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 Announcement, A new source found for Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64, is a key work of the nineteenth century, adhering to the Classical style of Beethoven while pointing the way to the Romantic ethos of Brahms. It has long been known that Mendelssohn performed the work with three soloists in succession: Ferdinand David, who worked closely with the composer during its composition and gave the première; the ‘child prodigy’ Joseph Joachim; and Hubert Léonard, a young Belgian virtuoso about whom little is known.

As proof sheets for the concerto were long considered lost, it could be described as something of a sensation when proofs for the solo violin part recently resurfaced together with a letter from Mendelssohn to Léonard. The letter informs us that the composer invited Léonard to his home in Frankfurt in order to make his acquaintance. It was already known that Mendelssohn had given proof sheets to David; now we know that he also gave some to Léonard.

Hubert Léonard
Hubert Léonard

These proofs reveal how Léonard played the concerto with Mendelssohn on that evening in February 1845. Besides containing bowings and fingerings, they also show how Léonard executed position shifts and where he employed open strings. Furthermore, modifications made to dynamic markings and additional legato bowings are shown. That the young violinist made a positive impression on the composer is confirmed in the latter’s correspondence following their joint performance, where Mendelssohn is full of praise for Léonard’s playing and offers to lend his support in finding employment in Germany.

Taking into account this new source, Bärenreiter has just published a revised edition, with separate piano reductions for both the early version from 1844 and the second version from 1845, as well as an orchestral score including both versions (the orchestral parts remain unchanged). The piano reductions include an Urtext violin part, as well as an additional part with fingering, bowing and performance comments. Also available is an accompanying book by Clive Brown, an acknowledged expert on Romantic performance practice, which presents a discussion of performing traditions in Mendelssohn's Leipzig (with text in both English and German).

If you are keen to discover what all of this actually means in practice, then you'll want to listen to Isabelle Faust's recording with the Freiburger Barockorchester under Pablo Heras-Casado, released in August last year, which was the first to use Bärenreiter's new edition. Reviewing that performance at the time of its release, my colleague Katherine noted that the increased deployment of portamento "often means that Faust takes certain notes and even entire phrases on a different string from usual, so that there are little flashes of brightness or muted plaintiveness where you least expect them", whilst the greater use of "open strings and harmonics than their successors also makes its mark in passagework that sparkles like fragile filigree".

All of the different versions are listed below; we are currently running a special offer of up to 25% off all Bärenreiter publications, so now is an ideal time to investigate this new edition for yourself!

Léonard's violin part
The first page of the violin part with Léonard's markings

This is the piano reduction of the revised version of Mendelssohn's concerto.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Also available is this piano reduction of the early version of the concerto, from 1844.

Available Format: Sheet Music

This full orchestral score includes both versions of the concerto. Orchestral material also available.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Clive Brown's accompanying book on performance practice in Mendelssohn's time (with text in both English and German). It also includes facsimile reproductions of pages from the manuscript.

Available Format: Book

Isabelle Faust (violin), Freiburger Barockorchester, Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor)

Released to great acclaim last August, Isabelle Faust's account of the concerto was the first recording to use Bärenreiter's new edition.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC