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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

For St. Paddy's, we have -- what else? -- a piece by an Irish composer. Born in County Down, in modern-day Northern Ireland, Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) spent most of his career in England as the music director of first the Hallé Orchestra and then the London Symphony Orchestra. He was best known for conducting the English premieres of many works by Mahler, Sibelius, and Richard Strauss, as well as Shostakovich's early symphonies, but was also an accomplished composer in his own right.

Harty's violin concerto was composed in 1908-09, commissioned for the young Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Szigeti. It was the first piece written expressly for Szigeti, and the violinist kept it in his repertoire throughout his career. Harty's concerto is very much a soloist's concerto, the solo violin part taking center stage almost without interruption. This should be no surprise considering the composer's background: early in his career, Harty was considered the finest piano accompanist in the British Isles, and he brought that same skill into his conducting career where he was a favorite concerto conductor for some of Europe's leading soloists.

The virtuosic first movement tends to bring to mind Dvořák or Tchaikovsky -- effervescent and well-written if not especially Irish-sounding. But Harty's originality shines through in the expansive second movement, which carries an extended lyrical theme almost inexorably upward to ever greater melodic and expressive heights before arcing back to a tranquil conclusion. Finally, the third movement closes the piece with some Celtic flair. After the movement begins unusually with a brief cadenza, the solo violin segues into a sprightly hornpipe accompanied by the orchestra, which alternates with a second theme reminiscent of an Irish air.

1st movement: 0:00
2nd movement: 12:30 of video
3rd movement: 23:40 of video


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