Janine Jansen performs Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto

Dutch violinist Janine Jansen performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. Performed and broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. Encore: “Mélodie” from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (arranged by Alexander Glazunov).

The hr-Sinfonieorchester is the radio orchestra of Hessischer Rundfunk, the public broadcasting network of the German state of Hesse.

Written in 1878, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 is one of the best known violin concertos, and is considered one of the most technically difficult works for the violin. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A and B-flat, two bassoons, four horns in F, two trumpets in D, timpani and strings. The first performance of the concerto was scheduled for 10/22 March 1879 at a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Saint Petersburg, to be performed by Leopold Auer, the Hungarian violinist, teacher and composer (b. 7 June 1845 in Veszprém, Austria-Hungary; d. 15 July 1930 in Loschwitz, Germany).

The piece is in three movements (there is no break or pause between the second and third movements):

  1. Allegro moderato (D major)
  2. Canzonetta: Andante (G minor)
  3. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (D major)

Early in 1878, Tchaikovsky was staying at Clarens as a guest, with his former student, the violinist Iosif Kotek. Together with Kotek, he played through a large selection from the violin repertoire, and in particular the French composer Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole which it seems inspired him to write a violin concerto.

On 5/17 March Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: “This evening I was seized … quite unexpectedly with a burning inspiration…”. He set aside his Grand Sonata, on which he had been working at the time, and began composition of the Violin Concerto. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 7/19 March, Tchaikovsky noted that for the first time in the life he had begun a new composition before completing the previous one. “On this occasion I could not overcome my desire to make rough sketches for a concerto, and afterwards became so carried away that I abandoned work on the sonata”. In all his letters from this period, the composer remarks that he is carried away with work on the concerto, which, notwithstanding its novelty of form, came very easily to him. On 10/22 March, i.e. after five days, Tchaikovsky finished the first movement of the concerto; on 11/23 March he began the second movement (Andante), and on 14/26 March he told Nadezhda von Meck that he had “reached the finale” and the concerto would soon be ready. On 16/28 March 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote: “Today I finished the concerto. It still has to be copied out and played through a few times… and then orchestrated. I shall start the copying out and add the finishing touches”. The following day he began to make the fair copy.

After playing through the concerto with Iosif Kotek, Tchaikovsky decided to write a new Andante, though the first movement and finale were considered satisfactory. On 24 March/5 April, Tchaikovsky wrote the new Andante, which in his words was: “better suited to the concerto’s other two movements”. He decided to add two other violin pieces to the original Andante (which was restyled Méditation) to form the cycle Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op. 42).

Therefore, by 24 March/5 April all the sketches were ready, including the new Andante, and the piano arrangement of the first movement. In a letter of 24 March/5 April, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: “Today my concerto might be called completely finished. Tomorrow I shall launch myself into the full score, and aim to finish this while the work is still fresh in my thoughts”. On 30 March/11 April the full score was ready.

Tchaikovsky also arranged the concerto for violin with piano accompaniment, between 17/29 March and 24 March 1878.

Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Memory of a dear place), Op. 42, for violin and piano, was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between March and May 1878. It consists of three movements:

  1. Méditation (D minor)
  2. Scherzo (C minor)
  3. Mélodie (E-flat major; Tchaikovsky also described it as a “chant sans paroles”).

In 1880, the Méditation was published separately, and has since become well known as an independent piece. The Scherzo and Mélodie were published separately in 1884. In 1896 Jurgenson published the complete work in an arrangement by Alexander Glazunov (10 August 1865 – 21 March 1936; the Russian composer of the late Russian Romantic period, music teacher and conductor) for violin and orchestra, and in this form it has perhaps become better known than in its original form for violin and piano.

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