Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92 – Ludwig van Beethoven
1. Poco sostenuto: Vivace
4. Allegro con brio
Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 – Jean Sibelius
Soloist: Maya Buchanan – Violin
1. Allegro moderato
2. Adagio di molto
3. Allegro, ma non tanto
Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven began work on the joyful 7th Symphony in early 1811. It was finished on April 13, 1812 and performed for the first time, December 8, 1813. Beethoven himself conducted. The premier – a benefit concert for war veterans from the battle of Hanau – was possibly the most successful of Beethoven’s career. However, it was not the 7th that garnered most of the acclaim, but the Opus 91, Wellington’s Victory at Vitoria a piece originally composed for the Panharmicon, a mechanical music machine invented by sometime friend and partner, Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. The audience did like the 7th Symphony too. In fact, they demanded an immediate encore of the second movement.
The 7th may be most familiar to modern audiences from the Best Picture Winner from 2011, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth as King George. The slower 2nd movement underscores his resolute speech to the British people at the beginning of World War II.
Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Jean Sibelius December 8, 1865 – September 1957
Jean Sibelius was born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius on December 8, 1865 in Tavastehus, (Hameenlinna) Finland. Nicknamed, Janne, he eventually chose to go by the French version – Jean. Sibelius was born while The Grand Duchy of Finland was still an autonomous region within the Russian Empire. After World War I, the Finns declared independence and fought their own Revolution, leading to the formation of modern day Finland. Sibelius’ music is credited with defining the national identity of Finland.
Sibelius began work on his one and only Violin Concerto in 1903. He finished it in early 1904. Initially, Sibelius had dedicated the Concerto to famed violinist, Willy Burmester and had intended for Burmester to play the Concerto at its premier performance on February 8, 1904 in Helsinki. However, Burmester was unable to travel to Helsinki, and Sibelius gave the performance honor to a violin teacher in Helsinki – Victor Novacek. The work proved to be too challenging for Novacek, and Sibelius’ tardiness in completing the Concerto did not help matters either. The piece debuted to atrocious reviews and Sibelius withheld the piece from publication while he revised it. The revised Violin Concerto in D Minor Op. 47 was premiered in October of 1905 by the Berlin Court Orchestra, conducted by Richard Strauss. Willy Burmester was again unable to perform the piece so Karel Halef, the Orchestra’s leader stepped in to perform. This time the piece was very well received. (As a side note, Willy Burmester was so insulted to have been replaced in the two performances, that he swore never to play the Concerto, and he never did.)
The Concerto features three movements: the Allegro moderato, the Adagio di molto, and the Allegro, ma non tanto, all of which reflect Sibelius’ formal sensibility and understanding of the violin, as well as his distinctly Finnish outlook. The Allegro moderato features a cadenza which allows the soloist the opportunity to demonstrate her technical prowess, but instead of presenting it as a decorative grace note, Sibelius incorporates this very difficult passage into the structure of the piece, by moving it to the middle of the movement. In contrast to the dark virtuosity of the first movement, the Adagio di molto gleams like a beautiful polished jewel or perhaps the mirror stillness of a Finnish lake. The final movement – the Allegro, ma non tanto – hints at Sibelius’ affinity for Finnish folk music. Early reviewer, Donald Francis Tovey, famously called the third movement “a polonaise for polar bears,” but at another point in his review wrote: “I have not met with a more original, more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius Violin Concerto.”