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My List of Top Violin Concertos

Daniel Broniatowski

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Published: May 10, 2015 at 11:36 PM [UTC]

violinContinuing in our series of top pieces for violin, today I will share with you my three most favorite violin concertos. If you enjoy this post, you might also want to visit my selection of Top Violin Sonatas.

Compiling my list was a really hard task for me to complete because I love many more that are not on this list. The selections below are in no particular order.

Barber Violin Concerto, Op. 14

American composer Samuel Barber's violin concerto was commissioned in 1939 by Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Simon Fels. It was written for Iso Briselli, a classmate of Barber's at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Due to the turmoil leading to World War II in the summer of 1939, the concerto's creation was interrupted, since at the time of its genesis, Barber was in Switzerland. Upon returning to the USA, Barber completed the work while in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

The story of the violin concerto's premiere is complex and tumultuous. The first two out of three movements were delivered to Briselli in the fall of 1939. Briselli's violin mentor, Albert Meiff criticized the piece for being technically too simple. Furthermore, when the third movement, which is much more technically complicated, was presented to Briselli, the violinist was disappointed that it did not fit in with the lyrical qualities of the first and second movements. Furthermore, it was considered by Briselli to be too "lightweight" in its structure.

Despite Briselli's request, Barber refused to change the work. Ultimately, the violinist gave up working with Barber.

Eventually, the Barber Violin Concerto was given its credit due by violinist Herbert Baumel in 1939 and 1940 with the orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music conducted by Fritz Reiner. Thanks to these performances, more official concerts followed with the famous violinist Albert Spalding performing under Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941. Barber's violin concerto is now one of the most frequently performed works of the Twentieth Century.

Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote his violin concerto in 1879. The premiere of the work took place in Prague in 1883 with violinist František Ondrícek.

The concerto is written in three parts which can be described as a fast-slow-fast form.

The names of the movements are as follows:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo

  2. Adagio ma non troppo

  3. Finale: Allegro giocoso ma non troppo

Initially, the concerto was written for the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. Unfortunately for Dvorak, Joachim was unhappy with the structure of the piece and apparently claimed to rework the violin part with his own alterations! Despite this, Joachim never even performed it.

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Op. 35 in D Major

The Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, wrote his violin concerto in 1878. There are three movements:

Allegro Moderato
Canzonetta: Andante
Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

Tchaikovsky wrote his concerto during a tumultuous time in his life where he was recovering from a depression brought on by his marriage to a woman named Antonina Miliukova. As a result of these circumstances, the piece was written in Clarens, a Swiss resort on Lake Geneva.

The thirty five minute monumental work only took a month to compose. Unfortunately, its ultimately successful incorporation into the canon of great concerti for the violin was the result of many birth pangs. Tchaikovsky's concerto was initially dedicated to the famous violinist-pedagogue Leopold Auer. Yet, Auer refused to premiere the work and it was later performed by Adolph Brodsky in 1881 in Vienna.

The infamous critic Eduard Hanslick called it "long and pretentious" and said that it "brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear".' Hanslick also wrote that "the violin was not played but beaten black and blue", and he criticized the last movement for being "odorously Russian".

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Music to Warm the Heart
Maestro Musicians, LLC | Greater Boston
Greater Boston and New England

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From John Rokos
Posted on May 11, 2015 at 1:03 PM
Didn't Auer fail to perform the first version because it was too difficult? Didn't Brodsky then get Tchaikovsky to modify it to make it easier, and then perform it? Didn't Auer then take it up, restoring some, not all, of the more difficulties, to produce the version that is normally performed nowadays?
I'd certainly put the Dvorak above the Tchaikovsy as well - Actually, I'd put the Glazunov above the Tchaikovsky.
I'm not sure whether I'd put any of them right at the top, above the Bs, and even the M & S.
From Christian Lesniak
Posted on May 11, 2015 at 5:53 PM
Tchaikovsky had a lot of help in writing the concerto from Iosif Kotek, a violinist who had been his lover. I guess there was some ambivalence about Kotek getting the dedication, because Tchaikovsky didn't want to risk publicly outing himself, and from Kotek in playing the work later on, because after the premiere was panned by critics, he didn't want playing it to hurt his reputation.

I guess time makes fools of us all!

Posted on May 12, 2015 at 7:23 AM
We had a poll on this recently on Facebook.Violinist and the Sibelius came out tops (101 votes)with Tchaikovsky and Beethoven a reasonably close second and third.

From elise stanley
Posted on May 12, 2015 at 7:25 AM
We had a poll on this recently on Facebook.Violinist and the Sibelius came out tops (101 votes)with Tchaikovsky and Beethoven a reasonably close second and third.

Posted on May 12, 2015 at 10:36 PM
1. Beethoven
2. Sarasate carmen
3. Bruch G minor

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