Concerto for violin and orchestra

Year of composition
1998
Scored for
for violin and orchestra
Composer
Georg Friedrich Haas
Soloists
violin
Instrumentation
3 3 4 3 – 4 3 3 1 – perc(3), acc, str
Instrumentation details

1st flute (+picc)
2nd flute (+picc)
3rd flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe
cor anglais
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb
3rd clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb))
bass clarinet in Bb
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
3rd bassoon (+cbsn)
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
3rd trumpet in Bb
1st trombone
2nd trombone
3rd trombone
tuba
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
accordion
violin I
violin II
viola
violoncello
contrabass

Commissioned by

ORF

Duration
15′

World Premiere

Location: Wiener Musikverein, Großer Saal Wien / Austria
Date: 15.05.1998
Orchestra: ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien
Conductor: Heinrich Schiff
Main soloists: Ernst Kovacic, vln
Remarks
Auftragswerk des ORF

Work introduction

The Violin Concerto begins with a breakneck gesture – the solo violin playing its topmost G sharp – like the first step of a tightrope walker, a chord in the strings supporting the violin’s sound to ward off the danger of falling. Comprised of fifths and tritones like so many in Haas’ later works, it is not merely the fundamental or root of the melody pitch; it is the imaginary sonic space the composer detected from the violin’s pitch and transferred to the orchestra – a compositional approach not hoping for reminiscences of melodic passages, but captured in the fascinating inner life of an individual sound: an approach, therefore, which is often referred to as a counterpart to “traditional compositional procedures,” although it can look back on almost 40 years of tradition.

The soloist’s line is the work’s starting point – and its lonely end. The orchestra (a large one, for a violin concerto – triple winds, large string group) acts on the violin’s music by intensifying it, surrounding it and grinding it between the blades of interlocked chords. Haas aligns with an imagery currently in use for solo concertos; line and space are not juxtaposed like categories of music theory – instead, they are symbols of individuality and totality. Pitch and chord approach each other again and again (Haas speaks of “solidarisation”) – but the partnership does not last long.

In the course of the composition, the sonic spaces in the orchestra harden, fit to each other like pavestones, the violin physically (= dynamically) and vainly trying to run up against them. Yet elsewhere, the violin is displayed in the foreground, like a prima donna, tonality is cited (a vocabulary Haas has been working with again and again since his 1995/96 Hölderlin opera Nacht) – but the accompanying orchestra groups are not coordinated. The chords intensify to attack, the attacks deploy to form a pulse, the pulse marches with ostinato equanimity, even if staged with high compositional artifice. (Toward the end, such an ostinato accelerates while the volume simultaneously decreases, overridden by another ostinato pulsating more slowly).

In his Piano Concerto Fremde Welten (premièred by Wien Modern 1997), the composer’s entire attention was devoted to the issue of material by juxtaposing the tempered piano with a group of strings consisting exclusively of flageolet pitches on open strings, each of which was tuned differently on every instrument. The dramatic development of his Violin Concerto is directed by abstract musical criteria: texture, gesture, event density. At the same time, proceeding from the concerto form with its confrontation of soloist and orchestra, Haas commits to a dramatization of the course of action not unworthy of any operatic scene. This is music of an expressive quality which leaves the most carefully tended hotbed forgotten – it hovers now before Haas, an image of perfection.

© Christoph Becher

Georg Friedrich Haas on the Violin Concerto:

I don’t understand the solo concerto in the sense of the romantic virtuoso concerto, where the soloist dazzles and shows off as a brilliant individual, as the leader of a collective. For me, the concerto format is an opportunity to explore how an individual behaves towards a collective. So I don’t present a brilliant soloist dominating the ensemble, but a figure that demonstrates the resonances in the piece. And there are also moments where the soloist really gets beaten down by the ensemble, almost until there’s nothing left of him.

Ensembles that have played this work

ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien
Deutsches SO Berlin
New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège
Lithuanian State SO

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