The Barber Violin Concerto remains to this day one of my favorite pieces I have ever learned – and perhaps the piece I spent the most time on and learned best. Perhaps that plays a part into why I enjoy it so much.
In any case, Barber’s Concerto is at the same time very similar and very different from other concertos in the violin repertoire. It’s similar in that it shares the same 3-movement structure, shares a similar medium-slow-fast pacing to the three movements, and traces of thematic material can be found throughout the three movements.
It’s very different, however, in it’s use of tonality – the way notes are used and treated relative to the key of the piece – because it was composed in 1939.
The vast majority of concertos in the violin repertoire were composed sometime between 1700-1850, and adhere to the “rules” of tonality that we are used to hearing in Western music. By the 1900s, however, composers felt that the well had run dry on ideas within the standard tonal systems, and began experimenting with both melodies and harmonies that diverted from the rules Bach, Mozart, and even Beethoven to a degree would’ve understood about composition.
The result in the Barber Violin Concerto is something that sounds utterly unlike anything you may have listened to before, but something that is simultaneously uniquely captivating. Gil Shaham brings his usual energy and vibrant tone to the performance, which matches the material perfectly. Enjoy!