Introduction and Rondo capriccioso

Camille Saint-Saëns

Introduction and Rondo capriccioso in A minor

Op. 28, R. 188

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

The Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28 (1863), is one of Saint-Saëns' few genuine showpieces. It was composed for his friend, the virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), for whom he had already written the Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 28 (1859), and for whom he would eventually create the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1880). Whereas the Op. 28 Violin Concerto was written when the violinist was only 15 years of age, the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso is deliberately challenging -- a testimony to the mature master's technique. Sarasate's frequent programming of the work did a great deal for its popularity in the years after its publication (1870); its appeal was wide enough, in fact, that both George Bizet and Claude Debussy made arrangements of it -- the former for violin and piano, and the latter for piano, four hands.

As one would expect from the title, the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso begins with a slow section, marked Andante malinconico and characterized by a plaintive falling leap and rising arpeggio. Becoming gradually more animated, the introduction culminates in a scintillating mini-cadenza that leads into the Rondo proper (Allegro ma non troppo). When the violin enters, it states a theme that has a Spanish flavor, stemming from syncopation and chromatic inflections. The melody spins out into wild arpeggios and gigantic leaps before the orchestra begins a bridge to the contrasting theme, marked con morbidezza. This lyric melody is especially entrancing because it is in 2/4 time, played simultaneously with the continuing 6/8 time of the orchestra. The Rondo theme returns quietly in the solo violin before an orchestral outburst that is a reprise of the earlier bridge passage. The oboe takes the final statement of the rondo theme, which becomes fragmented and developed until the beginning of the brilliant coda, which is mainly a showcase for Sarasate's technical ability.