Beethoven Violin Concerto and Brahms Concerto

January 19, 2013 at 06:50 AM · I have Perlmans Beethoven Violin concerto DVD and the Brahms Violin concerto. When I first listened to these my reaction was the same. I liked it but it didn't really move me. Now after listening to them about 20 times I think these two concertos are greatest pieces of music ever conceived. I also noticed that the initial reaction to Beethovens piece was similiar back in the day (Beethovens Day). I was just wondering why some music like this takes a while to warm up to? When this happens though it seems I'm a believer for life. Does anybody else notice this and why does it work that way?

Replies (24)

January 19, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Mike - your question is a good one. I have always loved the Beethoven, since the first time I heard it, but never entirely warmed up to the Brahms. But there are a number of pieces, e.g., Bach S&P, that took a while to warm up to, but which I now love. Hard to say. It may have something to do with coming to understand and appreciate the complexity that makes it beautiful. Dunno. Perhaps others will have insight.

January 21, 2013 at 01:05 AM · Maybe its just me, but I've never been a big fan of the "grand" concerto. I would much rather listen to a sonata, quartet or symphony. To me, it just seems like most concertos including the above mentioned ones were composed to showcase the soloist's talents rather than create a meaningful, expressive work of art. That being said, Fritz Kreisler's interpretation of the Beethoven concerto is my fave, as he seems to infuse some real purpose to it all--but then again, that's Fritz for you.

Perhaps that's why Brahms and Beethoven only wrote one violin concerto. Maybe thats also why virtuosos like Paganini and Vieuxtemps wrote many!

January 21, 2013 at 02:21 AM · I think you're right it's the complexity of the composition that causes this effect to happen.

Of these two concertos I think the 3rd movement of the Brahms is my favorite. It may be me but it looks like both the virtuoso and the orchestra are really working hard on this one.

January 21, 2013 at 02:59 AM · It might take a live performance to really get to you. I've seen Heifetz do the Beethoven and Stern and Friedman do the Brahms. What happens to listeners of these compositions in a live performance is different than what you get on a recording - no doubt.

I love them both! (Not putting down chamber music either, which is also great when done to perfection.)


January 21, 2013 at 03:15 AM · I don't notice that at all. To me violin concertos are easy to appreciate due to the single expressive voice.

If a performance of a piece is not working for you, you could try some others, including new interpretations. The literature is not that broad, which means that each piece is recorded by many different artists, ideally with their distinctive stamp.

Of the ones I've heard so far, I most like Mutter's early performance of the Beethoven, but didn't have any problem liking a few other interpretations as well.

January 21, 2013 at 12:28 PM · That definitely happened with me for the Brahms. When you hear it for the very first time it sounds complicated, contrived almost. On repeated hearings you discover the unity and the genius of the composition. It definitely did NOT happen with me for the Beethoven. I still remember a long time ago sitting in my car and the radio was playing a truly fantastic violin concerto. I couldn't wait until it was finished so that the radio presenter would say what it was. It was...the Beethoven.

January 22, 2013 at 01:56 AM · The Brahms is my favorite concerto - but the first time through it was just too big. Now that I know the themes, I hear them in all woven together, hinted at, and then explored - and there is a huge sense of anticipation of them actually arriving in the music. What a huge piece of music. Beautiful.

January 22, 2013 at 02:04 AM · I enjoy Rachel Barton Pine's Brahms. :)

January 22, 2013 at 02:19 AM · Music has sometimes been compared to language, but as I see it, each piece of music, or at least each piece of really original and significant music, is more like a language of its own. And just as with a language, there is a learning process we need to go through in order to achieve real understanding.

Even when a new piece puzzles us, or if we don't immediately warm to it, we sense something in it that we feel will reward further listening. And so we continue to listen, and each time we pick up more of the vocabulary and grasp more of the syntax. Until, hopefully, we "get it."

So, congratulations. At least as far as these two great concertos are concerned: you got it. You now understand.

January 22, 2013 at 02:19 AM · I think you will hasten your appreciation of these works (and some others) if you play in the orchestra accompanying the soloist. It's not just the performance but the rehearsals leading up to it as well.

January 23, 2013 at 01:10 PM · To play in an orchestra with a soloist that can play those concertos. Well its a dream that I have. But I doubt it will come true. Still I can dream.

January 23, 2013 at 01:13 PM · Victor you hit the nail on the head. There was definitely something that kept me coming back. You explain that very nicely!!

January 24, 2013 at 03:59 PM · Mike:

Welcome to the club.

Let's take a look at the Beethoven, 1st movement. The 5 drum taps starting it out is the secret. EVERYTHING the orchestra plays in this movement is in 5-beat phrases (quarter notes, sixteenth notes, etc.). Listen to each melody - each of its phrases comes to rest on a 5th beat.

What I believe Beethoven captured here is the human breath. Inhale on beats 1-4, and exhale on beat 5 (which gives a feeling of a release of tension, like a sigh). Therefore, beat #5 of one phrase is simultaneously beat #1 of the next - they overlap.

Therefore, you never really hear it or "feel" it the same way twice in this movement.

The violin, as the solo instrument which contrasts with the orchestra, joins them sometimes. But other times, it breaks free of the 5-beat motif (or seems to) and sounds like a non-rhythmic patter of raindrops.

Otherwise, remember, everything in this movement is in 5's. I believe that this gives this movement that universal quality of serenity - one is constantly experiencing a relaxing sigh. It's the breath of life

My favorite performance is Zino Francescatti (Ormandy, 1950, Philadelphia Orchestra). The tempo is perfect for breathing. In addition to Francescatti's elegant technique, beautiful tone and vibrato, and warmth, his subtle rubatos and rhythmic pauses and other styling here and there is not overdone and does not break the innate pulse of the music.

Hope that helps.



January 24, 2013 at 06:22 PM · Sandy yes I can definitely identify with what you're saying. Very eloquently stated!!

You must be a composer yourself.


January 24, 2013 at 07:21 PM · Sandy - very interesting insight. The thing I recall from learning the solo part in the first movement is that it is essentially different exercises from a scale book strung together. Amazing what someone like Beethoven was able to do with that material.

January 25, 2013 at 03:07 PM · In very different ways, these concertos are far from being show-pieces or ego trips for the soloist.

The Beethoven can seem like a collection of scales and arpeggios, verging on the bland, but the timing tranforms them into something of celestial genius. The concerto belongs to the serene, radiant part of Beethoven's work, like the Pastoral Symphony, the Spring Sonata, or the Mass in C major. The soloist is like an angel..

The Brahms has a monstruous solo part, but not in an ear-titillating way. The soloist is a like a Byronic hero in a vast lanscape of mountains and valleys..

My favorite recordings? Grumiaux or Suk for the Beethoven, Oistrakh or Perlman for the Brahms.

January 25, 2013 at 04:08 PM · That is interesting. Youre right at first it does sound like etudes. Probably why I was initially put off. It takes a while to get the underlying beauty. Well now I cant stop listening to it. And its not getting old!

January 25, 2013 at 04:32 PM · By the way, I'm not a composer: I'm a psychologist and an amateur violinist. But the Beethoven Concerto has been my favorite piece of music ever since I can remember (and that's going back many decades). I've never gotten tired of it, and I always find new things in it that I hadn't realized before. That, I think, is what makes the BVC one of the great ones. And, you're right, he makes it all out of nothing; out of scales and arpeggios - musical DNA.



January 27, 2013 at 12:34 AM · Sandy --- your comment reminded me of falling head over heels in love with the Beethoven concerto the first time I ever heard it. Many years later (after I became a professional musician) I found out that my mother used to listen to classical music when she was pregnant with me, in hopes that I (or whoever "the baby" turned out to be) would like classical music. The piece she listened to the most was the Beethoven violin concerto.

P.S. Grumiaux/Galliera, Suk/Boult (although I haven't heard it in a long time), and Zukerman/Barenboim for Beethoven. At the moment, Zukerman/Barenboim for Brahms....

July 22, 2014 at 04:33 PM · It's been a while for this discussion, but I've got one more additional idea - just a thought.

If indeed the first movement of the Beethoven is so dominated by that omnipresent 5-beat motif in which the 5th beat is like a sigh or a sense of exhaling and coming to rest. And if this pattern is literally everywhere in the movement and is even built into the structure of the melodies....

then how does the violin provide contrast? This is, after all, a CONCERTO - the individual "against" the crowd.

It has always seemed to me that in many, many of the violin passages in this movement, it is very, very difficult to pick up the beat (that is, the 5 beat motif or even the 4 beats to the measure) in the violin part.

Could it be that Beethoven has provided the ultimate contrast? That is, the way in which the solo violin contrasts with the ever-present 5-beat element is to have NO beats. That is, it's like just one note after another - like raindrops. It's the ultimate contrast.

So the violin joins the orchestra sometimes, and other times just plays an ongoing series of notes, thereby establishing its contrast with and freedom from the orchestra.

I realize that this may be a rather obscure aesthetic theory about this piece, but it does fit what Beethoven valued - freedom.



July 22, 2014 at 05:28 PM · Mike, I think you raise an interesting point. I had a similar experience with Beethoven's Pastoral symphony and the quartet Op74 (the so-called 'Harp'). In both cases I think it was connected with the performances I'd heard. I admired the Pastoral symphony but it didn't do anything for me, until I heard a recording conducted by Erich Kleiber. Suddenly it all made sense both musically and psychologically/emotionally. It has become one of my favorite symphonies and because I now 'get' it I can enjoy a much wider range of performances. With the quartet the problem was mainly with the slow movement - usually too slow and 'over-upholstered' (Robert Simpson). Then I heard the Fine Arts quartet recording (1960-something vintage) - perfection - just as I'd always wanted to hear it. Suddenly it all made sense.

Sometimes I think that repeated listening helps to cement the musical structure in the mind - it becomes easier to 'remember' the themes, keys etc and to then appreciate the way the material is organised or developed - in an emotional as well as an intellectual way. I've just been listening to the Nielsen symphonies and enjoying them more and more with each hearing, as I discover new things. (Still struggling with no 6 though....).

Someone (can't remember who) made an interesting comment which I believe to be true. We may enjoy unfamiliar music, but would we enjoy a full concert programme of music we have never heard? So I think there is something about music and familiarity..... and of course it is greatly facilitated by recordings.

July 22, 2014 at 05:38 PM · Lets revive this topic... most concertos don't do it for me either... it took Fritz Kreisler's recording of the Beethoven concerto to find meaning. IMO, classical-era concertos were written largely to display virtuosity. Artistic merit was considered secondary. Even Bach's violin concertos including the double don't seem to have the depth and meaning of his orchestral and chamber works. Tchaikovsky raised the artistic bar, and others followed (Sibelius, Khatchaturian, Pfitzner...) Concertos are quite sensitive to the performers. It is also exceedingly difficult to capture the excitement in a home recording.

July 22, 2014 at 05:59 PM · I don't understand this topic at all. On the whole, symphonies leave me cold but these two concertos blew me away from the first bar of each (well, the first bar when the solo violin played that is ;) ). Same goes for the Bruch, Sibelius, Lalo but less, I confess, for the Tchaikovsky, which I find more wonderful-in-parts...

One of those things that I would have naively thought was the case for most violinists, but I guess I presumed...

July 24, 2014 at 07:48 PM · I sort of agree with Elise here. It did not take me long to warm up to any of the major violin concertos (Beethoven and Brahms included). They are all exhilarating for me to listen to. Maybe there is an element of awe (for me, anyway) that the soloist is able to perform well under such pressure...

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