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In depth: A new cadenza by Nicola Benedetti

Thu Feb 1 2018

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In the classical era, composers such as Mozart and Beethoven often included passages called cadenzas towards the end of their concertos. These were either improvised or pre-composed, and gave the soloist the chance to show off the full range of her or his skills.

For Nicola Benedetti’s performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with us, she’s worked with composer Petr Limonov to write a new cadenza premiered on this tour, for which she’ll be accompanied by our Principal Timpani, Adrian Bending.

Here’s what Petr Limonov has to say about it:

“Working on the cadenza together with Nicola has been a fascinating journey, which started about three months ago. We were immediately confronted with a unique set of compositional and structural problems. Beethoven himself only wrote a cadenza for a piano version of this concerto (op. 61a), and he approached it in a truly revolutionary way by incorporating the timpani part into the texture, turning his cadenza into a dialogue between the pianist and the timpanist. However, to our mind, previous attempts to transcribe this for violin in a literal way sounded too forceful for the otherwise lyrical and inward-looking nature of the piece. As Nicola was researching Beethoven’s autographs, drafts, and first editions, looking for possible clues in his other, perhaps discarded, ideas, it gradually became clear that we needed to rewrite the cadenza, being true to Beethoven’s spirit, but not necessarily the letter.

The solution came almost by luck.

When looking at the harmonic structure of the Beethoven’s piano cadenza, I noticed an unusual chord progression leading up to the timpani entry. That first timpani entry is, essentially, modified from the first movement, masked as something which we dubbed “a hunting theme”. Using timpani in a solo cadenza was as unusual at that time as it is now, so we inferred that the harmonic progression leading up to it had to be unusual as well. It soon became apparent that Beethoven employed highly sophisticated techniques in a very subtle way as if to deliberately confuse the listener, leading him or her away from the established classical sense of tonality and preparing the ground for the timpani entry. We then emulated that progression on the violin, albeit with a texture very different from Beethoven’s piano writing. That way we emphasised the element of surprise at the point of timpani entry, and maintained the structure of Beethoven’s original cadenza without copying it note by note. That way we could ensure that Beethoven’s original proportions stayed intact without making violin writing resemble a transcription of a piano piece.

In our cadenza, which Nicola will be performing, the distinct wistful “hunting theme” is quoted directly from Beethoven’s piano version of the cadenza, as is the very ending of it, where Beethoven’s lyrical introspective trills could be transcribed to the violin without changing a note. The rest of it is composed by us, with fidelity to his thematic material and, which we felt equally important, his harmonic structure. We hope this would enable our work to authentic and daring, in the true spirit of “eternally young” classicism.”

We can’t give you a preview of Nicola and Petr’s work yet…. but to get an idea of what a cadenza is all about, here’s violinist Anne Sophie Mutter’s version for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto from a few years ago.

One Comment

  • Just got back from the concert – the cadenza was absolutely brilliant! Besides the tymps the whole orchestra played their socks off. A truly memorable performance of this concerto.

    Anthony Purnell Sun Feb 4 2018