Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Violin Concerto in E minor
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: Approx. 30 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1838–1844
World Premiere: March 13, 1845 (Leipzig)
Table of Contents
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in 5 Sentences
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy dedicated his Violin Concerto in E minor to his violinist friend Ferdinand David. The work was composed over the unusually long and arduous period of six years by Mendelssohn’s standards. After that, however, it was a great success from the start and had an inspiring effect on later composers such as Jean Sibelius and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is remarkable how Mendelssohn combines the introduction of compositional innovations (more on this below in the “Questions and Answers”) with sparse harmonic means and a transparent orchestral sound. Stylistically, the work is thus closer to the Viennese Classical period than to the Romantic virtuoso concerto.
4 Highlights from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
Highlight 1: Beginning
Well, the beginning of this concerto gave even Mendelssohn himself no peace (see the quote below). It is also a special beginning, for there is no orchestral prelude – instead, from the start, the solo violin floats above the sound that the orchestra rolls out:
Highlight 2: Flowing transition between 1st and 2nd movement
A peculiarity of Mendelssohn’s time: after the final climax of the first movement, there is no interruption before the second movement begins. Instead, the two movements merge. The “hinge” is a single note of the bassoon:
Highlight 3: Introduction of the 3rd movement
The 3rd movement begins with a dark, slow variation of the opening of this concerto (Highlight 1). A signal from the brass is then followed by the fast final movement theme, which seems all the brighter and more full of life after the dark beginning of the movement:
Highlight 4: Radiant ending
I admire Mendelssohn’s music for its always positive mood. And so is the ending of this work – radiant, bright, positive. There is no trace of the painstaking compositional work that took over six years:
3 Questions and Answers about Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
Question 1: Did Mendelssohn write several violin concertos?
Yes. Sixteen years before Mendelssohn wrote the now famous Violin Concerto in E minor, he had already composed a Violin Concerto in D minor. At that time, he had been just 13 years old! Presumably for this reason, he discarded the work as a “juvenile work.” Only the violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916–1999) made Mendelssohn’s first violin concerto known again.
Question 2: Who was Ferdinand David?
Ferdinand David (1810–1873) was one of the leading violinists and especially violin pedagogues of his time. Until 1836 he played very successfully in a string quartet. After its dissolution, Ferdinand David was engaged by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. A close friendship developed between the two musicians. Mendelssohn wrote his Violin Concerto in E minor for Ferdinand David, who also premiered it in 1845.
Question 3: What are the innovations in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor?
There are mainly three compositional innovations in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor: First, the first and second movements flow smoothly into one another; second, the solo instrument (rather than the orchestra) presents the main theme of the first movement; and third, Mendelssohn places the cadenza in the first movement earlier rather than at the end.