Nikos Skalkottas: Concerto

Nikos Skalkottas Concerto

Nikos Skalkottas: Concerto

Catalogue number:
A/K 22
Year of composition:
Scored for:
for violin and orchestra
Nikos Skalkottas
Instrumentation details:
2 2 2 3 - 2 2 2 1 - timp, perc - str
Study score available at Musikproduktion Höflich:
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Work introduction

Publication of the Violin Concerto

Nearly all of Nikos Skalkottas’ works were unpublished and, apart from a handful of compositions, unperformed during his lifetime. Posthumously, a few of his compositions (and individual movements of larger, multi-movement works) were published by Universal Edition in the 1960s, while others were published later in the 1980s and 1990s by the American publisher Margun Music.

The Violin Concerto was one of those works neither performed nor published during Skalkottas’ lifetime, and the autograph sources remained unedited and in manuscript form. The first editorial work on the concerto started around 1960, and the piece was first published by Universal Edition in 1964 – 15 years after Skalkottas’ death. Similar to the other early published works, it contains several copyists’ and engravers’ errors, misreadings of the sources, a liberal amount of interpretative performance indications that are not Skalkottas’, and it lacks any critical commentary or explanation of the editorial changes, additions and emendations to the music.*

This new Critical Edition of the Violin Concerto, edited by Eva Mantzourani, aims to rectify this state of affairs. It provides an authoritative performance text, based on meticulous study of all known sources and prepared in accordance with modern editorial and text-critical principles, which open new possibilities for performance, recording and further study of this remarkable piece.

Contextualisation of the Violin Concerto

Although Skalkottas was an accomplished violinist and a prolific composer of concertos, until the late 1930s he only wrote for the violin in chamber music works, including a Concerto for Violin, Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1929 or 1930). The Violin Concerto, a large-scale dodecaphonic work, belongs to a cluster of large-scale concertos written in the late 1930s, which also include the Second Piano Concerto and the Third Concerto for Piano and Ten Wind Instruments (known as the Third Piano Concerto). There are no surviving sketches or any other textual notes referring to the Violin Concerto, and its compositional history is unknown. The surviving autograph scores are undated, although in the Skalkottas Archive Catalogue, compiled in 1969 by John G. Papaioannou, the Violin Concerto is dated 1937/38. Considering the version of the ‘free’ dodecaphonic technique that Skalkottas explores here, it seems likely that he composed it sometime in 1938, after the Second Piano Concerto and before the Third Piano Concerto.

The Violin Concerto is an exciting work teeming with contrasting colours and emotions, with dramatic outbursts interwoven among more lyrical passages. The work is in three movements, recalling classical forms, and is an example of Skalkottas’ free dodecaphonic technique. Skalkottas’ exceptional orchestration skills are put to good use throughout, with the orchestral texture displaying an interplay of light and darkness; the dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra is simultaneously heart-breaking and intoxicating. The melodic gestures fluctuate between lyrical passages and bold, demanding statements by the solo part in particular. Skalkottas’ compositional language is characterised by rhythmic vitality, and through the work the rhythmic drive is often breathless yet captivating.

The first movement, in sonata form, starts with a classically extended orchestral ritornello, followed by the solo violin exposition, which is an expanded and varied repetition of the dodecaphonic and thematic material of the orchestral exposition. The development is short, economical and dazzling. The recapitulation, with a reflective almost open ending and featuring cyclical but varied repetitions of previous melodic and rhythmic motives, is based predominantly on a transposition of the exposition at the perfect fifth.

The second movement is lyrical and spirited. It is in expanded ternary form and uses dodecaphonic material and varied thematic sets of the first movement. Its extended, contrasting middle section leads to expressive climaxes and pauses.

The third movement, in reversed sonata form, is built on the 11 twelve-note sets of the first movement’s opening passage, but progressively introduces new harmonic material. After an adventurous interplay between the soloist and the orchestra, the short development section leads to the recapitulation, starting with the second theme and progressively moving to the first thematic material of the movement. The first thematic idea, abbreviated and initially transformed into a doloroso episode, finally appears and asserts itself in the recapitulation, and the work draws to a close with a thrilling and exuberant coda.

* The earlier error-strewn edition was used for the first recorded performance of the piece, which took place in Hamburg on 14 May 1962. It was played by the NDR- Other early performances of the Violin Concerto include the first UK performance, on 16 November 1963, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati with Lorand Fenyves playing the solo violin part. The first commercial CD recording of the Concerto (again based on the 1964 UE edition) was released by BIS records in 1998 (BIS CD-904), played by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nikos Christodoulou with Georgios Demertzis playing the solo violin.

Special prints


Nikos Skalkottas: Concerto

for violin and orchestra , 28’


Nikos Skalkottas: Concerto

full score
for violin and orchestra , 28’

World première

Hamburger Rundfunk , Hamburg (DE)
Michael Gielen
Main soloists:
Tibor Varga, vln

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