Johannes Brahms

Violin Concerto

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

Duration: 40–45 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1878
World Premiere: 01 January 1879 (Leipzig)

Table of Contents

Brahms' Violin Concerto in 5 Sentences

Johannes Brahms was not a violinist himself, so he composed his only Violin Concerto in close consultation with his friend Joseph Joachim, one of the most important violinists of the time. During the collaboration, however, there was definitely “friction” between the two musicians: Joseph Joachim made simplifications, attached greater importance to the solo part, and suggested a slower tempo for the last movement. Brahms (whose main instrument was the piano) responded to only a few of these suggested corrections. Although the premiere (with Joseph Joachim as soloist and Johannes Brahms as conductor) was a success, Brahms’s manner of composing “against the violin” was criticized even then and contributes to the fact that Brahms’s Violin Concerto is still considered one of the most demanding violin concertos today.

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

4 Highlights from Brahms' Violin Concerto

Highlight 1: Preparation and epic entry

From here on, the orchestra prepares the very first entry of the solo violin, which then immediately makes a virtuoso statement:

Highlight 2: Oboe solo

The second movement begins with an oboe solo, only after which the solo violin is “allowed” to play again. This led to great criticism in Brahms’ time: Violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, for example, took umbrage that this was the only passage in the entire work that could be called a “melody” – and then the oboe plays the melody, not the solo violin. Insolence 😊

Beginning of the third movement

The third movement (about whose tempo Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms argued at length) begins briskly….

Highlight 4: Feigned and real ending

…and ends remarkably: after a triumphant ascent, the music seems to gradually “fray.” One might think Brahms is simply letting his violin concerto doze away… And then, after all, come the three energetic final chords 😊

3 Questions and Answers about Brahms' Violin Concerto

Question 1: Where did Brahms write his Violin Concerto?

Johannes Brahms wrote most of his Violin Concerto in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, Austria, a popular summer vacation spot.

Question 2: Why did Brahms write only one violin concerto?

After the premiere, many fellow musicians expressed criticism of Brahms’ compositional style: The conductor Hans von Bülow felt the work was composed “against the violin,” and various violin virtuosos (such as Wieniawski and de Sarasate) called the work “unplayable” or simply “unbearable.” Because of this scathing criticism, Brahms is said to have abandoned his plans for a second violin concerto.

Question 3: What is special about Brahms' Violin Concerto?

The relationship between violin and orchestra in Brahms’ Violin Concerto, unusual at the time, should be emphasized: solo instrument and orchestra are equal “partners” instead of “star” and “accompanist.”

2 Recommended Recordings of Brahms' Violin Concerto

Recording 1: Hilary Hahn, Paavo Järvi, hr-Sinfonieorchester (live, 2014)

In this recording, Hilary Hahn plays the solo part, and I admire her for her precision and intonation. Especially in the third movement, every single note remains audible and clearly articulated, which is really difficult to achieve:

Recording 2: Augustin Hadelich, Cristian Măcelaru, WDR Sinfonieorchester (live, 2020)

And in this recording, violinist Augustin Hadelich plays his own cadenza:

1 Quote about Brahms' Violin Concerto

For me, the most beautiful moment in this first movement is after the cadenza, when the violin, in a wonderful pianissimo, together with the winds, lets the theme resound once again and finds itself in floating heights, that is unique... so bravo, Mister Brahms!

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