In 1906, Joseph Joachim, one of the greatest violinists of romanticism and a remarkable interpreter of the Violin concerto of FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY, said before the guests at the celebration of his seventy-fifth anniversary: “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in serious- ness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.”
One could presume, of course, that there was certain partiality on the part of Joachim since he enjoyed the patronage of Mendelssohn, the concertos by Brahms and Bruch were personally dedicated to him and he was a pupil of Ferdinand David, the first performer of the Mendelssohn concerto.
Before the E Minor Violin Concerto, there was an earlier Concerto for violin and strings, written by the composer at the age of 13 (1822) and performed only in 1952 by Yehudi Menuhin.
In 1835, Mendelssohn was appointed principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and it was in this ca- pacity that he invited as a concert-master his childhood friend Ferdinand David, a student of Ludwig Spohr, who integrated Spohr’s style of violin play with the elegance of French tradition and the virtuosity of Paganini. It was probably in this moment that the composer started to think his violin concerto. David had hoped to receive the finished work from Mendelssohn as early as 1836, but this did not happen until 1844, due to the composer’s overwhelming public engagements. In a letter from 30 July 1838, he wrote to David: “I would also like to write a violin concerto for you for next winter; there is one in E minor, whose beginning I cannot get out of my head.” (Translation Roger Clement, as found in the Introduction to the Breitkopf Score.) The two kept extensive corres- pondence on the technical matters of violin play. Compared with earlier tradition, Mendelssohn’s concerto, which still retains the three-movement structure, introduces some new elements – such as the entrance of the solo instrument without an orchestral exposition and the treatment and the location of the cadenza. David was the so- loist at the premiere on 13 March 1845 and Mendelssohn ceded the podium to Danish conductor Niels Gade.
More than a century later Jascha Heifetz recorded the concerto with the same violin played by Ferdinand David at the premiere – a 1742 Guarneri.
In 1989, the author’s manuscript of the Concert was reconstructed in the Jagellon Library in Krakow, which resulted in the refutation of the authenticity of past century performances. It is clear from the manuscript that a substantial portion of the material was tampered with by the Breitkopf & Härtel publisher in the score’s original printed version from 1862, for example in the tempo setting for the first movement („Allegro con fuoco“ instead of „Allegro molto appassionato“) and in some passages of the violin part.