Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shlomo Mintz: Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Shlomo Mintz, a protégé of Issac Stern, and a phenomenal violinist in his own right, plays a part of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, first movement. Zubin Mehta conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in this vintage performance.

Shlomo Mintz has been playing for more than four decades, although he's only fifty-three (born on October 30, 1957). His standard biography says:
Born in Moscow in 1957, Shlomo Mintz emigrated with his family two years later to Israel, where he studied with the renowned Ilona Feher. At age eleven, he made his concerto debut with the Israel Philharmonic. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age sixteen in a concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and subsequently began his studies with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School of Music.

Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, was his last large orchestral work. Mendelssohn first thought of it in 1838 and it premiered six years later, in 1845, when he was thirty-six. The concerto, considered an important work and one of the first concertos of the Romantic period, is a popular piece of music.

The piece was innovative in the mid-nineteenth century:
Although the concerto consists of three movements in a standard fast–slow–fast structure and each movement follows a traditional form, the concerto was innovative and included many novel features for its time. Distinctive aspects of the concerto include the immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work and the linking of the three movements with each movement immediately following the previous one.

The concerto was initially well received and soon became regarded as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time. The concerto remains popular and has developed a reputation as an essential concerto for all aspiring concert violinists to master, and usually one of the first Romantic era concertos they learn. Many professional violinists have recorded the concerto and the work is regularly performed in concerts and classical music competitions.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy [1809-1847]: An oil painting done shortly before his death at age thirty-eight. Mendelssohn once said: "Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God."
Painter: Eduard Magnus [1799-1872]. Done in 1846.
Source: Wikipedia
Mendelssohn was the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, a leading modern Jewish philosopher and rabbi, and one of the founders of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, whose ideas of cultural assimilation contributed to the foundation of Reform Judaism and all its practices.

Felix Mendelssohn, along with his three siblings, were all  baptized in 1816 into the Lutheran Church, when he was six. Six years later, in 1822, his parents, Abraham and Leah followed suit, and all took on the additional name of Bartholdy.

As is common in such situations, both the Jews and Christians claim him as their own. Although it is unclear what Felix Mendelssohn thought himself of his religious sentiments. While trying not to belabor the point, one must make a distinction between practical social conventions and true faith. Perhaps a clue can be found in his music.


  1. Mendelssohn's violin concerto is great not because it was innovative for its time but because it is beautiful. Beauty in music cannot be explained. It is independent of complexity or originality.
    In fact, modern music is so often ugly because composers feel they have to be original. They don't have enough originality to disobey the rule that they have to be innovative.

    Here are some thoughts of mine written way back in the 1900s and published in a Canadian journal that, alas, no longer exists:

  2. Dear Prof. Jochnowitz:

    Thank you for your clear insights about music and beauty. I agree wholeheartedly that beautiful music touches our soul. I shall read your essay.


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