Violin Concerto in D min Op. 47 (1905)
Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
- Allegro moderato
- Adagio di molto
- Allegro ma non tanto
Soloist: Harry Bennetts
Jean (originally “Janne”) Sibelius is one of Finland’s national treasures, a “Flag Day” each year celebrating his birthday. He is best known for his seven symphonies, his violin concerto and tone poems such as Finlandia, all of which eloquently conjure up stark images of his Finnish homeland. The young Jean dreamed of becoming a virtuoso violinist, but only started learning the violin relatively late, aged fourteen. Ten years later he reluctantly accepted that his vision was in fact a mirage, a feeling that permeates his violin concerto. Nevertheless, Sibelius’s intimate knowledge of the violin enabled him to write his violin concerto without the help of other violinists, unlike, say Tchaikovsky and Brahms.
The first version of the violin concerto was written from 1902 to 1904. It had a difficult genesis. Sibelius, who was drinking heavily at the time to try and drown out his financial difficulties, found every excuse to procrastinate. However in 1904 he found new enthusiasm and worked feverishly to complete it. Despite having previously indicated his intention of dedicating it to the German violin virtuoso Willy Burmester, the concerto was premiered by Victor Nováček, a competent teacher but no virtuoso, who struggled with its extreme technical demands. Unsurprisingly the performance did not go well, and Sibelius withdrew the piece for revision. The shorter, and slightly less difficult revised version we hear today was premiered in Berlin in 1905 by Karl Halir with Richard Strauss conducting. Again Burmester was passed over, and, understandably offended, never performed the work.
Unashamedly a virtuoso concerto requiring extreme technical skills and stamina from the soloist, the development section of the first movement is given over to an extended violin cadenza. In the slow movement, the melancholy beauty of the opening violin theme contrasts dramatically with the agitated orchestral accompaniment. The final movement is a lively polonaise in which the soloist and orchestra alternate developing the various motifs until, after a frenetic buildup, only in the last few bars does the soloist eventually overcome the forces of darkness.
Performed: 15 & 22 March 2015