Path: EN / Henryk Wieniawski / List of Works / Polonaise brillante Op. 21

Henryk Wieniawski
Polonaise brillante Op. 21

Heryk Wieniawski wrote only two Polonaises. The first one, in D-major op.4, is a juvenile piece; the other, in A-major op. 21, is one of the last he had ever composed. Moreover, H. Wieniawski is a co-author of another Polonaise, op.8, for the violin and piano, which he wrote jointly with his brother Joseph Wieniawski, a pianist. The latter Polonaise, like the Polonaise in D-major op.4, is also a juvenile composition (1852). Polonaise as a genre does not, therefore, occupy much space in Wieniawski’s heritage. Nonetheless, both Polonaises, in D-major and in A-major, constitute an essential part of his artistic inheritance. Likewise, both had been composed in two versions: for the violin and orchestra, and for the 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 had come earlier. It was with the accompaniment of an orchestra that the composer performed the piece 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 Joseph at the piano. It is quite possible that Wieniawski already had performed this version of the Polonaise. It is certain, nonetheless, that both versions either appeared simultaneously, or one was composed shortly after the other. Since the first public performance until the end of his stage career Wieniawski had often included the Polonaise in the repertoire of his concerts, playing one version or another, the choice depending on the needs and conditions. Just to mention one occasion, he played the orchestral version during his concert tour in Sweden in 1870. It was most probably just then that he dedicated and presented a manuscript of this version of the piece to King Charles XV of Sweden. The dedication had been changed in print though, and both versions were dedicated to Francois van Hal.

Both came out simultaneously, published by the Schott publishers in Mainz, bearing the same publishers’ plate number, though the orchestral version appeared only in the form of parts, which was a common practice in those days. The piece was most probably published not earlier than in 1875.

The Polonaise was praised by the critics right from the beginning. The reviews said that it was „a magnificent piece”1, and this opinion was shared by later critical reviews, both Russian and West European. The Polonaise was popular after the composer had died, which is evident from the fair number (more than ten) of later editions of the piece issued by different publishing houses, mostly German, and prepared by different editors. In Poland, the Polonaise was published twice after the Second World War. All those editions had introduced some more or less significant changes into the text, mostly related to performance guidelines, but in a sense blurring the composer’s 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 to the orchestral version, since it had never been published again except for the first edition.

The Polonaise in A-major was written at approximately the same time as the 2-nd Concert in D-major. 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 strikes as quite obvious in the second theme of the Allegro in the Concert , and in the theme of the Polonaise. The Polonaise in A-major is also in a certain way convergent with the first Polonaise (in D-major), namely the themes of the motifs in both Polonaises are alike. In real terms, though, both pieces stand vary much apart with respect to style. The Polonaise in D-major constitutes a proof of the composer’s fascination with the range of technical means available to him. Wieniawski makes the most of the doubles, chords, and all other sophisticated virttuoso techniques. The Polonaise in A-major, written 18 years later, is much more mature. Although it is a virtuoso piece as well, it is nonetheless somewhat more limiting as to the variety of the range of techniques, and the choices had been made in accordance with the needs of expression. The virtuoso character of this piece is more fragile, much closer to the brillant style. At the same time, the Polonaise is typical for Wieniawski’s violin playing technique. Here, the composer uses the means regarded by his contemporaries to be typical, e.g. long staccato fragments played with one bow.

The published Polonaise is a well developed concert piece in one part, has a reprisive character, while the reprise is, to a large extent, abbreviated. The middle fragment is contrasting in character, thanks to the change in key (F-major), the reduction in the number of instruments (in the orchestral version), and slowing down the pace. All the fragments show thematic similarity. The first fragment, too, has a similar section structure, including a contrasting middle section (in E-major).

The Polonaise in A-major is a typical virtuoso style piece, where the solo violin decisively plays a dominant role. The part of the piano is fundamentally meant to accompany, and to underline the harmonic foundation. Only in the middle fragment the relationship between the two nstruments is much better balanced. There are certain parts there, quite extensive, which are based on the dialogue between the instruments.

The orchestra is clearly there only to accompany the soloist, it is subordinated to the soloist, just like in the brillant type concerts. However the Polonaise in A-major was written in the times when the set of instruments in the orchestra and the way in which they collaborated varied from the classic standard, Wieniawski in principle, uses a classic orchestra set. Except for the three trombones, all other wind instruments are doubled and, as far as the percussion family of instruments is concerned, only kettledrums participate. The latter, and the brass wind instruments, join in only in the tutti fragments, and their function is dynamic. As a matter of fact, a string quintet constitutes the basis for the orchestra, and is supplemented by wooden wind instruments, often played as if in a soloist manner.

The Polonaise in A-major , alongside with both concerts, may be placed among the most important concert compositions written by Wieniawski.

The first edition printed and published by Schott publishers in Mainz, in approx. 1875, publishers number: 21754 (the first edition has the same number as the first edition of the orchestral version); the format is 4o ; for the violin and the piano. It was retained in the University Library of the Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń, library index number IV 2909, and in the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, library index number Ms 37972. The first printed edition of the part of the violin published by the same publishing house, under the same number. It was retained in the University Library of the Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń, under the same library index number (IV 2909). First edition of violin solo and orchestral parts, published by Schott Publishers in Mainz, ca. 1875, plate number: 21754.

Zofia Chechlińska


1. see: V. Grigoriev, Henryk Wieniawski. Life and Work , Warszawa - Poznań 1986, p. 184.
2. The first version of the 2 nd Concert in D-major was completed in 1862, but in 1870, i.e. not until The Polonaise in A major was completed, Wieniawski had been working on the Concert and implemented quite a few changes.