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Eduoard Lalo wrote his five-movement violin concerto Symphonie Espagnole (Spanish Symphony) in 1874 for the violinist Pablo Sarasate, who premiered it on February 7, 1875. Along with his cello concerto, it remains one of his most popular and oft-performed works. True to its name, the concerto contains several Spanish motifs including the habanera rhythm.
Lalo found it difficult to achieve recognition for most of his compositions. However, in large part due to Sarasate’s performance of Symphonie Espagnole, this work has gained a following and continues to be a staple in the violin repertoire. It is arranged into 5 movements, which is unusual for a concerto. The movements are:
- Allegro non troppo
- Scherzando'''. Allegro molto
- Intermezzo'''. Allegro non troppo
Another unusual aspect of this work is that it is somewhat of a cross between a concerto and a “symphony”, hence the name. The orchestration and structure contributes to its symphony-like qualities.
It is possible that the Symphonie Espagnole served as the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. The story is that he was playing through pieces for violin with a former pupil, Yosef Kotek. After playing through Lalo’s piece, Tchaikovsky set aside a sonata he was working on and completed his violin concerto in three weeks. Both pieces demonstrate the lush violin playing and orchestral writing characteristic of the Romantic Period, although Tchaikovsky’s concerto is only three movements as opposed to five. I also feel that Tchaikovsky puts more of himself into his music.
Between the two works, my preference would be the Tchaikovsky, as I believe he was simply the better composer. However, Lalo’s work certainly has its place in the canon of violin works and proves to be a formidable challenge to the violin soloist.
Hugh Macdonald. "Lalo, Edouard." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 27, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/15865