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Violin Concerto No 1, H226
1931/3; recte H228/H233, originally H232bis; commissioned by Samuel Dushkin; first performed on 25 October 1973 by Josef Suk and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Sir Georg Solti

'Martinů: Complete music for violin & orchestra, Vol. 4' (CDA67674)
Martinů: Complete music for violin & orchestra, Vol. 4
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: [Allegretto]

Violin Concerto No 1, H226
The first movement, Allegro moderato, reveals the influence of Dushkin’s violin playing, especially his liking for technical display. The short orchestral opening, centred on E, introduces the short syncopated motivic ‘cell’ (as the composer described it), which comprises six notes, five of them being E in different registers (with a short D being the other note). The solo violin takes up the main cell in a bravura passage full of double, triple and quadruple stops, harmonics and other virtuoso techniques. In the course of the movement the most significant elements are long passages written out in full triple stops and bright arpeggios. Martinu reveals his intimate understanding of the violin and his knowledge of the virtuoso violin literature he learned to play as a young boy in Policka. It is difficult to separate out his own background expertise and any special wishes of Dushkin, although it seems likely that the passages where the violin almost imitates a guitar demonstrate more of Dushkin’s ideas than do the lyrical and melodic passages, which are typical of Martinu’s output. Quite unusual for Martinu is the vast space he gives to the variations of the opening cell. It is not until the middle of the movement that he introduces a contrasting motif, in a mild E minor, where the violin sings in one long phrase a melody of outstanding beauty and simplicity, in the style of a Moravian folk song. To underline the change of mood, the accompaniment changes from a full orchestral staccato to tremolos in the strings. At the end of this extremely short (just 22 bars) but important section the melody of the solo violin is joined by a solo cello. The following reprise returns almost literally to the material of the opening section, first in A minor before finishing in the home key of E minor.

The second movement, Andante, is built on a broad cantilena, stylistically very close to the contemporaneous folk-ballet Špalícek H214. Its pendulum-like melodic line is based on the alternation of a central tone with upper and lower notes, mostly at the interval of a fourth.

The closing movement is an Allegretto (although this designation does not appear in the original manuscript and was assigned by the concerto’s editors, the violinist Josef Suk, the conductor Zdenek Košler and the Dvorák scholar Jarmil Burghauser). It starts attacca with a short main thematic cell. As in the first movement this is very short, here consisting of just five notes, with four of them being A (the other note is a B flat), but this time not distributed in different octaves. Melodically, the opening orchestral section continues the Špalícek-like character of the second movement. The entrance of the solo violin, however, with its richly ornamented writing, again bears Dushkin’s stamp. Its simple melodic line is decorated with several appoggiaturas. This is interrupted surprisingly quickly by a series of short solo cadenzas for the violin, and in one of these Martinu combines the solo violin in a highly original way with the snare drum—he returned to this distinctive timbre years later in the last movement of the Suite concertante H276 (also commissioned by Dushkin) as well as in his Phantaisies symphoniques (Symphony No 6) H343.

from notes by Aleš Brezina © 2008

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