Vieuxtemps, Henri


Vieuxtemps, Henri

Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor Op. 31

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Henri Vieuxtemps – Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, op. 31 (1849-50)

(b. Verviers, Belgium, 17 February 1820 – d. Mustapha, Algeria, 6 June 1881)

Personal violinist to the Czar of Russia, featured virtuoso at the coronation of Charles XIV of Sweden, a command performance before the Sultan of Turkey, official decorations by the kings of Belgium and Sardinia: the life of Henri Vieuxtemps reads like a storybook tale of the quintessential nineteenth-century musician-hero. A prodigy of Menuhin-like precocity, Vieuxtemps began his international career at the age of thirteen with a tour of Germany that left audiences and musicians spellbound. Spending the winter of 1833/4 in Vienna, he fell in with Beethoven’s former circle and triumphed at the age of fourteen with a revival of the great master’s Violin Concerto, which had for years been woefully neglected. Schumann, in Leipzig, felt no qualms about comparing him to Paganini; and Paganini was happy to accept the comparison when he heard the boy play in London that same year (1834). Vieuxtemps’s international career was launched, and it would sustain him for the next forty years until he was unhappily incapacitated by a stroke in 1873. By that time he had toured America three times (1843/4, 1857/8, and 1870/71), served as the Czar’s violinist-in-waiting (1846-51), enjoyed the above-mentioned honors from Europe’s royalty, and was generally accepted as one of the towering musicians of the century. Berlioz, always quick with an acid pen when confronting mediocrity, summed up the opinion of his age in 1840: «Monsieur Vieuxtemps is a prodigious violinist in the strictest sense of the term. He does things I have never heard from anyone else. He affronts dangers which are frightening for the listener, but which do not disturb him in the least, certain that he will get through them safe and sound.»

Berlioz was equally convinced of Vieuxtemps’s genius as a composer, particular-ly singling out his handling of the orchestra and his deft integration of the solo instrument into a symphonic fabric – no mean praise from the composer of Harold in Italy. If a modern sensibility balks at Vieuxtemps’s large output of virtuoso music for violin and piano (a Souvenir de Amerique, say, consisting of a set of variations on «Yankee Doodle»), there is today nothing to stand in the way of an appreciation of his seven violin concertos and two cello concertos, all of which were once regarded as supreme examples of their genre. Of the violin concertos, the Fourth and Fifth are generally regarded, then as now, as his masterpieces: Berlioz called the Fourth «a magnificent symphony for orchestra with principal violin.»
Berlioz also played a role, if indirectly, in the origin of the Fifth. The great composer invited Vieuxtemps to take part in a concert he had organized in Baden-Baden in June 1860. Vieuxtemps willingly complied, and used the occasion to start work on a new concerto, which had been commissioned by his friend Hubert Léonard to write as an examination piece for the latter’s violin class at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels. As befitted its purpose, the work is shorter than Vieuxtemps’s other concertos, being essentially a three-movement piece compressed (in the Lisztian fashion) into a single movement, and it systematically covers the technical achieve-ments to be expected of graduates from a great conservatory. The piece is neverthe-less symphonic in conception, and after serving its original purpose for the graduating class of 1861 it duly entered the concert repertoire. It received its première the following September, with Vieuxtemps as soloist, having been selected by the King of Belgium to celebrate the anniversary of Belgium’s independence. Later it was taken all over the world by Vieuxtemps’s great Polish colleague and friend Henri Wieniawski (1835-1880). The first performance in Paris in 1862 was again reviewed by Berlioz: «If Vieuxtemps were not such a great virtuoso he would be acclaimed a great composer. But the public is fashioned in such a way that only upon reflection does it do justice to his works. I shall do the opposite … and point out the beauty and skillful organization of his compositions. … I shall not enter here into an analytic discourse on this magnificent concerto, nor of the new ‘Polonaise’; let us limit ourselves to saying that everything about it seems to me grand and novel, that the whole of it is admirably contrived to make the principal instrument shine without its domination ever becoming overbearing. The orchestra speaks, too, and it speaks with a rare eloquence; it does not make us listen to the empty clamor of the crowd; and if it is a crowd, it is a crowd of orators.» …

Read full preface (English and German Version) > HERE

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer


Violin & Orchestra




210 x 297 mm

Piano Reduction




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