The Last Rose of Summer

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It’s hard to believe but Labor Day weekend is here, marking the official end of summer. Leaves are beginning to change color. The days are getting shorter and a chill is creeping into the night air, reminding us of the inevitability of what’s around the corner. Let’s bid summer a fond farewell by listening to one of the most technically demanding pieces ever written for the violin, Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer” by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. Ernst (1812-1865) was a violinist and composer who followed in the footsteps of Paganini, touring Europe as a rock star virtuoso and expanding the technical possibilities of the violin.

This clip is from Midori’s extraordinary 1991 Carnegie Hall debut. She played the sold out concert four days before her nineteenth birthday. The excitement and electricity in the air and the sense of occasion are palpable. This interesting New York Times piece featuring Midori came out in the days following the recital.

Notice the combination of dazzling violinistic effects employed, from double stops and left hand pizzicato to harmonics, up bow staccato and spiccato bowing. Watch closely, because there are moments when this piece seems like a magic act. Is one violin really playing all that? Listen to how many variations can spring from this beautiful melody:

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And now, for a final ode to fading summer, here is the original melody, sung by Renee Fleming: