The Polonaise brillante op. 4 is the first of two polonaises composed by Henryk Wieniawski, the second being the Polonaise in A major op. 21, from a later period. The original version of the D major Polonaise was inspired by Karol Lipiński, to whom it is dedicated. It was in the Autumn of 1848 that Wieniawski, in Dresden with his family, first met Lipiński, who was concertmaster of the Opera there. The young Wieniawski greatly valued the advice of the great virtuoso, through whom he became better acquainted with the interpretative models of the past masters of violin playing, especially Giuseppe Tartini, and with different ways of performing the works of J. S. Bach and L. van Beethoven. He also absorbed the accounts of the interpretative art of N. Paganini and of the charisma he displayed when performing. Wieniawski played in Lipiński’s quartet, learned the maestro’s Concerto militaire, which he subsequently performed many times, occasionally accompanied on the piano by his brother Józef, and, as testimonies show, wrote a virtuoso cadenza to the Concerto.
It was probably at this time that Wieniawski sketched an initial version of the D Major Polonaise. The version known to us today dates from 1852 (pub. 1853), and it is this which forms the basis of the published volume of Complete Works of Henryk Wieniawski series. When Wieniawski made the first draft of the Polonaise, in 1849, he had not yet learned the principles of counterpoint and harmony. He graduated from Joseph Lambert Massard’s class at the Paris Conservatoire with enormous praise and success, at the age of 11, and returned to Paris to study composition under professor Hipolit Collet only in April 1849, at the same time as his brother Józef, with whom he was already touring, and who also completed the Paris Conservatoire with great success. Both brothers took their final exams in composition in June and July 1850, thus in principle after one year of studies. Edmund Grabkowski writes that it was during this period that the Polonaise in D major took on its ultimate form, although in the list of works, similarly to other authors, he dates it at 1852 - the time of the Wieniawski brothers’ Russian tour1.
The polonaise was composed in two versions: for violin with piano accompaniment, and for violin and orchestra. Also at this time, Wieniawski composed the Adagio élégiaque op. 5, which he recommended performing before the Polonaise, and both pieces were performed in March 1853 in one of a series of nine concerts in Vienna. In 1856, Wieniawski dedicated the manuscript of both works - Polonaise and Adagio - to King William III of the Netherlands, and performed them both in Amsterdam on 18 March of that year. In the 19th century, concertos were not usually published in manuscript form, and the orchestra score was published as orchestral parts, as testified to by the title page of the E. Girod edition (Paris 1858): “Polonaise brillante en ré majeur pour le violon avec accompgnement d’orchestre ou de piano, prix avec piano 9 F, prix avec orchestre”.
The construction of this polonaise indicates a reprise form, but it is not schematic. The main section (A) comprises the elements a, a1, b, a, of which the eight-bar theme (a) clearly fulfils the role of a dynamic, powerful refrain. The middle section displays more lyrical expression in particular themes and phrases, yet is varied in character, taking on virtuoso airs in the form of flageolet notes, double notes, leaps, broken triads in regular rhythm and ornaments. The refrain theme also appears. The reprise section, meanwhile, is shortened to a refrain and virtuoso coda. This polonaise represents the first time in his youthful composition that Wieniawski displayed independence and maturity, at the same time as a certain nationalistic touch in the polonaise’s verve, heroic spirit and virtuosity steeped in contrast and drama. In the “Neue Wiener Musikzeitung”, no. 10 of 10 March 1853, a review appeared of one of the two concerts given in the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna (3 and 7 March), in which the author describes the playing and youthful works of Wieniawski thus: “He has a grand tone, guides the bow with a light and sure touch. He is excellent in the technical manoeuvring on the fingerboard. His compositions are equally full of fire and inventiveness. In the first concert, he played his own compositions Adagio élégiaque, Polonaise di bravura [op. 4] and Souvenir de Moscou. These works clearly show the talent of this young artist, in terms of ingeniousness, polish and individuality - both extremely fresh, original tone flowers”2.
Wieniawski played his polonaises quite often. They are still popular today with artists and audiences alike, and are presently among the composer’s most frequently recorded works.
The Polonaise in D major for violin and piano by Henryk Wieniawski came into being during the composer’s concert tour of Russia in 1852, although an initial version had been sketched in Dresden in 1849 under the influence of Karol Lipiński, and dedicated to him3. The whereabouts of the original manuscript of the Polonaise in D major in its version for violin and piano is not known. The only surviving hand-written score of the Polonaise is its version for violin and orchestra, which was offered, together with the Adagio élégiaque op. 5, for violin and orchestra, in 1856, to King William III of the Netherlands, who decorated Wieniawski with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Oak Crown and, two years’ later, the Officer’s Cross of the same order. The manuscript can be found in the Royal Library in The Hague. Vladimir Grigoriev also put forward the so-called alleged manuscript from Russia, representing the score of a somewhat abridged version of the Polonaise for violin and orchestra, which is held in the Literatorskoe Russkoe Muzykalnoe Obszczestwo. Moskowskoe Otdielenie.
The first publication was made by Meyer publishers in Brunswick in 1853, plate number 1023 (4º, 11 pp. + vno solo: 3 pp.), as the “Polonaise de concert en ré majeur op. 4”, according to the title page, in the series “Duos célèbres pour Violon et Piano”, and as “Polonaise brillante” according to the first page of musical text. At the foot of the first page, the composer comments: “En exécutant cette Polonaise en public il serait bon de prendre pour Introduction l’Adagio élégiaque op. 5” (“In performing this polonaise in public, it would be good to introduce it with the Adagio élégiaque op. 5”).
During the composer’s lifetime, a Paris publication also appeared, which can be considered as the French first edition. This was the Etienne Girod edition of 1858, plate number 40854. Following the death of the composer, many more editions were published, in cities such as Moscow, Mainz, Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna and London.
Among the Polish editions, one should mention the following: Polonaise brillante op. 4 and Adagio élégiaque op. 5. Ed. Z. Jahnke. PWM. Cracow 1947, plate number 209; the edition in the series “Miniatury Skrzypcowe” (“Violin Miniatures”) vol. 66. Ed. I. Dubiska. PWM. Cracow 1961, plate number 4530; the second edition (1963), plate number 5338, reprinted in 1971 and 1973 with the same number; and Polonez koncertowy D-dur [Polonaise concertante in D major], in: Z polonezów polskich na fortepian [From Polish Polonaises for Piano], fasc. 2. Ed. S. Lachowska. PWM. Cracow 1965, plate number 5761, second edition 1967, plate number 6398, reprinted in 1975 and 1977 with the same number.