Unfamiliar Fireworks: Franz Clement’s ‘Rondeau Brillant’ for violin deserves far more attention than it gets

By Mary Nemet | From the May-June 2020 issue of Strings magazine

Now largely (and undeservedly) forgotten, Franz Clement is perhaps best remembered as the commissioner of Beethoven’s monumental Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61. He is also known to posterity for his remarkable recall, writing a piano reduction of Haydn’s The Creation, among other works, from memory.

Franz Clement: Rondeau Brillant for Violin
Edition Offenburg, €17.50

Beethoven first heard Clement when the 14-year-old violin prodigy performed in Vienna in 1794. Some ten years later, conducting the master’s Eroica Symphony, Clement performed his own violin concerto, one of six. The following year, he premiered Beethoven’s concerto.

It is said that Beethoven worked on the score until shortly before the performance, and that Clement performed the piece without rehearsing. A special notice on the program: “Mr. Clement will fantasize on the violin and also play a sonata on a single string with the violin reversed.”

Clement was not only a touring virtuoso violinist and conductor known for his ability to play difficult pieces from memory after only briefly viewing them. He also wrote many works for violin and piano or orchestra. One such is the Rondeau Brillant, Op. 36, first published by Artaria around 1825.

The original manuscripts are in the State Library, Berlin. Clement premiered his Rondeau on March 28th, 1822, “to lively applause from a full house.”

But first, like Mozart before him, little Franz embarked on the wunderkind circuit, accompanied by his father, playing for emperors and dignitaries as well as his doting Viennese audiences who stood on chairs to applaud him.

Offenburg’s fine publication contains a full and spacious score, a solo violin part, and one each for the accompanying string quartet parts. These are lightly scored to allow the soloist to shine. A second volume includes the same principal violin part, with a piano accompaniment that reflects the string quartet parts in its extensive use of chords in both hands.


A critical report details amendments such as dynamics, accidentals, slurs, and articulations that differ from the original. Opening magisterial A-major chords from solo and tutti instruments demand instant attention. Already at bar 4, a cadenza is suggested, and another at bar 377. Fleeting 16th-note passages with florid ornamentation and successive intervals of tenths reflect the composer’s virtuoso technique. Triplets and double-stop passages are followed by 32nd-note and arpeggiated runs, evoking Clement’s successor in the bravura stakes, Paganini.

Despite editor Reinhard Goebel’s fulsome and keenly researched Preface on the genesis of both the Beethoven and Clement violin concertos, there are no background notes or description of the Rondeau Brillant. Nor is there any mention or detail of Clement’s other compositions of similar vein: two polonaises, a Concertino Brillant with string quartet, and a Grand Potpourri, Op. 30, among others, as well as solo variations and studies.

Paganini: Works for Violin & Orchestra, Vol. 2
Doblinger Urtext, $36.50

Nicknamed “the virtuoso of virtuosos,” Paganini, and his legend in particular, has haunted violinists for generations. Best-known for his violin concertos and the inimitable 24 Caprices, Paganini wrote many shorter pieces such as these, which have found their way into the violinist’s repertoire and deserve to be heard more often.

Born in Genoa in 1782, Paganini received his first lessons from his father. His astonishing progress demanded further studies—first with Giacomo Costa and then Alessandro Rolla and Gasparo Ghiretti in Parma. He soon surpassed his teachers and performed locally, but preferred composing for both violin and guitar.

In 1828 at the age of 45, Paganini left Italy for an extensive European tour that included debuts in Vienna, Paris, and London. His astounding technical prowess amazed audiences of the day.

Riding a wave of pop-star adulation, four years later and in failing health, his concert career ended.

Paganini’s brief trajectory set an entirely new standard that inspired Berlioz, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, and Rachmaninov to write works based on his themes. Sarasate and Ysaÿe were also deeply influenced by his innovations.


Written in the operatic style of the day, the shorter pieces edited here by acclaimed violinist Mario Hossen are sets of variations—Paganini’s favorite mode. These works, like many others, were not published during the composer’s lifetime. Continuing Doblinger’s series of Paganini’s works for violin and orchestra, this volume contains three further “theme and variations” pieces. In standard tuning, Doblinger’s edition is also available in scordatura, whereby all four strings are raised by a semitone, additionally emphasizing the brilliance of the passagework.

Written between 1817 and 1820, Paganini’s works used themes from two Rossini operas that were all the rage at the time: Tancredi and Moses in Egypt. In Non piu mesta Accante al fuoco, the editor’s meticulous research is based on often incomplete autograph scores and manuscript copies by another hand and thus Hossen has produced as accurate versions as are possible. “I Palpiti,” the famous tune from Tancredi, retains its operatic feel in Paganini’s hands, with both its bel canto elements and virtuosic feats. Doblinger’s clear layout is exemplary, with the many harmonic passages in these first two works printed on two lines.

The Sonata a Preghiera’s celebrated theme captivates with its simplicity and elegance before Paganini embroiders it with his spectacular bravura variations. Traditionally played entirely on the G string (although nowhere is this mentioned), Hossen’s fingering aptly reflects this.

Throughout, editor Mario Hossen has added appropriately stylistic fingerings and dynamic markings that provide insight into Paganini’s playing style. These pieces are far more than lightweight vehicles for Paganini’s flamboyant virtuosity and brilliant improvisations; they are among his most evocative works.

Classical Music for Children: 12 Easy Pieces for 4 Violins
Edited by Annette Read-Becker. Schott, $33


Annette Read-Becker’s own teaching experience has often shown her the importance of music-making in a group or ensemble, alongside individual lessons. Read-Becker suggests incorporating ensemble work into the tuition timetable, for example by arranging lesson times that overlap, enabling one, two, or more children to play together, make new friends, and share the fun.

Her book, comprising a full score and separate parts, features 11 tunes that will be familiar to many children; Read-Becker’s aim is to make music pleasurable, while encouraging practice. The tunes are arranged so that students at different levels can enjoy and reap benefits from playing together, with older, more advanced students serving as role models for the younger ones.

While the first violin ventures into third position; second, third, and fourth violins stay in first. Melodies and solos, however, are shared around, challenging the least-advanced players to shine. Choose from Corelli’s smooth-flowing Pastorale with slurs in undulating 6/4 time or Vivaldi’s ebullient Autumn from the Four Seasons.

Additional arrangements of perennial tunes by Mozart, Rossini, Schubert, Verdi, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák encourage confidence in varied skills. Read-Becker completes the collection with her own Pizzicato Fun, which will surely be a popular encore in concert.

On these occasions, each part can be played by several children to produce a full string-orchestra sound. If cellists and violists are available, PDF parts can be downloaded on Schott’s website.

In this edition, Read-Becker has produced a valuable educational tool that has many benefits.