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8.573734 - BÉRIOT, C.-A. de: Violin Concertos Nos. 4, 6, 7 (Ayana Tsuji, Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, Halász)
Charles Auguste de Bériot (1802–1870)
In 1896 The Strad described Charles Auguste de Beriot as “the founder of the modern Franco-Belgian [violin] school as distinguished from the classical Paris school”, and went on to describe Beriot’s technique as “smooth and perfect in every way, while his tone, which was not great, was nevertheless beautiful, even noble, and his intonation absolutely faultless”. Beriot’s compositions were perfectly suited to his very considerable technique and displayed the early romantic ethos of feeling—though form was never neglected, and indeed in some ways revolutionised. Beriot was born into a noble family in the Belgian city of Louvain on 20th February 1802. Orphaned at the age of nine, he studied with his guardian, the violinist Jean Francois Tiby. On the advice of Andre Robberechts, with whom he had some lessons, he moved in 1821 to Paris to study with Giovanni Battista Viotti, who advised him to profit by hearing other players but to imitate no one. After a brief period as a student of another great French School violinist, Pierre Baillot, Beriot began his extraordinary concert career, creating a sensation in London and Paris. His life took a decidedly romantic turn when he met Maria Malibran (nee Garcia), perhaps the most famous opera diva of the nineteenth century. A romantic liaison soon developed, at first well-hidden since she was still married. After years of legal wrangling, Maria’s marriage was annulled by the French courts in 1835, and in March 1836 Beriot and Maria officially became man and wife. Within months Maria’s health was severely compromised by an injury suffered during a riding accident. She continued to perform, but within days collapsed onstage at the Manchester Festival and died soon afterwards. After a period of mourning, Beriot returned to the concert stage in 1838, and in 1843 accepted the post of violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory, where he remained until his forced retirement in 1852 due to failing eyesight; by 1858 he was blind. Beriot’s most famous student was Henri Vieuxtemps, who succeeded him as violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory in 1870, the year of Beriot’s death (Vieuxtemps refused to occupy the post until his old professor had died). Baron de Tremont, a talented amateur who often played with Beriot, wrote in 1841: “I had heard all the great French and foreign violinists [including Paganini], beginning with Viotti, and I like Beriot the best.”
Similar to the life he led, Beriot’s music is highly engaging and romantic. He flourished at the height of the romantic era, and his music reflects this. His ten violin concertos and the Scène de Ballet are probably his best-known works. In the former he was quite inventive, writing concertos with only one movement, or connected movements (one “official” movement though each of the traditional three movements is visible in the structure), or using themes in more than one movement as a unifying device—fairly new procedures for the time. Beriot also used many of the same techniques that Paganini was also using in his works: harmonics, extensive use of double stops, and ricochet bowing. In his concertos, however, Beriot is not interested in mere technique. All of his violin writing, no matter how much it relies on a formidable technique, is very much “within” the capabilities of the violin.
The ability to communicate was evident in all Beriot’s music. Like almost all of the great virtuosos of the period, he was a dedicated pedagogue and spent a great deal of time on his various studies or caprices designed to create mastery of the instrument. He wrote a Méthode de violon in 1857 and L’Ecole transcendante du violon, Op. 123, among many other similar works. The goal was not just technical mastery, though that was, of course, important. It was to create a well-rounded musician who was as good a communicator as technician.
Beriot’s ten concertos are well-spaced throughout his career, ranging from Op. 16 to Op. 127. Beriot’s Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 46, essentially corresponds to the usual first movement of a three movement concerto—a single fast movement. The movement begins in D minor and is marked Allegro moderato. The opening tutti begins maestoso with introductory material alternating a quiet descending motif and a more vigorous dotted motif. In modified A-B-A form, the opening introductory material in A is not repeated when A returns. Eventually the main theme in D major arrives, and a chromatic scale returns the key to D minor before the entrance of the soloist. The soloist repeats the opening introductory material, though embellished with double-stops, ricochet bowing, and a chromatic scale in thirds. The soloist sings the main theme; the following pyrotechnics include double-stops, harmonics and fast chromatic runs. The alternating B section ends with another long chromatic run in doublestopped thirds before the movement returns to D major with the final return of the main theme (sans the introductory material), whose continuation includes double-stops and harmonics. Beriot calls for alternating down and up bow ricochet at a fast speed in a series of demisemiquavers (32nd notes), a very difficult bowing to achieve.
Concerto No. 6. in A major, Op. 70, was composed for the 1849 Brussels concours. It uses a formula Beriot loved: three movements played without a break. The opening Allegro moderato movement consists of the usual orchestral introduction featuring two main themes followed by the entrance of the soloist, who repeats the themes introduced by the orchestra, though with suitable embellishment. Unlike the usual three solo sections surrounded by orchestral sections, there is only one solo section. Eventually the soloist moves from 4/4 time to 12/8 time; this is followed by a short tutti bridge to the 6/8 Andante in A minor. Beriot often truncated the usual concerto form in this manner. The Andante is marked con sentimento and is in two parts, gradually becoming more florid and leading to a fermata. The Allegretto in A major begins simply, becoming more virtuosic with scale runs and double-stops, and ending with a galloping Allegro vivace coda in 2/4 time.
Concerto No. 7 in G major, Op. 76, was dedicated to William III, King of the Netherlands. Like Concerto No. 6, it is designed to be played without a break between movements, and features a single solo episode in the opening movement. The Allegro maestoso opening movement contains two themes, an opening risoluto theme and a dolce theme. The soloist takes up the opening theme in double-stops; this is followed by cadenza-like runs and passage-work leading to the dolce theme, at first played simply, but then elaborated with harmonics, scale passages, and double-stops. An orchestra tutti introduces a 6/8 Andante tranquillo, played simply throughout by the soloist except for a double-stopped passage near the transitional orchestral tutti. The Allegro moderato finale in 2/4 time is a rondo with interspersed contrasting sections.
Nearly every violin composer in the first half of the nineteenth century wrote airs variés, works based on theme and variation, often using popular tunes as the basis of the work. Beriot wrote numerous such pieces, including seven of his first fifteen opus numbers. One of the usual formulas for such works is Introduction – Theme – Variations – Coda. Air varié No. 4 in B flat major ‘Montagnard’, Op. 5, is written to form, beginning with an Allegretto con moto introduction in 4/4 time leading to the Andante theme in 3/4 time. The theme is followed by six variations and a coda.
The Scène de ballet, Op. 100, in A minor, is perhaps Beriot’s best known composition. Beriot’s romantic fancy is given full play in a work whose sections encompass various aspects of dance. After the opening Allegro vivace’s two measures of orchestral introduction, the soloist enters fortissimo with double stops; subsequent sections are Adagio cantabile, Tempo de Boléro, Tempo animato (within which is a lovely con grazia section), Valse (Tempo moderato), Adagio, and (now in A major) Allegro appassionato.
Bruce R. Schueneman
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