Once, while reflecting on his music, Antonín Dvořák commented, “I myself have gone to the simple, half-forgotten tunes of the Bohemian peasants for hints in my most serious works. Only in this way can a musician express the true sentiment of his people.”
Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 overflows with the spirited strains of the composer’s Czech homeland. Bending sonata form and liberating the traditional structure of the concerto, it takes us on a vigorous rhapsodic adventure. The solo violin is transformed into a rustic fiddle.
The Concerto opens, not with the expected orchestral exposition, but with an exuberant musical “call to order,” followed by the immediate entrance of the solo violin. A back-and-forth dialogue ensues, in which the orchestra’s announcements are answered by nostalgic statements by the violin. The violin’s fiery, virtuosic lines erupt with the improvisatory freedom of a Bohemian fiddler in a village band. Near the end of the first movement (Allegro ma non troppo), what sounds like the beginning of a cadenza becomes a dialogue between the violin and horns. The recapitulation is truncated, and the coda never arrives. Instead, the final bars flow directly into the second movement (Adagio ma non troppo), which moves to F major. A wistful, hymn-like melody emerges in the violin, opening the door to a rich instrumental conversation filled with passion and tenderness. The final movement (Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo) is an exhilarating celebration of Bohemian folk dance. The sunny first theme is based on the vigorous, skipping Czech folk dance of the furiant. The second theme shifts to minor, with a melancholy lament based on the Slavic dance of the dumka. Before reaching its joyful coda, the rondo journeys through thrilling contrapuntal episodes, and teems with downbeat-defying rhythmic grooves. (Notice the timpani’s dizzying competing beats when the initial theme returns at 5:45).
Dvořák began composing the Violin Concerto during the summer of 1879. A year earlier, the previously unknown composer had been catapulted to fame with the publication of his first set of Slavonic Dances. The Violin Concerto was dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who premiered Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Following extensive revisions to the original score, Joachim played through the Concerto and praised the work. Yet, he ultimately lost interest and never performed it publicly. The premiere was given in Prague on October 14, 1883 by the Czech violinist, František Ondříček.
I. Allegro ma non troppo:
II. Adagio ma non troppo:
III. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo:
Five Great Recordings
- Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 B. 108, Christian Tetzlaff, John Storgårds, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra Amazon
- Anne-Sophie Mutter with Manfred Honeck and the Berlin Philharmonic
- Julia Fischer with David Zinman and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich
- Josef Suk with Karel Ančerl and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
- David Oistrakh with Kirill Kondrashin and the State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR