Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin Concerto

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: Approx. 45 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1806
World Premiere: December 23, 1806 (Vienna)

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Beethoven's Violin Concerto in 5 Sentences

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is today considered a central work of violin literature. However, when the concerto was first performed in 1806, it was not as well received by the public as other works by Beethoven. One reason for this may be that the solo part in Beethoven’s violin concerto seems much less virtuosic than in other violin concertos – but is nevertheless devilishly difficult technically. It took a special occasion to make the work palatable to the public, and that occasion did not come until 17 years after Beethoven’s death: the violinist Joseph Joachim (later the premiere interpreter of Brahms’ Violin Concerto), then just 12 years old, overcame the technical difficulties and performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in a concert conducted by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, thus beginning the work’s triumphal march.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Beethoven's Violin Concerto

Highlight 1: Military (?) beginning

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto begins unusually – with a timpani solo. The timpani begins with four soft beats, and only then do the woodwinds introduce the lyrical main theme. Again and again, this strange beginning has been interpreted as a reminiscence of military music from the French Revolution, of which Beethoven was an ardent supporter:

Highlight 2: First entry of the violin

After an orchestral introduction of about three minutes, the solo violin enters for the first time and shortly thereafter hovers over the main theme of the woodwinds:

Highlight 3: End of the first movement

Beethoven’s violin concerto has enormous dimensions. The first movement alone lasts longer than 15 minutes, which was a novelty in the early 19th century. At the end of this opening movement, one might think that the music is slowly fading out…but it is not. Unexpectedly, there is the brief but violent final climax (an interesting parallel to the last movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto…):

Highlight 4: Hunting music?

The third movement is in 6/8 time and stylistically reminiscent of hunting music:

3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Violin Concerto

Question 1: How many violin concertos did Beethoven write?

Only one. Only a fragment of a second violin concerto exists.

Question 2: For whom did Beethoven write his violin concerto?

Beethoven composed his violin concerto for the violinist Franz Clement, a friend of his, who had been concertmaster at the Theater an der Wien since 1802 and who had also played at the premiere of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (“Eroica”). Not only opera performances were given in the Theater an der Wien, but also concerts. For the Christmas concert in 1806, Clement needed a showpiece and therefore commissioned Beethoven to compose the violin concerto.

Question 3: How long did Beethoven write on his violin concerto?

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was written unusually quickly – the composer was normally known for “struggling” with his compositions for a long time. However, he wrote the Violin Concerto within a few weeks, which can be concluded from examinations of the ink of Beethoven’s autograph.

2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Violin Concerto

Recording 1: Anne-Sophie Mutter, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Lahav Shani (live, 2022)

This top-class interpretation was made as part of a benefit concert for the Save the Children organization. Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the most important violinists ever and a proven specialist (not only) for the Beethoven Violin Concerto, performed together with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Lahav Shani:

Recording 2: Itzhak Perlman, Berlin Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim (live, 1992)

It’s hard to imagine a more world-class performance – when violinist Itzhak Perlman, the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Daniel Barenboim come together, something great usually happens:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Violin Concerto

The excellent violinist Klement played, among other excellent pieces, also a violin concerto by Beethhofen, which was received with exceptional applause because of its originality and manifold beautiful passages.

The Viennese music critic Möser about the premiere

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