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Hi.  This is my first opus for this series; thanks to Dumbo who offered me the chance to do it.  I contacted him about not including Beethoven's Violin Concerto in the violin concerto mini-series poll, and he pointed out to me that he had somewhat od'd on Beethoven with the symphony diaries, which extended over several months.  I could certainly understand that, and when he offered me the chance to analyze it, I said, sure.  I expect Dumbo will return next week.

Since I cannot be Dumbo, I thought about doing something different.  Some of these diaries have stressed interpretation, focusing on one particular violinist to demonstrate the music, and in some cases the interpretation has been unusual, if not controversial (think Ivry Gitlis' Tschaikowsky).  Since I am a violinist and violist, I thought I would offer you several different interpretations of the first movement, and include several different candenzas.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Beethoven, as it is affectionately called, is a classical concerto.  By this I mean that it follows the established classical form, including a first exposition with the orchestra presenting the themes without the soloist, who then enters for the "repeat" of the exposition.

Exposition?  Classical concerto form?

The classical sonata form consists of three or four movements of which the first is what is called sonata-allegro form.  Sonatas can be written for any solo instrument or group; when the group is a soloist with orchestra, it is called a concerto.  The second movement is usually slow, and the last movement is often a Rondo.

Sonata-allegro form has three essential parts.  In the classical exposition, the themes, or melodies, are presented (exposed) in two groups.  The first group is in the tonic, that is the home, key.  Beethoven's violin concerto is in D-major, for example.  Then a bridge between the two themes modulates (moves) to a related key (in D-major this is the key of A-major) and the second theme is presented in this key.  There is often a codetta (little coda) that ends the exposition.

Then comes the development section, in which the ideas presented in the exposition are (you guessed it) developed.  In early sonatas, this essentially took bits of the themes through several key changes eventually reaching the tonic key once more.  Beethoven's great contribution to the form was to increase the length and importance of the development section.

The recapitulation is just that, the themes are brought back, but some changes are permitted, and one is required: the entire section is in the tonic key.  This changes the bridge section, which has to give us the illusion of going somewhere while bringing us back to the home key.

In a classical concerto, the recapitulation ends with a cadenza.  Candenza means candence, and you can tell when it comes because the orchestra ends with a hearty chord which is clearly leading somewhere.  The cadenza is a chance for the soloist to show off.  It used to be improvised.  For the Beethoven, many virtuosos have written cadenzas.  The most performed is by Leopold Auer, who taught most of the great violinists of the early 20th century.

This is followed by a coda, usually short and added to extend the end of the movement.  Beethoven often wrote very long codas.

The other thing to listen for in these performances is the rhythmic motif.  This concerto was written around the same time as the Fifth Symphony, with its well-known victory motif, and some other works at this time apply this same innovation.  In this piece, the motif is introduced by the tympani before the first theme begins.  It consists of four quarter notes (one beat each) followed by a whole note (four beats long).  It is the foundation of the concerto, occuring both melodically and underneath the melodies.

So now comes the music.  The first performance, which I discovered while doing this diary (thank you, Dumbo), is by Joshua Bell and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.  This performance is the essence of the classical concerto approach.  The orchestra is small, in keeping with the classical era.  The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performs without a conductor, holding meetings to discuss all aspects of the music they play.  Joshua Bell is Joshua Bell.  And he plays a cadenza he wrote.  This clip is the whole concerto.  Enjoy.

Bell emphasizes the lyric quality and the lightness of the violin writing.  Here is a much more masculine and darker interpretation from David Oistrakh.


This is also the first performance that uses the Auer cadenza.  I hate when YouTube cuts up a piece like this but this is such a wonderful performance, it's worth it.

Anne Sophie Mutter makes this a Romantic concerto, with more color and passion.  (I don't understand how she manages in a strapless dress, which has become her trademark.  I think it makes sure we know she is not a little girl any more.)  She also uses the Auer candenza.


I have a personal story about Itzakh Perlman and this concerto.  He was the first soloist with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra at the first concert in Carnegie Hall.  I was in the orchestra that year, in the first violin section; I was 15 and he was 19.  He came to one rehearsal before the dress rehearsal.  We rehearsed in a studio on 49th Street and Broadway.  The way we were set up there, I was sitting right next to Perlman.

You may notice that much of the writing is a dialog between the violin and the orchestra, which means that often the orchestra has to re-enter after or while the soloist is playing.  Well, at that first rehearsal, I was so amazed listening and watching him play that I missed every single entrance!

This is another complete video.  Perlman's interpretation is noteworthy for its clarity and lyricism, closer to Bell than either Oistrakh or Mutter, but still quite different.  

I close the official part of the diary with Perlman's performance - I don't think it gets any better.  But as a coda, here are a few links to other cadenzas, so you can see some of the ways other players have played with Beethoven's tunes and with the instrument itself.

http://video.search.yahoo.com/...

http://video.search.yahoo.com/...

http://video.search.yahoo.com/...

http://video.search.yahoo.com/...

Originally posted to ramara on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets , DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Very interesting (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you!  Now to go listen.  :)

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:09:04 PM PDT

  •  thanks for this (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Bob B, Dumbo, pico, MT Spaces, rl en france

    I love classical music but I'm really clueless about it. So this is very much appreciated!

    •  You are very welcome. (7+ / 0-)

      I really believe that knowing all this stuff increases the enjoyment.  That's why I enjoy Dumbo's diaries when I get to them.

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:17:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  you should feel free to change the.... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, MT Spaces, rl en france, ramara

        ....."opus number" in your diary title to 76, as it's more than worthy of inclusion in Dumbo's canon.

        I have to admit that at times in the 1st movement, I felt that the concerto was almost a precursor of minimalism, in its circling around the various motifs over and over again.  I acknowledge the concerto's status and popularity, while not claiming to "love" it.  I've heard it enough times live in life to give it a rest, perhaps the very best live performance here in December 2004 with Julia Fischer in her 1st appearance with the orchestra here, and Emmanuel Krivine conducting.

        "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

        by chingchongchinaman on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 10:17:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's why I thought it should (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dumbo

          follow the Mendelssohn - it has more melodic playing, rather than the complex double stops most of the romantic concertos have.

          Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

          by ramara on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:09:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  true enough (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ramara, Dumbo

            It's perhaps the subtlest of the "big 4" popular violin concerti in that sense.  We're supposed to get it again next season.

            "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

            by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 12:24:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  One of the highlights of my life was having a (6+ / 0-)

    front-row seat to see Perlman play the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  It's about the most moving piece of music I've ever heard.  Thanks for this diary!

  •  One of faves of all time, piece starts out with 5 (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Dumbo, pico, MT Spaces, rl en france

    soft beats on the timpani, then the oboes, clarinets and English horns come in -- wonderful.  Starting the piece with the timpani was unprecedented at the time as far as I know.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:39:54 PM PDT

  •  In the Perlman video above, the video and audio (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Dumbo, MT Spaces

    are out of sync (on my computer anyway) by about 1/2 sec.  If you are watching closely, you can see this.

    The solution is to buy a DVD of one of these concerts.  I bought one of Perlman a while back, and the quality is superb.  It was well worth the price.  Plus, you get to have a front row seat!

    (No criticism of this wonderful diary is intended!)

  •  I have to go home (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, pico, MT Spaces, rl en france

    to feed the dog.  I'll be back in the AM.

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 06:49:09 PM PDT

  •  Three magic moments for me in the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, MT Spaces, rl en france, ramara

    Beethoven Concerto...

    Number one (at 2:28 in the topmost clip with Joshua Bell)... It's the second theme, the way it is presented sweet and heavenly... And then in the very next breath is changed to a somber minor key.  it grips you.

    I made a friend one time whistling that theme at work.  He recognized it and introduced himself.  He was South Korean and spoke awful, awful English, and had no friends, but he knew Beethoven backwards and forwards.

    Number two (at 25:06).  The second movement begins at (24:47).  The theme of the second movement has this sudden twist to a VII chord at 25:06.  

    I only learned about roman numeral chord naming conventions after I started writing these diaries.  (Dumbo never took music theory.  He learned all he knows about chords from the Beatles Guitar Chord Song Book, $14.41 on Amazon.  Basically, I started writing for this series having only a garage band level understanding of harmony).  After I learned the roman numeral method, which is sort of key relative instead of naming specific chords, a lot of things started to make more sense.  For instance, that VII chord at 25:06.  On a guitar, that would be like playing a song in G major and then whipping around to an F# chord.  Composers do it sometimes, but it's not the usual way of doing things.  

    And when it is done, it doesn't always come off as mysterious as the way Beethoven did it here.  It's seamless.  It gives the whole movement an attention-riveting mystical air it would otherwise lack.

    Number three (at 37:05) in the middle of the third movement.  He introduces a new theme in the movement that is VERY different from the previous bouncy jaunty bopping along music of the movement.  It's searing...  It gives the movement a vital moment of contrast.  I love that theme.

    One last comment...  When I hear the Beethoven Concerto, I'm always afraid they're going to play it too slowly.  I don't know (or really care) what Beethoven's original tempo markings were.  The speed choice the conductor makes for that first movement can make it a sleeper or make it electrifying.

  •  Thanks for this. Thanks also for mentioning (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, MT Spaces, rl en france, ramara

    Leopold Auer. I have been trying to remember his name for
    the past month! There is nothing about the violin that I don't love. Nothing.   Now, I am going to listen to the Oistrakh

  •  well if you're going to do this I'm just going (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, MT Spaces, rl en france, ramara

    to have to follow you too.  Thanks! Tipped and Rec'd

  •  Thank You - N/T (5+ / 0-)

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 11:06:41 PM PDT

  •  Love this piece. The main theme has lyrics, you (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rl en france, ramara, Dumbo, martyc35

    know, although they're rarely performed:

    "This is Ludwig van Beeeeeee-thooooooo-
    VEN's vi-O-lin con-ceeeeeeer-toooo...."

    (Would that I had not actually seen a long-ago abomination involving the Wagner wedding march)

  •  Good timing! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rl en france, ramara, Dumbo, martyc35

    Tonight I'm going to a concert where Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields will be playing (among other pieces) Beethoven's Violin Concerto. I'm looking forward to it even more now.

  •  Thanks for this! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rl en france, ramara, Dumbo, martyc35

    My favorite composer. I prefer the ASM version; is that just because I'm a guy?

    -5.12, -5.23

    We are men of action; lies do not become us.

    by ER Doc on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:31:19 AM PDT

    •  It's the damn (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc, Dumbo, martyc35

      off the shoulder thing!

      But really, I think it's because the romantic concertos are more popular these days, and she plays in that style.

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:00:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I took a good look at the bodice in that (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, ramara

        strapless gown she's wearing, and it looks like a plastic mold or something made to be sure she didn't pop out of it. Does not look sexy to me, but then I am just an old woman who today purchased the new Loudon Wainwright III album, just because one song is titled "I Remember Sex" :-).  

        W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

        by martyc35 on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 10:35:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I have a soft spot for this... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eve, ramara, Dumbo, martyc35

    Way back when my living/working situation was more amenable, I played viola in the Belmont (MA) Symphony Orchestra.  This was a small community orchestra, and even by those standards, we weren't the technically most solid bunch (we had a very good conductor, but with a community orchestra, it's whoever you can get).

    One year, we did the Beethoven with a soloist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Daniel Banner, I think).  That performance was inspired.  My manager at the time, who was a serious classical music buff, attended and he said that he thought it was one of the best performances of it he had ever heard.

    That summer, I joined a one-shot summer orchestra where we again performed the same piece, with another member of the BSO playing the solo.

    Onward to the second and third movements, perhaps?

  •  thank you ramara (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, martyc35, Dumbo

    I listened to the Perlman first and I thought - oh how cheerful Beethoven was when he wrote this.
    Then I listened to the Oistrach and I thought how poignant and longing and loving Beethoven was feeling when he wrote this.

    I've listened to this concerto many times and it's my favorite violin concerto.
    I had thought that Beethhoven himself wrote the cadenza that Perlman and Oistrach played, I didn't know it was Auer. I love how the 2 melodies are played at the same time on the violin - how incredible is that!
    Thanks for crediting Auer for us.

    I enjoyed both performance (at least the portions I was able to hear on my computer from the video links -thank you, Ramara.)

    At first I thought - what a virtuoso Perlman was and so young.

    But then I listened to the Oistrach and the virtuosity was there but took a back seat to how moving and lovingly the music was written and played.
    Some other time I will try to listen to the other 2 performances.
    For now, I'm very much satiated and appreciate your efforts to share this with us. :)

    Finally people have gotten sick and tired of being had and taken for idiots. Mikhail Gorbachev

    by eve on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 12:48:35 PM PDT

    •  Beethoven wrote cadenzas (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eve, martyc35, Dumbo

      for the piano concertos, but he wasn't a violinist.

      I love your comment.  That's what I was hoping for when I decided to present different performances.  This Perlman performance is very much like the one he did with the Youth Symphony all those years ago.  

      But I have to tell you, I have listened to the Oistrakh performance I posted several times, and find somewhat different features each time.

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 12:57:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  When I did the diary on the Tchaikovsky (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martyc35, ramara

        violin concerto, I was really torn about whether to use the Oistrakh film clip of him performing that.  The man was SO much better than the more recent performers, who do a great job with great music, but sounded shabby after listening to Oistrakh.

        But I came to hate him, watching him play it.  He looked like he was BORED.  He played it SO damn well, bringing out all kinds of fine nuances that others like Bell and Mutter and Verengov weren't bringing to life in the same way.  But he looked like he was just doing his job, like, "Dude, where's the fork lift?  I already punched in."  And although that shouldn't matter, it GRATED on me so much, after watching how other performers, like Bell, agonized in sympathy with the music.  So I came to hate him, personally.  

        Weird.  Very Salieri versus Mozart.  I know.

        That's when I discovered Gitlis, who was so far outside the boundaries of the traditional interpretation and performance that I loved it and went with him.  The Un-Oistrakh.  Not a pale imitation of Oistrakh.

  •  I'm one of the rare apostates on this one. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martyc35, Dumbo, ramara

    Even though I own at least 2, maybe 3 CD's of the Beethoven violin concerto (including the Oistrakh), it's actually never "done it' for me.  It just doesn't move me the way it does most other people. While it has many individual good (or even great) moments, they just don't add up to something that grabs me as a whole. It's definitely a minority opinion.

    Breaking it down for the non-classical geeks out there, it's kind of like this: the Beethoven violin concerto is like George Clooney - I understand the appeal and can see why so many women have the hots for him, but he just doesn't do it for me sex-appeal-wise.

    Thank you for all your hard work on this wonderful post and thanks for contributing to this series.

    •  It might be the speed of the performance. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      martyc35, ramara

      I feel that way sometimes when I hear this.  I think it needs a great interpretive conductor more than a great violinist, because the slow pacing in some sections sounds all wrong at other times.  I think fidelity to Beethoven's tempo directions makes it weak.

      Try the Toscanini performance with Heifetz.  The audio isn't top flight, but it's very lively.  

      Notice how it starts out just slightly faster than other performances.  That's okay.  But what I most like is, when the dramatic full orchestra chords break in at 0:58, he slightly ups the pace again and brings it more to life.

  •  the opus number is actually 61, not 76 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    martyc35, Dumbo, ramara

    I would say that Oistrakh's playing is muscular, yet not "masculine." This is the interpretation I grew up with, and the one I prefer. Also worth a mention is the piano transcription of the Op. 61 done by Barenboim, which is a spectacular piece in his hands.

    Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. — Voltaire

    by agrenadier on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 04:17:30 PM PDT

    •  I think 76 is Dumbo's Opus # for the diaries... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, ramara

      Thanks, ramara. A great diary. I like the Perlman and have heard it many times. Never heard Joshua before, so that was nice, but I thought the orchestra was a tad "thin." I preferred Ozawa's orchestration. All of this is so subjective. I went hunting, and I found one of my early favorites that some kind heart was good enough to post to YT recently:

      Nathan Milstein , Violin
      London Philharmonic Orchestra
      Sir Adrian Boult, with a cadenza that Milstein wrote:

      Along with the late Erica Morini, Milstein was the violinist I "grew up" with. Naturally, he's still one of my favorites. I like his cadenza, and I really like Sir Adrian Boult's orchestral interpretation, too.

      Thanks for all your hard work in putting this together. Who retired to make you miss another chance to play with Perlman, you or him?

      W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

      by martyc35 on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:55:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I prefer the Boult recording (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martyc35, ramara

        at the top with Oistrakh.  Same conductor (different violinists) but it's more energetic conducting.

        For instance, listen to the part leading up to the codetta in the Milstein/Boult recording at 2:27

        Now compare that to the same passage at 3:03 in the Oistrakh/Boult recording.

        And compare those to the same passage in the Heifetz/Toscanini performance I posted somewhere above, at the 2:07 mark.  

        That's one of the early moments in the concerto when I know whether it's going to be a sleeper or not, by how the conductor handles that.  And that's well before the soloist gets to play a single note!

        •  Okay, I have listened to all three, and I agree. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dumbo, ramara

          I didn't dislike the Oistrakh, for he was great, but I do agree that he is hard to watch. Boult was obviously a fantastic conductor, and perhaps each soloist influenced the pace and power. Also, all those digitally remastered mono recordings can't capture the sounds of the orchestra the way today's technology can. For some reason that I can't remember now, I never really liked Toscanini--had something to do with his opera conducting, I believe. Or perhaps familiarity breeds...he was on the radio, conducting something in the 40s and 50s, every time I turned around. But he sounded good just now.
          Glad you came by to support your guest.

          W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

          by martyc35 on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 11:00:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I went with the performances (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martyc35, Dumbo

        that showed the violinists playing.  I like Milstein on other things as well - I had his recording of the Bach Unaccompanied before anyone else's.

        About Perlman - my life changed.  I play now though, but have never had the chance to play with him again.  : (

        Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

        by ramara on Sat Apr 14, 2012 at 02:06:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's our cute way of numbering the diaries. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      martyc35, ramara

      Other series use roman numerals.  We're doing classical music so...  So clever of us, eh?  

      (Hat tip to ChingChongChinaman for suggesting that idea before the first diary).

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