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Violin Concerto No 8 in A minor 'in modo di scena cantante', Op 47
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Recordings
'Mysliveček, Viotti & Spohr: Violin Concertos' (CDA66840)
Mysliveček, Viotti & Spohr: Violin Concertos
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Details
Movement 1: Allegro molto: Recitative
Movement 2: Adagio – Andante
Movement 3: Allegro moderato

Violin Concerto No 8 in A minor 'in modo di scena cantante', Op 47
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The year 1816 saw the production of Spohr’s Eighth Violin Concerto. After Beethoven’s lone entry into the field of the violin concerto ten years earlier, composers seemed to recognise the wisdom of not trying to compete unless with something stylistically totally different. Schubert’s Rondo is a fragment by comparison, while Spohr adopts a less assuming tone in his concertos. He wrote fifteen between 1802 and 1844. In No 8 he departs radically from standard concerto format by putting the soloist into the role of a singer in a dramatic scene.

Born on Monday 5 April 1784 in Brunswick, Louis Spohr was encouraged in his musical inclinations by his father, a doctor, who sent the boy for lessons to, among others, Charles Dufour. He arranged further intensive instruction. This proved so fruitful that Spohr was engaged as chamber musician at the Brunswick court of Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand at the age of fifteen. At nineteen he attended a violin concert by Pierre Rode which might have set him upon the career of a violin virtuoso, but circumstances led him to wider pastures.

Conducting had been practised for centuries by choral leaders wielding a stock or some other object, but Spohr, about 1810, was one of the first to use a slender stick. This gave greater precision and resulted in increased respect for the young man as conductor as well as composer and violinist. His career took him, and his harpist wife Dorette, on many successful concert-giving trips throughout Europe, notably to London and Paris. There were short appointments with a number of posts in Vienna and Frankfurt before they eventually settled in Kassel in 1822. His innate charm saw him through a number of personal, professional and organisational difficulties, and his fame became widespread as he resumed his concert tours. He ended his days as chief director of music at Kassel and died in 1859, aged seventy-five.

He left a large number of compositions. Operas, concertos for various instruments, symphonies, choral and vocal pieces, and a prodigious amount of chamber music make up his work-list, and the violin concertos hold a special place for their unassuming freshness, vigour and variety.

Concerto No 8 opens in an ominous mood that seems to suggest an operatic event of high drama, and the soloist enters with a recitative as if to describe the scene. This is carried through at some length, the orchestra providing suitable punctuation. As the Andante second movement enters without a pause, the violin maintains its operatic stance with an aria-like interlude of grave beauty. An agitated central section further intensifies the elegiac mood before the soloist peacefully concludes the movement. But the finale renews the drama, with the soloist again offering an explanatory recitative. This movement is, for Spohr, unusually passionate but does not neglect the composer’s standard trademark of melodic elegance, nor his obligation to provide the soloist with rewarding opportunities for display.

from notes by Robert Dearling © 1996

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