Wieniawski – Violin Concerto No. 2 in D-minor, Op.22

by Max Derrickson

Henryk (Henri) Wieniawski     (Born in Lublin, Poland, 1835; died in Moscow, Russia, 1880)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D-minor, Op.22
1. Allegro moderato
2. Romance – Andante non troppo
3. Finale – Allegro moderato, a la Zingara

In the last half of the 19th century Wieniawski’s influence as a violin virtuoso, pedagogue and composer cast a mighty shadow.  His legendary performances also resonated for decades after his early death; his virtuosic prowess generally accepted to have been a successor to Paganini.  Virtually an entire generation, and beyond, of Russian violinists played to the precepts of Wieniawski’s performance methods, and for each, his Violin Concerto No. 2 was an absolute necessity in their repertoire.    Born in Poland, his astounding talents brought him to the Paris Conservatory at age 8 and within three years, barely a teenager, he was giving dozens upon dozens of European recitals. This prodigy playing eventually led to a twelve year post, 1860-1872, at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory inRussia.  Here his talents for playing, teaching and composing were honed, and it was here in 1862 that Wieniawski composed his greatest work, the Second Violin Concerto, with which he toured extensively throughout the world.  His almost impossible concert schedule, which began at age 11, tragically contributed to his fatal heart condition that claimed him at age 44.

By the time Wieniawski composed his Second Violin Concerto he had already written a fair number of works, each showcasing his virtuosic prowess, but his reputation as a composer had not, yet, won him many admirers.  But this Concerto was different – richly tuneful and masterfully orchestrated, giving equal value to both musical poetry and virtuosic fire, it was cast in a structural form that flowed seamlessly and naturally.  It was truly Wieniawski’s masterwork and only days after its 1862 premiere in St. Petersburg, it inspired the famous Russian composer, César Cui, who had previously been a vociferous critic to exclaim “I still haven’t recovered from the impact of that first Allegro!”

And that first Allegro is indeed remarkable.  It’s basically comprised of two main themes: the first, somewhat dark and intense, and the second, considered one of the composer’s most lyrical.
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Directly the violin begins this second movement with a lovely and unpretentious melody, a song very much in keeping with its title “Romance.”  The upwardly undulating accompaniment
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The finale is marked “a la Zingara,” meaning in the gypsy style.  Immediately, we hear an urgent introduction followed by a brief and rhapsodic violin interlude conjuring the Roma’s (gypsies’) rich musical culture.  Notice, just at the end of the brief solo, an exotic sounding pitch in its context– Wieniawski uses a raised 3rd, a minor-to-major key shift closely associated with gypsy song.  What follows is a feverish tune, full of bravura and excitement,
[. . .]
The stately last bars conclude, with refreshing dignity, one of the great violin concertos of the 19th century.