August 2007

Rachel's Musical Adventures - Joachim Concerto in Germany

August 13, 2007 05:28

AUGUST 8 and 11: subbing for Andre Watts

On Monday, I was invited to travel to the Sunriver Festival in Oregon to perform a recital on Wednesday and a Mozart Concerto on Saturday, as a last-minute substitute for Andre Watts. It was wonderful to be back in this beautiful part of the country, and I especially enjoyed collaborating again with the excellent orchestra under the direction of Maestro Lawrence Leighton Smith. Special thanks to pianist Dina Vainshtein for traveling from Boston to join me for the recital.

AUGUST 13-25: My first trip to Africa

I will be traveling to Ghana today! While there, I will be performing with the National Symphony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, performing for the President, meeting with the Minister of Education to discuss a new government-sponsored string program, working with Black African youth from Ghana and Nigeria who are studying string instruments, and meeting players of the West African fiddle, an instrument held on the arm and bowed like a violin.

I look forward to sharing many stories and photos when I return.

My access to phone and email will be intermittent. If you need to reach me while I am away, you may contact my assistant Tracy at

AUGUST 31: Joachim Concerto in Goettingen (Germany)

I will appear as soloist with the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester on Friday, August 31, at 8:15pm, performing the Concerto No. 2 “In the Hungarian Style” by Joseph Joachim in the Stadthalle. Maestro Christoph Mueller will also conduct Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7 and Joachim’s “Hamlet” Overture.

For more information, please contact the Goettingen Symphony at 05-51-30-544-0 or visit

My essay about the Joachim “Hungarian” Concerto

I have been intrigued by Joachim's "Hungarian" Concerto for many years. When I began to study it intensely it seemed a very natural fit, enhanced by two of my professors' strong connections to this music. One of my Chicago teachers, Roland Vamos, shares Joachim's Hungarian Jewish heritage. As a youngster, Dr. Vamos frequently accompanied his father to hear gypsy music in the cabarets of New York's Hungarian section. He even supported himself through college by playing gypsy tunes as a strolling violinist. His stylistic knowledge was an invaluable resource. My teacher in Berlin, Werner Scholz, was a student of Gustav Havemann, who studied with Joachim. I feel fortunate to have gained knowledge about both the Joachim and Brahms Concertos from one so close to the original source. My study of the Brahms was augmented also by reading Joachim's essay in his Violinschule in which he laid out how he felt the Brahms concerto should be played.

The long friendship between Brahms and Joachim enhanced their music and their lives. When they met in 1853, the twenty-one-year-old Joachim was already an established violin virtuoso and composer. The extremely gifted Brahms, two years younger, was virtually unknown. They quickly became close friends and began a musical interchange that lasted throughout their lives.

Brahms and Joachim challenged each other constantly, trading counterpoint exercises along with their correspondence. In 1853, they roomed together in Göttingen, and Brahms began to study orchestration with Joachim. Joachim served as a mentor to Brahms, introducing him to Schumann and other leading musicians of the day. Brahms, never generous with compliments, praised Joachim's compositions consistently. Brahms wrote to his friend on February 16, 1855, "…nobody has wielded Beethoven's pen so powerfully.… I wish you realized only the half of how much your works absorb me.…" In another letter he wrote, "there was more in Joachim than in all the other young composers put together." Brahms considered Joachim more gifted than himself and always encouraged him - privately and publicly - to devote himself more fully to composing.

By 1854, Joachim had already made significant progress on his second violin concerto, Op. 11, "In the Hungarian Style." It took him nearly six years to complete what became his most famous and important composition. He dedicated it to Brahms and gave its premiere in Hanover in 1860. Brahms conducted Joachim in several performances of the "Hungarian" Concerto and encouraged his friend to perform it frequently. Many contemporaneous critics considered it among the greatest works ever written for the violin. A concert review by Eduard Hanslick for Vienna's Die Frei Presse on March 11, 1863 described the concerto as " . . . a tone poem full of mind and spirit, of energy and tenderness that secures Joachim an extraordinary place among modern composers." In 1894, The Strad pronounced it " . . . one of the greatest masterpieces of violin music in existence." And in the 20th century, famed violin pedagogue Carl Flesch (1873-1944) declared in his Memoirs that the "Hungarian" Concerto "marks a climax in our literature; it is the most outstanding creation that a violinist has ever written for his own instrument."

The "Hungarian" Concerto marked a significant departure from other concertos of the day, which often emphasized technical display to the detriment of deeper musical content. Joachim frowned on elaborate pyrotechnical displays, believing that "music is the purest expression of feeling; only that which is superficial, unnatural, or self-conscious is foreign to it". (letter to Woldemar Bargiel, April 7, 1853) True to this belief, every note in the "Hungarian" Concerto serves a higher purpose. No passage, no matter how difficult, is inserted for the sake of show. The soloist is never allowed to triumph at the expense of his or her colleagues.

Nevertheless, Joachim managed to write what has been called the most difficult work in the repertoire. Renowned for his large hands and remarkable stamina, Joachim probably gave little thought to the difficulties presented by the massive chords that stretch and contort the left hand and challenge the bow arm to produce a full and sustained tone. Practicing the "Hungarian" Concerto is like training to run a marathon. Moreover, at over forty-seven minutes, the Concerto has been called "the longest example of perfect classical form." (Frederic Emery, The Violin Concerto, 1928) Any attempt to cut passages (as some have done) unbalances the architecture and diminishes the piece significantly.

The first of the concerto's three movements, Allegro un poco maestoso, is in sonata form with a double exposition and a coda that includes a lengthy cadenza. The first melody immediately evokes a Hungarian flavor. The massive opening tutti is modeled after that of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor. Its extended, highly symphonic writing gives no indication that the work is a concerto. Following this, Joachim abandons completely the usual grand entrance of the soloist. Instead, the solo violin joins the other instruments, almost as a chamber-music partner. They pass melodies back and forth throughout the movement, with the soloist alternating between main voice and descant. The highly embellished style of many of Joachim's melodies shows a familiarity with gypsy fiddlers. (Having left Hungary as a young boy, Joachim did not distinguish between the music of gypsies residing in Hungary and the folk music of ethnic Hungarians.)

Joachim deviates from tradition in the movement's development section by re-arranging the order of his initial material and by adding an entirely new theme. This development section is particularly imaginative in its use of key changes and in the variety of orchestral colors displayed. The recapitulation follows the melodic course of the opening tutti rather than that of the first solo. A section of new material features the soloist playing a series of descending chromatic octaves that Joachim compared to the neighing of a horse. The cadenza begins with the unaccompanied soloist playing a contrapuntal improvisation on the opening theme. Eventually, a flute and an oboe each join in turn, helping to integrate the cadenza into the structure of the movement. Concluding the movement with a gesture similar to a passage in his cadenza to the Beethoven Concerto, Joachim again gives the soloist chromatic octaves - this time a descending scale spanning two-and-a-half octaves - which lead to the end of the coda.

The second movement (Romanze: Andante) is in truncated ABA form with a coda. "There is such charm and friendliness in it," Brahms wrote in 1858. "The whole flows along so tranquilly and one part evolves from the other so beautifully that it is a joy." While the endings of the first two phrases of the main theme are very characteristically Hungarian, both phrases begin not with the typically Hungarian "snap" of a sixteenth note followed by a dotted eighth, but with quarter notes preceded by grace notes. An agitated middle section contrasts dramatically with the more peaceful sections surrounding it. For the return to the A section, a single cello plays the entire first theme while the solo violinist performs elaborate embellishments. Here Joachim demonstrates his deep devotion to Bach with ornamentation that is organic, melodic, and harmonic - not merely decorative.

The Finale alla Zingara is a huge movement in rondo form with the following structural scheme: A-B-C-A-D-A-B-C-coda. Its opening horn call shatters the tranquil ending of the second movement. (Such horn calls are a recurring motif that unites all three movements.) The A section is in a perpetual motion style that makes use of the "gypsy scale" (harmonic minor with a raised fourth) and demands the utmost virtuosity from soloist and orchestra alike as they toss melodies back and forth. Other orchestral sections employ various dance rhythms and rampant "snaps," while the soloist's double-stopping is so intense that it sometimes feels as though Joachim has incorporated a whole band of fiddlers into a part written for one. A new theme introduced at the beginning of the coda has a triumphant feeling, and the concerto dashes to the finish line with a final burst of energy. This movement inspired Brahms to write his beloved Hungarian Dances (originally for piano, four hands), which Joachim later transcribed for violin and piano.

Despite their Hungarian flavor, Joachim's melodies are entirely original; they incorporate no traditional tunes. Rather than lightening the effect of his concerto, they succeed in elevating the Hungarian style from its humble origins to grand nobility, infusing introspection as well as virility.

Joachim's "Hungarian" Concerto will be a real discovery for many modern listeners, and I hope that this masterpiece will one day reclaim the great appreciation it once enjoyed.

Reviews of my recording of the Joachim Concerto and a recent performance

Joachim's concerto makes incredible technical demands on the soloist, but Pine played it as if nothing were easier. The tone from the violin was perfectly smooth and the most dangerous leaps were so outstanding that one had to gasp. This was one of the most impressive examples of violin playing I've ever witnessed, and the audience cheered for an unusually long time afterwards.
Morgunbladed (Reykjavik, Iceland), February 5, 2006

Artistic Quality 10/10 Sound Quality
One of the best sounding violin and orchestra recordings ever made. Joseph Joachim's Hungarian Concerto is the Holy Grail of Romantic violin concertos, a brilliant and neglected masterpiece. It is so beautiful and full of life, its Gypsy-tinged melodies so entrancing, that only its inordinate difficulty accounts for its rarity. In concert it would be a show-stopper, and Rachel Barton has its full measure.

Artistic Quality 10/10 Sound Quality
This high romantic concerto demands the interpreter’s full investment - and Rachel Barton provides it without compromise. The almost 50-minute-long concerto is technically extraordinarily difficult, yet one hears nothing of it! Like the Brahms concerto, it demands a violinist who can meld with the orchestra, yet still show off in a manly way. Rachel Barton knows how to do both in just the right doses. Wonderful, how she introduces herself with her first cantilena after the symphonic orchestral prelude; arousing, how she presents the fiery third movement. She obviously loves the work, and that opens the way for her into its inner life. And she has the formal power to present it as a masterwork.

The best (and what seems destined to remain the best) complete version of Joachim's concerto. With Barton's serious musical statement in the first movement, her alternation of stentorian rhetoric with wistful filigree in the second, and her sparkling off-theing brilliance in the third, hers must be the version of choice for those who care about the Joachim.

Critics’ Choice – Discs of the Year
I’ve long hoped to hear the Joachim, a magnificent but taxing work, played with this degree of assurance and musical understanding. Rachel Barton is a magnetically imaginative artist, spontaneously expressive in her rubato, who makes every phrase sound fresh. Technically, too, she shows complete mastery. In the Joachim Concerto, Barton is compelling, fiery in the bravura passages, tenderly expressive in the many lyrical moments, with the Hungarian flavour idiomatically brought out in her shaping of phrases and pointing of rhythm.

Barton is so splendidly on top of the Joachim Concerto's formidable technical difficulties, so deeply into its tuneful romantic sentiment, that you have to love the concerto along with her.
Chicago Tribune

Joachim's concerto is fairly bursting with great tunes, with echoes of Beethoven, and pre-echoes of Brahms' own concerto to come. Soloist Rachel Barton is at her finest here, phrasing with tonal sensitivity and subtle expression. Throughout, Barton communicates the melodic charm and lyrical impetus of this music with great feeling. The rousing finale goes like the wind in her agile fingers, with an exhilarating pedal-to-the-metal coda.
Sun-Sentinel (South Florida)

Her performances in these works are so memorable. Barton brings a breath of freshness as soon as she enters, revealing a similar sense of phrasing and characteristic bite in the sound during the fast virtuosic passages balanced by true melodic freedom in slower, lyrical portions.
The Strad

New YouTube video

“Rachel Barton Pine performs Opus 11 by Corky Siegel”

Rachel Barton Pine performs Opus 11 for unaccompanied violin by renowned Chicago blues performer and composer Corky Siegel (, April 27, 2007.

To watch all of my YouTube videos, please visit

The following is a partial list of my upcoming 2007 performances. Additional information is available at

September 8 – Bruch Concerto No. 1 and Ziguenerweisen with the Santa Fe Symphony
September 14 – string sextets by Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg for Performers of Westchester (New York)
September 15-16 – string sextets by Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg for Bargemusic (New York)

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