The Colburn Orchestra Plays Dvořák - 'Concerto in A Minor for Violin & Orchestra'

For the full performance, which includes Berlioz, Dvořák and Mussorgsky, click here.

"Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 53"
1879-1880
by Antonín Dvořák

Antonín DvořákAntonín Dvořák composed his Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 in the summer of 1879, during a period in his life when he was gaining international recognition, due in part to a growing friendship with Johannes Brahms. In 1877, Brahms wrote a letter to his publisher, Simrock of Berlin, convincing him to publish Dvořák's music. This not only cemented the friendship between the two composers, but it began a flood of publication and performances of Dvořák's works. On New Year's Day 1879 Dvořák heard the famous violinist Joseph Joachim play Brahms' Violin Concerto with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Brahms himself. This inspired Dvořák to compose his own violin concerto which he subsequently dedicated to Joachim.

Although Joachim had long been aware of Dvořák's music, the two met for the first time when Dvořák visited Berlin later in 1879 to hear Joachim's quartet play two of his works. While there, he took the opportunity to consult Joachim about his concerto -- just as Brahms had done in the past. By the end of the summer Dvořák completed the concerto, with numerous revisions and corrections made by Joachim. However, even these changes were not enough to satisfy Simrock, who wanted a new recapitulation for the first movement which did not lead straight into the second movement. This view was most likely seconded by Joachim, but Dvořák refused to make this change and the work was finally published as submitted in 1883, four years after its completion. Although Joachim was enthusiastic about the work, he never performed it publicly. It was instead Dvořák's friend and Czech violinist, František Ondříček, who gave the premiere on October 14, 1883 in Prague.

The concerto is a highly lyrical and rich work, even by Dvořák's standards. Dvořák had long been inspired by the music of Wagner and Liszt, but by this time his music refers back to classical models, being more clarified and simple. At the same time, his own musical roots and the Czech influence in his music are very prominent, as he incorporates Czech national music and folk songs into his work. The Violin Concerto, while still holding onto the Germanic concerto form, has distinct harmonic characteristics and is infused with traditional Czech melodies. Dvořák's violin concerto also bears the unmistakable influence of Felix Mendelssohn's earlier op. 64 concerto (1844), which broke with classical formal tradition by delaying the opening orchestral tutti and having the soloist take center stage at the onset of the work. Dvořák takes this path, and the first movement begins boldly, with a forceful unison statement consisting of just a few chords given by the orchestra. The solo violin answers in a pensive and bittersweet melody filled with longing. The exchanges between orchestra and solo transition into the flowing second theme, suggest a Brahmsian character. A cadential flourish leads into the main section of the movement, where the solo part is replete with virtuosic passages in runs and double stops. The movement closes with the solo violin giving a gentle echo of the opening theme, providing a beautiful bridge that flows directly into the second movement.

The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo, is also reminiscent of Brahms and its plaintive but heartfelt melodies evoke the image of the countryside, colored with numerous unexpected harmonic surprises. At the end of the movement, the horns recall the opening theme while the violin embellishes serenely above them, providing a beautiful farewell.

The Finale is a joyous dance, heavily infused with Slavic rhythms and folk melodies. Like the Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, written just one year earlier, this movement uses the furiant as the prevalent and most frequently recurring dance. Each time the dance returns in a different mood or color, once even imitating the drone of bagpipes. Contrasting episodes include a waltz followed by another Czech folk song, the more melancholic dumka. The solo part is filled with brilliant virtuosic writing and the lively music dances to a fiery, exhilarating finish of Dvořák's most beloved pieces.

by Conservatory sophomore Bora Kim, violinist and pianist in the Bachelor of Music program

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