“From Finland with Love”
Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor op.47
Cold, silent, still; just before dawn you stand, totally alone, at the shore of the cold northern sea. There is no wind. The clear ceiling of stars speaks not into the silence.
You dare not to breathe .In an everlasting instant, the expanse of sea and shore and stars surrounds you on all sides in its barren, glacial embrace. You are denied even tears by the cold as the ice forms bitterly on your face.
There is something immoderate about Sibelius’ Violin Concerto—something vulnerable and unspeakably beautiful, right there along something dark and brooding. The piece illustrates that not only do darkness and beauty coexist, they enhance each other…
It’s complex, gripping, devilishly complicated, and sounds like no other concerto in the violin repertoire. (courtesy of Alex Ross’s article, Apparition in the Woods, from The New Yorker)
The concerto begins with one of the most captivating openings in the repertoire: above muted, divisi strings, the soloist spins a haunting melody, heart on sleeve, echoed by a lone clarinet. Within few seconds it transforms the concert stage into the frigid, isolated shores of Finland.
In the second movement, the adagio di molto, a gorgeous melody arises so intimately amid the orchestra that makes your heart swell and swell, even as it’s breaking.
On the last movement, the “polonaise for polar bears” Sibelius remarked, “It must be played with absolute mastery. Fast, of course, but no faster than it can be played perfectly von oben [from beginning to end].” Those seeking a thrilling finale full of violin pyrotechnics will not be disappointed; the movement ranks among the most challenging and exciting written for the violin.
Towards the New World
Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor op.104
The principal tone of the work is melancholy, but without any sense of hopeless resignation. This is one of Dvorak’s innermost works, a piece of profound contemplation but also monumental expression and liberal proportions. It differs from Dvorak’s previous piano and violin concertos given the greater presence of the orchestra, which is an equal partner to the solo instrument throughout the work; some even claim that Dvorak’s cello concerto is, in fact, his tenth symphony. In the solo part Dvorak made ideal use of all the different sounds the cello is capable of, above all, its ability eloquently to convey broad, cantabile melodies. The almost continuous melodic current, also the numerous innovations in his instrumentation , and the overall structure of the work are some of the most convincing testimonies of the composer’s exceptional musical invention. Dvorak himself was aware of the work’s extraordinary qualities, a fact mentioned variously in surviving correspondence.
“Dvorak has written a magnificent work which has brought to an end the stagnation of violoncello literature. […] Its melodic invention with unique, magical, south Slav nuances is well grounded in consistent contrapuntal treatment and masterful orchestration. In its broad but crystal-clear structure, the concerto introduces a number of surprisingly effective ideas – such as we have come to expect from Dvorak;. As always, in this concerto, too, the violoncello is at its most beautiful and most natural in its energetic bass or lyrical baritone register, especially in the gentle Andante. The piece also incorporates the inevitable passages where we are given the chance to admire the technical skills of the virtuoso.(Eduard Hanslick on the Viennese premiere (Neue Freie Presse, 9 March 1897)
On 11 March 1895 Dvorak himself informed Josef Bohuslav Foerster: “I have finished my new concerto for cello and I say to you with certainty that this concerto far surpasses my other concertos, both the violin and the piano. Do not be surprised that I am writing this to you; self-praise is generally not reliable, but I have to tell you that this work brings me pure joy and I think that I am not mistaken.”
Still got the blues
George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was a huge success following its premiere in 1924. With only three weeks to compose the work before its first performance at Aeolian Hall with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, Gershwin had to find fast inspiration.
The “jazz concerto” as advertised in the Herald Tribune, had distinctive qualities of Americanism from the beginning, the five main themes based on the blues scale and the use of blues notes throughout. Gershwin decided to call it a rhapsody rather than a concerto. Though the work uses a solo piano alternating with an ensemble like that of a concerto, Rhapsody in Blue also has the features of a rhapsody with its one-movement, free-form construction.
During the work’s composition period, Gershwin found inspiration from two different sources. The first occurred to him while traveling via train to Boston. The rhythm and sound of the train as it swiftly moved along the tracks inspired several themes from the beginning of his piece. He later said “I heard it [the train] as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America—of our vast melting pot, of our incomparable national pep, our blues, our metropolitan madness.”
Gershwin’s second moment of inspiration came at a friend’s party while he played around on the piano. Though not thinking of his Rhapsody at the time, Gershwin claims that he subconsciously composed the climax to the work. He didn’t realize at first how perfectly what he improvised on the piano fit into the piece until his brother, Ira, insisted that he incorporate it into his composition. Ira, his closest advocate and partner in music, also contributed the title Rhapsody in Blue.
The famous, opening clarinet solo of Rhapsody in Blue was inspired by clarinetist Ross Gorman, who played in Whiteman’s orchestra. Gershwin had always been impressed by Gorman’s ability to play a two-octave glissando on his instrument and used the clarinetist’s skill to begin his new work.