Score Spotlight: The Last Rose of Summer

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Score Spotlight:
"The Last Rose of Summer"

by Lessons @LIVS Teacher Robert Salzar

Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1812-1865) was a composer and virtuoso violinist of the mid-Romantic Period. His talent was so significant that, at the time, opinions were divided as to who was the better violinist: Paganini or Ernst!

Nicolo Paganini was his mentor and eventual rival, and to give a modern context to the comparison, think of Paganini as Heifitz and Ernst as Issac Stern or Itzhak Perlman. Paganini, and later Heifitz, played with a dexterity and technical perfection that seemed to defy physics, while Ernst (and later Stern and currently Perlman) combined flawless technique with a warmer, more sentimental approach that resonated with audiences.

One of Ernst's great contributions to the evolution of solo violin music is his variations on "The Last Rose of Summer." The composition is based on a poem by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who wrote it in 1805; the variations Ernst composed are taken from the original piano accompaniment, penned by Sir John Andrew Stevenson, an Irish composer.

The most amazing achievement of "Last Rose" is that it is heart-warming, moving, and gorgeous in an ethereal, distinctly Irish way, yet combines all of the most demanding techniques of violin playing; truly, only the greatest virtuosos can execute the piece with all of the attention to detail that it requires. It is a true show piece in that it employs artificial harmonics, chords comprised of harmonics, arpeggios that reach the upper positions of the violin in 32nd note runs (often with pizzicato included simultaneously), as well as all of the most progressive and difficult bowing techniques - and "Last Rose" achieves all of this without sacrificing musicality, emotion and beauty. So, that said, I hope you enjoy "The Last Rose of Summer" as much as I do! It is truly a gem of solo violin repertoire.


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