This violin concerto is the result of an invitation given me some two years ago by the BBC. I have had to interrupt my work on it from time to time in order to write several pièces d'occasion, but perhaps this very sidetracking has enabled me to see my main musical path the more clearly. Taking a comfortable tempo for its composition, I completed the score at the beginning of 1955.
It is designed with the customary three movements, takes about forty minutes to perform, and conspicuously displays the soloist as the protagonist throughout. In my first movement I have followed classical precedent and made its structure depend on clearly defined and contrasting themes, with interlocking sections in which these themes, or most of them, show growth. The pace is allegro non troppo, with the crotchet = 180-120. A blackboard diagram of its design would look something like this:
First group of themes: 1, 2, 3 - N.B.- Each of these themes I found capable of proliferation.
Second contrasting theme: 4 - N.B. - This lyrical theme of sixteen bars occurs but once more in the movement, when it is heard on the full orchestra.
Development of 1, 2 and 3.
Short accompanied cadenza found on a fragment of 1.
Restatement of 4.
Coda founded mostly on 2.
I should also mention a 'motto' theme of six bars' length, which introduces the soloist at the outset, ushers in the lyrical theme, 4, starts the 'development' section, and finally leads to the short cadenza.
Between the quarter-of-an-hour movements I and III comes a shorter movement marked 'vivo'. It is unmistakably a scherzo. If I had Queen Mab in my mind as I wrote it, it was chiefly in order to keep Berlioz's exquisite scoring before me as a warning against overemphasis. This movement is light fingered and develops a series of dance rhythms.
The initial quick tempo (dotted crotchet = 144) is varied by a more sustained section, into which, however, the capricious scherzo keeps breaking. At the conclusion of this movement, the notes of the solo violin disappear into the sky.
Without imitating a recent Russian example of self-criticism, I must say the third movement gave me considerable trouble. There were several problems to reconcile. Up to this moment there had been no slow movement. This finale had to start with a complete change of mood and tempo. I felt, however, that the character of the concerto as a whole demanded a brilliant finish, and, for balance, a considerable cadenza for the violin without accompaniment.
Here the length of time I permitted myself in writing the concerto was of benefit. I began rehearsing the first two movements with my soloist, while deeply considering the third. I let myself be swayed by the style of playing of my chosen soloist, just as a playwright might be influenced by a great actor in his leading role. Campoli and I have had many rehearsals together. He has been tireless in discussing the work - almost bar by bar - in suggesting how difficult and awkward passages can be made more amenable, and in giving me, by his masterly playing, stimulation to further work. It is with the most sincere gratitude that I place his name on the title page.
An analysis of the finale might be shown thus:
Slow theme and variation - N.B. - The gipsy feeling is a tribute to my soloist's temperament!
Bridge passage to second lively theme
Main cadenza, unaccompanied. - N.B. - This is founded largely on the two themes (slow and lively), and especially the bridge passage leading to the second theme.
Restatement of theme and variation
Coda founded on the second lively theme.
After completing the concerto I spent a week's holiday near Genoa. I went into the famous port to see one of its treasures, Paganini's own violin. I learnt with pleasurable surprise that Campoli himself had recently given a broadcast there on this famous instrument. May this coincidence prove of good omen for our concerto!
© 1955 Sir Arthur Bliss