Enjoyable Violin Parts

March 29, 2008 at 03:25 AM · A comment about Bruckner symphonies on another thread got me to thinking about violin parts in the symphonic repertoire. I have my own biases: since I play 2nd violin, I care about how interesting my part is. Brahms, Mahler and Prokofiev write excellent second violin parts. Mozart second violin parts are often harder than the firsts (think finale to the Jupiter symphony). On the other hand, Strauss waltzes are painfully tedious, and New Year's Eve is a musical black hole. I do not enjoy playing Bruckner symphonies but I definitely don't mind bowing them.

What are your favorite orchestral violin parts (first or second), and why? What pieces do you dread seeing on the schedule?

Replies (61)

March 29, 2008 at 04:32 AM · My favorite is 1st violin of Symphonie Fantastique (with the exception of the third movement, which makes me a little sleepy!). There's a piece I can sink my teeth into.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I despise Ride of the Valkyries. Why does a part have to be that difficult when it's mainly for decoration?

March 29, 2008 at 06:47 AM · Scheherezade. If you're not in the hot seat! ;)

March 29, 2008 at 11:54 AM · I think the first violin part to the William Tell Overture is a blast! It's very exciting to come in when the storm breaks, as thunder and lightning. I played it recently with a community orchestra and was finding at first that I was a little too revv'd up, making it harder to control the bow during the "lone ranger" part, but once I got back into it after a bit of rehearsal it settled down.

I'm a sucker for fast running 8th or 16th notes. This concert we're playing Haydn 101, and the 4th movement is taken at a pretty brisk tempo, and I just love flying along with all those 8th note runs.

March 29, 2008 at 12:41 PM · I don't care for Strauss waltz 2nd violin parts.

Also, Bruckner symphony 2nd violin parts.

March 29, 2008 at 12:56 PM · My least favorite 2nd violin part ever-Tales of Hoffman.

March 29, 2008 at 03:07 PM · I love 2nd violin parts because they're usually always harder than 1st and usually more important. Oh wow have played so many Mozart operas on 2nd it feels like torture for the bow arm!

I like Shostakovich 5, Tchaikovsky 5, and Mozart symphonies on 1st vln.

March 29, 2008 at 10:08 PM · First or second parts to beethoven symphonies always rock. Brahms 2 first violin part is one of my favorites to play also.

March 30, 2008 at 12:22 AM · Schubert Symphony in C Major - "Great" - the last movement in that is a KILLER for second violins, particularly if you have a conductor who does all the repeats in the entire symphony. Lot and lots of fast triplets... I remember our orchestra had borrowed the parts from the BBC music library and someone from one of the BBC orchestras had written towards the end in huge letters: "ONLY 3 PAGES TO GO" By the concert, we knew exactly what they meant! My arms were falling off after that concert...

Favourites - for some reason I love Sibelius 2nd violin parts, also Tchaikovsky and of course Elgar because he wrote so well for violin. Agree that Beethoven is fun and challenging too.

March 30, 2008 at 02:24 AM · One of my violinist friends expressed their dislike of the last movement of the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony, which was alleged to lie poorly under the fingers.

We bass players like Brahms; his dad must have been proud of him. :-)

March 30, 2008 at 02:49 PM · Playing the viola part in Gorecki's Symphony No.3 (two nights in a row) remains in the memory for being a somewhat agonizing physical experience: long slow quiet notes non-stop for one hour without relief. Can't think of anything worse.

Playing in the orchestra when my own Fanfare for Orchestra was performed was an exhilerating experience. If I had any complaints about the viola part, then there was only myself to blame...

March 31, 2008 at 02:13 PM · Hi,

second part of Strauß waltzes (or any other waltz) may not be enjoyable if you're a melody junky (1st violinist). However, let's consider that Lanner, Strauß and their ilk composed music for the dance floor - what a pleasure to listen to the "Top 40" back then.

The important part for dancers is rhythm. So what gives pleasure to dancers is the bass and the infamous "2nd part". In German it's called "Nachschlag" (which is also, incidentally a synonym - in German - for "2nd helping").

The melody is merely a nicety (maybe to give a title to the dance). Of course, it is even more enjoyable to dance to a lively rhythm if it is accompanied by beautiful, hummable tune; but again: the important part is rhythm.

If you're playing in the snappy Viennese style (2nd beat a little early, 3rd beat a tad late), the waltz really takes to the air.

Hope this helps you enjoying your part more.

Bye, Jürgen

March 31, 2008 at 05:34 PM · It may JUST be you find the 2nd violin part of the Schubert 9th a little difficult (to stay awake and count)

March 31, 2008 at 05:47 PM · I've had lots of experience playing in orchestras. A few times, I played second violin, but it was mostly first violin, and I was concertmistress quite a number of times. I really never found anything to be boring. Some of it was a little more tedious, but that only made it more of a challenge for me, and so I practiced until I played my very best. I have loved all of the orchestral pieces that I've played - from the baroque period to classical to romantic to modern. There is something wonderful about every piece. I have a special fondness for opera and ballet because I've played in the orchestra pit for a number of performances, and it was very exciting for me. And I love pieces from the romantic period - Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, etc. All of that stuff is drop-dead gorgeous! I think my great love of orchestral music in general is due in large part to the wonderful training that I had. And I would like to mention one individual in particular. His name is Chester J. Petranek. He conducted the Montgomery County Senior Youth Orchestra. I played in that orchestra for a few years. I loved every moment of it. Mr. Petranek was a hard taskmaster at times, but he was wonderful to work with and lots of fun, and his great love of music was highly contageous, and it rubbed off on me.

April 1, 2008 at 03:05 AM · I have to admit, I'm loving Tchaik 5 right now (playing 1st violin). Even though the part is quite challenging, those melodies are to die for. I just love the second movement! But really, the entire symphony is amazing.

On the flip side, I have to complain to Berlioz for making his Roman Carnival Overture so hard to count. ;)

April 1, 2008 at 09:40 AM · Samson and Delilah! Ooo la la...

April 1, 2008 at 11:11 AM · @Carolyn: Love your attitude! In my opinion, the beauty of orchestral music needs every ingredient to have its full splendor - the contribution of the different players might be more or less difficult to achieve for them, but I don't consider any part to be more or less important.

Fitting an awkward part "just so" into the overall tonal picture can give lots of joy.

Bye, Jürgen

April 4, 2008 at 07:52 PM · Gold Medal -- Brahms IV

Silver Medal -- Brahms III

Bronze Medal -- Dvorák, New World Symphony

Hors concours -- Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra.

All three are very rewarding musically, Brahms a little bit more than Dvorák. Dvorák also is demanding, but almost always turns out easy as soon as you get the fingering right. Brahms is not quite that practical.

The Bartók is special to me because in one project I found myself, unexpectedly, on the Hot Seat. Never practiced as much as I did then, every free minute literally, between meals and rehearsals. But all the more rewarding it was. A great piece by any standard!



April 5, 2008 at 03:30 PM · My favorite violin parts to play are Matorbike Concerto by Jan Sandström but even more Metastasis, Jonchaies and Pito Prakta by Xenakis.

Makes you think in a completely different way compared to what you usually do.

April 5, 2008 at 11:52 PM · I just got finished playing Brahms IV, and I have to say, even the most jaded cynic would believe in romance again after playing it. Tragic romance, but still...

April 6, 2008 at 12:48 AM · 1st place: Symphonie Fantastique

2nd place: Schubert 5th symphony, first movement.

3rd: Beethoven Sixth Symphony.

April 6, 2008 at 02:35 AM · I have too many to list, but I always enjoy playing anything by Beethoven or Prokofiev (first or second violin). I agree with other posts that Brahms 4 (esp. violin 1) is great, and I also enjoy Shostakovich symphonies. There's also something very satisfying about practicing and then nailing some difficult Strauss... And, of course, Mozart... And I'm so excited to be playing Mahler 2 for the first time next month... I'll just stop here!

April 7, 2008 at 04:01 AM · Hmmmm...

On 2nd violin, Romeo & Juliet by Tchaik was the toughest and scariest for me, but I was 16 and had a pretty hardcore conductor!

I would say that some of my favorites were Copland's Clarinet Concerto (I played both first and second violin on separate occasions)...

I second Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique...

I had fun being principal of the second violins in Franck's symphony...

OH, and there was a Rosauro marimba concerto I played, and that was a blast. (1st violin).

Those are a few that stick out in my mind right now.

April 9, 2008 at 12:41 PM · i have to say that i haven`t played that much orchestral music, but i really liked to play the 2nd violin part of the sibelius violin concerto.

*sigh* i`d really LOVE to play a brahms symphony... must be great!

oh, and to play 1st violin (concertmistress) of mozart`s violin concerto #4 was great, too.

i`d be really interested in how it is to play a wagner opera? any experiences? i`d love to play one, one day. i`m quite sure it`s really demanding!

June 15, 2008 at 11:46 PM · Being a first violin for Dvorak's 8th symphony was great fun.

June 16, 2008 at 06:19 AM · My dislikes for second violin: (1) Blue Danube Waltz: too many complicated repeats and DC al whatever -- and that's before your conductor makes some changes to the printed score. (2) Mahler's First Symphony, second (or was it third?) movement: duh-duh-dah over and over and over and over (3) From the Steppes of Central Asia, first movement: 123456-123456 breath 123456-123456 breath ad infinitum. My favorites for second violin: (1) Mozart's 40th Symphony because I love that piece so much (2) Yablichka (Sailor's Dance from something by Glazunov) because it's fun at the beginning, and as it gets faster, it gets to be more fun (3) Faure's Pavane because it is so beautiful.

June 17, 2008 at 02:54 PM · Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances (as first violin)...soo much fun and great rhythmic energy, plus that part where you break off into counter melody with your stand partner for the waltz... unbelievably satisfying.

I'll have to also mention most Beethoven symphonies on either part (second violin is very satisfying...e.g. parts in Beethoven 7)

Classical Symphony (first) kicked my .... but still, lots of fun.

I'll have to agree with Carolyn that most orchestral experiences are wonderful.

June 17, 2008 at 05:22 PM · I despise Huapango... on all fronts.

June 17, 2008 at 05:25 PM · The Symphonic Dances are great, I don't remember the viola part at all, just the work as a whole....

June 17, 2008 at 06:01 PM · ...from a viola player, a hit list of baddies!

Dvorak - Te deum (oh god - 10 movements, and they're all slow)

Mendelssohn - Elijah

Handel - Messiah - espicially when some git of a conductor insists on doing all of it, with repeats!

Some choral thing by Gounod as well!

...and things I love playing

Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 2

Beethoven Symphonies

Nielsen - Symphony No. 4

Janacek - Sinfonietta & Taras Bulba

Berlioz - Requiem

Strauss - Pretty much anything!

June 18, 2008 at 02:10 AM · Dvorak Symphony #2 - Whether it's 1st or 2nd violin part, this symphony is really intense and really fun to play! My youth orchestra played it and although it was hard, we all enjoyed it.

August 6, 2008 at 10:50 PM · i was second for berceuse and finale and for the finale from pines of rome.

great to listen, a bore to play.

tremolos need to vanish sometimes!

August 7, 2008 at 02:40 AM · My favorite orchestral piece for 1st violin is Scheherazade. Gorgeous.

I also loved playing Tchaik 6 last year! Beautiful soaring melodies, and a chance to practice wide juicy vibrato!

August 7, 2008 at 02:50 AM · I'm only in high school, but my chamber orchestra played the artiunian trumpet concerto with a phenomenal player last year and i thought the first violin part was really fun and challenging

August 7, 2008 at 08:52 AM · I've always loved playing the 2nd violin part of the Bach Double, 1st mov.

There's something about being in the middle of the orchestra, being able to listen to the repartee between the instruments all around you.

August 8, 2008 at 05:24 AM · Some of my favorite pieces to play and listen to are Brahms 2,3,4-Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Dvorak Carnival Overture (1st violin), Ravel Daphnis et Chloe is beautiful and slightly challenging in parts, Gershwin American in Paris, Shosty 5, Prokofiev Symphony Concertante, William Tell Overture, Tchaikovsky Symphony no.6 is so dark and beautiful, Strauss Til Eulenspiegal has a good 2nd violin part and many more.

Although the Beethoven symphonies are nice, Some of the Slow movements in 2nd violin are very hard on the arms. Berlioz Symphony Fantastique 3rd movement taken really slow is also a killer.

November 22, 2008 at 08:03 AM ·

I adore Mahler symphony 1 movement I,II and III. I dislike movement IV greatly.

I also love playing 1st violin part of NImrod by Elgar.

2nd Violin part of Brahms serenade number 1, all apart from movement III.


November 22, 2008 at 09:13 AM ·

Holberg suite! 

November 22, 2008 at 08:12 PM ·

I liked to play Ralph Vaughan Williams' Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

And of course Haydn and Mozart symphonies, any day. That's good as a first violinist, because of the charming melodies, and as a second, too, because you drive the pulse of the music.

I haven't played that many Romantic symphonies, but Brahms' Second Symphony is great fun to play. Those gorgeous melodies!

November 23, 2008 at 01:45 AM ·

I haven't thought about it much but I am playing Wagner's Meistersinger Overture tomorrow. All the parts are very gratifying. I am playing first but the second and viola parts sound just as interesting to me.  

November 23, 2008 at 03:29 AM ·

One of the most gratifying parts to play is the first part of La Mer by Debussy.  So very hard........and very stressful. especially if you sit concertmaster.  However, once you learn it and completely understand how your part fits in with the piece, it is gratifying indeed.

November 23, 2008 at 03:40 AM ·

Symphonie Fantastique, especially the 2nd movement.  Better for 1st vln than second, but they're both fun.

December 9, 2008 at 06:03 AM ·

shostakovich symphony 11 - great 2nd violin part!

December 10, 2008 at 09:37 AM ·

Any recent composition for orchestra where strings never have melody, only ostinato passages, accompanied my sweeping melodic lines in the winds/brass.

Seriously, the numbers of schools where I hear orchestras playing pieces that sound like strings accompanying a marching band is depressingly common.

January 21, 2009 at 08:36 PM ·

recently i enjoyed (and why):

sibelius symphony 5 (i called it violin torture - but the symphony itself was beautiful)

rachmaninoff piano concerto 2 - great accompaniment part for an amazing piano concerto

brahms symphony 3 - love it

schubert symphony 9 (the Great) - what a great symphony


in general i remember enjoying playing (and why):

mozart symphonies - fun

mahler symphony 1 - unbelievable symphony

tchaikovsky symphony 6 (pathetique) - beautiful

gershwin's summertime from porgy and bess - just love it

bach brandenburgs - more fun

copland's hoedown from rodeo - such fun

vaughn williams fantasy on a theme by thomas tallis - ethereal

and of course the william tell overture like everyone else :)

January 21, 2009 at 08:29 PM ·

oh yes, and i def. enjoy the beethoven symphonies - esp. #5! :)

April 19, 2009 at 10:24 PM ·

I enjoyed Mahler 1 (2nd violin).

Also enjoyed Shostokovich 10 (2nd violin) - 1st movement ws slow and easy, nice and slow which is how i like it!

Siegfried Idyl by wagner is beautiful and I can play it over and over and never be bored of it.


However- Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem is a personal hatred of mine. Movement 2 is tricky  and the whole thing is just lots of fast stuff.


April 19, 2009 at 11:22 PM ·


I think the slow movement of the Mozart flute concerto (vln1)  is one of te most beautiful things one can play.   

Oddly enough, in spite of my rveerence for all the Beethoven symphonies especially 7 it is still number 1 I get a reall buzz out of even if it is supposedly a relativey early stage in his development.   To actually play all the litlte detials in that work is an immense challenge and deeply rewarding.  Consider even the relatively simple thing of the opening pizz chords which have alternating dynamic levels and then a crescendo.   Not so simple.  The slow movement is gorgeous (maybe influenced by Mozart forty,  I sometimes think....)  



April 20, 2009 at 12:02 AM ·

I love playing ANY Mahler 2nd violin part; Beethoven's 4th and 2nd symphonies are particular favourites to play and I love Elgar's string writing which although sometimes hard is always just right for strings.  Oh, and another particular 2nd violin part I get a huge buzz out of is that of Walton's Belthazzar's Feast.

Least favourite was Schubert's Great C Major Symphony no. 9 when a certain conductor who will remain anonymous decided we'd do ALL the repeats.  By the time the 2nd violins got to the end of the last movement I think most of the section could have done with hospital treatment.

April 20, 2009 at 12:40 AM ·


Rosalind, I have had the same nighmare expeirence from hell.  Schubert didn`t know what to do with his material too well at time s and it really doesn`t need to be said twice.



September 6, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

I'd agree with the consensus.

Scheherezade - absolutely great to play.

Any Haydn symphony - normally so bubbly and brilliant

Least favourite (in the mainstream repetoire) Schubert 9.

Played it once and the conductor at the final rehearsal announced - "we'll just play through the last movement once more". Sorry - I switched off out of self-preservation. Unfortunately, I couldn't switch back on and played the concert on auto-pilot.

Also - Flying Dutchman. Luckily, haven't played it since I was about 18 in the local amateur orchestra. I have memories of fast notes in an impossible key that can't be heard over the brass - who took off like an express train, and that didn't help to fit the notes in either!

September 24, 2009 at 06:53 PM ·

 I hate the second violin part of Schumann 3rd symphony. It is extremely boring for me (except the 2nd movement). Mozart opera Magic Flute has more important and more difficult second violin parts than first violin. They are really enjoyable.

November 22, 2009 at 06:39 AM ·

 Any Mahler, Strauss, Brahms is great. But my all time favorite is Bartok, the final movement of his Concerto for Orchestra, where the first half (divisi) of the 2nd Violins start the Fugato. Always enjoyed playing it, always will.

November 22, 2009 at 08:38 PM ·

I am going to say that Beethoven 9th, 2nd violin part is one of the  best orchestra pieces I have ever played, incredibily difficult but so wonderful.

November 25, 2009 at 12:56 AM ·

I don't play in an orchestra, but I love playing the Bach Concerto for 2 Violins (1st Movement) with someone else.  It reminds me of people talking back and forth.  And my least favourite would most definately be the cello part for Pachelbel's Canon in D.  8 notes, over and over again...

Actually, there's a good Youtube video about that very cello part...


Hanna (:

November 25, 2009 at 01:20 AM ·

 Just about anything that has endured up to the late 1890s can be counted on to be enjoyable and much past that including Rachmaninoff, Sibelius and others.

I love to listen to Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy and Respighi but I don't care for their violin parts at all (exception for the Debussy Nocturnes). That music is real work and it is for people who get paid to do it. I suspect that Richard Strauss is the same but I would practice hard for a year to get to play Don Juan. I have only played Death and Transfiguration and it was manageable and even satisfying. 

June 29, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

 Sorry to hijack this thread, but do you guys have any specific tips for playing the first and last movements of Mahler I, first violin part??  

June 29, 2010 at 11:56 PM ·

Michael, there are a lot of notes in the first and last movements.

Any particular problems?

June 30, 2010 at 03:05 AM ·

 Well, um, where to start?  haha.  I have to have (I guess) the entirety of the first and fourth movements prepared for my ensemble audition at college.    I just don't know where to start, how to attack it.  Should I play through each movement slowly and then isolate problem spots? Is that a dumb question?  ahhh I don't even know what specific spots I'll need to know unitl the day of the audition.  Like I'm drowning in notes!

June 30, 2010 at 06:42 AM ·


well, one of my all time favorites is the second movement of the second violin part of Beethovens 7th symphony.  A truly indpeendent voice that has to find precisely the right sound quality to fit with the conducters general concept.  Then the 16ths solo passage that is juts so perfect (if played perfectly) and then bang out the ff double stops trying to produce ythe rgeatest sound you have ever playe din your life.   Nothing better.



July 1, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

Third movement of Beethoven's 9th, the seconds have that quiet, gorgeous melody, so typical of Beethoven.  Any Brahms symphony, 1st, 2nd, or viola, they're all great parts and all independent of each other.  First violin, Saint-Saens Symphony #3, is fun.  While accompaniment parts often aren't so great, the viola parts, at least, for the Prokofiev violin concerto and the R. Strauss Four Last Songs are delicious.  Dvorak 8th & 9th symphonies, any part, are good too.

In the "just shoot me now" category, Copland's Hoedown (any part), 2nd or viola on Strauss waltzes, last movement of Sibelius 2nd for viola, where the C scale pattern repeats not 8, not 24, but 60 times without a break.  Anything where the composer switches randomly from 6 sharps to 7 flats, then peppers the whole mess with accidentals.  These pieces usually feature schizophrenic changes of meter, too.

July 2, 2010 at 11:49 AM ·

I think, for violinists, it depends on what section you play in. I love Brahms and Tchaikovsky, in the 2nd violin section. I enjoyed playing the Sorcer's Apprentice, Pictures in an Exhibition and La Vase (among so many otheres), also for example. But, we just finished a 7 concert series of Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang" and Kabalevski's 1st Cello Concerto, I thought I was going to need a lobotomy. I can't stand either, from the point of view of a 2nd violin. I also feel the same way about any waltz played while in the 2nd section. Oooom pah pah Ooooom pah pah!

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