A violin concerto sets up certain expectations, but it turns out that the ear has a mind and some unexpected memories of its own.
It is quite astonishing how one’s first experience of something can make its mark on the subconscious, never to be entirely eradicated. Even when we do not realize we are remembering, that initiation – in whatever form it may have been – has taken up residence in our personal history, perhaps largely forgotten but ready to come to the fore and be felt at the most unexpected moments.
Violin concerto by Tchaikovsky leaves indelible mark
I am thinking specifically of my encounters with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35. When I turned nine, I had a small birthday party with some friends, one of whom thoughtfully arrived with a recording of said composition as a gift for me. (I had been studying the violin for a year or so.)That particular piece was not included in the family record collection, and I hadn’t come across it elsewhere yet, so this Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto rendition was to be my first exposure to that wonderful music. Little did I know at the time that it would also become an odd sort of marker for all the performances that would follow for me as a listener and, later, as accompanist to various soloists in my role as symphony orchestra musician.
Violin concerto played by Ricci sets the stage for ever after
Although Ruggiero Ricci’s interpretation moved me deeply when I was young and has stayed with me (even though I have not listened to it again in quite some years) and perhaps colored my early opinions of what I heard other violinists do, it is not the emotional content nor the poetic license in his playing to which I am referring here. It is the decision to omit several measures in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s composition in that recording (and, no doubt, in Ricci’s concert presentations of it; I was never present at one). They are a passage that repeats, I came to discover later, and there are several schools of thought regarding this bit of editing, a legacy from the renowned violinist virtuoso, Leopold Auer. The cuts and whether they (in addition to a few other changes suggested in his edition of the piece) are warranted make for a most lively discussion but are not really the topic I wish to touch upon here. My point is, instead, how indelibly that version – with a few measures missing – affected any hearing of the concerto I would have during the ensuing decades. Although by now I am well used to the fact that Tchaikovsky wrote several bars that were not played in Ricci’s recording (the one made in 1950; I don’t know if Ricci did things differently later on), I have not once — not ever — not been startled to hear them. It seems not to matter how many times I encounter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the repetitions added back in: that first record, listened to endlessly long ago and not even so clearly recalled, is hovering silently, ready to surprise the mind’s ear in that split second, and to remind me of something I didn’t know I remembered.