Saturday, January 13


Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14

The opening is magical. Does any other violin concerto begin with such immediacy and with so sweet and elegant a melody? A rolled G-major chord on the piano ushers it in. The melody itself belongs to the solo violin, and it stretches its deliciously unpredictable way through twenty-four measures. If you go along with the idea that some composers are essentially vocal composers (Mozart) and some essentially instrumental (Beethoven), allowing room for the possibility that some are both (Bach), then Barber was as surely a vocal composer by nature--and here, like Mozart, he is composing vocal music for an instrument. Barber himself, I should add, thought of himself as musically "bisexual" (his adjective): "I do both." Two more themes appear, both introduced by the violin: one is lightly touched by melancholia, the other is grazioso e scherzando. The development begins with a surprising darkening of the scene. Toward the end, Barber gives us at least a hint of a cadenza . . .

-- Michael Steinberg The Concerto