Born in 1897 in former Austria/Hungary, Erich Korngold became an American citizen in 1943 and resided in California. He is remembered for his composition of film scores in the 1930s/40s and was the first composer to receive and Oscar. After WWII, Korngold turned his focus to writing music for the concert hall. He wrote his violin concerto, dedicated to Alma Mahler, the widow of his childhood mentor Gustav Mahler. Its positive public approval and premiere and recordings by Jascha Heifetz made it a quick addition to the standard violin repertoire.
Here is Korngold’s Violin Concerto played beautifully by violinist Stefan Jackiw, and the Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE conducted by Carlos Kalmar.
Howard Blake is best known for his work in film and television including the music for the holiday classic “The Snowman” which included the song “Walking in the Air.” In 1992, Howard Blake jumped at the opportunity to compose a violin concerto, which he titled “Leeds.”
The concerto was commissioned by the City of Leeds to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the granting of its charter as a city. It was first performed by soloist Christiane Edinger with the Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel at Leeds Town Hall 6th February 1993. The ensemble also performed on the premiere recording.
The piece is unapologetically melodic, with lush solo lines for the violinist and sweeping orchestration that creates a vivid atmosphere. The opening movement is as long as the first movement to Tchaikovsky’s lone violin concerto (around 19 minutes). The orchestra starts out in low and ominous tones as the soloist enters with a mesmerizing gypsy-like tune. The orchestra then undulates behind the dance-like solo before breaking into a dramatic display by the lower strings. The brass eventually break forth with a call that seems to echo from across a valley. The movement evokes many different tones and emotions in very quick succession, the violin soaring over the other instruments like a seagull above the cliffs.
The concerto was dedicated to the composer’s late mother, who was a violinist. The second movement, entitled “Calma,” seems to ache with the beauty that accompanies the reminiscence of a dearly departed loved one. The low strings begin the main theme which is then carried on by the violins which is then broken down throughout the orchestra. The movement is one slow crescendo into a song that suggests the lush soundtrack of an epic movie. Dissonance is introduced but resolved quickly before the violin again takes the lead with slow steady lines.
The final movement begins with the capricious play between soloist and woodwinds. The strings enter as the violin introduces a hoe-down like fiddle tune. The movement is fast and the melody is fleeting. The soloist gets to display the many sides of the violin with many measures of pizzicato playing. The finale is quick and unassuming.
Currently there is only one performance of the Leeds Concerto available. There is no performance of the work scheduled in the near future.
Explore classical music this July through Classical 90.5’s third annual Summer Listening. Sign up to receive our newsletter, learn about events, and send us your stories and poems inspired by a piece on our list for the Share YOUR Story contest. We will choose our favorites to record at the station! You’ll also be entered to win a prize package.
Listen weekdays in July at 11am and 4pm to Summer Listening, made possible by Montessori School of Louisville.
In her second full-length studio album, Rachel Grimes offers a contemplative soundscape of chamber music in The Clearing. The composer/pianist is joined by collaborators from Louisville, and from the Amsterdam Sinfoniette, cellist Helen Money and sound designer Scott Morgan (LOSCIL). Listen to some of the music below and watch a video from Grimes’ members-only performance here at Classical 90.5.
Rachel Grimes and Ensemble perform at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts on June 26th as part of a presentation through the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.