In the year of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth, 1756, his father Leopold published one of the most influential of all violin methods: The School of Violin Playing. It was therefore hardly surprising that young Wolfgang was taught the violin from an early age – although no one could have predicted his astounding progress. During the 1770s, he made appearances as a violin soloist in several Austro-German musical centres (including Vienna), and following one concert in Munich in 1777, reported proudly to Leopold: “I played as if I were the greatest fiddler in all of Europe.”
Four out of the five authenticated violin concertos by Mozart were composed during an eight-month period between April and December 1775, probably as a means of ingratiating himself with his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg.Irrepressible energy and good humour is everywhere apparent in the opening Allegro aperto of the so-called “Turkish” Concerto, although contemporary audiences found the intensity of feeling generated by the heartfelt central Adagio so perplexing that Mozart composed a replacement, K. 261, the following year. The rondeau finale, however, was an instant hit, especially the “noisy” third episode composed in the extremely fashionable alla turca style, with cellos and basses instructed to play with the wood of their bows.
Perhaps the single most astonishing aspect of Schubert’s timeless artistry is that he achieved all he did in a lifetime spanning a mere 31 years. Largely undervalued in his day, it was not until the present century that the full scope of Schubert’s genius was finally appreciated. Of the three works he composed for violin and orchestra, the Rondo in A, composed in June 1816 during his first flush of success, is the most popular. Schubert was still only 19 at the time, yet the tantalising combination of profound joy and sadness that lies at the heart of his creative psyche is already simmering gently beneath the music’s surface.
Felix Mendelssohn was the most precociously gifted composer the world has ever known: not even Mozart could lay claim to having produced burning masterpieces while still in his midteens. By this time Mendelssohn had already reached compositional maturity alongside his other achievements as a double prodigy on the violin and piano, an exceptional athlete, a highly gifted poet, multi-linguist and watercolorist, and an inspired philosopher more than capable of holding his own with learned Berlin University professors.
He excelled at virtually anything that could hold his attention for long enough, although it was music that above all activated his creative imagination. His earliest surviving attempt at concerto writing is the 1822 D minor Violin Concerto, an invigorating work in three movements which clearly demonstrates the 13-year-old’s advanced understanding of late Classical style. Both Mozart and Haydn are present in the stylistic mix, as is the flowing Italianate lyricism and sparkling orchestration of Rossini. If the violin writing lacks the intuitive flair of the much later E minor Concerto, it is still a remarkable achievement for a composer barely into his teens.