Korngold: Violin Concerto

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major op. 35

1. Moderato nobile
2. Romance. Andante
3. Finale. Allegro assai vivace

"Erich, how about my violin concerto?" was a question frequently asked by the Polish violinist Bronisław Hubermann of his friend Korngold during the early 1940s. Korngold, however, never answered; he had resolved not to compose any concert music as long as the Second World War that had exiled him raged in Europe, and restricted his activities to the film music on which his reputation now largely rests. This changed in 1945, when in response to another asking of the question, Korngold went to the piano and played a theme, which would become part of the first movement of the long-requested concerto. From this point Korngold worked quickly and had soon completed two movements. However, the project stalled after an unsuccessful rehearsal with another violinist, Bronisław Gimpel, who found the solo part too demanding. Korngold was further discouraged by Hubermann's reluctance to commit to a date for a first performance until he had seen the finished work. The deadlock was broken by the agent Rudi Polk, who arranged a rehearsal with his client Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz took to the work much more positively, and in fact insisted that the solo part be made more difficult. The great violinist's enthusiasm spurred the composer on, and so it came to pass that the concerto was premiered with Heifetz as soloist in 1947, to great popular, if somewhat lukewarm critical, acclaim. The New York Times dismissed it as a "Hollywood concerto", but Heifetz continued to champion the work, and his 1953 recording of it has become a classic, cementing the concerto's place in the violin repertory.

Korngold had made frequent use of his pre-war concert music for many of his film scores, but the concerto takes the opposite route, re-casting themes from several films on which he had worked in a lush, romantic symphonic context. Thus the first movement makes use of themes from Another Dawn and Juàrez, while the slow movement takes its main theme from the score for Anthony Adverse, and the finale's origins lie in The Prince and the Pauper. The soloist's immediate entrance recalls Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, which acts as a model for much of Korngold's concerto. The lush romantic style of the music certainly brings to mind the swashbuckling films that Korngold wrote for, but its roots go back further to the turn of the century Viennese modernism from which Korngold first emerged as a child prodigy, and this is reflected in the Concerto's dedication to an early champion of his, Mahler's widow Alma Mahler-Werfel.

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