A Promise Is Hanging in the Air

What will this day bring? Good news, bad news? © Charles Thibo
What will this day bring? Good news, bad news? © Charles Thibo

This music is a promise. This music will be exciting. For good or for worse? It is up to you to discover that. You will read into this music whatever you like. Perhaps your biggest emotional impression will be the beginning first movement, a joyful and yet solemn violin tune with the other strings providing the dark canvas so that the soloist can shine. Is this day going to warrant your unbound optimism? Perhaps you will rather like the parts of the second movement where the harpist suggests a slowly floating something. Will this day satisfy your romantic longing? Or you will go for the Beethoven-like competition between the soloist and the orchestra in the third movement? Are you in the middle of a struggle and want to break free?

Re-discovering Saint-Saëns

Camille de Saint-Saëns has hidden all this in his Violin Concerto No. 2 in C Major, op. 58. It is a wonderful piece, and I had to discover it a second time to hear all it’s beautiful moments. It was that dark morning when I shot that picture above the text in February this year. I listened to it ten to twelve times over a couple of days. Very impressive.

We have met Saint-Saëns already in March this year with his piano concertos and before, at Christmas last year, with his oratorium. He wrote the violin concerto the same year as he wrote the oratorium – in 1858. He was then 33 years old, he had just been nominated organist to La Madeleine, one of the more important churches in Paris, and his main job was to compose and perform music for services.

Composing for La Madeleine and beyond

And that he did: In 1857, he had written an Ave Maria in G, followed by an O salutaris in 1858 and a piece for chorus and organ, Veni Creator, followed in 1859 by no less than two Ave Marias, an Ave verum and three more O salutaris. His Piano Concerto No. 1 saw the light in 1858 too, and in 1859, he started to compose his Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor which he never finished. The first movement of that first violin concerto in A major is a delight.

I have no idea who or what inspired Saint-Saëns to write his second violin concerto. But I know that he inspired me to write this post. I was in my car and the first bars were already a surprise: So much tension created with so few notes. How will the composer resolve it? That question crossed my mind after the first bow strokes of the soloist. And bar by bar I proceeded through the piece as it is performed by the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and the Romanian violinist Liviu Prunaru.

I imagine the composing process looked similar to what I did in my mind: a general idea gradually taking shape step by step according to the laws of harmony. Sometimes I can predict the next few bars in a new piece if I know the style of the composer well, but I am quite happy whenever the composer surprises me. A  new day, a new piece, a new promise.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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