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Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto Premiered in 1940

Spanish virtuoso Antonio Brosa gave the premiere performance alongside the New York Philharmonic and conductor Sir John Barbirolli

Benjamin Britten began composing his Violin Concerto Op. 15 when he was just 25 years old, and as the Second World War was brewing towards the end of the 1930s. Britten, who was a committed pacifist and had registered as a conscientious objector, relocated to America at around this time, where he joined his friends, the writers Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden.

It is possible that the concerto's ominous and martial opening on the timpani refers to the oncoming threat of war. Given that the piece was written for the Spanish virtuoso Antonio Brosa, that opening may also refer to the Spanish Civil War, which had recently concluded.

Brosa gave the work its premiere performance alongside the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli.

Britten was famously unhappy with the structure of the violin concerto, making revisions to it in 1950, 1954, and 1965.

"I hope what I have done is to leave the work as it would have been had I been able to write it in 1939 with my present experience," Britten wrote to Albert Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times in 1950. "I think I bit off then a bit more than I could chew — especially in the last movement."

You can hear violinist Julia Fischer performing the work alongside Stuttgart's SWR Symphonieorchester and conductor Thomas Søndergård below.


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