It’s Labor Day weekend already, and yesterday I discovered a phenomenal new piece of music, coincidentally titled The Last Rose of Summer. I suppose I had heard of the old Irish folk tune, but I had not heard of the composition for violin, written by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst in the mid 1800s as the finale of a work called Six Polyphonic Etudes for Solo Violin. So this morning I thought I’d look into it and write a nice little timely-by-title post about the tune. As I started digging, however, I quickly found that violinist Timothy Judd beat me to this very punch last Labor Day weekend; there is nothing new under the sun! This is actually the second time I’ve bumped into the Richmond Symphony Orchestra violinist in my blogging.
Ernst was a prodigy, and an admirer and sort of student of Paganini. Wikipedia discusses an admiration between the two men, but also a fierce competitiveness the younger Ernst exhibited toward the master. One anecdote has Ernst renting rooms next to Paganini in secret so he could listen to the master practice and learn from his technique. It seems that Paganini was quite secretive about sharing his compositions, though overall he was supportive of the younger virtuoso as well. Some reports view the two as near equals in their playing.
Though he remained in the shadow of Paganini most of his life, Ernst’s contribution to violin music was taking it further down the polyphonic road than others had. Yesterday I was exploring Midori Goto performances on YouTube, and it was while watching her that I discovered The Last Rose of Summer. It might seem odd, considering she’s still alive and only a little older than me, but I think I’m really coming to the conclusion that if I could have seen one violin performance in history I would have loved to have been at Midori’s Carnegie Hall Debut in 1991. At 19, she knocked this piece that almost nobody can play completely out of the park. Really – I say again, almost nobody can play this thing. There are very, very few recordings of it (this is the only one I’ve been able to find online, and Amazon lists only two, this performance and one by Maxim Vengerov, for sale on CD/download). I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while Vengerov is a phenomenal player (and I have not heard his Summer Rose), Midori is one of a kind.
In fact, the more I learn and listen and watch the best of the best, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that Midori is going to land at the top of the lists when posterity gets around to doing its thing. There are no tricks here, and, yes, she’s only playing one violin.
Thanks for reading.