balancing melody, virtuosity and form

Another day and another page of ideas.

I listened to 3 straight Beethoven Symphonies when I first got up this morning.

What a beautiful way to head into a day of writing.

The Eroica Symphony Title Page, showing where ...

The Eroica Symphony

The question that sat on my mind today was that of how to balance melodic statement with the showmanship of virtuosity in a concerto.

I think today, a well defined moment of beauty, is acceptable if a later section (of the same movement, or a later movement) is going to compliment it with all out showmanship.

It seems that I am personally more accepting of having a violin rip through some very fancy showy material if I’ve been given a sufficient dose of clarity and ‘prettiness’ before it. Finding that balance, seems to be a universal trademark of the amazing violin concertos I’ve been listening to.

John Adams violin concerto

I listened to the opening movement of John Adams violin concerto this evening and it is a really interesting piece. Now, that is something that I don’t want said about a piece I write if possible!

I think, I miss a tighter more definite form and structure in the music.  There are a lot of glorious things going on in the piece, but without any framework to reference it against, it is hard for me to discern exactly what I am supposed to enjoy, or how I am supposed to enjoy it! And this piece won a Grawemeyer Award! Actually, so did several other (3) violin concertos, including Brett Dean‘s The Lost Art of Letter Writing (2006) in 2009, which sounds like a piece I’d like to listen to.

Next up after finishing the Adams concerto, I have the Philip Glass, Sibelius and Schoenberg violin concertos to listen to – fresh sounds in my itunes folder 🙂

Anyway, back to John Adams…. my experience to the piece was in complete contrast to the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 99 which I listened to slightly earlier in the evening. Oh, my goodness….. That piece is staggering in its beauty.

I think in part, it is due to the clear framing of the phrases such as in the opening movement, where the theme is sandwiched between morphing interludes of gorgeous sonic sweeps in the low woodwinds. It is very apparent what I am listening to and where I am in the storyline, even though the harmonic structure is broad, and the melodic line is long and beautifully surprising.

Then when I heard the third movement again, I once again find myself in utter awe of the beauty of the melody. For a piece that has such rich and complex development continually happening, it is beautifully contrasted with a violin line, straight from the instruments of angels.

I find the Shostakovich structure very close to my heart today.  I think, I’m also seeing a pattern, where everyone from Prokofiev, to Beethoven, to Shostakovich give the feeling of

Shostakovich Violin Concerto

holding a horse at the reigns and keeping it in check before letting it loose every so often.  This has the effect of leaving the listener wondering  just how much more the violin has to offer. Its very teasing and very effective. A mixture of faster passages and increasing tempos pull this off, but it is a sensation I get from all the concertos.

I will finish, by saying that I love the way Shostakovich ends the violin concerto, with brass bleating out a pulse as the violin accelerates one last time as the whole orchestra speeds up into a grand finale that just takes your breath away. It sums up all the faster passages of the concerto, and its as if the concerto has been building towards this final moment since we heard the very first notes.  Its amazing how the violin still cuts through with the power of the full orchestra supporting and fattening out the timbre as the soloist powerfully hurls us over the finishing line we never thought we could reach.

Its as if we were thrown over a high jump where we stared at the bar and thought we could never jump that high, but now find ourselves looking down at the bar in sheer joy as we fly over on out way blissfully towards the safety of the mat below.

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