Violin Concerto No. 1 (Wieniawski)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 14, by Polish violin virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski was first performed on October 27, 1853 in Leipzig. The score is dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia.
Structure and style
The work is in three movements:
- Allegro moderato
- Preghiera: Larghetto
- Rondo: Allegro giocoso
The first movement has two contrasting themes, the first in dotted rhythm and initially hesitant and the second in B major (begun by the cellos), wide-ranging and expressive. These are, in turn, dissected and ornamented by the soloist with formidable virtuosity, using multiple-stopping and harmonics and, notably in the cadenza, the extreme upper register of the violin.
The second movement, Preghiera (Prayer), is a short lyrical interlude in A major, with the orchestra woodwinds and horns given much prominence; it leads right into the concluding Rondo, a colourful and vivacious piece with a contrasting episode in B major and demanding bravura playing, but without the first movement's extreme pyrotechnics (suggesting that it was composed earlier).
The striking feature about this movement is the fact that the solo part can be, and probably is intended to be, played on the G-string, thereby exhibiting the richness of the violin's tone.
The overall piece is rarely performed in concerts due to its weakness in the second and third movements. Many consider this piece as an improperly balanced piece, with a tense, challenging first movement and a transparent, weak second and third movement.
However, a judicious execution of these latter movements can redress the balance. For instance, the second movement, being played on the G-string will provide a substantial challenge, especially with extreme sensitivity balancing the "religioso" and lyrical characteristics of this movement. It is also thought that Wieniawski intended a calm respite after the acrobatic first movement.
A keen eye and ear for detail can also add polish to a performance of the later movements. For instance, in the second movement, there is the occurrence of the German Sixth chord where the augmented sixth comes only in the solo part and at the very end of that bar. In other words the solo violin changes the inflexion of that harmony at the last moment. In the final movement, the lyrical second subject can be played avoiding the brilliant tone of the E-string by engaging in higher positions notably on the A and D strings, thus bringing a silkier quality to the violin's singing tone, while at the same time stretching the soloist's interpretive and technical skills, as vibrato can be broader and warmer in these high positions. The brilliance of the first movement can be recaptured in the final section of the last movement, which is intended to be performed as fast and crisply as the soloist can manage. It is sometimes argued that Wieniawksi "front-loaded" this composition too much, whereupon he ran out of steam when it came to the latter two movements. Essentially, being his first attempt at writing a concerto, Wieniawski probably conceived the project as a showpiece of technical virtuosity, on a par with, or indeed to outdo, any of Paganini's Caprices or concertos, and along the lines of violin fantasies on operatic themes that were becoming more and more fashionable. However, all technical virtuosity is in effect invested in the first movement, thereby leaving the other two somewhat bereft of equivalent brilliance. When asked about the sheer near-impossible demands of the first movement, Wieniawski was reputed to have said, "Il faut risquer!" (One must take risks!). Wieniaski's Second Violin Concerto is perhaps proof that such risks may not be so worthwhile and due more to the exuberance of a debutant concerto-composer. The Second Violin Concerto (Op 22) proved, most probably from accumulated experience, to be a more balanced work throughout the three movements, and, while being less technically demanding, marked a considerable advance in Wienawski's skills as a composer in general.
- Golding, Robin (1991). Wieniawski: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen. Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg, pp. 1–2.