Ludwig van Beethoven – Romance for Violin & Orchestra No. 1, in G major, op. 40
Beethoven’s reputation as a pianist often obscures the fact that he was a very capable violinist. Although not an accomplished master, he possessed a profound love for and understanding of the instrument, evident in his ten violin sonatas, the violin concerto, and numerous quintets, quartets, and other chamber works. The two Romances for violin stand out because they are single-movement works in concerto settings. The Romance in G major was published in 1803 by Hoffmeister & Kühnel in Leipzig; the date of its first performance is not known. Despite the lower opus number, it was composed at least five years after the Romance in F, Op. 50, which was published in 1805. He retained the early Classical orchestra he employed for his earlier Piano Concerto in B flat, Op. 19: one flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings. Often described as a “preparation” for the Violin Concerto, Op. 61, of 1806, the Romance in G stands as a fine work in its own right, clearly demonstrating Beethoven’s mastery of the high-Classical style of Mozart and Haydn. Furthermore, Beethoven creates subtle connections between disparate sections of a work.
Cast in a two-episode rondo format (ABACA coda), the Romance in G is not imbued with sonata-form characteristics, as are many of Beethoven’s later rondo movements. The rondo theme (A) is in two parts, each performed first by the soloist then repeated by the orchestra. Descending sixteenth notes in the solo part mark the beginning of B, in which the orchestra is relegated to a purely accompanimental role, creating unity by including figures from the rondo. Section B spends a significant amount of time on the dominant (D major); however, this does not represent a modulation but a preparation for the return of the rondo in G major. Again, the soloist performs both segments of the A section alone, this time including a running eighth note accompaniment under each of the literally repeated themes. Beethoven set the second episode, C, in E minor. The minor mode, dotted rhythms, and staccato passages give the section a “gypsy” music tinge. The foray into a new key area ends with the return of the G major rondo theme, again played by the soloist, but with accompaniment by the orchestra. Beethoven forgoes the repetition of each of the two parts of the rondo and ends the work with a brief coda featuring a lengthy trill in the solo violin. The three fortissimo chords that close the piece seem oddly, possibly comically, out of place in this generally quiet work, but they do resemble the orchestral string parts at the end of each rondo section. [allmusic.com]