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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Violin No. 2 (1991)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
26 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Concerto for Violin No. 2 (1991)
Composer Note:

Although my Second Violin Concerto is both contemporary in style and language, it also pays subtle homage conceptually to the grand violin concerto heritage that comprises the masterpieces of the genre — from Mozart through Beethoven and Brahms to Prokofiev, Schoenberg and Berg. But in its pages there also lurk references to the great Paganini, whose violin-technical innovations have, curiously enough, rarely been taken up in 20th-century concertos. The work is conceived in the traditional three movements: moderately fast — slow — fast. Two thematic ideas, stated right at the outset, govern the entire progress of the first movement: three bracing chords in the orchestra and a vigorous rhythmic response in the solo violin. Lyric passages, exploiting the “singing” qualities of the violin, alternate with the more dramatic elements of the movements. There is also a substantial — and technically very challenging — solo cadenza at midpoint.

The second movement begins with a dark, murky introduction for multiply divided basses, cellos, and low-register muted horns Out of this gloom the violin rises imperceptibly to begin its lengthy plaintive song. I had originally planned to call this movement “Aria,” but as the work progressed it developed more into a three-way conversation of the violin with a distant (backstage) flute and a solo bass, whose musical background apparently reflects a profound respect for some of the great jazz bassists of the modern era. Distant muted brass sonorities occasionally enter into the dialogue. A gigantic orchestral climax divides the movement into its two halves. After an episode for violin and six solo strings, more soft woodwinds and faintly distant muted brass, the movement fades away into silence — on a series of trills.

The last movement takes up the subtle interferences of jazz contained in the slow movement, and now bursts forth as a full-blown jazz piece, marked “very fast, with swing.” A second violin cadenza and velvety muted brass offer momentary reminiscences of the first and second movements, before the Concerto comes to a turbulent close.

—Gunther Schuller

[This] dauntingly difficult work is a rich addition to the modern concerto repertory. …The style is very much Schuller’s own, a blend of major currents unleashed in the course of this century wrought with care and imagination.
Nancy Raabe, Milwaukee Sentinel,27/09/1991
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