The first five violin concertos of Henri Vieuxtemps: Style, structure, influence, and performance practice

Date of Completion

January 2000






The celebrated Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (b Verviers, 17 Feb. 1820; d Mustapha. Algeria, 6 June 1881) was one of the foremost violinists of the nineteenth century. He stood with Charles deBériot, his teacher, as the founder of the modern French school of violin playing. The first five violin concertos span his most creative years, and are his most important works. They played a significant role in the evolution of the violin concerto of the nineteenth century because of their groundbreaking forms and original violin techniques—most notable are the Fourth and Fifth Concertos. I have omitted the sixth and seventh because they are of inferior quality. These last two concertos were written during a period of great strife and anguish, because Vieuxtemps was unable to perform due to paralysis. His concertos were composed during the Romantic movement, when violinist/composers were experimenting with new compositional styles. The two most prominent styles, the conservative, classical style founded by Giovanni Viotti and the pyrotechnical, and virtuosic styles of Nicolo Paganini were profound influences on Meuxtemps. When Vieuxtemps composed his concertos, concerto writing for the violin had reached a stalemate. The concertos of Louis Spohr, which never received much recognition in France, also became less sought after in Europe. At the same time, the concertos of Viotti, Pierre Rode, and Rudolph Kreutzer were too classical, while those of Paganini overemphasized technical dexterity. Vieuxtemps' contribution to the advancement of the Romantic violin concerto was in reviving the concept of the grand French violin concerto originated by Votti, in enhancing the solo violin part, and in setting it against a fuller symphonic accompaniment. Towards this end, he integrated technical elements from Paganini in an inimitable style, which produced a violinistic vocabulary that became relevant throughout the nineteenth century. ^ Vieuxtemps was also one of the earliest luminaries to champion the Beethoven Violin Concerto. It is no wonder that he was highly enamored of Beethoven and many of his concertos are inundated with elements of Beethoven's style. Vieuxtemps was a seminal figure in the world of the nineteenth-century violin concerto, and his violin concertos remain relevant to this day. ^