28 Jul 2022

SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto

From Music Alive, 8:02 pm on 28 July 2022

A superstar violinist performs the work she's been associated with since 1980, when she won the Sibelius Competition at the age of 20, propelling her on her international career.

Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova

Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova Photo: Viktoria Mullova

The composer Sibelius's wife beautifully captured the cost and reward of living with troubled genius in a letter to mutual friend describing the concerto's progress:

"The first performance of the concerto is now definitely decided for the 8th of February but that however is uncomfortably soon. Janne has been in the throes of it all the time (and so have I). Again it has been an embarrassment of riches. He has so many ideas forcing their way into his mind that he becomes quite literally dizzy. He’s awake night after night, plays wonderful things, and can’t tear himself away from the marvelous music he plays - there are so many ideas that one can’t believe it's true, all of them so rich in possibilities for development, so full of life.

"But if I have been excited by all of this, I have also suffered too... Of course I am happy to have been able to be so near Janne all this time - whether my presence is any help to him in his darker moments I cannot say - but it has been a rewarding and satisfying experience for me.

"Keep well. Janne sends you his warmest regards. I am sitting at his writing desk - he is at the piano - there’s a nice fire. It is night."

The imminent premiere mentioned came about when Sibelius moved the date for financial reasons. This move ruled out the intended soloist, German virtuoso Willy Burmester. A fairly unknown (and underprepared) local replacement contributed to Sibelius withdrawing the work after its first outing and paring back some of the plethora of ideas mentioned in the letter.

Burmester offered to premiere the revised version, but Sibelius didn't accommodate his availability once again and Burmester finally lost patience. He never performed the work and Sibelius lost an early champion for it. It wasn't until Jascha Heifetz made the first recording in 1935 that it began gain the popularity it has today.

Programme note by Kevin Keys

Recorded by RNZ in Auckland Town Hall, 12 September 2019
Producer: Tim Dodd, Sound engineer: Rangi Powick