Violin Concerto


1864 – 1935

When it comes to classical music, Norway has two national treasures: Edvard Grieg and Johan Halvorsen. Before making a name for himself as a composer, Halvorsen was a brilliant violin soloist. He toured Europe—from Russia to Scotland, Germany, Sweden and Belgium—earning a strong reputation before returning to his home country to be the conductor of the National Theatre in Kristiania, now known as Oslo.   It was no surprise that Halvorsen had a natural inclination for his preferred instrument. Premiered on August 14, 1909, about 15 years before his first symphony, Halvorsen’s Violin Concerto, Op. 28, is a rare example of the composer’s early symphonic style. (Although Halvorsen was no longer young at the age of 45, the work is still considered to be an early work because he had only been composing for a few years.)    Opus 28 is even more rare because it has only been performed four times in history. The Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow performed the work, first in The Hague and Utrecht, in the Netherlands, then with the Berlin Philharmonic and in Oslo in 1909. While its official premiere in Norway, conducted by the composer, was well-liked by audiences, it was not as well received by Dutch critics. They criticized Halvorsen for defying convention and not following the sonata form in the first movement (three-part structure with an exposition, development and recapitulation).  When Halvorsen retired in 1929, at the age of 65, he ordered the burning of a number of his manuscripts, including the Violin Concerto. As a result, the piece was believed to have been lost for decades, until it was miraculously rediscovered on the other side of the Atlantic, in the University of Toronto archives. It is believed that Ms. Parlow had defied the composer’s wishes and secretly kept a copy of the score, bringing it with her when she returned to Canada. As a result, Opus 28 was re-premiered in 2016 by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, more than 100 years after its last performance.   While the original violin sheet music has never been found, a letter from Halvorsen dated November 12, 1908, gives precious instructions for the concerto. 

©Justin Bernard