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8.554114 - VIEUXTEMPS, H.: Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 3
Henry Vieuxtemps was born in 1820 in Verviers, not far from Liège, a district of Belgium that was fertile ground for violinists. He had his first lessons from his father, a weaver and amateur violin-maker and player, followed by study with Lecloux-Dejonc, a teacher who won praise from Eugène Ysaÿe, whose own younger brother, the pianist Théophile Gautier, was born in Verviers. Vieuxtemps made his first public appearance as a violinist at the age of six, playing a concerto by Rode and the following year embarking on a concert tour of neighbouring cities with his teacher. In 1828 he was heard in Brussels by Charles de Bériot, who accepted him as a pupil. In the following years, now in the absence of de Bériot, he continued to perfect his technique and broaden his musical tastes, assisted in the latter task by his teacher's sister-in-law, Pauline Garcia, later Pauline Viardot, then a pupil of Liszt. Concerts throughout Germany and in Vienna won him an increasing reputation, leading Schumann, in Leipzig, to compare him to Paganini, whom Vieuxtemps met and heard in London in 1834.
It was in 1836 that Vieuxtemps wrote his first violin concerto, the Concerto No. 2 in F sharp minor, published as Opus 19. He had had some technical instruction in Vienna from Simon Sechter, the teacher with whom Schubert was planning to study at the time of his death in 1828, and further lessons in Paris with Anton Reicha. At the same time he had taken care to observe possible techniques of instrumentation by attending orchestral rehearsals with score in hand. The first movement, marked Allegro, starts with the conventional orchestral exposition with a strong F sharp minor subject leading the way to a more lyrical theme in A major, returning to the original key for the entry of the solo violin with a new theme, expanded into a virtuoso passage of triplet double-stopping and repeated in varied form. This leads to the re-appearance of the A major lyrical second subject already heard in the orchestral exposition, with a further extension into technical virtuosity. The orchestra closes the movement. This is followed by a B minor Andante with a D major middle section that brings more double-stopping. The final Rondo has a dramatic orchestral opening, before the gentler material introduced by the soloist. The principal contrast in the movement is with a theme based on the descending scale, but there are moments of sound and fury, a group of 52 notes taken staccato in one bow, a cadenza and a scintillating final display of octaves and of dramatic quadruple stopping, as the concerto comes to an end.
Vieuxtemps made his first visit to Russia in 1837, returning in the following years. It was in Russia that he wrote the Concerto No. 1 in E major, published as Opus 10, a work he introduced to Paris audiences in 1841, to the admiration of musicians and critics, including Wagner and Berlioz. In 1843 and 1844 he toured America and in the summer of the latter year, during a holiday at Cannstadt, near Stuttgart, he wrote his Concerto No. 3 in A major, Opus 25, a work later described by Ysaÿe as a great poem rather than a concerto, influenced, he went on to suggest, by Beethoven's Violin Concerto, a work that Vieuxtemps had revived in Vienna in 1834, seven years after its composer's death, and was to play again there eight years later, in 1842. There is a dramatic opening to the orchestral exposition, with which the concerto opens, later introducing a secondary theme marked Canto. The soloist enters with the descending dotted rhythmic figure heard at the beginning of the work in simpler form and this is expanded and extended with opportunities for virtuoso display, before the gently expressive second theme, played largely on the G string. Forceful intervention by the orchestra allows a modulation to the unexpected key of C minor, where the first solo subject is heard again, once more over a tremolo accompaniment. The original key is restored and the final section of the movement also allows the timpani a moment of glory, a reminiscence, perhaps, of the rôle played by the instruments in Beethoven's concerto. The aria of the C major Adagio provides immediate contrast, increasing in strength and intensity, as the music rises, but ending at peace. The Rondo starts in A minor with a theme marked, characteristically for this concerto, con delicatezza. Contrast of major and minor keys and of dramatic intensity and lyricism continue in a movement that allows relatively unintrusive display. The technical demands, as always, are considerable, but often encompass moments of great delicacy.
1844 also brought for Vieuxtemps marriage to the Vienna-born pianist Josephine Eder. From 1846 to 1852 he was in St Petersburg as court violinist, soloist in the Imperial Theatres and teacher, writing there his Concerto No. 4 in D minor, a work described by Berlioz as a symphony with a violin solo, and a number of other compositions. After leaving Russia, he spent two years in Brussels, before settling for a time in Dreieichenhain, near Frankfurt. In 1866 he moved with his family to Paris, continuing all the time his international career. In 1871 he returned again to Brussels, now as professor of the violin at the Conservatory. Here he devoted considerable time and energy to teaching, his work interrupted by a stroke that affected his bowing arm, making further virtuoso playing impossible. He was replaced by Wieniawski, but in 1877 resumed teaching and conducting once more. Illness led finally to his resignation in 1879, when he joined his daughter and son-in-law at Mustapha in Algeria. Here he continued to compose, completing a sixth and seventh violin concerto and a new cello concerto, in addition to other less demanding pieces. He died in 1881.
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