Mieczysław Karłowicz wrote his Violin Concerto in A major Op. 8 (1902) for his violin professor and outstanding violin virtuoso Stanisław Barcewicz, and it was Barcewicz who premiered the Concerto - with the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester under the conductor - at a concert of Karłowicz's music in Berlin's Beethoven-Saal on 21st March 1903. In addition to the Concerto, the concert featured also Bianca da Molena and the 'Revival' Symphony.
The critics received the concert favourably. The "Berliner Bürsenzeitung"'s reviewer wrote:
"Karłowicz is fond of vivid and rich instrumentation, which may sometimes be too dense to us, yet all he writes sounds pretty. His themes may not be fully original, but they possess a special imaginativeness ... The 'Violin Concerto' starred the superb and well-known professor Barcewicz, who proved an excellent performer of the solo part. The composition consists of three parts of great difficulty, particularly in the high violin positions, and can be described as a duel between the violin and the colourful orchestra. It seems that the composer was under the influence of Tchaikovsky. The first movement is probably the best; its has a dynamic theme and a moving lyrical part. The second movement, Romanza, is also very melodious. The third movement is witty and has a vigorous rhythm, and its main theme is in clear contrast with the sing-song melody of the middle part. Mr Barcewicz aroused so much enthusiasm that he had to play Romanza again".
The Berlin programme was repeated at a concert of Karłowicz's music in Vienna on 8th February 1904. This is what Karłowicz wrote about its reception:
"Vienna repeated more or less what had happened in Berlin last year, the difference being that the reception of the Vienna audience was much warmer, exceeding my boldest expectations. Yet the reviews are so inconsistent, so absolutely contradictory that one cannot help asking oneself if such critique has any reason for being at all".
The domestic press noted that
"Barcewicz and Karłowicz's concert at the grand hall of Musikverein was very successful. The audience called the composer and the virtuoso back seven times".
On 28th November 1904 a concert of Karłowicz music took place in Warsaw, featuring the Concerto as well as the 'Revival' Symphony and The Returning Waves. The critic of the "Przegląd Tygodniowy" weekly wrote:
"The 'Violin Concerto' is also a very beautiful work, especially in the second movement, where it approaches the style of a Bach violin cantilena. And the orchestral accompaniment is so subtle and fresh, unlike the banal ones of Sarasate, Vieuxtemps, etc. Given that Mr Karłowicz is (as a former violinist) perfectly familiar with the violin technique, I believe that he will become our Vieuxtemps. Our existing violin reportoire is so meagre."
This was the last time Karłowicz heard his Concerto.
The solo part of the Violin Concerto is difficult, the violinist facing the problem of numerous multi-sounds and figurations involving very high tempos and trills. It takes a highly technically proficient violinist to successfully handle these difficulties. Yet virtuoso technique was not an aim in itself for Karłowicz, who wrote in a letter from Berlin to the Warsaw-based "Echo Muzyczne" in 1896:
"Violin music may be divided into two categories: some works invite a show of the musician's technique, bristle in difficulties, but are poor in contents; others put the contents first, having no regard to the nature and distinct properties of the instrument. The first ones are written by violin virtuosi, who are not always endowed with creative talents and have insufficient knowledge of music; the others are the work of talented composers who want to write for the violin yet are not familiar enough with the nature of the instrument. Few works fall mid-way."
Undoubtedly a talented composer, and one familiar with the nature of the violin, Karłowicz wrote a work which was both technically sophisticated and brimming with expression, its stage merits equalling those of the most popular concertos by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, or Mendelssohn.
Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, March 2002.