As I’ve been listening to some of the best violin concertos in the world, I’ve recently been cultivating a passion for Beethoven’s – Opus 61. The first time I noticed it I had just fallen for Tchaikovsky’s, and something about Beethoven’s seemed less spectacular. I don’t feel that way anymore – the themes in Beethoven are beautiful; the way the main orchestra weaves in and out with the theme while the soloist goes on myriad adventures is truly a delight. I think it better features the orchestra, while still giving the soloist ample room to shine.
One solo part just seems impossible to my newbie fingers – the soloist plays two independent “melodies” basically simultaneously. It looks hard even for Arabella Steinbacher! Another bit of magic is more about the way people play it – there’s a stylistic way that all of the soloists I’ve seen really lay into the strings; their manner brings a character to a few parts of the concerto that is unexpected and rich. Much has been written about the many cadenzas, or the improvisations/re-writes to certain parts of the score by many players and composers over time. The Concerto has received a lot of attention over the years!
Beethoven wrote his violin concerto in just a few short weeks around Christmastime in 1806, a prolific time for the composer. The first performance was given on December 23, featuring Franz Clement, to whom the Concerto is dedicated. Clement was a leading violinist and served as the artistic director at the Theatre An der Wien in Vienna, where the Concerto and many other of Beethoven’s now-classics debuted. Critics panned the performance, possibly because of the hasty way it had to be put together – the piece was finished only a couple of days prior to the concert. Apparently Clement had very little time with the piece and actually sight-read some of it. Whatever the cause of the lackluster reception, the concerto languished unplayed for decades, until it was revived in 1844, by 12 year old virtuoso Joseph Joachim.
It’s been astonishing audiences and inspiring performers ever since. Here’s Arabella Steinbacher with the RTVE Symphony Orchestra in Madrid:
Thanks to Wikipedia and to lvbeethoven.com for the information on the Concerto.
Thanks for reading.