Concerto romantique, Op. 35 for violin and orchestra
(b. Paris, 18. August 1849 – d. Cannes, 10. January 1895)
Concerto Romantique op.35
On December 10, 1876, violinist Marie Tayau premiered Benjamin Godard’s Concerto Romantique, opus 35. Godard wrote the concerto for Marie Tayau and the work is dedicated to her as well. Marie Tayau was twenty-one years old at the time of the premiere, but had been performing as a soloist since the age of ten. She had already founded a women’s string quartet and was sought after as a soloist, especially championing works by women. She performed the premiere of Gabriel Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major in 1877, and was promised the French premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – though Tchaikovsky later reneged on his promise, the French premiere being given to Martin Pierre Marsick. Though Concerto Romantique was Godard’s opus 35, he was only twenty-seven years old in 1876. Both Godard and Tayau were brilliant and esteemed musicians, and both may have been expected to live long productive lives into the twentieth century. Neither would live to see the year 1900, however; Tayau dying in 1892 at age 37 and Godard in 1895 at age 45.
The Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris of December 17, 1876 reviewed the premier in glowing terms. Mlle. Tayau had performed the work several weeks earlier at a private performance at the solon of Henri Vieuxtemps, one of the great violinists of the 19th century and Godard’s violin instructor, before giving the public premiere as part of Jules Pasdeloup’s Concerts populaires (a concert which featured the French premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture). The Revue reported that the new concerto “made a very favorable impression,” that the Intermezzo was replayed by public demand, and that the concerto was “very French” and had a “clear and endearing attitude.” Mlle. Tayau was lauded as well: “The interpretation of Mlle. Tayau was perfect; accuracy, sense of style, beauty and sonority . . .”
The premiere of Concerto Romantique was notable for another reason. According to an article in The Strad magazine (October 2013), Marie Tayau used steel A and E strings on her Collin-Mézin violin, apparently one of the first uses of steel violin strings in a major concert.
Less than ten years later, on February 3, 1884, Ovide Musin, with Theodore Thomas and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, performed Concerto Romantique at a concert in New York’s Liederkranz Society clubhouse. While the Belgian violinist Ovide Musin (1854-1929) was praised in The New York Times review (February 4, 1884) for his “clear tone, graceful manner, and facile and correct execution,” Godard’s work was disparaged in no uncertain terms: “It is only to be regretted that he [Musin] should have chosen to reveal himself, last evening, in one of the most pretentious and trashiest concertos ever listened to by metropolitan audiences. Benjamin Godard’s “Concerto Romantique” can scarcely be alluded to with patience. It is a long and shapeless composition divided by pauses rather than by character into four parts. The slow movements suggest nothing beyond a fruitless groping after unattainable effects, and the scherzo – which, singularly enough, had to be repeated – is most trivial as to theme, and, as to general treatment, both commonplace and thin.”
In 1920 Ovide Musin wrote a memoir called My Memories, and in it he describes his performance of the Godard concerto in 1884. Musin had performed Concerto Romantique in London, and scheduled it for the Liederkranz Society concert as “an interesting novelty.” Musin continued: “ . . . anything French was an abomination in Thomas’ eye,” and “his mannerisms while conducting this work were mockingly disdainful, flippant and insulting to the composer and the soloist. His buffoonery caused him a big fall in my estimation . . .” Musin places this incident in context of a larger French-German aesthetic conflict and even states that “I have traveled and lived in every civilized country on the globe and have always considered Germany as the most inartistic country in the world.” Another interesting aspect of the Times review is the grudging admission that one movement was repeated by popular demand… (by Bruce R. Schueneman , Professor, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, 2017) …
Read full preface > HERE