Sibelius Violin Concerto

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) aspired to be a virtuoso violinist, but abandoned that career because he felt that he had begun his “training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.” But it must have been some consolation that his violin concerto of 1904/1905—his only concerto—is one of the most inspired works of that genre in the repertoire.

There are many fine recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, but one I am especially fond of is a 1951 recording with Isaac Stern and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

Here’s the conclusion of the work, nicely illustrating the passion and energy of this performance by Stern and Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic despite the primitive recording technology available at the time. Just goes to show that there were some remarkable recordings made more than 70 years ago!

Conclusion of the 1951 recording of Isaac Stern playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, conducting

While we’re on the topic of violin concertos, here are the best I’ve heard, in chronological order of their composition. Seek them out and enjoy!

Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 – Johann Sebastian Bach (c. 1730)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 – Ludwig van Beethoven (1806)

Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64 – Felix Mendelssohn (1844)

Violin Concerto No. 8 in D major, op. 99 – Charles-Auguste de Bériot (c. 1845)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 – Max Bruch (1867)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 – Johannes Brahms (1878)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1878)

Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 – Antonín Dvořák (1879)

Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47 – Jean Sibelius (1905)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 19 – Sergei Prokofiev (1917)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 63 – Sergei Prokofiev (1935)

Violin Concerto, op. 14 – Samuel Barber (1939)

Violin Concerto in D minor – Aram Khachaturian (1940)

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35 – Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1945)

Violin Concerto in C major, op. 48 – Dmitry Kabalevsky (1948)

And, outstanding violin concerto movements:

Intermezzo (Poco adagio) [2nd & final movement] from Violin Concerto, op. 33 – Carl Nielsen (1911)

Sicilienne (Andantino) [2nd movement] from Concierto de estío, for violin and orchestra – Joaquín Rodrigo (1943)

Curious as to why so many violin concertos are written in the key of D major? I was.

“D major is well-suited to violin music because of the structure of the instrument, which is tuned G D A E. The open strings resonate sympathetically with the D string, producing a sound that is especially brilliant. This is also the case with all other orchestral strings.” – Wikipedia entry for D major

February is Short, the Moon Makes Haste…

Each night for the next several nights, the Moon sets much later than it did the previous night. This happens for two reasons.

First, this week the plane of the Moon’s orbit is nearly perpendicular to our horizon, so much of the Moon’s orbital motion eastward relative to the background stars (if we could see them) during the day takes it directly away from the western horizon, thus slowing as much as possible its inexorable march towards the west caused by the Earth’s rotation.

Second, this week the Moon is moving north in declination, and this, too, increases the amount of time the Moon stays above the horizon. The closer to the north celestial pole an object is, the longer it stays above our horizon, the further north along the western horizon it sets, and the later it sets. The Moon’s motion during the day northward relative to the celestial equator causes the Moon to set further north than it would have otherwise. The combination of these two factors makes moonset much later each night, as shown in the table below.

But, why doesn’t moonrise also occur much later each morning? As you can see by inspecting the table above, the Moon rises only a little later each day, in marked contrast to the leaps and bounds moonset is later each night. The factors are the same, but the effect is different. Because the Moon is moving north and is thus rising further north every morning, it rises earlier than it would have otherwise. Although the Moon is rising later each day due to its eastward orbital motion, moonrise is only a little later due to the countereffect of an earlier rise time stemming from the Moon’s more northerly declination.

It is no wonder humans have always been fascinated by the Moon’s complex motion. Throughout history, a number of mathematicians have taken up the challenge of trying to understand and predict the Moon’s motion, leading to several important advancements in mathematics.