Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) loved the violin. For ten years, he struggled tirelessly to master its secrets and achieve eminence as a performer. These efforts, however, ended in failure. This violin concerto, his only one, serves as both a tribute to his beloved instrument and a bitter farewell to his greatest dream.
Composed in 1904 and revised a year later, the concerto was dedicated to the 12-year-old Hungarian violin prodigy Ferenc von Vecsey. Prominent are dark, somber colors evoking visions of wild Nordic lands, frigid winters, and the waters that cover his beloved “Land of a Thousand Lakes.”
The violin enters without preamble, crooning a haunting melody that quickly unsettles as it develops into a pseudo-cadenza. The ensuing orchestral interlude, reminiscent of deep, swirling water, is broken by an ardent, yearning declaration from the soloist.
Most notably, Sibelius departs from structural tradition by replacing the movement’s middle section with an extended, highly technical cadenza. Unrelenting intensity and emotion subsequently push the music forward.
A wistfully singing Adagio movement rises from stillness to passionate heights. Vulnerable and sincere, it is an apology, a farewell, and a prayer embodied in music.
The vigorous third movement opens with a rustic, dance-like theme underscored by an insistent rhythmic accompaniment. A darker melody with stomping, syncopated rhythms follows, passing from orchestra to soloist.
With its flying runs, continuous double and triple-stops, and across-the-bar syncopations, the solo violin is undoubtedly the star of this thrilling finale, driving the music to a decisive conclusion.
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