Nothing in Camille Saint-Saëns' correspondence or notes indicated why he composed his first violin concerto in 1858. The composer thought little enough of it to let it languish unpublished until 1879, although it was well received when Pierre Marsick took the solo role at its 1880 premiere. By this time Saint-Saëns' second violin concerto had been published, as No. 1, Op. 20, so this one became No. 2, Op. 58. Saint-Saëns may have regarded this concerto as an immature work, and it does hew closely to the style of Henri Vieuxtemps' École liègoise, especially when compared with the formal advances Saint-Saëns made just a year later in his second concerto. Nevertheless, Op. 58 is a witty, playful, and highly polished work. The solo violin, entering over a minimally intrusive accompaniment figure, introduces the first theme with spirited embellishment, establishing itself as a true virtuoso soloist before the orchestra is even allowed to play an unadorned version of the theme. A passing phrase in the violin's transition material from the first theme eventually provides the basis for the second theme; Saint-Saëns continues reusing and tweaking material throughout the fluent, if not especially adventuresome, development. An extensive cadenza ends dramatically as the orchestra re-enters gradually, beginning with the timpani, as the violin's music settles down. Three trombones, added for the A minor Andante, make the bare six-note motif that opens the movement sound even more bare, and the harp that accompanies the violin melody based on that motif contributes to a somewhat medieval atmosphere. A tempestuous middle section in the major yields to a free repeat of the first section in which the winds assume more prominence, both in solos and accompaniment, as the violin slithers in and out of the orchestra's chords. Saint-Saëns then takes a page from the man he thought was the true master of the concerto, Beethoven, with an extended, adventurous coda featuring a surprising modulation to A major. The rondo finale, following attacca, is based on what is admittedly a rather stale theme, but Saint-Saëns enlivens it with witty, detailed orchestration and continued virtuoso hijinks on the violin.
Description by Andrew Lindemann Malone
- Allegro moderato e maestoso
- Andante espressivo
- Allegro scherzando quasi allegretto
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