Accompanied by the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, the Spanish classical violinist María Dueñas performs Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77. Encore: Gabriel Fauré’s Après un rêve (After a Dream). Conductor: Joshua Weilerstein. Recorded on April 23, 2023.
Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto
Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is a well-known work in the violin repertoire and a pinnacle of the Romantic era’s orchestral literature. Composed in 1878, it stands as Brahms’s only violin concerto.
The work is known for its considerable technical demands, requiring high virtuosity and interpretive depth from the soloist. The initial solo part was written for Brahms’s friend and collaborator, the virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim. Joachim had significant input into the solo violin part and also wrote the cadenza that is most often played in the first movement.
The concerto was premiered on January 1, 1879, with Joachim as the soloist. Despite initial skepticism from critics, Brahms’s Violin Concerto has since become one of the most important and frequently performed violin concertos from the 19th century.
The concerto is scored for solo violin and a relatively standard-sized Romantic orchestra of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The concerto has three movements. With start times in the video:
- 00:04 Allegro non troppo
- 24:43 Adagio
- 33:56 Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto
- 44:01 Gabriel Fauré’s Après un rêve (After a Dream)
1. Allegro non troppo
The first movement of Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, marked “Allegro non troppo,” is arguably the most significant part of the work due to its complexity, length, and virtuosic demands it places on the soloist.
The movement opens with an extended orchestral introduction, a characteristic often found in Brahms’s concertos. This introduces the richly orchestrated main themes before the solo violin makes its entrance.
The structure of the movement is a modified version of the sonata form. In the traditional sonata form, two contrasting themes are presented, developed, and then reprised. However, Brahms extends this concept by introducing a third theme, which adds an extra layer of depth and complexity to the movement. The three themes are distinguished not only by their melodic characteristics but also by the keys they are written in.
Here is a breakdown of the general structure:
Exposition: The exposition begins with the orchestral introduction, where the main themes are presented. The solo violin enters with a soaring rendition of the first theme. The second theme provides contrast and the third theme brings further variety before the exposition concludes.
Development: The development section sees Brahms manipulating and transforming the themes. This is a tour de force of Romantic-era composition, with its dramatic and intricate development of the main themes. The solo violin and orchestra engage in an almost argumentative dialogue, with the violin often leading the way.
Recapitulation: The recapitulation sees the return of the main themes, this time with the solo violin taking a more dominant role. This is followed by a cadenza for the solo violin, which is typically a passage of virtuoso display for the soloist and was originally written by Brahms’s friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim.
Coda: After the cadenza, there is a brief orchestral passage that leads to the coda. The coda ends the movement in a dramatic fashion, concluding the elaborate musical journey.
This movement is a perfect example of Brahms’s masterful orchestration and his skill in developing thematic material. It requires a high level of technical skill from the soloist, not just in terms of dexterity but also in the interpretation and presentation of complex musical material.
The second movement of Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, is titled “Adagio” and is marked by a significant contrast in mood and tempo to the opening movement.
This movement, played in F major, is notably shorter and less technically demanding for the soloist than the first, but it nonetheless requires a high level of musicality and expressiveness. It’s a movement filled with tranquility, lyricism, and introspective beauty.
The “Adagio” commences with a woodwind introduction before the violin soloist enters, playing a serene, melodious theme. The primary theme is passionate and deeply expressive, leading to a second theme that is more dramatic.
The structure is less complex than the first movement, generally following an A-B-A form, where A represents the first theme and B represents the second theme. The A theme is introduced by the oboe and later taken over by the violin. This is followed by the B theme, which is more dramatic and turbulent before the A theme returns for a final time.
Throughout the movement, the orchestral accompaniment provides a supportive, rich, and warmly colored backdrop to the solo violin’s statements. This intertwining of solo and orchestral voices characterizes much of the movement’s introspective and expressive charm.
This movement is often cited as one of Brahms’s most beautiful slow movements, demonstrating his capacity to craft deeply expressive and emotive musical landscapes. As with much of Brahms’s music, the emotional depth in this movement is realized through the balance of melodic beauty, harmonic sophistication, and contrapuntal complexity.
3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace
The third movement of Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, “Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace,” is a lively and vibrant finale to the concerto. This movement is characterized by its rhythmic energy and playful nature, marking a significant contrast to the serene second movement.
The music in this movement is written in a rondo form, meaning a main theme is presented and then alternates with different themes throughout the movement. The main theme is introduced by the orchestra and is then taken up by the solo violin, which adds virtuosic embellishments.
This movement involves significant interplay between the orchestra and the soloist, with themes often being passed back and forth between them. The movement concludes with a triumphant ending in D major, concluding Brahms’s Violin Concerto on a high note.
María Dueñas Fernández (born in Granada, on 4 December 2002) is a Spanish violinist and composer. In 2021 she won the first prize in the Yehudi Menuhin Competition, in the senior category. She is considered the Spanish violinist with the greatest international profile, and one of the most promising musicians of her generation. In 2022 she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
She enrolled at the Ángel Barrios Conservatory in her native Granada when she was seven. At the age of 11, she won a scholarship from the Juventudes Musicales de Madrid, allowing her to study at the Carl Maria von Weber College of Music in Dresden. She then moved to Vienna to study with Boris Kuschnir and enrolled at the University of Music and Dramatic Art in Vienna and at the University of Graz.
Dueñas has been a soloist with European and American orchestras, such as the San Francisco Symphony, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Spanish National Orchestra. In September 2019, Dueñas was designated as the New Artist of the Month by the magazine Musical America, which is the oldest American magazine on classical music.
She won the 1st prize at the 2021 Getting to Carnegie Hall competition, for which each participant performed the world premiere of one movement of Julian Gargiulo’s new sonata for violin and piano. In 2021, at the age of 18, Dueñas won the 1st prize at the Menuhin Competition, and she won the Audience Prize as well. For the competition, Dueñas played Witold Lutosławski’s Subito, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, and Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole in D minor. The award includes $20,000 and a 2-year loan of a golden period Stradivarius violin.
Dueñas is also a composer and the founder of the Hamamelis Quartett. She composed the piece Farewell when she was 13, which was awarded the Robert Schumann International Piano Competition award in 2016. Her piece was later produced as a music video.