L. v. Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61

Beethoven’s violin concerto was composed in 1806. It is one of the earliest violin concertos of the nineteenth century. Beethoven composed this concerto for Franz Clement, but the concerto never received the attention it deserved until it was revived by Joseph Joachim in 1844. This concerto was composed at the height Beethoven’s “middle” period, a time when he completed his Symphony No.3, Piano Concerto No.4, along with some of his most important piano sonatas and string quartets.

The first movement begins with an orchestra exposition, adhering to the traditional form. It is notably one of Beethoven’s most extended works in terms of length. The second movement is a contrast from the dramatic opening movement. It presents some of Beethoven’s most serene and tranquil music. It ends with a dramatic turn into a cadenza that leads into the robust and dance-like third movement.

F. Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto was composed in 1844 and premiered in 1845 by violinist Ferdinand David, whom Mendelssohn seeks technical advice from. Although this concerto was written towards the end of Mendelssohn’s life, it is still considered as one of the early violin concertos in the Romantic era.

Compared to his lesser-known violin concerto in D minor, which he composed at the age of thirteen, this concerto showcased Mendelssohn at his finest. While following the traditional three-movement structure, each movement in this concerto is connected and to be played one after another without break.

The first movement of a typical concerto in the Classical era tends to present a lengthy orchestra introduction before the soloist enters. However, this concerto opens almost immediately with the solo violinist. At the cadenza, instead of allowing the soloist to improvise, Mendelssohn wrote it out completely. The lyrical second movement is one of Mendelssohn’s most beautiful music. It is connected from the final chord of the first movement by a single held note played by the bassoon. As it ends, it enters directly into a transitional passage played by the solo violin and strings, which subsequently leads into the lively and energetic third movement.

The Great German Violin Concertos of the 19th Century

J. Brahms - Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77

Brahms sees himself as a successor to the great Austro-German tradition. He was very particular and cautious about the standard of his compositions. It took him twenty years to complete his first major orchestral work – the Symphony No.1.  After that, he began to produce more orchestral masterpieces, including his only violin concerto. Composed in 1878, this concerto was dedicated to violinist Joseph Joachim, who premiered it in 1879. Brahms’ concerto can be seen as having a more integrated soloist part, as both the soloist and the orchestra are important to the development of the themes, rather than just plain virtuosity showcase from the soloist.

The first movement follows the traditional form, and the soloist is allowed to improvise the cadenza. The solo violin first enters at the end of the orchestral exposition’s closing section, before it presents the first theme.  Brahms initially planned to write a four-movement concerto. However, the two inner movements were eventually replaced by a single Adagio movement. The third movement was written in the style of Hungarian Gypsy dance, it is very likely that Brahms had the Hungarian Joachim in mind while composing this.

M. Bruch - Violin Concerto in G minor, Op.26

Unlike most other composers, Bruch’s reputation as a composer lies almost entirely on his first violin concerto. He composed three violin concertos along with several pieces for soloist and orchestra (Scottish Fantasy, Kol Nidrei, etc.), but the first violin concerto stands out the most. Bruch was a composer who stayed with the Classical tradition throughout his career. Although he lived in the times of Wagner and Liszt, his works never showed any influence of the new tradition.

Bruch was the music director at the court of Koblenz when he wrote this violin concerto. It was completed in 1866, revised in 1867, and premiered by Joseph Joachim in 1868. The first movement begins with a recitative-like passage by the solo violin. Most concertos have a very substantial opening movement, however, the first movement in this concerto is rather short and it is more like a prelude to the second movement. It is also linked directly into the second movement without break. Like Brahms’ concerto, the third movement is also in the style of a Hungarian dance.