Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47
About the Work
Sibelius wrote his only large-scale work for solo instrument and orchestra in the summer of 1903 and conducted the premiere himself in early 1904. After substantial revisions in 1905, the work was reintroduced in Berlin with soloist Karl Halír and no less a celebrity than Richard Strauss on the podium. Chronologically, the concerto comes between the Second and Third Symphonies.
Sibelius' affinity for the violin stemmed from his youth, when he aspired to become a great violinist. "My tragedy," he wrote, "was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. From the age of fifteen, I played my violin for ten years, practicing from morning to night. I hated pen and ink ... My preference for the violin lasted quite long, and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of an eminent performer too late."
The solo part is one of the most difficult in the entire repertory. Virtuosic passages abound, but they are welded to disciplined musical thought; there is no empty display material here. The orchestral writing bears much evidence of Sibelius' deep interest in this medium, and serves a far greater purpose than a mere backdrop for the soloist. Dark, somber colors predominate, as is this composer's tendency, lending an air of passionate urgency to the music. Note particularly the third theme in B-flat minor in the first movement, played by the unison violins, or the second theme of the Finale, again played by the violins, with its interplay of 6/8 and 3/4 meters.
Attention to the formalities of sonata form is largely avoided in favor of originality of thought. In the first movement, there is no development section as such; instead, each of the three main themes is fully elaborated and developed upon initial presentation. A cadenza occurs at the point where a full development would normally stand, followed by a recapitulation of the three themes, each of which is subjected to further expansion. In the Adagio movement, Sibelius contrasts the long, dreamy and reflective opening theme with a turbulent and darkly passionate section in the minor mode. The finale, in rondo form, calls to the fore the full technical prowess of the soloist. Energetic rhythms suggestive of the polonaise and gypsy dances offer further elements of excitement to this exuberant movement.
On October 19, 1905, the concerto received its premiere in its final form in Berlin. Shortly afterwards, Sibelius' friend Rosa Newmarch told him that "in fifty years' time, your concerto will be as much a classic as those of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky." How right she was!