Concertos by Mendelssohn and Brahms by Judith Eckelmeyer
Portrait of Mendelssohn by the German painter Eduard Magnus, 1846
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was born into a well-to-do, cultured family in Berlin and the grandson of the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. He was not only a musical prodigy, writing 12 symphonies for strings and a couple of concertos by the time he was 14, but a polymath as an adult—a talented artist, composer, performer, conductor, impresario, and advocate of earlier music. Notably, he was responsible for the return of J. S. Bach’s music to the public when in 1829 he prepared and directed the first performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion since Bach’s death in 1750.
Given Mendelssohn’s clear-eyed understanding of musical conventions of his predecessors, it is particularly interesting that he “misconstructed” his 1844 Violin Concerto in E-minor in many ways. Although in the traditional 3 movements, he linked the first to the second by a bassoon solo of two prolonged notes. Within the first movement, there is no orchestral exposition; the violin soloist takes off at the very beginning of the work. And the convention of a cadenza toward the end of the recapitulation is abandoned; Mendelssohn places it at the end of the development as a (very effective) way to transition to the recapitulation. The second movement is, as expected, is slower and quite melodious. Almost as if continuing the mood of the second movement, the third is introduced by a slow, solemn introduction, but changes radically with the initial theme. It is lively and in the major key, very reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s own Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed 18 years earlier.
Itzhak Perlman, violin Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor | San Francisco Symphony (2011) David Zinman, conductor New York Philharmonic (1983)
Johannes Brahms, 1889
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a concert pianist rather than a string player. He relied on his friend Joseph Joachim, a concert violinist, for suggestion in refining his violin compositions.
Brahms dedicated his 1878 Violin Concerto in A-minor to Joachim, who performed the premiere; Joachim and cellist Robert Hausmann performed the premiere of the Double Concerto of 1887.
Brahms’s classical gene was, in this concerto, influenced by his deep interest in music of the Baroque. The work is in fact a concerto grosso but differs from the Baroque norm in having solo string instruments of two different ranges. The three movements display various combinations of the use of the two instruments: unison (at the octave), contrapuntal, harmonized, melodic line extended in one sweep through the ranges of the two, and several others. Enjoy seeking out the various techniques!
The second movement is, as expected, is slower and quite melodious. Almost as if continuing the mood of the second movement, the third is introduced by a slow, solemn introduction, but changes radically with the initial theme. It is lively and in the major key, very reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s own Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed 18 years earlier.
Brahms: Double Concerto in A-minor for violin and cello, Op. 102 Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin | Maximilian Hornung, cello Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks Es Dirigiert, Mariss Jansons