• John McCabe
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 (1980)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Erich Gruenberg with funds from the Arts Council

  • 33(obda)33/4.3.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/hp.cel/str
  • violin
  • 38 min

Programme Note

Dances (various tempi)
Con moto, poco pesante - cadenza -

This work was commissioned by Erich Gruenberg, with the aid of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and it is dedicated to him. This commemorates not only the commissioning of the work but also our collaboration as recitalists in a violin and piano duo - it is always a particular pleasure to be able to write a substantial work for someone whose playing one knows well from such a partnership, and doubtless the work reflects something of my appreciation of Mr Gruenberg's style and musicianship. A concerto, however, will also doubtless explore the nature of the solo instrument, and in this piece I wanted to write something of a predominantly lyrical character.

It is melodic feeling which dominates the work, though in the first movement especially it is sometimes pitted against what might be called "anti-lyrical" elements. In the opening Moderato it is the contrast between these two things that provides the music with its impulse. The second movement is entitled "Dances", these being of two kinds - balletic, as for instance in the duet for violin and oboe d'amore which forms part of the first slow section, and folk, as in the later, quicker sections. The folk influences range from Spanish through Norwegian to Polish, the fastest section being influenced by the rhythm of the Polish oberek.

The third movement has a more sturdy, vigorous feeling, somewhat toccata-like, and leads to a solo cadenza which, apart from recalling motifs heard earlier in the work, gradually reduces the rhythmic "temperature" of the music to lead into the slow final movement. This is a passacaglia on a series of four chords heard at the outset, and the movement is dominated by the contrast between the melodic solo part and the extremely harmonic nature of the orchestral part. There are throughout the work various cross-references between the movements, though it is the opening tune that returns to close the concerto. There is a strong key-centre underlying the music, the key-note being F sharp.

© John McCabe