About this Recording
8.110903 - TCHAIKOVSKY / BEETHOVEN: Violin Concertos (Huberman) (1928, 1934)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (Cadenzas by Kreisler)


Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35


Ludwig van Beethoven, named after his illustrious grandfather, Kapellmeister to the Archbishop Elector of Cologne, was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a singer employed by the Archbishop. Beethoven's father was to prove inadequate paternally and professionally, although he saw to it that his son was trained, in one way and another, to assume his due position in the archiepiscopal Kapelle. It was with the encouragement of the Archbishop, a younger son of the Empress Maria Theresia, that the young musician made his way to Vienna in 1792, armed with introductions to the leading aristocratic amateurs of the day. He was to remain in Vienna for the rest of his life, at first establishing a reputation as a pianist and composer and later, after increasing deafness had barred him from performance and, to a large extent, from society, as a genius of known and tolerated eccentricity, a giant among composers. Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 61, his only completed concerto for the instrument, was written in 1806 and at first dedicated to Franz Clement, the principal violinist and conductor at the Theater an der Wien, who gave the first performance of the work, adding a further item of variations played with the violin upside down, an unusual testimony to his technical proficiency. A later edition of the concerto carried a dedication to Beethoven's friend Stephan von Breuning.


The concerto was well enough received in Vienna, although some complained of the excessive length of the first movement, one critic writing of the endless repetition of unimportant passages, which he alleged produced a tiring effect. It was not until 1844 that the work became part of the standard repertoire, when it was performed by Brahms's friend Joachim in London, with the orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. Since then it has become a favourite with audiences and players, its position unassailable.


The first movement of the concerto opens with five ominous drum-beats, in a long exposition, goes on to introduce the principal material of the movement, leading to a treacherously exposed opening octave arpeggio for the soloist. The movement, in all its beauty and variety, continues in broadly classical form. The Larghetto allows the violinist an accompanying role, before he finally comes into his own with a fine, singing melody, later to be embellished, before the weighty chords that introduce the final Rondo. Here the soloist introduces the first and principal melody, playing on the lowest string of the violin. An episode of peasant simplicity follows, and the movement continues in the prescribed form, the first theme re-appearing between contrasting sections. As the concerto seems about to end in a whisper, the composer re-asserts himself with two forceful final chords.


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 later, 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 Match, 1878, in the Swiss resort of Clarens that Tchaikovsky set to work on his Violin Concerto. His former pupil 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.


Keith Anderson


Close the window