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Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 is a violin concerto in three movements composed by Johannes Brahms in 1878 for and dedicated to his friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. It was Brahms' only violin concerto, and, according to Joachim, one of the four great German violin concerti.

Instrumentation

It is scored for solo violin and an orchestra consisting of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons; 4 horn, 2 trumpets, timpani, string.

Structure

It follows the standard concerto form, with three movements in the pattern quick-slow-quick:

  1. Allegro non troppo (D major)
  2. Adagio (F major)
  3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace - Poco più presto (D major)


Originally, the work was planned in four movements like the second piano concerto. The middle movements, one of which was intended to be a scherzo — a mark that Brahms intended a symphonic concerto rather than a virtuoso showpiece — were discarded and replaced with what Brahms called a "feeble Adagio." Some of the discarded material was reworked for the second piano concerto.

Brahms, who was impatient with the minutiae of slurs marking the bowing, rather than phrasing, as his usual practice was, asked Joachim's advice on the writing of the solo violin part. Joachim, who had first been alerted when Brahms informed him in August that "a few violin passages" would be coming in the mail, was eager that the concerto should be playable and idiomatic, and collaborated willingly, not that all his advice appeared in the final score. The most familiar cadenza, which appears in the first movement, is by Joachim, though a number of people have provided alternatives, including Leopold Auer, Max Reger, Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, George Enescu, Nigel Kennedy and Rachel Barton Pine. A recording of the concerto released by Ruggiero Ricci has been coupled with Ricci's recordings of sixteen different cadenzas.

Premiere

The work was premiered in Leipzigmarker on January 1, 1879 by Joachim, who insisted on opening the concert with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, written in the same key, and closing with the Brahms. Joachim's decision could be understandable, though Brahms complained that "it was a lot of D major—and not much else on the program.". Joachim was not presenting two established works, but one established one and a new, difficult one by a composer who had a reputation for being difficult. Brahms conducted. Various modifications were made between then and the work's publication by Fritz Simrock later in the year.

Critical reaction to the work was mixed: the canard that the work was not so much for violin as "against the violin" is attributed equally to conductor Hans von Bülow and to Joseph Hellmesberger , to whom Brahms entrusted the Vienna premiere, which was however rapturously received by the public. Henryk Wieniawski called the work "unplayable", and the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate refused to play it because he didn't want to "stand on the rostrum, violin in hand and listen to the oboe playing the only tune in the adagio."

Against these critics, modern listeners often feel that Brahms was not really trying to produce a conventional vehicle for virtuoso display, as his peers perhaps had not expected him to; Brahms had higher musical aims. Similar criticisms have been voiced over the string concerti of other great composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven's violin concerto or Hector Berlioz's Harold in Italy for having the soloist be "almost part of the orchestra."

The cadenza in the finale is notable for being accompanied by the orchestra.

Technical demands

The Violin Concerto is considered one of the most important works in the violin repertoire. The technical demands on the soloist are formidable, with generous use of multiple stopping, broken chords, rapid scale passages, and rhythmic variation. The difficulty might be attributed to Brahms being chiefly a pianist (this may also explain the technical demands Tchaikovsky made in his violin concerto).

Brahms chose the violin-friendly key of D major for his concerto. Since the violin is tuned G'D'A'E, the open strings, resonating sympathetically, add brilliance to the sound. For this reason, composers of all eras (e.g. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Korngold and Khachaturian) have written violin concertos in either D major or D minor.

References

  1. Jan Swafford, Johannes Brahms: a biography 1997:448ff discusses the writing of the Violin Concerto.
  2. Steinberg, 121.
  3. Quoted in Steinberg, 121.
  4. Steinberg, 122.
  5. Swafford 1997:452.
  6. Brahms reported it to Julius Stockhausen as "a success as good as I've ever experienced". (quoted Swafford 1997:452.
  7. Swafford 1997:452.
  8. Conrad Wilson: Notes on Brahms: 20 Crucial Works (Edinboro, Saint Andrew Press: 2005) p. 62


Bibliography

  • Steinberg, Michael The Concerto (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-19-510330-0


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