Both virtuoso performer and composer, Spaniard Pablo de Sarasate was one of the most celebrated performers of his time. Giving his first public concert at the age of 8, he then studied at the Paris Conservatoire and went on to have a successful career touring all of Europe and North and South America. Sarasate's playing was utterly distinctive, marked by a purity of tone and complete technical command of his instrument. This earned him the attention and admiration of many great composers including Bruch, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Joachim, and Dvor?ák, all of whom dedicated pieces to him. Sarasate did not, however, rely solely on others for musical material. He produced a catalogue of 54 works primarily for the violin. Due to his technical command of his instrument and superior musicianship, a number of these compositions have remained important to the repertoire, most notably his Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20. It is by far the most popular of his pieces, containing both dazzling technical hurdles and sensuous melodies that have captivated violinists and audiences since it was first performed in 1878.
Zigeunerweisen (Gyspy Airs) was certainly also a product of the musical demands of Sarasate's public. Concert-going audiences had a fascination with the sensuality and mystery of the Romany Gypsy culture. Sarasate was not the only composer to capitalize on this musical fetish; works of Liszt and Brahms also come to mind. Virtuosity also had connotations of sin and even perhaps the devil, making the combination of Romany themes and technical fireworks on the violin an assured triumph. Its continued success is easy to understand, written by a composer with both an intimate knowledge of the violin and a flair for the concert hall.
- Composer John Glover is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Publications Assistant.