The solo violin

The solo violin in classical music

This was a presentation by Salisbury violinist Frida Backman on music for the solo violin.

FB mar 17

Perhaps the first thing to say is that there isn’t that much for the solo instrument.  Beyond Bach one might be stumped to think of many solo works and although Kodály was mentioned and later his fellow Hungarian Bartók, apart from a few virtuoso performers, there are not many works of note.  There is of course a huge repertoire of accompanied violin music and concertos.

The instrument was developed into what we see today in the sixteenth century in Cremona, Italy and one of the first masters was Amati.  The instrument consists of no less than 70 parts.

Frida started with some early works by Nicola Matteis who was a violinist in the early eighteenth century and who composed pieces more advanced than his contemporaries.  We then heard a piece by Tartini also of this era, and who was influential in teaching the instrument and wrote a treatise which may have influenced Mozart’s father.

The composer of a large amount of solo work was JS Bach and we heard several pieces by him including an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler in a 1904 recording of a partita with a piano accompaniment.  We also heard pieces by Biber, Prokofiev, Ysaÿe, and Ravel’s Tzigane composed in the early ’20s.

A brilliant virtuoso of the early nineteenth century was Paganini who’s phenomenal abilities were said to derive from the devil.  He was hugely successful and owned no less than 11 Stradivari violins.  Two of his caprices were played, numbers 23 and 24.

Frida explained that development of the bow was crucial to the instrument’s success.  As music moved out of the salon into the concert hall, more power and volume was needed and the modern bow enabled that to be achieved.  However, many players still use a baroque style bow to achieve greater authenticity and Frida played two CDs of the same piece to illustrate the difference in tone.

Frida ended her presentation with a live rendition of a piece by a modern composer Zura Dzagnidze called Intruder composed in 2005.  This she played against a backing track with herself.

A most interesting evening exploring the history of this most versatile of instruments.

Peter Curbishley


Picture: Frida Backman

Music fit for an Emperor

Superb and surprising selection of music from the Hapsburg empire

Last night’s presentation by Angus Menzies was of music composed for several of the emperors of the Habsburg court from the middle of 16th to the middle of the 17th centuries.  This was pre-Haydn and Mozart of course and most of the music played was by composers who, for the most part have been forgotten – undeservedly so.

Image result for johann fux
Johann Fux. Picture: Wikipedia

Each would have his own favourites of course but those who stood out were Antonio Bertali; Johann Schmelzer; Heinrich Biber and Johann Fux.  We also heard a piece composed by Leopold I entitled Il lutto dell universe which was ‘not without talent’ as one might say.  The pieces played were mostly composed for weddings and coronations and hence had a magisterial quality.  Others were from operas.  Schmelzer’s Die Fechstchule was played alongside mass horse displays as monarchs from that era often used equestrian events to impress and show off their country.  Indeed, portraits from that era often feature monarchs astride a horse as a symbol of power.  Little is known of him but he was a favourite of Leopold I and became a Kapellmeister in Vienna.

Another composer to impress was Jan Zelenka and we heard Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao and also Johann Reutter whose aria Venga l’eta was played from La Magnamitada Alessandro.  Zelenka was ranked along side Telemann and Handel in his day but is now mostly forgotten.

A worthwhile evening with many surprises and providing a window into the music of this era in history.