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5. Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto, Op. 35, III. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

February 27, 2011

Listen and watch here on youtube: Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Op. 35, III. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (The soloist is David Oistrakh, one of the old school violin greats of the 20th century)

Fast forward about 100 years, and we are in a new era of history and of music, the Romantic era, roughly coinciding with the 19th century. and we’ll now listen to the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Usually, music history is taught chronologically, but i’m actually going to do something very unconventional and jump back and forth, for the sake of making comparisons and contrasts.

18th century Europe, in a nutshell
We’re in a different world, now in 1878, a far cry from Mozart’s time (the 23rd piano concerto was written in 1786). To make gross simplifications of history (apologies to any history majors), the industrial revolution happened in the west, which gave birth to the first middle class in the history of the world, which invigorated politics, philosophy, economics, nationalism, and all sorts of social change, including a whole bunch of wars, revolutions, nations being born, and people groups rallying together against oppressive rulers. In such a tumultuous time, and again, artists and musicians were primary spokespeople of culture, and music began rapidly changing, and taking new directions it hadn’t taken before.

Some characteristics of music of the Romantic Era

More spotlight. The romantic era was the age of the individual. Following the orchestral introduction, the soloist gets a cadenza (extended soloist section) at 0:13, one which is full of technical demands, muscle-y playing, and fire and flare. This NEVER happened in the balanced and conservative classical era. Later on, we’ll look at a couple of composers who took the spotlight idea further than perhaps any others ever did.

More sound. The orchestra in the romantic era was larger than that of the classical era – more strings, expanded woodwind and brass sections, more percussion, more volume, more variety of sounds, bigger contrasts. At 4:35 we have this explosive section alternating between the orchestra and the solo violin.

More complex. In many ways, music was also becoming more complex, with a greatly increased harmonic language, which included a sort of continuing exploration into what had been considered “dissonant.” Music was also becoming more difficult to play – a word which we’ll use again down the line is virtuosity. Going back to that “explosive section,” also listen to the wonderfully complex colors produced by the accompanying orchestra.

More local. At 2:08, we hear a lively Russian dance element in the piece. Many Romantic Era composers used their country, homeland, folk dances, mythology, etc. as a main subject or theme in their music. At this excerpt, listen for how many times Tchaikovsky uses this folk dance kind of melody, decorated in different ways. If you counted 4, listen more carefully for the 5th time. Also, a little bit of music terminology – so the “folk dance” element is accompanied by a drone, which is some kind of constant or repeated underlying element, which is held while other melodic stuff is going on. It’s a very common element of folk music, appearing in different parts of the world by independent origin (including Russia, Romania, India, Scotland, America).

More dramatic. Tchaikovsky certainly had a flair for the dramatic – at 8:19, Tchaikovsky brings back the earlier “explosive” part, but this time writes leads us into it with thrilling orchestral buildup. Tchaikovsky definitely knew how to turn up the intensity. When he was going for it, Tchaikovsky’s music is never short on excitement.

Some questions for your own thought – in the Mozart piano concerto, consider the relationship between the piano and orchestra – did one stand above the other, or were they kind of at equal? And to what degree does the solo piano ever “take over”? Likewise, with this Tchaikovsky concerto, which is the stronger force, the orchestra or the soloist? And how does the amount of “spotlight” for the soloist compare between the Mozart and the Tchaikovsky?

Next: Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (3rd Mov.)

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