World Premiere Recording – 2022 Williams Violin Concerto No. 2 & Selected Film Themes

Williams on his Violin Concerto No. 2

Williams on his Violin Concerto No. 2

Composing program notes has always been challenging for me. These descriptions always seem to try to answer the question “What is this music about?” And while music has many purposes and functions, I’ve always believed that, in the end, it ought to be free to be interpreted through the prism of every listener’s own personal history, prior exposures and cultural background. One man’s sunken cathedral might be another woman’s mist at the dawning. The meaning must therefore reside, if you’ll forgive me, in the “ear of the beholder.”

I can only think of this piece as being about Anne-Sophie Mutter, and the violin itself – that unsurpassed product of the luthier’s art. With so much great music already written for the instrument, much of it recently for Anne-Sophie, I wondered what further contribution I could possibly make. But I took my inspiration and energy directly from this great artist herself. We’d recently collabo- rated on an album of film music for which she recorded the theme from Cinderella Liberty, demonstrating a surprising and remarkable feeling for jazz. So, after a short introduction, I opened the “Prologue” of this concerto with a quasi-improvisation, suggesting her evident affinity for this idiom. There is also much faster music in this movement, and while writing it, I recalled Anne-Sophie’s particular flair for an infectious rhythmic swagger.

At the beginning of the next movement, a quiet murmur is created by a gentle motion that I think of as circular, hence the subtitle “Rounds”. At one point you will hear harmonies reminiscent of Debussy, but I would ask you to reflect on another Claude – in this case Thornhill, a very early hero of mine who was the musical godfather of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration. It is also in this movement that a leitmotif appears that is later restated in the “Epilogue”.

“Dactyls”, a word borrowed from the Greeks that we use to describe a three- syllable effect in poetry as well as the digit with its three bones, may serve to describe the third movement. It is in a triple meter and features a short cadenza for violin, harp, and timpani – yet another triad. The violin’s aggressive virtuosity produces a rough, waltz-like energy that is both bawdy and impertinent.

The final movement is approached attacca by the violin and harp, the two instruments reversing their relative balances in a kind of “sound dissolve” that transports us to the “Epilogue”. It is in this final movement that the motif introduced in “Rounds” returns in the form of a duet for violin and harp, closing the piece with a gentle resolution in A major that might suggest both healing and renewal.

John Williams, June 28, 2021

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