Beethoven Romance for Violin and Orchestra no. 1 in G, op. 40

performed by Gidon Kremer and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, or below with Itzhak Perlman and the Berlin Philharmonic under Daniel Barenboim

(cover image by Andrea Sonda)

Well, I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but if you read yesterday’s post then this is all pretty much old news.

The ‘no. 1’ of this work is deceiving, if you haven’t read that article. This piece was published in 1803, but it wasn’t the first romance for violin and orchestra that the composer wrote. As yesterday’s article discussed, the op. 50 in F actually dates from 1798, but wasn’t published until 1805, two years after today’s work, hence the backwards numbering.

Like its sibling, the opus 40 is titled romance but structured as a simple rondo, in ABACA form with a coda at the end. The first performance of this work is unknown, but it isn’t really surprising that these small works would get a bit overshadowed by much of his other pieces, like the sonatas for violin and piano, or obviously the stunning, towering, timeless violin concerto, op. 61.

These two works both have the same orchestration as the first piano concerto, with one flute, two each of oboes, bassoons, horns and then strings. If you listened to that work, you may (you should!) have enjoyed the simple, effortless beauty of Beethoven’s writing for the instrument with orchestral backing. Today’s work is even shorter, with Kremer’s recording coming in at under 6 minutes, but John Palmer says this shorter, later work is more “adventurous in conception,” even if they do share the same form.

Again we have the A theme, in two parts, first stated by violin, then orchestra. As yesterday’s A theme finished with a sort of punctuation in the form of a dotted figure, today’s A theme ends with a gesture of sixteenth notes. There seems to be more stopping and a more involved solo part here, but regardless, it’s equally charming, truly beautiful. What stands out maybe the most is the fuller orchestral sound, with some statements from horns.

The two beats of subtle sixteenth notes brings us to the next section, where, like in the op. 50, the violin takes over. Whereas in the first section, soloist and orchestra took turns, the ensemble takes a backseat here, a completely supporting role as the soloist has time to shine. Once the A part returns, though, (this is, remember, a rondo), it’s presented by the violin.

The C part, as with the previous romance, brings us to the minor key, in this case E minor. In contrast to the F major romance, this minor key passage isn’t mournful or tragic or anything, but bouncy and a bit gypsy-like, maybe the most standout passage in the work, with dotted rhythms and a catchy heartbeat in the accompaniment. Again, like the op. 50, we don’t go back the way we came, through B and then A again, but straight to the rondo theme and then a brief coda.

We said yesterday that with the op. 50, one may think of that work as a warmup or trial run for the violin concerto that would come only 11 published works later, but it wasn’t really the case for that earlier work. Here, though, it’s more convincing. It’s only three years before the completion of the violin concerto, and there’s a bit more excitement in this shorter work. You can still hear it as the middle movement of a concerto, missing its outer portions, but obviously the actual, completed violin concerto is a masterful work that (rightly) overshadows these two. If you’d been wishing for more of Beethoven’s violin writing with orchestral accompaniment, this is just about all there is, save parts of an incomplete C major concerto (I think?).

Well, with all of that this week, you should know what’s coming tomorrow. Stay tuned for that and thanks so much for reading.

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