accompaniment, with the entry of the soloist playing the principal theme, which is only then taken up by the full orchestra. There are other structural innovations in the movement, with the placing of the cadenza at the end of the central development section, instead of the end of the movement, and with the use of a sustained bassoon note to link the first movement to the second.
The deftly scored slow movement, of masterly economy in means, leads to a brief transitional section, followed by a spirited last movement that offers a fine example of that lightness of touch that Mendelssohn had shown time and again, not least in his famous Overture to Shakespere's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk, the second son of a mining engineer, Ilya Petrovich, who was in charge of the Votkinsk iron foundry, and his second wife, a young woman of part-French extraction, from whom the composer seems to have inherited both an interest in music and a weakness of nerves, In 1844, with the arrival of a French governess Fanny Durbach, he enjoyed a period of security and happiness that was disrupted four years later, when the family moved to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg, and he was sent to school, from which he had to be removed the following year, after an illness. His father's appointment to the management of a private metal works at Alapayevsk led to a further move, but St. Petersburg had at least provided more direct musical experience than Votkinsk. A year 1ater, in 1849, Tchaikovsky was sent to the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg.
The years that Tchaikovsky spent in St. Petersburg allowed him an opportunity to develop his musical abilities, both as a pianist and as a composer, and to hear a great deal of music at concerts and in the opera-house. In 1859 he started work as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice, but before long began to take lessons in harmony from Nikolay Ivanovich Zaremba. In 1862 he became a pupil of Zaremba at the newly established Conservatory, and resigned his official appointment at the Ministry the following year in order to devote himself fully to music.
Tchaikovsky's subsequent career took him, after the completion of his course at the Conservatory, to the new Conservatory in Moscow, established by Nikolay Rubinstein, brother of Anton, who had set up the institution in St. Petersburg. He was to remain on the teaching staff of Moscow Conservatory for twelve years, only resigning after the personal difficulties that followed his disastrous marriage in 1877, an event that coincided with the acquisition of a measure of financial security through the patronage of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never to meet. From 1878 until his death in 1893 he was able to devote himself fully to composition and to the performance of his music, which had aroused interest abroad as well as in Russia.
It was in March, 1878, in the Swiss resort of Clarens that Tchaikovsky set to work on his Violin Concerto. Kotek, who had accompanied him, joined him in playing through a great deal of music, including Lalo's new Symphonie espagnole. Two days after playing Lalo's work Tchaikovsky started his own concerto, drawing inspiration from what he described as the freshness, lightness and piquant rhythms of the French composer's music. Two days later the first movement of the concerto was completed and a week later the whole concerto was ready, so that Kotek - Kotik, or Tom-cat, to Tchaikovsky - was able to play it through, much to the general approval of the composer's brother Modest, who had joined the party. The original slow movement, however, seemed less satisfactory, and the present Canzonetta was substituted.
Tchaikovsky would have liked to dedicate the concerto to Kotek, who had been present at its inception, had advised on the lay-out of the violin part and was, in any case, its initial inspiration. Discretion and strategy intervened to offer the work to Auer, who was to reject it as un-violinistic, although he took it into his repertoire shortly before the composer's death. The concerto received its first performance neither from Auer nor Kotek, but from Adolf Brodsky, who played it in Vienna two years after its completion, to the disapproval of the well known critic Eduard Hanslick, who condemned what he regarded as a trivial Cossack element in a concerto that must have seemed to him foreign and barbarous.
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