Historical Development of Violin Concertos (IV) – Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto (1)

Article: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Sir George Grov

Historical background: Mendelssohn’s violin concerto is claimed to be as the most significant violin concerto in the violin repertoire. It is supposed that Mendelssohn’s violin concerto is a transition concerto to romantic repertoire for violin players.

In 1844 Mendelssohn finished to compose his E minor violin concerto. He composed it three years before he died. It is supposed to be one of the last orchestral works of Mendelssohn. He composed chamber music after completing this work. In 1835, Mendelssohn became orchestral conductor of Leipziger Gewandhausorchester. His childhood friend Ferdinand David also became concertmaster in that orchestra. On July 30 1838, he wrote a letter to his friend David. He said “I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace.” However he began to work on it, he completed in 1844 and it is performed that year. They also worked together in Leipzig Conservatory and David assisted Mendelssohn in process of composing the violin concerto. He helped Mendelssohn about technical parts of concerto. Thus, it is important that he worked with a violinist in order to improve his composition.

Techniques, characteristics: Because, Mendelssohn worked with his violin virtuoso friend, he helped to develop his concerto with respect to the means of technique. There are lots of scales performed with octaves and arpeggios. He uses a certain amount of chromaticism in order to increase tension. Especially, there are accents and sforzandi in several passages in the concerto. These accents should be played in the right place where they are written. Moreover, there are double-stopping techniques. The cadence, not virtuosic at all, but is fluent. There are scales, arpeggios, trills, chords and ricochet-technique in cadence.

Mendelssohn’s violin concerto can be less virtuosic than other romantic concertos like Brahms or Tchaikovsky, but I think the most significant and hard thing for players is to perform it in romantic style. It has bravura character so, it requires qualified timbre. Moreover since there are lots of accents, the player should be qualified in the right hand technique. Furthermore, the concerto has extended statements and sentences so that the performer should play them without breaks. It is interesting that before this period, concerto cadences were improvised by performers but Mendelssohn composed his own cadence and it can’t be changed because of formal structure. It is not independent of the work.

In conclusion, through many innovative features such as formal structure and romantic gestures, Mendelssohn concerto is one of the most significant violin concertos in repertoire. I am going these features in detail in my coming text.


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