Belgian National OrchestraStanislav Kochanovsky conductor – Vilde Frang violin


Violin Concerto Benjamin Britten
Romeo and Juliet, op. 64 Sergey Prokofiev

Hope dies last

“The news from Spain makes me sick. The rebellious fascists appear to be gaining ground (…) Toni [Antonio] and Peggy Brosa are staying there too! Let's pray that tomorrow will bring better news,” reads Britten's diary in July 1936. Four years later his friend Antonio Brosa — a celebrated Spanish violinist — performed the world premiere of Britten's Violin Concerto in New York. The Violin Concerto is the composer's response to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The lament of a violin solo is violently interrupted by a militaristic theme performed by the orchestra. Britten was seriously concerned about the emergence of totalitarian systems in Europe. The pacifistic composer fled to North America where he found a safe haven just before World War II broke out in belligerent Europe.

The tragic confrontation of the two warring parties in the Spanish Civil War — the Nationalists and the Republicans — is reminiscent of the clash between the Houses of Capulet and Montague, the two rival families in Romeo and Juliet. A tragedy inevitably follows the clash between radicalised antagonistic forces. Contrary to custom, Prokofiev concluded his ballet Romeo and Juliet (1938) with a happy ending in which the iconic couple dances towards a promising future. “Living people can dance, the dead cannot.” Despite the revised ending — Prokofiev had to conform to the original narrative — the ballet is optimistic in tone; love lives on even after death. We hear that same optimism in Britten's Violin Concerto where idealism flourishes like a flower on a burned down battlefield.