We are starting the 2022-23 Season with a celebration of music by Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. The incredible virtuoso violinist Victor Romanul will be the featured soloist in Tchaikovsky's dramatic Violin Concerto.
Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Violin Concerto in March 1878 with the help of his friend Josif Kotek, one of Tchaikovsky’s students at the Moscow Conservatory. Tchaikovsky would write a passage and Kotek would try it out, giving Tchaikovsky, who did not play the violin, feedback regarding violin technique. The masterpiece that emerged would become one of the most beloved violin concertos in history. But not without a struggle.
Tchaikovsky dedicated his only violin concerto to the Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer, but Auer rejected the piece as unplayable.
The premiere finally took place in Vienna in 1881 when the violinist Adolph Brodsky decided that the unplayable was playable after all. The audience loved it, but the critics differed. Renowned critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote:
“The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely not an ordinary talent, but rather an inflated one, with a genius-obsession without discrimination or taste. Such is also his latest, long and pretentious Violin Concerto. For a while it moves soberly, musically, and not without spirit. But soon vulgarity gains the upper hand, and asserts itself to the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is pulled, torn, drubbed. The Adagio . . . soon breaks off to make way for a finale that transfers us to a brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian holiday. We see plainly the savage vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell vodka. . . . Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear.”
Tchaikovsky memorized Hanslick’s review and could quote it for the rest of his life. Fortunately, Hanslick’s opinion didn’t seem to matter, as Brodsky soon had many more engagements to perform the concerto in other cities and the concerto has been a mainstay ever since.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) died only two months after his comic opera The Magic Flute was premiered.
The Magic Flute Overture has been called a “Masonic opera” due to its symbolism and the fact that both librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons. It is a singspiel meaning “song-play” which is not unlike the musical theater we hear today that combines spoken text with text set to music. The opera tells the story of the handsome prince Tamino, who, with his companion Papageno the bird-catcher, rescues the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina, from her evil mother’s clutches.
The overture was finished a few days before the premiere of the opera. Succinct and energetic, after an initial triad statement opening, the music leaps into an Allegro, the theme of which Mozart is said to have pilfered from composer and pianist Muzio Clementi’s Sonata in B-flat.
Have a listen. What do you think? The Allegro seldom pauses as it energetically moves along to a grand finish.
Audiences and critics immediately and enthusiastically applauded the opera and it has remained hugely popular. The overture, likewise, has become a favorite in the concert hall. If Mozart had not died two months after the premiere, there is no telling how his life would have changed thanks to the huge success of the Magic Flute.
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is one of the best-known compositions in classical music and one of the most frequently played symphonies. It is widely considered a cornerstone of western music. First performed in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon after E. T. A. Hoffmann described the symphony as “one of the most important works of the time.”
Beethoven was in his mid-thirties. His personal life was troubled by increasing deafness. The Napoleonic Wars dominated in the world at large, including the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon's troops in 1805.
Soon after its premiere, the symphony acquired its status as a central work in the orchestral repertoire. Groundbreaking in terms of both its technical and emotional impact, the Fifth has had a large influence on composers and music critics.
Recently, a Ukrainian soldier was seen on TV, with a big smile on his face, raising his hand in the V for victory sign as he and his compatriots were taking back territory the Russians had vacated in Ukraine. Did he know this universal sign for victory originated during World War II employing Beethoven's first movement motif dot, dot, dot, dah?
The idea of using the V as a symbol of resistance came from Victor de Laveleye, a Belgian producer, who saw this as unifying Belgium's Flemish and French speakers. He picked V because it was the first letter of the French word Victoire (victory) and the Flemish word Vrijheid (freedom). During his broadcast on January 14, 1941, he encouraged the people of Belgium to paint a V on everything possible as their symbol for standing up to the Germans.
The idea spread to other Allied countries through BBC broadcasts.
In Morse code, V is dot-dot-dot-dash. People equated it with the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. That four-note motif was played by the timpani before every BBC wartime broadcast to Europe. The publicity about Beethoven and the V for Victory campaign continued in the United States as well for the duration of the war.
Since the Second World War, The Fifth has been referred to as the "Victory Symphony." Winston Churchill started using it as a catchphrase in 1941.
The Fifth carries the dot-dot-dot-dah motif through to its very end. Sometimes only hinted at, it shows up clearly in the joyous conclusion to a dramatic piece occasionally cited as heralding the very peace Churchill and the world sought in the 1940's and which we again seek today.
Mozart Magic Flute
Beethoven Symphony No. 5
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Victor Romanul, violin
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