the "other" mendelssohn violin concerto

If a survey of classical music lovers was taken and the question was asked "what key is Mendelssohn's violin concerto written in?", odds are you would get a resounding response of "E minor!" Very few people would respond with "which one?"

Confused? Mendelssohn actually did write two violin concertos, one in D minor when he was around 13 years old and the second in E minor, which was completed when he was 35. While the E minor concerto has gone onto fame and glory in the concert hall (for good reason, it is an amazing achievement), his earlier one has fallen into obscurity like most of his early works (especially the twelve string symphonies). Partially, this is because after Mendelssohn's death (1847) the manuscript was passed down through the family for almost a century without being played and fell from knowledge. It wasn't performed again until 1952 when Yehudi Menuhin "re-premiered' it at Carnegie Hall. Another reason for this, seems to be a lack of knowledge the piece even exists…which leads to the screenshot of the Hollywood Bowl's website above.

When advertising for this concert, the program shown says "Mendelssohn : Violin Concerto". It doesn't say "Mendelssohn : Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor", it makes the assumption that either the person buying tickets will infer its this one (since it is the famous one) or that this one is the only one that matters and thus doesn't need to specify which it is because who would want to hear the other one? In their defense, in the program notes written by Herbert Glass he does discuss the first violin concerto, referencing it as both evidence of Mendelssohn's child-prodigy status as well as his conservative compositional style, since much of Mendelssohn's music was written within the confines of structure/theory that already existed (one of the features that likely helped the second concerto become famous is it looks forward as much as backward, making it stand out). However, the concert program also lists "Meyer : Double Concerto", that would imply the one for violin and double bass performed that evening was the only one, even though Edgar Meyer has a pre-existing double concerto already for cello and double bass.

This is where I tend to get a little bitter, as I feel assumptions like this seem to becoming more and more common. If someone told me they heard Tchaikovsky's piano concerto on the radio yesterday, I know without asking that 99.99% of the time they will mean his first piano concerto in B-flat minor. They never mean "a" Tchaikovsky piano concerto, they always mean "THE" Tchaikovsky piano concerto, since that is the only one they have been lead to believe exists and/or matters. Same with the Saint-Saëns cello concerti...almost nobody knows there is one in D minor for most of the same reasons. Audiences will find their favorites and then only pay to see those performed and as a result orchestras will not program the others. Then because they only program the public favorite, its all anyone who isn't a music student/professional will know exists and the cycle continues.

With all that being said, I encourage you to embrace music you haven't heard before and use that open mind to listen to Mendelssohn's first violin concerto…who knows, you may even like it!

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, WoO : I : Allegro

Kyoto Takezawa (violin), Peter Flor and Bamberger Symphoniker

Get the recording featured in this post:

This recording is part of the box set seen on the right, unless you are able to find it on this CD which is much harder to find, though much less expensive.

Mendelssohn: The Masterworks
Brilliant Classics