Violin Concerto No. 2 in A Op. 49 (Piano Reduction/Solo)
(b. Moscow, 6 March 1872 – d. Vevey, Switzerland, 21 August 1940)
Violin Concerto no. 2 in A, op. 49
Preface to full score:
Paul Juon – composer, violinist, and pedagogue – was born in Moscow of a Russian mother and a father of Swiss descent. Paul was the second of the couple’s seven children. After a short spell as a volunteer in the Russian army, he entered the Moscow Conservatory in August 1889 as a pupil of Jan Hrímalý for violin, and Taneev and Arensky for composition. Rachmaninoff was a fellow pupil, and the occasionally-heard description of Juon as “the Russian Brahms” may derive from him. On the advice of conductor Rudolf Bullerian, Juon subsequently left the conservatory to attend the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, studying composition from October 1894 until April 1895 with Woldemar Bargiel. Thereafter his own teaching and compositional activity mostly took place in Germany, apart from a short time teaching violin and music theory at the conservatory in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the mid-1890s. He was back in Berlin in 1897, where he made the acquaintance of publisher Robert (Heinrich) Lienau, and Robert Lienau Verlag was to publish the majority of his compositions from his op. 1 – the 6 Skizzen für Piano of 1898– onwards, including the violin concerto no. 2 in 1913. There is every indication that publisher and composer were on very good terms, with Lienau making great efforts to promote Juon’s work and Juon remaining faithful to Lienau for publication of his music. He also introduced Lienau to Hungarian violin virtuoso Ferenc von Vecsey, the dedicatee both of his own second violin concerto and that of Sibelius.
On Joseph Joachim’s recommendation, early in 1905 Juon was given a job as a teaching assistant in music theory at the Berlin Conservatory. A year later this turned into a permanent position. Juon was well qualified to take on such a music theory position since in 1899 he had produced a German translation of harmony textbooks by Arensky and Tchaikovsky, and had published his own Praktische Harmonielehre in 1901. An introduction to modulation was to appear later, in 1929. Furthermore, he was having success as a composer – his symphony in A major op. 23 had received performances in Berlin, Moscow, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Cologne, London, Warsaw, Vienna and elsewhere between 1903 and 1905, and his Trio Caprice op. 39 of 1908 was to enjoy around a hundred performances in a two-year period. In January 1911 he was named professor of composition at the Conservatory, but for financial reasons felt compelled also to take a second teaching job in Dresden. When the First World War broke out he worked as an interpreter in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
In the decade after the war ended, Juon enjoyed respect and prestige among German composers. His works from this period include his third string quartet op. 67 (1920), a sonata for flute and piano op. 78 and a further one for clarinet and piano op. 82 (both 1924); plus a set of piano pieces, Kinderträume, dedicated to his three children (op. 74, from around 1921). The last of his three violin sonatas was composed in 1930. All these works are for quite small performing forces, and in general he wrote fewer pieces for large ensembles. In 1927, to mark the centenary of Beethoven’s death, the Prussian Academy of Sciences established a Beethoven Prize for composition, and Juon was its first recipient, in 1929, sharing the prize with Josef Haas. He continued his pedagogical activity in Berlin until ill health forced him to retire in late 1934, following which he and his second wife, Marie Hegner-Günthert, retired to Vevey in Switzerland. His last completed work, the Sinfonietta capricciosa op. 98 – again published by Lienau –received its premiere in Zurich in January 1940, and he died a few months later. His composition pupils included Hans Chemin-Petit, Philipp Jarnach, and Stefan Wolpe.
The second violin concerto was written in 1912, four years after Juon’s first concerto for the instrument (in B minor, op. 42). Juon’s music has occasionally been noted for its quick changes of metre and its unconventional time signatures, but these are not in evidence in the second concerto, which is highly virtuosic and – in the outer movements at least – gives the soloist hardly any respite. Lienau also published the second movement separately as op. 49a under the title “Weisse Nächte”, suggesting that this movement clearly enjoyed fame in its own right. The title refers to the nights at midsummer in Scandinavia when the sun does not set. Juon and Robert Lienau shared an enthusiasm for the music of Sibelius (Lienau Verlag had a contract with Sibelius to publish his works from op. 46 through op. 56, which included the violin concerto op. 47, and Juon edited this and several other works by Sibelius for Lienau), and the two men took at least one trip to Scandinavia together. Furthermore, Juon’s interest in Scandinavia is observable in the titles of some of his other works, such as the op. 31 Vaegterwise [Songs of the watchman], which is a symphonic fantasy on Danish folk tunes; two pieces based on Swedish author Selma Lagerlof’s “Gösta Berling”, op. 37 and 39; a piece for cello and orchestra, Mysterien, op. 59, after work by Knut Hamsen, Norwegian author and Nobel prizewinner for literature; and Jotunheimen op. 71 for two pianos – Juon described Jotunheim as “ein rauhes nordische Bergland – das Heim der Frost- und Reifriesen” (a harsh Nordic mountain-land, home of the Frost Giants). Furthermore, the final piece in his op. 36 Bagatellen is entitled “Schwedische Tanzklänge” (Sounds of Swedish dances). The lyrical “Weisse Nächte” movement of the concerto, in F-sharp minor, is in places reminiscent of Dvóřak, while the outer movements use a complex harmonic language that frequently uses augmented chords to move quickly between tonal areas, avoiding the feeling of any sort of “home key” tonality.
Juon and his music have not been entirely forgotten, thanks in part to the foundation in 1998 of an International Juon Society (Internationale Juon Gesellschaft; www.juon.org). In October 2012 an exhibition, “Paul Juon: Bündner Komponist aus Moskau”, was organized in Berlin, partly curated by Walter Labhart, whose book Kammermusikwerke von Paul Juon (Endingen, ca. 1995) has been extensively drawn upon for the present short essay. As part of the celebrations, Robert Lienau Verlag paid the printing costs for a forthcoming publication about Juon, and also took the opportunity to publish a new edition of a set of Trio-Miniaturen from his op. 18 and 24 Satyre und Nymphen and Neue Tanzrytmen. Many of Juon’s original manuscripts survive at the Biblothèque cantonale et universitaire in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The violin concerto no. 2 was included on a CD entitled Swiss Violin Concertos (Musica Helvetica, MH CD 114.2). Sibylle Tschopp was the soloist with the Stadtorchester Winterthur under the direction of Nicholas Cathy.
John Wagstaff, 2012
For performing materials contact Robert Lienau/Edition Zimmermann, Frankfurt, Germany.