Musically, what is the greatest violin concerto?

May 26, 2010 at 02:39 AM ·

I've seen a lot of discussions on about which violin concertos are the hardest or most technically demanding. But as far as the pure musical aspect of concertos go, what are the greatest? Which ones show the most genious of their creators?

The three that come to my mind are Sibelius, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven.

What do you all think?

Replies (43)

May 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM ·

 I agree whole-heartedly with Sibelius.  Ones that I truly love because of the musicality are:

Prokofiev 1





May 26, 2010 at 12:55 PM ·

Greatness is so hard to define - yet I recognize it when I see/hear it. For something to be great, I'd say it needs an intellectual dimension - a very substansive musical structure that lends itself to many repeated listenings, without being cloying. Then, it needs an emotional dimension, so that it engages the heart as well as the mind. Ideally it should also have a spiritual dimension, so that it also uplifts the soul. That's asking a lot. There are a great many attractive and charming concertos that are fun to play and/or listen to, ranging from Vivaldi to Viotti to Paganini to Saint-Saens. There are also a number of concertos that I feel are important, yet not quite great, such as Tchaikovsky and Bruch.

 So off-hand, my short list of truly great concertos would begin with what Auer called the three Master concertos: Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn. To those I would add Sibelius, and maybe Elgar. I would also add the slow movements of the Bach #2 in E, and the Mozart #5, and Symphonie Conceretante and Barber. While it's clearly not a concerto, a work for violin and orchestra that I would consider great is the Chausson Poeme.

BTW, there are a couple of similar threads going on.


May 26, 2010 at 11:32 PM ·

I´d personally say the Beethoven concerto. It´s filled with music, emotion and all sorts of moods and shades.

May 27, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

 The end of the last movment of Prok. 1 is something I don't think I'll ever get tired of listening to. 

May 27, 2010 at 02:34 AM ·

 I'm a big fan of Barber, Sibelius, and Glazunov.  Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole also has a great deal of emotional diversity: grand first movement, playful second movement, sultry third movement, romantic fourth movement, and virtuosic fifth movement.  

May 27, 2010 at 04:30 AM ·

I seem to grow more fond of the Sibelius each time I listen to it.  That is a very good thing.

May 28, 2010 at 01:27 PM ·

Brahms.  : )

May 28, 2010 at 02:48 PM ·

I like what has been mentioned already, but on top of the current list add the Accolay A minor Concerto #1!  I am currently working on that one and I just LOVE IT!!!! That opening A minor arpegio just sends me and then after the 3 double stops Man! Love it, Love it, Love it!

May 28, 2010 at 04:28 PM ·

All great violinists of the past or present would top Beethoven and Brahms: they are charged with music and very difficult to bring to the "pinacle". I would add Sibelius as one of the greatests for the profound and enigmatic shades and also Mendelsohn, for its delicacy and perfection of writing.

May 28, 2010 at 04:52 PM ·

Are not several other famous concertos the pinnacle in each of their respective sub-genres?
How about.....
- The Paganini 2nd for its ultimate operatic theatricality and vocal drama.
- The Barber for its ultimate romanticism in the modern era
- The Tchaikovsky for its ultimate passion and excitement
- The Bartok for its gypsy-like energy and 20th Century dark fury
- etc.
I'm sure we can all think of at least a couple dozen more masterpieces, each one of which carries the ultimately unique voice of each one of its ultimately unique composers. How can we actually line these pieces up on some sort of priority list?

That being said, I think the Beethoven is the not only the greatest violin concerto ever written, but one of the great artistic achievements of Western civilization.

- So there!
:) Sandy

May 28, 2010 at 05:14 PM ·

The question is about pure musical aspect... Of course Barber and Tschaïkoski are great, and so many others. I know many violinists who can play wonderfully these virtuoso works, but very few, and I can count them on the five fingers of my right hand, who can give an outstanding performance of Beethoven and Brahms, truly by all means, masterpieces...

May 28, 2010 at 07:55 PM ·

Probably the Beethoven. Especially that wonderful moment about 2/3 through the first movement where the horns have crotchets in octaves and the violin just sings p. Just listen to Oistrakh there (he goes slightly meno mosso) - just so meltingly beautiful.

May 28, 2010 at 08:21 PM ·

Oistrach is one of the great...Also Ginette Neveu live,in the second movement,her playing is a miracle of beauty and profound communion with the music of Beethoven. It is very touching. And of course, the first recording of Kreisler, with the Berlin Philharmonic, in1926 I believe... Grumiaux is outstanding to... Mutter, surprising in her last recording. She is not afraid to propose a new experience, even if you do not agree with some of her ideas. 

May 28, 2010 at 10:56 PM ·

I still don't feel that way about the beethoven! I'm starting to wonder if I ever will. I'm stuck on Wieniawski 1, since 13 Brahms is a close second, followed by vieuxtemps no.5. Don't get me wrong, I grew up listening to amazing things such as Brahms, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky... Mendelssohn is what made me play the violin. But when I look at Beethoven I see nothing but countless scales and Kreutzer etudes, I hear the same too. The third movement is my favorite out of the three movements, very memorable. I'm thinking I don't like it because everyone puts such emphasis on it. I feel that beethoven was rushed with this, maybe if he looked at other works of his it could be more outstanding. That being said... I'm going to go and try to find the depth that i'm missing in the beethoven.

May 28, 2010 at 11:26 PM ·

Vernon: When we are young, it is always more attractive to play Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps. They are wonderfully written for the violin but rarely played in the concert hall compared to Beethoven and Brahms... The depth of the Beethoven is often understood later in a career. It is not just scales and arpeggios. Some who are trained very early to play sonatas and chamber music, like Neveu and Kreisler, do understand faster than others. Like the music of Bach,here in the concerto, Beethoven speaks to humanity. Heifetz when asked what was the most difficult concerto to perform answered without hesitation: Beethoven!!! The Beethoven is like mount Everest. Many tempt the ascension, a few elected get to the summit.

It is ok having fun playing Wieniawski. But someday you will not find it as much interesting than Beethoven,Brahms,Elgar,Sibelius or Bartok... if your goal is to become a musician. Like Neveu said in one of her last interviews in 1948, there are plenty of virtuosos out there,but very few musicians...

May 29, 2010 at 12:20 AM ·

Lets hope so... I've been playing it for the last 5 years, just not in public EVER, let someone else who can do it much better justice. I would like to feel like Im actually doing the music justice.

May 29, 2010 at 01:07 PM ·

The Beethoven Violin Concerto reaches a depth of profundity beyond any other concerto ever written, and I would include the Brahms, Mendelssohn, Bartok - any of them.

Its secret is in the 1st movement, the famous 4-beat motif.

Actually, it is a 5-beat motif.

The 5th beat of each is simultaneously the first beat of the next 5-beat motif. And each of the famous themes in this movement are constructed with a series of 5-beat elements. It's everywhere in the movement.

If you take a step back, and look at this rhythmic element like it is taking a breath, you'll get it.

On beats 1-4 you inhale; on the 5th beat you exhale. And the tempo corresponds to a normal breath that one could call an ordinary, everyday sigh. So there is a feeling - a visceral physical experience - of a release of tension on that 5th beat, each and every time it occurs (which is most of the movement).

But that is also the beginning of a new inhaled breath. So you get an overlapping effect of a buildup of tension and a release of tension on the same beat - beat #1 of the measure. And it happens throughout the movement. There is this constant juxtaposition of inhaling and exhaling.

And so you may actually hear it and experience it differently every time, because on any given measure, sometimes you're exhaling and sometimes you're starting to inhale - buildup and release of tension - constantly and in ever-different sequences. Even that famous measure with the 3 beats of rests, when you think about it, is actually part of a 5-beat "motif" of silence. What's boring about that!!!

It is, I believe, the breath of life that Beethoven captured, and this, more than anything else, is what gives this 1st movement an olympian sense of serenity. "Repetitive" is not the right term - it is truly hypnotic. And that's why I think that the olympian performance is the Zino Francescatti  (the version with Ormandy and the live one with Metropolis) - the tempo perfectly reflects the tempo of breathing.

Now, that's my argument for why the Beethoven is the greatest of them all. What other violin concerto has ever, ever become one with the very breath of life?

May 29, 2010 at 02:57 PM ·


Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius


Ysaye solo sonatas, Chausson Poeme, Tchaikovsky Souvenir d'un lieu cher, etc


Not all of these may be the best pieces of music historically, but deffinately some of the most beautiful

May 29, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

Beethoven, as Sandy and others have mentioned,  is also for me the greatest.In addition to Sandy's eloquent words about the first movement I also find the slow movement amongst the most soulful and sincerest in all violin literature. The central G major section with its unfolding ornamentation around a rising arpeggio and the succeeding prayerful section of such simplicity  with its tender pleading and rays of hope are sublime. When we get to the appogiatura F#  melting in to the E, we reach the heart and soul of pithy musical expression. Beethoven could do so much with the simplest of materials.

  But I also champion the Brahms concerto. How blessed we are with such remarkable repertoire and how wonderful that our small, perhaps unassuming instrument inspired composers to write some of their greatest,  loftiest most deeply felt music!

May 29, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·


Peter Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto is rather impressive!  Quite a work out for the violinist!

May 29, 2010 at 05:38 PM ·

Very recently I purchased an 'inexpensive' cassette to MP3 converter ( ) that I saw in a magazine ad.

I just started using it yesterday to convert some of my remaining old collection (something I've been wanting to do for years). It works, although it does not do nearly as well on a Mac as with Windows - but if you've got a fully set up Intel Mac with Windows you can use it on the WIndows side and  import to iTunes . It's main convenience is the USB connection (although you can slso use it through its  headphone connection to an Ederol or other digital recorder

ANYHOW -- I found my old cassette transcription recordings of Fritz Kreisler's 1926-27  Berlin recordings with  Blech. including the Beethoven, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. I'd forgotten just how great he could be. Clearly he found a lyricsl musical reason for every note in every phrase he played. WOW! Interesting contrast because at the very time I was transferring the Beethoven to my computer, I had my TV on its channel 940 with Mutter also playing the Beethoven - there really was no comparison.


May 29, 2010 at 11:12 PM ·

Andrew: I cannot agree more about that recording of Kreisler I have mentionned also earlier... Anne-Sophie Mutter also spoke about that outsatndng recording. The violin is ringing all the time, dynamics, colors, lyrical inspiration,  all is there... Kreisler had something other violinists did not have... His recording reissued on Fleur de Lys of the complete Beethoven sonatas is also outstanding. Maybe he was not as precise than Heifetz but what a bow technique!!!

June 1, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

I gotta say, Schostokovich violin concerto! I love concertos with energy! The interludes and accomp. of the orchestra is amazing. I also love modern pieces, so prokifiev and Schostokovich is awesome (forgive the spelling of his name...oops!)

June 1, 2010 at 02:17 AM ·

Shostakovich is so...... words can't express it. Enchanting yet ... scary? It is definatly other wordly...

Thank you for bringing it to attention

June 1, 2010 at 02:59 AM ·

Beethoven is my fav, but on a personal level, any one I can play musically is the most musical.  Right now, that would be Twinkle :)

June 1, 2010 at 04:17 AM ·


Twinkle is an example of where the lyrics should be studied as tehy influence the interpretation.

In many cases:

Oh crap, oh crap, where`s this bar.

I`m afraid I`ve reached too far.

Up above the pitch so high,

Like a dead cat in the sky,

twitter twitter I need you,

someone tell me what to do.



June 1, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·


June 1, 2010 at 12:33 PM ·

Re Shoshtakovich - I take it we're talking about #1? I think there's a good reason why #2 is less famous, though it certainly has its moments.

June 1, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

@ Raphael Klayman:

...."I would also add the slow movements of the Bach #2 in E..."

YES! Thank you! A profound work of art. I feel that the whole concerto is underrated.


June 1, 2010 at 05:17 PM ·

 Buri, that was an... unforgettable rendition on Twinkle Twinkle. I just might have to print that one out and show my violin teacher. ; )

June 1, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

Scott - yes, several years back, I had an opportunity to perfrom that mvt. with orchestra, where I both played and conducted!

June 1, 2010 at 08:02 PM ·

Apparently, this is what Jascha Heifetz thought as to what the "off the chart" violin concerto was:

"He ranked all of his music - except the Tchaikovsky Concerto which, in his opinion, surpassed all ratings."

June 2, 2010 at 03:58 AM ·

That was hilarious, but so true!!!!  LOL!  That may become a case decoration :)

June 2, 2010 at 04:26 AM ·

Bur, you are awful! Now this song won't leave my head.

June 4, 2010 at 02:43 AM ·


this is just amazing - the Shostakovich, I can not get over it... (Starts at 2:18)

August 28, 2010 at 02:00 PM ·

Prokofiev 1,2, Bartok 1, Barber, Szymanowski 1, Beethoven, Shostakovich 1,Brahms, Sibelius, Britten, Dubugnon, It's a pity that Mahler hasn't got a violin concerto...

August 28, 2010 at 02:19 PM ·

 I find it hard to believe no one has mentioned Mozart 3-5, nor Bach 1 and double. One of my favorites is Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante which he wrote directly he learned of Mozart,s death as an Homage. Not strictly a concerto but certainly some of my favorite goose-flesh in music.

August 28, 2010 at 02:56 PM ·


August 28, 2010 at 08:00 PM ·

They're all great honestly. From the Highly architectural Bach Concertos, to the light gay concertos of mozart, to the high romantic concertos of Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski to the Expressive concertos of Brahms and Dvorak to the modern pathos of Barber and Elgar... they're all great there is a concerto out there for everyone!

I've already expressed what my most musical concerto was and it was Wieniawski 1. the first time I heard it I melted into a puddle on the floor. After hearing it, I knew that that was the genre I wanted to play in. It'll be my major in life with Baroque my minor and Modern my penultimate.

October 18, 2010 at 11:22 AM ·

  i'd really like to learn the korngold violin concerto, but im not sure how hard it is technically.

i've played tchaikovsky, katchaturian, bruch and lalo, so u reckon i could handle korngold?

October 18, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·

Beethoven wrote a 6th piano concerto, in D Op 61a.  It's a piano version of the violin concerto Op 61.  I don't know why Beethoven wrote it. I've heard it on CD (don't remember who it was), and for me it showed that it's an arrangement of the violin concerto that just doesn't work.

There is a 1954 recording of it by Helen Schnabel on Naxos 9.80281 in their Classical Archives series, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the recording I heard.  You can get it only from the Naxos website, and there is a distribution note on their webpage to the effect that this recording is not available in the United States due to possible copyright restrictions, is available for streaming and download only,  and is not available on CD. 

October 20, 2010 at 04:01 AM ·

Beethoven, for all the reasons mentioned.

Brahms. The range of emotions greater than any other composer, from the tender to the passionate to the mysterious/mystical, etc. Always noble of character.

October 21, 2010 at 02:08 PM ·

A shade different question but still relevant I hope.

As each of you mention your favorite/greatest, how about also suggest some 'definitive' recordings for someone like myself to acquire and listen to?



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