Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major (Piano Reduction/Solo)
Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major (Piano Reduction/Solo)
The genesis of Joachim’s Violin Concerto in G major (premiered in 18641 published in 1889) remains mysterious. A song quotation in the first movement by Bettine von Arnim (1785-1859) — mother of the dedicatee Gisela von Arnim (1827-1889) – suggests some connection with the 1850s, when Joachim was closely involved with Gisela. But no evidence pointing to this decade survives.2 Slight revisions occurred between 1864 and 18893 as is revealed by the copyist’s manuscript of the piano part, which differs from the published version.4 Several performances took place before publication: in Bremen and London in 1864,5 and in Berlin in 18826 and 1888.7 The work was sent to the publisher in August 1889,8 with its dedication to Gisela von Arnim, whose passing in April of the same year it commemorates. By 1889 Joachim had not been in contact with von Arnim since 1872, when their friendship abruptly ended.9 Between 1852 until 1857 she was his all and everything, but then she broke up with him and almost no letters were exchanged until 1859, the year when Gisela married Herman Grimm. A moderate friendship ensued and lasted until 1872.
In what follows I first consider evidence that contextualizes the initial conception or idea for the work between 1857-1859.10 Firstly, in an unpublished letter to Joachim from about 1856,11 shortly before von Arnim broke up with Joachim, she discussed her mother’s songs. Joachim then still lived in Hannover but often visited, and performed at, the von Arnim salon “In den Zelten.” The letter mentions Bettine’s publication efforts12 as well as musicians like Woldemar Bargiel and Eduard Wendt, who assisted with the editing. For Gisela her mother’s songs stood out in their originality, “individuality” 13 and “soulfulness.”14 According to her, no “ungemäßer” tone should distract Bettine’s original and natural aesthetic. The songs should be edited but not spoiled, a view Bettine von Arnim also promulgated. Joachim does not seem to have started working on the concerto yet, because von Arnim would presumably have commented on it. Rather, her letters give the impression of being an urgent invitation for Joachim to advocate her mother’s songs. Joachim’s response to this letter is not recorded, but perhaps in his concerto we can find a musical response to what Gisela might have hinted at when she encouraged Joachim to compose music that is more “soulful” and “individual.”15
The next piece of evidence dates from August 1857. A letter from Eduard Wendt to Joachim contained a number of Bettine von Arnim’s songs to which Joachim had access until December.16 It is unclear, which songs exactly Joachim received. But possibly Bettine’s melancholic song “Lied des Schülers” was part of the collection. This song he used for the primary theme in the first movement of his violin concerto.
The following interpretation addresses on one hand the use of Bettine’s song and on the other hand the more subtle meaning, which is expressed through the concerto’s dialogue with existing formal traditions. Suppose Joachim conceived the initial idea or parts between 1857-1859, after having received and studied Bettine’s songs, and perhaps after having understood the full impact of his personal experience of the past years, could the music throw light on the chronology on one hand, and on the importance Gisela von Arnim for the Composers on the other hand? There may not be an answer to this question. In the following some unusual expressive features of Joachim’s concerto shall be discussed and contextualized in relation to (auto) biographical aspects of the composer. With regard to form my approach follows Hepokoski & Darcy’s Elements of Sonata Theory, which combines unusual formal events with hermeneutic interpretation.17
The first movement, Allegro non troppo, begins with Bettine’s song embedded in a classical texture and appearing almost verbatim as the primary theme. Imitating Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Op. 61, the orchestra is mostly in charge of presenting this theme, while the soloist ornaments it with a quasi-improvisational aesthetic, which was much admired by Donald Francis Tovey.18 Joachim slightly varies the song by removing the pickup and changing the rhythm, removing rests, as well as leaving out a phrase (Ex. 1).
Bettine‘s melody „Lied des Schülers“ (without accompaniment)
Bettine’s phrases as used
in Joachim’s score
………….images (in original preface) ……………….
Example 1, Bettine von Arnim, “Lied des Schülers” (Melody, Accompaniment omitted)
For his concerto form Joachim had a choice between choosing newer models like Mendelssohn’s – without a full opening tutti — or older ones exemplified in the concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, and Viotti. Joachim chose a middle-path, beginning his work with an orchestral tutti (“R1” for Ritornello 1), which, however, supplies merely a primary, not a secondary theme, and additionally becomes the place where we hear what seems to be a substitute for a missing cadenza.
Several measures into the primary theme of the orchestra (R1) the music loses its track and approaches V, an unusual choice of harmony in older, classical orchestral expositions. The soloist steps in with an extensive “Eingang,” again reminiscent of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Op. 61, which guides the music back to the tonic. Premature entrances of the soloist into R1 have been explained as wanting to “begin a process of self-assertion before the generically appointed moment.” I would like to suggest that in light of the single occurrence of the solo “Eingang,” not repeated in the recapitulation, and given the absence of a real cadenza, this passage behaves like a cadenza substitute. Joachim had a unique skill for writing cadenzas,19 as he demonstrated by composing still performed cadenzas for Mozart’s, Brahms’s and Beethoven’s Violin Concerti. But in his own concerto he opts for silence instead of personal display.
Moreover, in the Mozartean and Beethovenian concerto form (classified by Hepokoski & Darcy as “Type 5 Sonata”) the third ritornello, which occurs at the end of the development, often presents the recapitulatory primary theme, leading, usually just a few measures later, to the recapitulatory solo, which often parallels the first solo in the exposition. In our case Ritornello 3 begins the primary theme starting, however, in the wrong key (e minor), before “repairing” the issue in the second measure and continuing, “on track” in G major, as in the solo exposition. What is odd, however, is the absence of the soloist for 12 measures. Although it is “unusual” for R3 to go on “longer than eight bars” before yielding the stage to S3, the soloist only enters after most of the primary theme has sounded. After this entrance—S3– the course of the recapitulation goes astray: instead of leading to a conclusive PAC of the primary theme, as in the exposition (m. 51), it is cut off (at the parallel point of m. 42), leading straight to the last stage of the transition.20 How can we make sense of the problem that the soloist encounters –the inability to join the recapitulation at the generically expected moment? Again the answer points to “silence” of the soloist where there should not be silence.
Note also that one of the special features of the closing area is the presence of secondary-theme material, suggesting a sense of nostalgia.21 Shortly into the closing area, we revisit S-lyricism in form of the S head-motive, slightly varied (see m. 87, 89, and 90). Furthermore, an unusual closing area (“C”) follows. Usually it is the place where virtuoso passage occurs (“display episode”) while in Joachim’s concerto an unusual harmonic diversion takes place, temporarily bypassing the second key. It seems that Joachim for a moment imagines being in the minor mode: he makes the Neapolitan chord an important moment within this harmonic excursion of the closing area, both in the exposition and the recap.
In the exposition Joachim goes from the goal key of the exposition – D major – to the dominant (A) and to the Neapolitan (B-flat, m. 105), before finding his way back to D major. In the parallel passage in the recap we start the closing area with the goal key of the recapitulation, G major (m. 288), before embarking on a modulation to E major, F# Major, A-flat Major. Directly following the A-flat Major, Joachim escapes to g minor, thus reinterpret the previous A-flat tonality as Neapolitan, before finding his way back to G major.
The hermeneutic implications of all three “deformations” could be viewed in several directions. Regarding the “Eingang” as cadenza substitute we must wonder why the major opportunity for soloistic display is turned down. At the recapitulation, furthermore, the soloist falls silent even more and plays neither “Eingang” nor what would parallel the first solo in the exposition. This causes the primary theme to collapse into transition mode, getting straight on its way to the secondary theme without a PAC. Lastly, the harmonic derailing in the two closing areas sends conflicting messages. On one hand the soloistic display in octave arpeggios seems to claim some status for the missing cadenza. But more importantly, Joachim evokes the minor mode through his use of the Neapolitan chords, thus shadowing, for a moment, the movement’s main key with dark melancholy.
The second movement reveals a highly evocative style through rhythm and chromaticism, inviting us to fully grasp the depth and sadness of the music. The orchestral introduction begins with a dotted-rhythm upbeat, answered in the pickup to m. 3, before being taken over by the solo violin. The key is C minor. The only “melodic” activity, besides the held notes on tonic (mm. 1-2) and dominant (mm. 3-4), is the descending chromatic tetrachord from c in m. 1 to g in m. 3. Unmistakably, this movement conjures up the time-honored rhetoric of the Marcia funebre topos through rhythm, key, and the descending tetrachord. If we can trust Joachim’s friend Bruch, who said that this movement was “the same” after publication as in 1864, Joachim wrote a funeral march mourning a loss in 1859 that did not align with anyone’s death. As the following letter from 1859 shows, Joachim was still occupied with his break-up of May 1857, which possibly moves the compositional process closer to the late 1850s than 1864. This letter was one of the first after the two-year silence:
But I beg you, dear Gisel, make no plans about writing a last time. […]. If you sensed, however, what a magnetic, healing effect the mere sight of your writing has on me when I am in a bad mood or disturbed, how much more pleasant and compassionate I become to my surroundings, you would at least send me from time to time an empty address, or some words.22
In the same month Joachim wrote: “How well have the traces of your writing felt after such a long, long time. Kid, there is no time, no distance, and no experience that could account for what my heart has promised you.”23 Neither the funeral march alone, nor these letters alone can express just how meaningful she was for Joachim as contemplating this movement in conjunction with the intimate letters from Joachim to von Arnim written in 1857 and 1859.
The third movement, Allegro giocoso ed energico, ma non troppo vivace, takes the Beethovenian lead in following a deep-felt meditative slow movement with a light-natured and bouncy Rondo. For all its lowbrow dance-likeness the movement features an allusion important for the overall message of the work: the G-sharp-E-A (in German it reads Gis-E-[L]a) cipher. Joachim knew this cipher from the fourth movement of the F-A-E Sonata (1853),24 and had used it in the second of his Op. 5 pieces, Abendglocken, and several other compositions. The last movement of our concerto opens with the transposed G-sharp-E-A cipher — b-g-c – as part of a virtuosic and bold gesture.
Example 2, Joseph Joachim, Violin Concerto in G Major, Mvt. 3, m. 1
Joachim thus tied the work together with multiple layers of allusions to Gisela, ranging from metaphors of silence to evocations of her name, to using the key of G Major. These allusions reminded Joachim of her name whenever he performed the work, before and after her death. To one friend Joachim wrote in 1889: “Dear Bargiel, it would please me very much, if you would accept this [work], which commemorates the passing of our friend. Of how much good and beautiful does her name surely also remind you!”25
Katharina Uhde, 2016
1 The concerto was premiered in Hannover on November 5, 1864 (Beatrix Borchard, Stimme und Geige. Amalie und Joseph Joachim [Vienna: Böhlau, 2005], 120).
2 The repertoire list in Borchard’s Stimme und Geige. Amalie und Joseph Joachim suggests 1854 but without a reference.
3 Reminiscing about this performance, Bruch shared with Joachim on May 20, 1891:
“Herr H. Bock [who published the concerto in 1889] gave me as a present the score of your G-major Concerto, and I read through it with pleasure during my trip from Berlin to Düsseldorf. If everything has not deceived me, hasn’t the thematic material of the first two movements remained the same? I came to know the concerto many years ago at your residence in Hanover, and since the main themes then already greatly pleased me, they have always remained in my memory.” Joachim und Moser, Briefe von und an Joseph Joachim, III: 390.
4 Joachim, Violinkonzert in G-Dur (Signature Bra:Ac41, Brahms Nachlass, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky).
5 Joachim writes about the Bremen performance in a letter to Wüllner 1864 (Signature Mus.ep. Joachim, Joseph 268, Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin). The London performance occurred on July 7, 1864 (letter to Clara Schumann of July 24, 1864. Johannes Joachim und Andreas Moser, Briefe von und an Joseph Joachim, 3 Vols. [Berlin: Bard, 1911-1913], II: 340-341; also see the review of November 17, 1864, Signale für die musikalische Welt 22, No. 48).
6 Gerhard Heldt, Das deutsche Nachromantische Violinkonzert von Brahms bis Pfitzner (Kassel: Bosse Verlag, 1973), 94.
7 Peter Muck, Einhundert Jahre Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester: Bd. 1882-1922 (Berlin, Hans Schneider: 1982), 121.
8 Joseph Joachim, letter to Wüllner of 1864 (Signature: Mus.ep. Joachim, Joseph 6, Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin).
9 See letters HS-# 10498 and 10499 at Deutsch