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Composed: c. 1765
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: continuo, strings, and solo violin
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 1, 1973, with Joseph Silverstein, soloist and conductor
In 1761 Haydn joined the imposing musical establishment of the Esterházy court as Vice-Kapellmeister, becoming Kapellmeister in 1766. During those early years at Esterháza Haydn’s composition focus was on instrumental music, and the entry for the C-major Violin Concerto in Haydn’s own catalog indicates that the work was written “per il Luigi,” the virtuoso Alois Luigi Tomasini, then the first violinist (later concertmaster) of the court orchestra.
A work such as this Concerto, of course, was created to show off Haydn’s skills and inspiration as much as the soloist’s artistry. Haydn’s forms owe much to Baroque models in terms of the alternation of orchestral and solo statements, and the elegantly measured opening movement draws on the dotted rhythms that had suggested ceremonial pomp since the 17th-century days of the original French overtures. Also in Baroque fashion, the soloist is often accompanied by continuo – bass and keyboard instruments – rather than the full string complement. Where a later, more fully Classical piece would have its development, this Concerto takes an excursion to the dark minor side of the noble force with patterned sequences. But Haydn’s expressive language is already Classical, expansive and poised in well-balanced lines.
The eloquent Adagio spins a cantilena like a Vivaldi slow movement, over pizzicato strings and continuo. Classical plasticity, however, allows much greater extension structurally and emotionally. After a cadenza allowing the soloist a chance to reflect, Haydn closes the movement with a gentle coda, the pulsing accompaniment now bowed rather than plucked.
The ebullient finale demonstrates how easily the Baroque ritornello form evolved into the Classical rondo and the range of textures and colors Haydn could get from just strings. The athletic patterns of some of the episodes again bring Vivaldi to mind and ears, as does the sassy wit that would become a Haydn trademark.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.