About this Recording
8.572755 - RODE, P.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1, 5 and 9 (Eichhorn, Jena Philharmonic, Pasquet)
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Pierre Rode (1774–1830)
Violin Concertos Nos. 1, 5 and 9

 

Jacque Pierre Joseph Rode was born in Bordeaux on 16 February 1774. The son of a perfumer, he showed early musical precociousness 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 founder of the modern French violin school. While still a teenager, Rode probably made his solo début in 1790 with 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 1st and 13 April including two concertos of Viotti. During the next sixteen years Rode lived the life of a travelling virtuoso, though he also joined the violin faculty of the newly organized Paris Conservatoire. While associated with the Conservatoire, Rode collaborated with Baillot and Kreutzer on a manual of instruction for the violin. Rode was named violin-solo for the musique particulière of the First Consul (Napoleon) and was briefly violin-solo at the Opéra. He spent four years in Russia (1804–1808), where he was appointed court violinist to Tsar Alexander I. 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 the Russian adventure, wrote that after Russia he found Rode’s playing “cold and full of mannerism”. Rode again began travelling across Europe in 1811 or 1812. In Vienna at the end of 1812 he gave the première of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 96, with Archduke Rudolph. Much of the period from 1814 to 1821 Rode spent in Berlin, where he met and married his wife and became an intimate of the Mendelssohn family. When Rode and his wife left Berlin, Mendelssohn’s mother wrote that 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 26 November 1830.

Rode composed almost exclusively for his own instrument. His works include sonatas, quartets, airs variés, thirteen violin concertos, various miscellaneous works, and pedagogical works, most notably the 24 Caprices in the Form of Etudes. Rode’s works represent the full flowering of the French violin school that traced its origin to Viotti’s arrival in Paris in 1782. Rode’s greatest contribution to the violinist’s art (along with the 24 Caprices), was his thirteen violin concertos. Roeder, in his History of the Concerto, described Rode’s concertos as “technically somewhat more demanding of the soloist than those of Viotti, while displaying a thorough idiomatic understanding of the instrument”. Rode’s technique tends toward fleet passagework and sustained lyricism rather than double-stops or harmonics, and his bowing is always varied and tasteful. Rode, and the French School generally, had a wide influence on the romantic sensibility of the nineteenth century. Beethoven was quite familiar with the French School and dedicated his most famous violin sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer, as well as placing the première of his Sonata, Op. 96 in the hands of Rode. The French School, as Boris Schwarz has shown, also influenced Beethoven when he came to write his own violin concerto. Rode’s continuing relevance for a later generation of violinists is demonstrated by Wieniawski’s cadenza for the Seventh Concerto. Rode and his French colleagues have had a long-lasting and salutary influence on violin technique and music for the violin. Among Rode’s works, the best known (besides the Caprices) are the thirteen concertos, which span his entire career as a performer and composer.

Rode wrote thirteen violin concertos, dating from 1794 or 1795 when he was about twenty years old to just before his death. Boris Schwarz called Rode’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D minor “a remarkably mature work”, and continued: “Though his handling of form became more concentrated, his expression more supple, his technique more finished, he remained unchanged in the fundamental aspects of his musical personality, and later progress seems small compared to his astonishing Opus 1.” The concerto is dedicated to his mentor, “Citizen” Viotti. The first movement maestoso begins with a dramatic tutti; the solo violin entrance is similar yet subtly different. Eventually a dolce theme enters and is varied with triplets and other passage-work. The development or contrasting section features several episodes on the low g-string alone; the dolce section in the recapitulation briefly switches to D major before the cadenza and the triumphant conclusion. The Adagio begins with the orchestra alternating fortissimo and pianissimo as it intones a simple descending phrase that is repeated with slight variation; this sets the stage for the soloist’s entrance in one of Rode’s fine sweetly melodic slow themes; the repeat of the theme is played on the resonant G string alone. Several contrasting motifs lead to the reappearance of the main theme, the cadenza, and the orchestral finish. Boris Schwarz wrote that Rode’s finales “sparkle with gracefulness, piquancy, and impishness”, and praised in particular the polonaises, especially the Polonaise of the First Violin Concerto. This movement (Allegro moderato) begins with the soloist stating the sempre marcato theme, which is varied and repeated between contrasting episodes in a delightful conclusion to Rode’s first youthful concerto.

The Violin Concerto No. 5 in D major, probably written around 1800/1801, is more pastoral in character than the bold First Concerto. The first movement begins with an Adagio introduction featuring mellow woodwind, which gives away after ten measures to the main Allegro giusto tempo. A contrasting gently rocking theme reappears both in the development/contrasting section and the recapitulation. The Siciliano is an elegant and introspective movement. After a full orchestral statement of the Siciliano theme, the soloist enters with a dolce second theme. After this material is fully explored and followed by a subsequent orchestral tutti, the soloist enters with the theme with which the orchestra began the movement, winding down to a quiet close, the soloist playing until the end. Among the most interesting aspects of the concerto’s Rondo à la russe finale is the main rondo tune. Schwarz identified it as based on the tune used by Beethoven in his Variations for solo piano WoO71 (after Wranitzky’s ballet Das Waldmädchen), and Wranitzky’s theme is in turn based on the rondo finale of one of Giornovichi’s violin concertos. Schwarz claimed that, though distorted, the theme ultimately derives from the Russian folk-tune “In the Field Stood a Little Birch Tree”. Rode’s treatment contains all the energy and brio of his finales and is a delight from beginning to end.

Rode’s Violin Concerto No. 9 in C major was written during his four-year Russian sojourn and is dedicated to “Monsieur le Compte Ilinsky, Privy Councillor, Chamberlain and Senator of His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias”. The opening Moderato movement begins fortissimo in the orchestra. The soloist’s entrance is the usual dramatic flourish: half notes followed by sixteenths (semiquavers), followed by double-stopped dotted eighths (quavers) and sixteenths (semiquavers). The opening material includes double stops, a relative rarity in Rode, and also of interest is an additional orchestral tutti in the development/contrasting section. The Cavatina, marked Un poco adagio, begins in the orchestra with alternate fortissimo and pianissimo chords that resolve into a dolce theme. The soloist enters with a highly ornamented dolce theme of its own; this is elaborated and spun into other motifs. The central section features “all on a string” playing on the sonorous g string before the return of the main cavatina melody, now with slightly different embellishment. The Allegretto finale in 2/4 time is a prime example of Rode’s sparkling energetic finales—a steady stream of sixteenth notes (semiquavers), varied with contrasting sections, that bring the concerto to a merry end.

Bruce R. Schueneman

For the last eight years Nicolás Pasquet and I have devoted our attention to the subject of the “Violin Concertos of Pierre Rode”. When you, dear listener, have the third recording in your hands, the fourth album will already have been cut and the final tracks in the complete recording of all thirteen violin concertos will have been laid down.

Revival performances and première recordings of forgotten repertoire are fascinating, especially in the case of the Rode concertos. Here one can immerse oneself in the scores with excitement and in a spirit of discovery! The lack of a performing tradition in these pieces fires the imagination.

At first, the tracking down of the mostly very old and frequently difficult-to-read editions of the violin concertos was at a standstill, but by dint of detailed and painstaking work Naxos has produced newly-published orchestral parts and scores (the latter were almost never available in the old editions.)

Moreover, in his violin concertos Rode gave only a few performance indications regarding dynamics, articulation and character. Cadenzas are always missing and entries are rarely notated, so this was an opportunity for us to be creative with the musical notes.

The origination process of the interpretation is consequently very long: getting the right notes, the first play-through with the repetiteur, the understanding of tempi, phrasing, nuances of dynamics, part-writing and articulation, as well as decisions about the musically most ideal fingering.

The writing of the cadenzas gave me particular pleasure. In the cadenza of the First Concerto the virtuosity of the opening movement is intensified through countless staccatos and greater ranges of pitch, so here I referred exclusively to themes and motifs from that movement.

In the Fifth Concerto on the other hand I drew my inspiration from the simple jump of a fourth (A to D) in the soloist’s first appearance and came up with an associative improvisation of quotations from several other works. The “musical quiz” is here declared open!

The answer as to which works the quotations come from can be found at www.friedemanneichhorn.com, my homepage. By then surely you will already have identified the majority of the quotations, especially if you are a violinist!

Friedemann Eichhorn


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