Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61
b. Paris, France / October 9, 1835; d. Algiers, Algeria / December 16, 1921
During a period in French music when composers’ reputations rested first of all with their degree of success in the emotional world of opera, Saint-Saëns proved himself a maverick by preferring the cooler, more abstract realm of instrumental music. He composed the last of his three violin concertos for Pablo de Sarasate, previously the inspiration for his Violin Concerto No. 1, and the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. He wasn’t alone in drawing inspiration from the sovereign skills of this Spanish-born, Paris-resident virtuoso: Edouard Lalo (Symphonie espagnole), Max Bruch (Concerto No. 2 and Scottish Fantasy), and Antonín Dvořák (Mazurek) also created works especially for him.
Regarding Concerto No. 3, Saint Saëns wrote, “During the composition of this concerto, Sarasate gave me invaluable advice, to which is certainly due the considerable degree of favor it has met with on the part of violinist themselves.” Sarasate gave the premiere in Paris on January 2, 1881. He was not initially pleased with it, feeling it was insufficiently virtuosic to fully satisfy the public. It was only after Belgian soloist Eugene Ysaÿe won great success with it that Sarasate’s enthusiasm revived and he took it into his repertoire. Its dramatic content is confined to the outer movements. They also offer frequent opportunities for violinists to show off their technical prowess. The sweet, melodious second movement provides an interlude of graceful repose.
Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2019