Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor

      I do not think it would be overly daring of me to vouch that I am not the only one who has been touched by little more than Felix Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor.  Perhaps distinguished as one of the greatest romantic pieces written, Mendelssohn’s concerto is constantly performed at concerts throughout the world, well known even amongst people who do not indulge in music regularly, and always seems to touch and make a great impression on even the most “unmusical” soul.  I believe the first time I heard the concerto live was by the Israel Philharmonic at a special performance in Jerusalem, and I really felt as though the entire room was in a trance.  There is just something magical about music that some extremely talented composers are able to bring out in a very special way that is much more difficult to hear in other music.  Why it is this way with some compositions over others is a question that definitely cannot be answered simply, and maybe the answer lies deeper than words, but whatever it is you can definitely feel it when it comes.  Felix Mendelssohn is just one of those composers.  The great violinist Joseph Joachim once said: “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven's. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart's jewel, is Mendelssohn's.”  The term “heart’s jewel” is a term that cannot be explained in any other way than the actual concerto itself, a concept that can be appreciated by anyone who listens to the piece.

            Perhaps a glimpse into the magic of the piece can be explained by the solitary and soloist nature of the violin, and perhaps one can even say – seductive.  Any concerto, for the most part, falls into one of two categories.  Either the solo instrument has a “conversation” or “argument” with the orchestra, or the solo instrument acts as a one-man show and the orchestra just acts as a supplement.  In this concerto there is no question that it is the violin who is speaking.  Just from the opening of the piece it is easy to tell that you aren’t in for your average composition.  Unlike many large compositions, Mendelssohn jumps in with the main theme from the very first note with the solo violin.  No orchestra.  Nothing fancy.  Throughout the entire piece it is the violin who is singing, crying, and laughing.  In all three movements the listener is touched by the deep and moving song of the violin and it’s almost as if the orchestra is just identifying with the violin as he gives a monologue of his life. Out of all the instruments violin is arguably the one that pulls on our heart strings (no pun intended) more than any other, and throughout the concerto it is almost as if the violin is coming from inside us.  The themes in the movements are relatively simple, easily hummable, and pretty catchy (especially the finale), but somehow that pure simplicity really adds to the magic of the piece. 


  1. Love the video! you are so right about the violin, it's like a life of its own!

  2. Out of curiosity, who was soloist with the Israel Philharmonic?

  3. Itzchak Perlman is the soloist in this concerto, conducted by Barenboim.