After fleeing from his hopeless marriage, Tchaikovsky found himself calm and happy again beside Lake Geneva in Clarens, Switzerland. The blissful ambiance of the Swiss resort inspired him to write a violin concerto in D major, which is the brightest of all tonalities. What also motivated him to compose the violin concerto was Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, op. 21(1874). In Tchaikovsky’s own terms, Lalo “does not strive after profundity, but he carefully avoids routine, seeks out new forms, and thinks more about musical beauty than about observing established traditions, as do the Germans.” These characteristics ingenuously coincide with Tchaikovsky’s own concerto for the violin.
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878), thought to have enhanced “violin’s expressive and technical range in ways unexpected until now,” had undoubtedly aroused instinctive hostility when premiered by Adolph Brodsky in 1881 in Vienna. The influential critic Eduard Hanslick resentfully attacked the concerto “for the very reasons that have since made it popular - its tremendous vigor, its romantic rhetoric, and its full-blooded finale.”
Tchaikovsky intended to dedicate the Violin Concerto to Leopold Auer and subsequently
anticipated him to give the first performance of it. However, Auer refused, and Tchaikovsky changed the dedication to Brodsky who premiered the concerto.
There are certain unorthodoxies in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto as it begins with a quasi-cadenza introduction on the solo violin, and the melodic idea of the introduction never returns throughout the movement. Moreover, the cadenza appears before the recapitulation as opposed to its traditional placement at the end of the movement. The second movement, “Canzonetta,” is a complete rewrite from “Meditation,” now part of Souvenir d’un lieu cher, which he thought to be not substantial enough for a concerto. “Canzonetta,” usually associated with a human voice, is reminiscent of happier times, and the woodwinds and the solo violin continuously exchange conversations. What follows this songlike slow movement without a pause is the folk-like finale in which distinctive Russian spirit is resurrected by its lively rhythms.
Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Memory of a dear place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 was written between March and May 1878. Except for the Méditation which was originally composed in Clarens, Switzerland as the middle movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the latter two movements, “Scherzo” and “Mélodie,” were completed in Brailov, on his benefactress Nadezhda von Meck’s country estate where he was spending his two-week vacation. Tchaikovsky much enjoyed the welcoming and intimate atmosphere, and even dedicated the work to Brailov, the place itself, and it seems very obvious from the title that Brailov was in fact “a dear place”.
The first movement, “Méditation,” is perhaps the most significant of all three. As the composer himself wrote in a letter to Mme. Meck, “In my opinion, the first of these is the best, but it gave me the most trouble; it is called Méditation and is to be played a tempo Andante.” Ever since its separate publication in 1880 Méditation has often been played alone as an independent piece, and in this heartbreaking song, Tchaikovsky’s beautiful melodies embody the emotions of regret, and one can clearly hear a certain sense of nostalgia. An arrangement of Souvenir d’un lieu cher for violin and orchestra became available by Alexander Glazunov in 1896.
Tchaikovsky wrote the Sérénade mélancolique in B-flat minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 26 in 1875 when he was 35 years old, after completing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat. Tchaikovsky dedicated this piece to Auer who was by then a violin professor at the Imperial Conservatory in St. Petersburg on its publication by P. Jurgenson in 1876, but insulted by Auer’s criticism and consequent refusal to perform his Violin Concerto in D major in 1878, he withdrew the concerto’s dedication to Auer and also decided to remove his name from the dedication of Sérénade mélancolique, only to find out that it was too late since the edition was already being published by Jurgenson.
As the title itself implies, this work, the first ever written for the violin and orchestra by the composer, is full of melancholic and bitter melodies that are at the same time so sweet. These unforgettable melodies convey loneliness and longing, especially when the fragmented theme is reiterated by the clarinet and the solo violin in absolute stillness at the end of the piece, it is quite the most magical moment of the entire piece, as if the whole thing has been waiting for this very moment.
- Moonkyung Lee
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