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8.570469 - RODE, P.: Violin Concertos Nos. 7, 10, 13 (Eichhorn, SWR Kaiserslautern Orchestra, Pasquet)
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Pierre Rode (1774–1830)
Violin Concertos Nos. 7, 10 and 13


Jacques Pierre Joseph Rode was born in Bordeaux on 16 February, 1774. The son of a perfumer, he showed early musical precosity and was taken to Paris at the age of thirteen by his teacher, Flauvel. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, Rode became the star pupil of Giovanni Battista Viotti, the foremost violinist of the day and the founder of the modern French violin school. In 1790 he made his solo début in Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 13; he also joined the orchestra at the Théâtre de Monsieur, where he met his longtime colleague Pierre Baillot. Rode’s “breakout” year was 1792. During the traditional Holy Week concerts, Rode performed six times between 1 and 13 April, these perfomances included two Viotti concertos, one a première. During the next sixteen years Rode lived the life of a travelling virtuoso, though he also joined the violin department of the newly organized Paris Conservatoire. There he collaborated with Baillot and Kreutzer on a manual of instruction for the violin. Rode was named solo violinist for the musique particulière of the First Consul, Napoleon, and was briefly solo violinist at the Opéra. Rode spent the years from 1804 to 1808 in Russia, where he was appointed court violinist to the Tsar. His return to Paris after his Russian sojourn marked a change in his fortunes. Instead of the wave of success he had ridden since he emerged from Bordeaux at the age of thirteen, the public responded only tepidly to his playing. Spohr, who heard him both before and after his Russian adventure, wrote that after Russia he found Rode’s playing “cold and full of mannerism”. Rode again began travelling across Europe in 1811. In Vienna at the end of 1812, he gave the première of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 96 with Archduke Rudolph. He spent the years 1814 to 1821 in Berlin, where he met and married his wife and became an intimate friend of the Mendelssohn family. The mother of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn wrote that, when Rode and his wife left, the “charm of our musical winter evenings…dwindled completely.” In 1821 Rode returned to the Bordeaux area where he now lived in semi-retirement. In 1828 he made a last attempt at a public concert in Paris. The concert was such a fiasco that some commentators believed it hastened his death on 25 November, 1830.

The concertos of Rode were born at a time of social and musical tumult. The era of Rode’s greatest fame coincided with the beheading of Louis XVI, the violence and upheaval of the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, and the ensuing Napoleonic wars. Even a relatively non-political musician such as Viotti found life transformed in the 1790s: as a foreigner Viotti incurred the suspicion of both royalists and revolutionists and was forced to leave Paris in 1792. Rode and his Viotti-influenced colleagues had learned their lessons well, and the style and technique of the French school concertos influenced Beethoven and the larger tradition of the concerto. This style included a more heroic rôle for the soloist and a greater expressiveness partly due to the possibilities of the new Tourte bow. After the ousting of Louis XVI and the establishment of the Republic, old royalist institutions were remade in a burst of enthusiasm and energy. One of the new institutions designed to replace old royal or church establishments was the Paris Conservatoire, formally chartered by law in 1795. Rode was among the first violin professors there, and one of the first tasks of Rode and his colleagues was to produce a manual of instruction. The pedagogical element was never far from the surface for Rode and his colleagues, and was part and parcel of the energy released by the Revolution. Both Rode’s 24 Caprices and Kreutzer’s 40 (later 42) Etudes remain among the most studied violin pedagogical works ever written. Besides the pedagogical element that went hand in hand with the new beginning envisioned by the Revolution, Rode’s time and place was eminently an age of opera, and Rode’s concertos, with their emphasis on the singing line, reflect this. His solo début in 1790 was reputedly given between acts in the opera, and the Holy Week concerts of 1792 were given during the time of year that theatres were closed by law. The last years of the eighteenth century also saw the flowering of romanticism. As classical as the concertos of Rode and his colleagues now sound to modern ears, the aim of the French school composers was thoroughly romantic. This is made clear in Pierre Baillot’s summing up of French school theory and technique The Art of the Violin, which states that the violinist’s “inspirations seem to spring from the heart of this creative enthusiasm [for nature]”. Rode’s music is a reflection of a new romantic sensibility that casts the soloist as virtuoso and hero. His music was born in tumult and revolution, and his concertos are crucial in the development of the art of the violin and especially the violin concerto.

Rode’s thirteen violin concertos, despite holding the interest of the nineteenth century (Wieniawski wrote a cadenza for Rode’s Violin Concerto No. 7), have fallen into obscurity. His best known composition is the Violin Concerto No. 7 in A minor, probably written in 1803. This concerto, along with Violin Concerto No. 1, was one of the very few works (besides his own) that Paganini consented to play. Typically the first movements of Rode concertos feature a moderato or similar tempo and three solo sections. The first solo is the longest and weightiest, and the second solo section is usually in the nature of a contrasting section rather than a development of previous thematic material. The final solo section usually repeats thematic material from the first section, though sometimes Rode introduces new material in this section as well. In the first movement of Concerto No. 7, marked Moderato, the soloist enters after the orchestral introduction with a theme that begins with the descending A minor triad. After passage-work and a shift to the major, the soloist sings a lovely dolce theme (heard previously in the orchestral introduction). The movement reworks these elements, a cadenza serving as bridge between the second and third solo sections. The Adagio is a song in ABA form, while the Rondo is a lively piece written in Rode’s best good-humoured vein.

The first movement, Moderato, of Rode’s Violin Concerto No. 10 in B minor, probably written between 1804 and 1808, begins with a martial orchestral statement, and, unlike Concerto No. 7, includes trumpets in the orchestra. After the usual peregrinations, the soloist emerges with a dramatic lyrical statement that, after passage-work, devolves to one of Rode’s signature dolce themes; the first solo ends in a flurry of passage-work ending on a trill. The soloist’s next entrance features a passage in double stops (relatively rare in Rode) and later triplets. From his Eighth Concerto onward Rode often connected his second and third movements by a cadenza for solo violin, and he follows that procedure in the Adagio of his Tenth Concerto. The ensuing Tempo di polacca is a delightful and sparkling conclusion to the concerto.

Rode’s Violin Concerto No. 13, in F sharp minor / A major was published posthumously, and is dedicated to Rode’s old colleague Baillot. The opening Allegro comodo begins quietly with a theme beginning with a half note (minim); this theme will be taken up by the soloist and will form a pattern, half note (minim) followed by quarters (crotchets), eighths (quavers), triplets, that will unify the movement. The beautiful Adagio, as in Concerto No. 10, leads via a cadenza to the finale, in this case a spritely 6/8 Allegretto, effectively and joyously bringing the thirteen concertos to a close.

Bruce R. Schueneman

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