'It came upon the midnight clear' Anon
Anyone aspiring to be a concert violinist simply has to have this one in his or her repertoire.
Nearly 150 years after its composition, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto remains one of the most regularly performed and most loved of all instrumental concertos. And ever since its birth, the work has had a rather strange affinity with very young soloists.
When Mendelssohn was a teenager, he forged a very strong friendship with fellow composer Ferdinand David. As well as being a fine writer of music in his own right, David was also one of the most accomplished violinists of his day, so Mendelssohn composed this concerto for him. It took Mendelssohn five years from start to finish, during which time he would regularly seek David’s advice on revisions, themes and structure.
Its premiere in 1844 featured David at the fiddle and another composer, the Dane Neils Gade, conducting. The second performance of the work, meanwhile, saw another teen star take to the stage: the fourteen-year-old Joseph Joachim, who would go on to become Europe’s finest violinist of his time.
More recently, the work was one of the first to be recorded by the young Scottish violin star, Nicola Benedetti. The teenage Mendelssohn, who was inspired to compose this piece, would surely have been proud that, centuries on, it is still the first choice for budding young soloists today.
Illustration: Mark Millington