Henryk Wieniawski wrote only two polonaises. The first one, op. 4 in D minor, is one of his youthful works; the other, op. 21 in A major, is one of the last works he composed. Moreover, H. Wieniawski is the co-author of another polonaise, op. 8, for violin and piano, which he wrote with his brother Józef Wieniawski, a pianist. The latter polonaise, like the Polonaise in D minor op. 4, is also a youthful composition (1852). The polonaise as a genre, therefore, does not occupy much space in Wieniawskis heritage. Nonetheless, both polonaises, in D minor and A major, constitute an essential part of his artistic inheritance. Likewise, both polonaises had been composed in two versions: for violin and orchestra, and for violin and piano.
The Polonaise in A major was completed in 1870. It is not known precisely which of the versions, the one with the piano, or the one with the orchestra first came into being. It was the version with orchestra that the composer performed for the first time on 17 March 1870, in the Grand Theatre in St. Petersburg. But merely two months later he performed the Polonaise in Warsaw, accompanied by his brother Józef at the piano. It is quite possible that Wieniawski had already performed this version of the Polonaise. It is certain, nonetheless, that both versions either appeared simultaneously, or one was composed shortly after the other.
From its first public performance until the end of his concert career, Wieniawski often included this Polonaise in his concert repertoire, playing one version or another, the choice depending on the needs and circumstances. Just to mention one occasion, he played the orchestral version during a concert tour of Sweden in 1870, when he dedicated and presented a manuscript of this piece to King Charles XV of Sweden. The dedication, however, was changed in print, and both versions were eventually dedicated to François van Hal.
Both versions were published simultaneously, by Schott Publishers in Mainz, with the same plate number, though the orchestral version appeared only in parts, which was a common practice in those days. The piece was most probably not published earlier than 18751.
The Polonaise was praised by the critics. The reviews reported that it was a magnificent piece2, and this opinion was shared by later critical reviews, both Russian and West European. The Polonaise remained popular after the composer had died, which is evident from the number of later editions of the piece (more than ten) issued by different publishers, mostly German, and prepared by different editors. In Poland, the Polonaise was published twice after the Second World War. All the editions introduced some more or less significant changes into the text, mostly concerning performance indications, but in a sense blurring the composers intentions. All those changes were pertinent to the violin and piano version, and it was mostly in this form that the piece appeared in concert and teaching repertoires. The performances with an orchestra were much more seldom which was, among other factors, due to limited availability of the orchestral version, as it had never been published again after the first edition, until now.
The Polonaise in A major was composed approximately at the same time as the Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor3. This convergence in time had influenced a certain similarity with regard to both composition and technical means, and also to the themes. In particular, the similarity becomes quite obvious in the second theme of the Allegro in the Concerto, and in the theme of the Polonaise. The Polonaise in A major is also in a certain way similar to the first Polonaise (in D minor), the motifs of the themes in both polonaises are alike. However, both pieces differ in style. The Polonaise in D minor shows the composers fascination with technical writing. Wieniawski makes the most of double-stops, chords, and all other sophisticated virtuoso techniques. The Polonaise in A major, written 18 years later, is much more mature. Although it is a virtuosic piece as well, the techniques used are somewhat more limited and subordinated to the expression. The virtuoso character of this piece is more fragile, much closer to the brillant style. At the same time, the Polonaise is typical of Wieniawskis violin playing technique. Here the composer uses the means regarded by his contemporaries to be typical of him, e.g., long staccato fragments played with one bow.
The Polonaise is a concert piece in one movement extended form with a considerably abbreviated return of the first section at the end. The middle section is contrasting in character, due to the modulation to F major, change of tempo (meno mosso) and the reduction in the number of instruments (in the orchestral version). All the sections show thematic similarity. The first section, too, consists of three subsections, including a contrasting middle subsection (in E major).
1. See The Critical Commentary, p. ? and onward.
2. See V. Grigoriev, Henryk Wieniawski. Życie i twórczość. [Life and Work] Warszawa - Poznań 1986, p. 184.
3. The first version of the Concerto No. 2 in D minor was completed in 1862, but in 1870, i.e., not until the Polonaise in A major was completed, Wieniawski had been working on the Concerto and implemented quite a few changes.
Wieniawski - Works
- ISMN 979-0-2740-0753-9
- Language of edition: eng, pol
- Number of pages: 34+8
- Cover: softcover
solo part (instrumental) + accompaniment