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TitlePresentation and musical analysis
First movement
Second movement
Third movement
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TitleThis presentation is by Michele Trenti

The information comes from the cdrom section of the cd: "Violin Concerto by Beethoven interprété with Bin Huang, violin, and the Genoa Youth Philharmonic directed by Michele Trenti (Philarmonia - 1995)".

Michele Trenti has realizes this presentation and musical analysis.

This information is shown on this webiste with his kind authorization. Many thanks!

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The Concerto for Violin (Opus 61) was composed in a number of weeks between November and December 1806, an unusually short time for Beethoven.

The chance to bring to life a concerto for violin and orchestra (the only complete concerto of its kind by Beethoven) fell to the violinist and conductor Franz Clement, artistic director of the Theater An der Wien (the theatre which, under the direction of Schikaneder, hosted the premiere of Mozart's Magic Flute in 1791). Clement had commissioned Beethoven to write a piece to be performed at a public concert prior to Christmas. The concerto was not completed until a couple of days before the performance itself which took place on 23rd December, and the violinist was forced to play from a score which he had barely had time to read through.

The period in which Beethoven wrote the violin concerto was one of intense creative activity: in relatively little time he produced works such as the "Eroica" Symphony (Opus 55), the Triple Concerto (Opus 56), the "Appassionata" Sonata (Opus 57), the Piano Concerto No. 4 (Opus 58), the "Rasumovsky" Quartets (Opus 59), the Fourth Symphony (Opus 60) and the Coriolan Overture (Opus 62). While these works bear Beethoven's unique signature, his approach to composition is rich and varied in terms of technique, form and genre.

Beethoven had written a rough draft for another violin concerto many years previously, although he had later abandoned it and it had lain forgotten for decades. His two romanzas (Opus 40 and 50) confirm the cantabile approach which Beethoven took to the violin as a solo instrument.

© Michele Trenti
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TitleStylistic Content and History of Criticism

The Violin Concerto is the most accurate reflection of the lyrical side of Beethoven's musical personality. There is no trace of tragic intensity, inner struggle, suffering or overwhelming passion anywhere in the forty-five minute long piece: it is governed by a superior harmony and an equilibrium of scale which make the work one of the highpoints in the history of music.

"The melody pours forth in a divinely peaceful form.. permeated with the pure harmony of D major" (Riezler), with a series of surprises, typical of Beethoven, which leave the sweetness of the music untouched. His decision to open the piece with four beats on the timpani is quite original; the violins come in on the tenth beat on an unexpected note (D sharp) which is resolved in a similarly unusual manner (ending on C sharp instead of E); the transitional motif, played fortissimo over the harmony in B flat, hints at the unpredictable, powerful side of Beethoven's personality.

It is difficult to understand why Beethoven's Violin Concerto did not immediately receive the universal renown it enjoys today. Reports of the first ever performance tell us that it met with the approval of the public (not surprising, since it was played by the artistic director of the theatre, a highly regarded musician) but was not well received by music critics: the fact that the piece had been rehearsed sketchily and in very little time would have no doubt influenced the audience. Probably as a result, the concert was not performed again for many years, until after Beethoven's death.

The pianist and publisher Muzio Clementi commissioned Beethoven to write a version of the concerto with a solo for piano. Beethoven modified the solo score (the orchestral part remained the same) and performed the new version himself, but the concerto was badly received and fell into oblivion. While it was written with a deep understanding and knowledge of the instrument, the piano version undermines the original idea which was "created" for the violin; it is performed rarely today, mostly out of curiosity.

Despite this Beethoven did not abandon the piece: he went on to dedicate it to his childhood friend Stephan von Breuning to whom he was extremely close; the version for piano is dedicated to Julie von Vering, "Steffen's" wife. The Breuning family was a great solace to Beethoven on the death of his mother (1786) and the bonds of friendship between the two men lasted a lifetime. Breuning died of a liver complaint three months after Beethoven's death. Breuning's son Gerhard wrote a biography which contains important first hand information on the composer.

It was the violinist Joseph Joachim, friend of Brahms (to whom his violin concerto is dedicated), who brought the concert to light in 1844; his performances of the piece were conducted by Mendelsshon and Schumann on various occasions.

Opinions of the concerto remain divided even today: many critics point to a lack of balance between the movements, the excessive uniformity of the violin score and the over-conventional nature of the third movement; musicians are unanimous in their opinion of it as one of the highpoints in the history of music and the concerto remains the most performed and recorded in the violin repertoire.

© Michele Trenti
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