listening to beethoven violin concerto

July 19, 2015 at 12:59 AM · I am not working on this piece right now, nor do I plan to anytime soon, but I just listened to it for the first time in a recording. Is it normal to not really like it? I don't know why, it kind of just sounds to me like a lot of scales and octaves, and the melody is kind of dry and has the style of Mozart but not the charm. The orchestral part almost sounds more beautiful to me than the solo. Also, the third movement, to me, sounds way better than the rest of the piece. It's like boring, boring, then boom something interesting. Just overall, really unbalanced. Do I just have poor taste? The version I listened to was Heifetz.

Replies (51)

July 19, 2015 at 01:53 AM · Put it aside, listen to other stuff, keep learning and challenging yourself, and maybe come back to it later. Some folks dont like Tolstoy either. As for me, I do not like opera, and I do not apologize for that. I've tried, and I just dont like it. I do not like eggplant either.

July 19, 2015 at 02:04 AM · I don't think you have poor taste. I'd just bet you have a boring recording.

I like Hilary Hahn for a modern recording of this.

July 19, 2015 at 02:15 AM · Beethoven admitted himself that he was not much of a melodic composer. Truth is, a lot of the piece is just scales and arpeggios. And yet, I have to say, it's absolutely breathtaking when I get a chance to properly sit down and listen to it. Maybe it's just not your cuppa, and that's fine. I don't have the same affection towards Lalo as many other violinists do, I just can't see past how drawn out and tediously dramatic it is...

Anyhow, the recordings you may have listened to might not be the best. I really enjoy Janine Jansen's recording (paired with a really phenomenal Britten). Her collaboration with Paavo Jarvi and Die Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen comes out as fresh, but still very emotive.

July 19, 2015 at 02:30 AM · Listen to Perlman.

July 19, 2015 at 02:32 AM · I much prefer Beethoven's piano concerti.

July 19, 2015 at 02:42 AM · Thanks Lydia. I listened to a little bit of Hilary Hahn's version, and liked it much better, but I'm still trying to figure out what I'm not seeing. Honestly, it's very hard for me to hate Hilary Hahn because her interpretations are generally very conservative, but for the same reason, it's very hard for me to fall deeply in love with her playing as well(for the most part anyway, her bach is just insane). Is there a version that's maybe a little bit more polarizing?

I'll listen to some of these other versions that you guys keep mentioning, but can someone explain to me exactly why you like this concerto? It's probably hard to articulate exactly why you like something, but I just want to hear your thoughts. To me, it sounds not quite like Mozart, and not quite like Brahms. Oddly, I've yet to play anything by him, but I imagine the phrasing must be absurdly difficult.

July 19, 2015 at 03:16 AM · Working out phrasing for Beethoven is like working on Brahms, but with a more lighter touch. Like assembling a card house. An extensive, towering card house, with a big reputation that would be very embarrassing to accidentally demolish.....

I just find the piece very fresh, lively. Like a crisp glass of ice water. Certainly not as flashy as Tchaikovsky or honest as Mozart. Yet, everything is there, under the surface. I could listen to it for a week.

(Of course, the recording matters. I often unfortunately feel the same way about HH...her playing is flawless, but I feel is a bit uninspired at times. Not to say that she is not a phenomenal musician. I'll personally stick to JJ's more emotionally forthcoming interpretation.)

July 19, 2015 at 04:59 AM · The Beethoven violin concerto is one of - if not THE - most profound violin concertos in all of the repertoire. Is it just made of scales and arpeggios? One might make similar arguments against much of Bach and Mozart. They are the building blocks of tonal music. Then it's what you do with them. Beethoven not a melodist? There are a few wonderful melodies in the 1st mvt. alone, my favorite being the G minor section. The second mvt. is on a spiritual plane beyond words. And at least the last mvt. seems to have caught the fancy even of the o.p.

But it is those very qualities that can elude a listener on a first or even 4th hearing. Different people have trouble getting into different types or styles of music and then often eventually do. As a kid I generally loved Baroque and Romantic music but it took me much longer to come to appreciate a lot of Haydn and Mozart. When I was first taught the Meditation from Massenet's

"Thais" it took me a while to get it. Ironically it eventually became one of my signature pieces. I played it many times with piano and recorded it in that format and performed it more than half a dozen times with orchestra, including a well-received YouTube.

As I recall, I got into the Beethoven as a young listener pretty quickly, but it took me longer to love the Brahms. Speaking of Hillary Hahn, she admitted in her own program notes to her recording of the Sibelius that it took her a while to get into it as a listener and fully appreciate it. So yes, put it away, take it up again after some time, put it away again, and hopefully you will come to appreciate its sublime qualities.

Recommended recordings? For excitement try Heifetz. For suppleness, architectural coherence and poise, listen to Arthur Grumiaux - my personal overall favorite. There is an excellent YouTube with Perlman, Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic, in some ways a bit in-between the above two. Favorite cadenzas? Why, my own of course!

July 19, 2015 at 05:04 AM · GreEtings,

there is no law that says you have to like this concerto and it may take some time to find a version that suits you. One of my strongest musical memories is an overwhelmingly beautiful performance I heard by Manoug Parikien when I was a teenager, but although he is well known within the profession he is not exactly a household name. Actually he was a very close friend of Joseph Szigeti who was a great Beethoven interpreter and they had a long correspondence over the years exchanging fingering ideas on the major works.

There are two Heifetz recordings and the one he made with Toscanini tends to take some flak because it was possibly l??? an unfortunate combination of a very high tension soloist and a like minded conducter.. The second recording he made is mor eland back ans , in my opinion , profoundly beautiful. Of the older players my own preference is for Kreisler who I think understood this concerto to a T and plays it sublimely.

For me, the all time great performance of this is on DVD of Grumiaux which is around on YouTube . That for me that is not only perhaps the greatest Beethoven but also one of the greatest recordings of any violin music around. Grumiaux was a noted Performer of this concerto over the year s, his recording with Colin Davies was selected as the best Beethoven on more than a few occasions by Classical Grmaphone Magazines if I recall correctly. Like wise the Mendelssohn on the DVD is awesome.

There are some good modern performances out there of which I also prefer Hahn, Zimmerman and Repin. The one that I can't stand is guy pretty much my favorite violinist, Vengerov. With this concerto you have to understand the meaning of everynote, ever silence and the roles they play. but you can't then shove it in your audiences face as if to say 'look how profound I am' Good old maxim had a bit of a spasm in this department....



July 19, 2015 at 05:09 AM · ps the Francescatti version on YouTube is also stunning.

July 19, 2015 at 05:23 AM · I was listening to the Kreisler recordings of this concerto a few days ago, in order to hear how he played his own cadenzas. But his interpretations are very charming, even if absolutely no one would play the work like that today.

July 19, 2015 at 09:51 AM · @Kevin "I much prefer Beethoven's piano concerti."

Kevin, there is the possibility that you may not be taken by Beethoven's little-known piano concerto nr. 6. It is his own transcription of his violin concerto, written, I believe, for a specific concert. I heard a recording of it on the radio once, and it just didn't work for me.

July 19, 2015 at 11:43 AM · For me, David Oistrakh is unsurpassed. His recordings will show you what is behind the dots. Take the opening - no longer just an arpeggio in octaves, but beautifully melodic. And its only when I followed his performance with the score I realised just how much he's "doing" with the music because it all sounds so natural.

Yes, I've accompanied some awful performances of this work, but with the right soloist it's magical.

July 19, 2015 at 12:12 PM · I don't enjoy the work, To me it sounds boring and certainly not violinistic. But there were about 200 different recordings of the piece, so you can choose.

July 19, 2015 at 01:26 PM · Surely it must rate as possibly the greatest violin concerto ever written? (Maybe Brahms is a contender too).

Menuhin and Furtwangler were great. Kreisler even greater. Some others were nearly up there as well. Just my opinion.

July 19, 2015 at 02:46 PM · Growing up I did not like the Beethoven piano sonatas even though I was assigned a few of the easiest ones to learn. My dad had the full set of LPs with Artur Schnabel and another record of just the most popular ones with Vladimir Horowitz. Much more recently I got the recordings with John O'Conor and wow, they are so much more alive to me. Even though much time has passed and my ability to appreciate what is inside the music has improved greatly, still I do not care for Schabel.

Since we are on the subject of tastes and distastes I will say also that I do not care for hardly any of the music of Sarasate, Viotti, or Weiniawski, although Weiniawski's concertos are tolerable. My own personal feeling is that the great violinists who decided to compose "serious" violinistic music (that is, concertos rather than just studies and caprices) succeeded well in the violinistic part but not especially well in the musical part. I think there is more music in the Kreutzer Sonata than there is in all of the compositions of Viotti and Sarasate combined. This music will continue to be performed, however, because it is viewed as a challenge to be overcome by the player (a crucible or proving ground), and because the musical aspects are sufficiently simplistic (predictable, formulaic) for most general audiences to appreciate.

Finally, recall that a couple of summers ago, had a concerto competition to see what's the best concerto ever written, and the Beethoven emerged as the winner.

July 19, 2015 at 03:28 PM · Shawn,

I think you answered your own question when you said "The orchestral part almost sounds more beautiful to me than the solo."

This concerto is very special because it is an orchestral work that just happens to have a violin solo attached. The soloist's demand is to help to highlight the harmonic motion, to embellish the melodic line, and to participate in the musical result rather than to lead it.

It has been pointed out that there are 2 distinctly different recordings with Heifetz as soloist. I personally prefer the one with Toscanini conducting, possibly because the conductor has the real power and control over the musical direction. In the Reiner it seems to me that Heifetz just takes off and tries (unsuccessfuly in my mind) to take command.

Shawn, you also mention that you seem to like Mozart (concertos) better than this Beethoven. In for instance the Mozart #5 there is no substantial melodic material introduced until the entrance of the soloist with the recitative-like opening Adagio solo. This is the opposite of the Beethoven in which the orchestra introduces us to the all the thematic material bringing us to the soloist who plays an extended dominant 7th chord figuration which finally finally brings us to the 1st theme which is in a glorious high position on the violin.

July 19, 2015 at 03:36 PM · Shawn, I went through a period of not enjoying this concerto (which is now top of my list!). I think the key for me was appreciating that there is so much more to this concerto than the solo part. Beethoven has been described as "music's supreme architect" and I find that if I listen at least in part 'architecturally' I get so much more out of the music (even the much-derided triple concerto becomes much more interesting). A couple of examples in the first movement. The four taps on the tympani at the start are no mere introduction - they reappear at crucial point in the movement and (gently) steer the music home at the end of the development. And there's that wrenching modulation into C at the start of the development....

'Beethoven admitted himself that he was not much of a melodic composer'. Well the great man did himself a gross injustice - he managed to write the slow movement of the quartet op127, the slow movement of the triple concerto, the Pastoral symphony etc. and the concerto under discussion.

'Truth is, a lot of the piece is just scales and arpeggios. '... 'They are the building blocks of tonal music. ' Quite so, and they are often the building blocks of great melodies too.

Performances? I love Josef Suk's recording with Konwitschny (sp?) - not for everyone, very leisurely, but Suk makes the best use of the time and space they create, and it never drags. The sound is not good, unfortunately. There are some fabulous performances on Youtube - including one by Francescatti.

Or as someone suggested, take a break from it. You may appreciate it more when you come back to it. Sometimes music seems to ferment in the mind or the subconscious, and becomes much more impressive after an extended break. Meanwhile there are lots of very different concertos to get to grips with.

July 19, 2015 at 03:44 PM · Stephen, another fan of Parikian here! I think he may have recorded this concerto in the days of LP - I think I recall seeing it in a second-hand shop - for some insane reason I didn't buy it. Or maybe my memory is playing tricks.... Some interesting stuff on Youtube too, which I must get round to sampling. I used to enjoy his occasional chamber music broadcasts with Amaryllis Fleming and Bernard Roberts.

July 19, 2015 at 05:20 PM · Bruce wrote, "In for instance the Mozart #5 there is no substantial melodic material introduced until the ... opening Adagio solo."

That is not true of Mozart 3, however.

July 19, 2015 at 06:20 PM · The Beethoven has always sounded very pianistic to my ears. Beethoven arranged the concerto for piano and orchestra shortly after its premiere.

I listened to piano arrangement for the first time recently . The piano/orchestra interplay sounds a bit mechanical to my ears. It works on a certain level but it's missing a nuance or contrast in the orchestration that comes though best through the solo violin and strings.

I wonder if Beethoven wrote the tutti before the solo rather than the other way around. I would be curious if anyone had any ideas about this.


July 19, 2015 at 08:11 PM · Greetings,

Lydia, I am not entirely clear if you are suggesting from your post above that the Kresiler version is primarily charming?

I am not at all surprise d that Peter voted it as one of the best ever recordings. I suppose one of the main characterstics of Kreisler`s playing was that it was charming, which I am inclined ot interpret as bewitching! I cannot see that this is a failing (not suggesting you said that) and it certainly doesnt prevent there from being an incredible depth of interpretation, more so than a lot of modern players in my opinion. Not because older players are better than modern plyers or vice versa. It was equally true when he was alive, so its just a measure of his greatness.

in company with Peter is Heifetz while Szigeti ( another timless violinist who would surely know better than most) wrote about his excitement at hearing Kreisler play the Elgar concerto.

Nobody would play it like Kreilser nowadays because they can`t . But why would they want to imitate him or menuhin et al anyway?;) I think one of the reasons players like Kreisler, Oistrakh and Szigeti played the Beethoven so well is they approached it from the perspective of the score. There are quite a few versions on you tube of young modern players who dont seem to have the same fundamental understanding.

I also find the Kreisler version a model of use of intonation which is often superior to modern players.



July 19, 2015 at 08:44 PM · Absolutely.

When I played the recording of Kreisler playing the Beethoven and in particular the Brahms concertos my wife ( a pianist) was amazed that Kreisler had such a wonderfully classical approach to these concertos. No over ramanticising as we hear with more recent performances. Being of a rather younger generation she had never experienced these great players including Menuhin, and had only heard the overdone slush that unfortunately pervades some of the more recent performances, and the over vibratoed sound.

July 19, 2015 at 09:06 PM · Comparing Viotti, Sarasate and Wieniawski to the Beethoven “Kreutzer” Sonata is like comparing apples to oranges to bananas – or as I believe they say in the UK, chalk and cheese. The Viotti #22 is a truly fine and charming work – an opinion shared by Brahms, who paraphrased a tiny bit of it in a passage of his own violin concerto. When it comes to Wieniawski and Sarasate, there is so much there that is lovely and charming – hardly mere empty virtuoso challenge for a violinist to simply try to overcome. If you have a sense of finesse and panache, which say, Aaron Rosand, who recorded all the Sarasate pieces, has in spades, Sarasate emerges with authentic Spanish style, flair AND great virtuosity.

Speaking of which, the legendary pianist, Vladimir Horowitz, bristled when he heard a critic sniff that you must be more than a mere virtuoso. “Yes”, he said, “but to be more than a virtuoso you must first BE a virtuoso.” And to those who don’t feel the Beethoven concerto to be violinistic, I wonder how many have actually played it? No, it doesn’t have obvious violin virtuoso hallmarks such has staccato, left-hand pizzicato or harmonics – but most of it lies very well in the hands, though it is still quite challenging. The Brahms concerto is far more awkward.

BTW, speaking of the pianist, Arthur Schnabel, he used to say “The difference between me and other pianists is that in my programs, the 2nd half is as boring as the first!” It’s good that he could poke fun at himself, but the academicism of his programming probably went hand-in-hand with his interpretations. Someone like Claudio Arrau plummets the depths of the Beethoven sonatas while also infusing this music with elegance and a supple plasticity.

July 19, 2015 at 09:39 PM · Well, Rosand can make music out of anything, though, can't he? :)

About Viotti's No. 22 being good ... what of the other 28 that he wrote? There's that old adage, that if you put enough monkeys in front of typewriters, eventually one of them will write the Bible.

Okay, Viotti's not that bad. I just don't think his concertos or Weiniawski's are close to those of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, or Mozart as regards musical content. They still may be perfectly fine for students to study -- and for musicality as well as technique. Probably that explains why they are not often recorded.

Actually, I have no idea how anyone can take the Beethoven concerto seriously, lacking runs in tenths and left-hand pizzicato...

July 19, 2015 at 10:08 PM · I once heard that the ultimate test of an artist is to make the most boring music sound interesting.

July 19, 2015 at 10:19 PM · I think the ultimate test of an artist is to create a new, compelling, and beautiful musical experience playing something that has been recorded dozens of times before, such as the standard concerto repertoire.

July 19, 2015 at 11:40 PM · I like charm. :-)

I pretty much adore anything Kreisler ever recorded. Along with violinists like Campoli.

July 19, 2015 at 11:41 PM · Shawn, I think it will grow on you with time. Let it rest for a while, listen to different recordings and then go listen to something else. At least, that is how it happened to me. I had listened to it many times and even attended a concert with Salvatore Accardo playing it (in Brazil these opportunities are not taken for granted). At the time, I remember I found the concerto beautiful and some of the orchestra parts were really cool, but that was it. Only with time did I start really admiring it.

July 19, 2015 at 11:44 PM · Grillocks. It's the only thing I lack...

Funny you should mention Campoli. Another of my treasured memories is hearing Campoli play the Mendellssohn with the same quasi amateur orchestra in the same grotty church as Parikien's sublime Beethoven.



July 20, 2015 at 12:56 AM · Viotti wrote 28 other concertos?? I thought that he wrote only one but curiously named it #22! ;-)

Actually, as a student I also studied #23. Now THAT one was more of a student piece.

July 20, 2015 at 01:03 AM · the first violin concerto I ever heard (record) was Heifetz/Toscanini Beethoven (no idea which one--NBC, and the old LP had a white container, with gold, as I recall). I have never recovered from that music; it's largely why I started playing violin. Never could figure out what it was about the piece and performer that stuck so deep, but it did. (I love the Kreisler performances, too, btw).

July 20, 2015 at 03:49 PM · Thank you for these very interesting responses/conversation. I'll try to all of keep elements/recordings in mind when I listen to it again.

July 20, 2015 at 05:53 PM · I have posted the following analysis of the Beethoven 1st movement several times. Here it is again. Pardon my grandiosity. I'm only an amateur violinist, but I think I know how to listen to and "get" this piece. And once you do, I think you'll know that this is indeed not only the greatest violin concerto ever written, but one of the great artistic achievements of Western civilization. And it is indeed made out of "nothing" - i.e., scales and arpeggios - musical DNA.

The 1st 5 drumtaps are the key that unlocks how the movement is built.


Posted on September 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Actually, I believe, those first 5 drumbeats are the breath of life. Allow me to explain. Beats #1-4 parallel the inhaling of an ordinary, everyday sigh, like the kind of shallow but tension-relieving sigh we all take several times a day without even noticing it. And there is a build-up of tension on beats 1-4, just as there is when we inhale during a sigh.

On beat #5, we relax and exhale. And the tempo is exactly the same as the everyday sigh. So, Beat #1 of one breath is simultaneously beat #5 of the previous sigh. So we have a constant juxtaposition of the beginning of an inhalation and the relaxing exhalation - they overlap.

And this constant pattern is built into the music almost everywhere. Everything (even lengthened melodies and those 16-note figures) are all in beats of 5. Listen to the melodies; each has its "resting points" on a 5th beat.

This is the micro-structure of the 1st movement. Beethoven captured, I believe, the very breath of life. And since there is always that juxtaposition going on of Beats 1 and 5 simultaneously, you never hear the piece exactly the same way each time.

That, I believe, is the meaning of why he began with 5 drumtaps.

Even that loud passage where the orchestra bangs out those 5 notes, there's a measure of silence in between. Even the silence is in a 5-beat motif. No?

OK, so don't believe me. But I think it's there, and it's one of the things that makes this piece endlessly alive.

And what is the contrast between the solo violin and the orchestra? It is that the solo violin sometimes joins the 5-beat rhythm, and sometimes plays passages in which there is no sense of beat. That's one of the ways that the violin as the solo instrument provides contrast.

My favorite recording? Zino Francescatti, Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy (about 1950). Because, among other things, they stick to that inner 5-beat pulse. Francescatti's small pauses and rubato phrases are not overdone and are just right. It's a great, great performance among many great performances.


I might also add that the rapid 16th note motifs are all in 5's, as are the lengthy "melodies" (which have 5th beat resting points). Beethoven did nothing by accident. The 5 drum taps IS the motif. And the violin's going off again and again on "just one note after another" is the freedom from the 5-beat motif. It's the contrast.

Simply brilliant. And brilliantly simple.

I hope that helps. Unfortunately, although I love equally movements 2 and 3, I have no such analytical insights for those.



July 21, 2015 at 02:46 AM · "And it is indeed made out of "nothing" - i.e., scales and arpeggios - musical DNA" - so Sandy, what you're saying is that this is a show about nothing! ;-D

Actually your good points lead me to sharing an interpretive tidbit from one of my great teachers, Aaron Rosand: in mm 140-141 of the 1st mvt. he advises to unlock that hidden code a step further by emphasizing the 1st of each 1/16th into the 1/8th note of m141.

As to an insight into mvts. 2 and 3, in my cadenza to mvt. 2 I found a way to connect and bridge the main themes of those two respective movements.

July 21, 2015 at 12:21 PM · Raphael:

Here, here!!

Thank you.

Yes, I'm sure that there are a thousand different subtleties, many of which haven't even been thought of yet.

What a great concerto.



July 25, 2015 at 03:58 PM · Shawn:

I hope you got a chance to read my "analysis" of the Beethoven (above). I think it will give you an understanding of how to listen to it, in that the "melody" is actually a rhythm, one in which you are constantly experience a sense of exhaling and coming to rest. Beethoven responded more to physiology than anyone has ever given him credit for.



July 25, 2015 at 08:02 PM · I just saw your message Sander, thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I didn't pay attention as much to the timpani in the background the first few times i listened to the piece. I must say that paying attention to the structure of the work has really made it more alive for me. The music has a sort of subtle intensity to it, hard to put into words. I'm still learning to like some aspects of it, but I think I've began to understand it better.

July 26, 2015 at 12:21 AM · The Beethoven Violin Concerto has always held a special place in my being (heart, mind, soul, whatever). It was one of the few 78 rpm violin concerto recordings we had in the house in the 1940s and 50s (Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms,Tchaikovsky) - and all with Heifetz and (I think) Reiner conducting.

For those too young to know, a violin concerto would typically take both sides of three 78 rpm disks, and occupy as much volume as 12 CD jewel boxes do today.

As a special present for my 16th birthday in 1950, my father took me to hear Heifetz perform the Beethoven with the Baltimore Symphony. It was a magnificent experience for me (one I can still close my eyes and see). Since I knew this was going to happen 6 months in advance, I spent those 6 months intensely working on the concerto so I would know every "inch" of it. But I still can't get over Heifetz's pizzicatos in the 3rd movement - it sounded like a gunshot and had me looking all over the hall to see what had happened - until I realized what it was.

I have since read that Heifetz was close-miked in recording sessions - but I can tell you that the balance I heard in that live performance had Heifetz's sound every bit up front as it was on the recording.

He is not the only violinist I have heard live who can sound that big - Hahn, and Perlman have done it for me too. But there is also something to be learned from violinists whose sound blends differently with the orchestra. I heard Friedman perform the Brahms and he was definitely more "under" the orchestra sound and from that I gained an appreciation of Brahms' ability to bring out the violin's overtones so that they rise above the orchestra while it seems that the solo can't quite be heard - but apparently it can be heard enough.

It's something to think about when making music - not everybody gets to play the Soil Strad (Menuhin/Perlman) or David/Heifetz Guarneri del Gesu.


July 27, 2015 at 02:01 AM · Andrew - what a wonderful experience you had, hearing Heifetz in person! But now you bring up the very interesting subject of PROJECTION – a subject that could have its own thread. But let us continue here.

There are a number of aspects to projection – or lack thereof: the player, the instrument, the scoring of the music, the acoustics of the hall, where in the hall the listener is seated, etc. Most violinist of that generation were closely miked – and why not? Except that if you’re mostly raised on those records you may be in for a disappointment at an occasional live performance. My early records included a lot of Heifetz, a good deal of Oistrakh and some Francescatti who I heard live once as a young man with orchestra – Prokoviev #2 - and was disappointed at what seemed lack-luster, compared to his spectacular Paganini, and Saint-Saens on vinyl. With more live listening experience my ears adjusted more. Nadien came through very clearly as did Perlman and Rosand - and Dicterow perhaps most of all, in my experience. Glenn was one of my great teachers (as was Rosand) and the only one to get specifically into projection at private lessons and master classes. “Get those overtones to fly right out of the violin and into the hall” is one of Glenn’s sayings. But where in the hall? I once gave a recital after which one person said the piano was too loud, one said that the piano was not loud enough (can you imagine?) and one who said that the balance was just right. As it turned out, each one had sat in a very different part of the hall. It also helps to face the audience and not have our profile to them. If we’re going to use a stand, we should keep it fairly low.

Heifetz was known to project very well. He once won a bet with his brother-in-law that he would come through loud and clear in a passage of the Chausson Poeme that had swamped every other violinist. The tone of “Great H” penetrated the dense orchestration and sailed into the hall. In one of his televised master classes he warned one of his students who was playing the same piece that in that passage she had to give it all she can or the audience would not hear anything and only see her bow moving. Silverstein and Dicterow similarly warned students re the Brahms concerto. And the Barber concerto is notorious in that regard.

Some players project more than others and some instruments do. But it is also the chemistry of player and instrument. Once Jacques Thibauld had to leave his Strad in the shop before an important concert. He asked Ysaye if he could borrow his Strad. “Sure” replied his great friend. “But you can also take my del Gesu and see which one you like better”. After the concert JT returned the violins to Y. He said he liked them both but liked the Strad more, which also projected better. “No”, said Y. For projection, the del Gesu is definitely better.” They proceeded to play on both for one another at some distance. When Y played, the del Geu projected more; when T played, the Strad projected more! Also, with both instruments and players, there is more than one kind of projection: some project in a straightforward manner; others seem to have surround sound. The acoustics of the space also have their effect.

July 27, 2015 at 11:19 AM · Hi Raphael,

Could you expand a bit please on Silvertein's/Dicterow's comment regarding projection in the Brahms concerto: did they mean to apply that comment to the work in general or was it specific passages?

I sat in the second to last row in the nosebleed section of a performance of the Brahms last year and felt that some portions came through okay, but certain parts of the piece kinda got lost in the distance...thanks, Ken

July 27, 2015 at 12:25 PM · Great discussion.

I, too, heard Heifetz (once, in recital, in the late 50's), and, as I recall, he was terrific. He played sonatas by Franck and, I think, Beethoven, plus several encores, which to my regret I do not remember. But I remember that sound, especially in the Franck, and it was vintage Heifetz.

I also heard Francescatti once. He played the Mendelssohn Concerto with the Chicago Symphony, and I still remember much of that performance. In contrast to what has been written above, Francescatti was as spectacular as he is on records. His sound just cut right through the orchestra, and it was so well articulated that it seemed he was playing right next to us. And the performance itself was great - warm, emotional, elegant, exciting, and alive with a sense of voice.

I'm also old enough to have heard Menuhin, Stern, Kogan, Oistrakh (6 times, 3 of them playing the Beethoven Concerto), Ricci (in his prime, which seems to have been for 90 years), Szeryng (who gave as perfect and exciting a performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto as one could ask for), and Milstein (several times, including his last performance in Chicago, and at age about 80 played the Chaccone and Paganiniana like he was 25 - incredible). I wouldn't trade a minute of any of it.

I think I'd rather hear a great violinist who may not be perfect or may be having an "off night" or may flub a few things here and there, but who plays from the heart, than to miss that occasional magic phrase.

One of the times I heard Oistrakh (in Chicago), he played the Prokofiev 1st Concerto. The first movement was incredible. But that second fast movement? He botched it completely. It was sloppy, notes were missing, and it was awful. The third movement was, however, back to the spectacular Oistrakh. The audience gave him a standing ovation anyway. And then, he came out for an encore, and - guess what? - he replayed that treacherous 2nd movement, this time in his usual spectacular and exciting manner. And, of course, he got a thunderous ovation. That's class.



July 27, 2015 at 10:32 PM · I'm glad you had a better live experience of Francescatti than I did. I don't think he was having an off-night. As I recall, everything was in place. I think it was a combination of the so-so acoustics in Brooklyn College where I heard him, where I might have been sitting, and expectations from high-presence recordings and not having heard too many live violin concerto performances yet, at that point in my life.

I love that Oistrakh story! Any great artist can have an off-night. At the same Brooklyn College Whitman Auditorium I heard Vladimir Spivakov in recital with piano - and it blew me away! A couple of years later he returned to the same hall for another recital. I was sitting in almost the exact same seat as before. This time I was very disappointed. There was something amiss with his sound all evening which in the previous recital was clear, brilliant and golden. I thought maybe it was me - and we can't dismiss how are ears are screwed on on any given day. But then I heard someone else sitting near me express to a friend what I was thinking almost word for word. Perlman played the Beethoven some 10-15 years ago on tv on the "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast on PBS with the NY Philharmonic. I'm sorry to say that the 1st mvt. was so poor that if an unknown student auditioned like that for a major conservatory, he probably wouldn't get in. The next 2 mvts. were better. Of all times to tank - at such a high-profile event. As to what he's capable of when he's on, I've already cited earlier: check out the Beethoven Youtube with him, Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic. That's the 'Perlmeister' I know and love!

July 27, 2015 at 10:46 PM · Re Brahms and projection challenges:

In Book 10 of "The Way They Play" Silverstein said on p.168: "The 1st time you play the Brahms with orchestra is a terrible experience. You get swamped. All the fiddles want to play the themes as if THEY were the soloists. So don't be afraid to play as loudly as you can."

I invite everyone to my website where I have a bunch of blogs.

One focused on a Glenn Dicterow Master Class. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Brahms concerto, 1st mvt.: You're coming in after a long introduction with the full sonority of the orchestra in forte bringing you in – and then there is you and your one little violin. You must come in like a house on fire. Try to match the sonority of the orchestra. You've got to tear the place up!

In the chord passages – this is not the time to be too flexible with your fingers on the bow, or they will collapse, and you won't achieve the necessary sonority and projection. Keep them a bit stiffer and more spread out. Also be sure to maintain the dotted rhythm – they should never border on triplets.

July 27, 2015 at 10:58 PM · Raphael,

Thanks for the clarification on the Brahms, much appreciated.



July 29, 2015 at 11:37 PM · Sander mentioned Milstein. A performance of his I saw on UK TV really brought the Beethoven across to me.

July 31, 2015 at 10:01 PM · Beethoven's violin concerto belongs to a group of luminous, radiant works: e.g. the 4th piano concerto, the 6th symphony, the C major mass.

Indeed, it comprises uncorrupted scales and arpeggios, but the timing of these is miraculous. The finale brings us down to earth after the lofty meditations of the first two movements.

August 3, 2015 at 09:24 PM · I have a fascinating edition prepared by Max Rostal: Schott ED 6274, which includes many variants in the violin part.

The manuscrpt contains Beethoven's first draft, perfectly playable, but somehow less "sublime"?

An extra staff (still in Beethoven's hand) contains many "improvements" from the dedicatee Franz Clement.

Another staff has Beethoven's further thoughts, and corresponds to the first printing, supervised by him.

Beethoven's sketchbooks show how he tortured his themes and motifs before deciding on the final version. Here we have him heeding the advice of a "mere" vioninist!

In Rostal' edition, all versions are effective, but in the final version the more academic "scales and arpeggios" are subtly "dislocated" to hold our attention.

August 5, 2015 at 10:29 AM · Playing the variants mentioned above helps me to understand why (for example) Viotti is not Beethoven, and K.Stamitz is not Mozart.


Beethoven writes his themes and sections in such a way that we have a single, but richly varied landscape, rather than a series of pretty picture-postcards.


Beethoven's initial draughts are often curiously banal, but then he will send an arpeggio in the opposite direction, lighten it with rests, mix semiquaver groups with triplets, or alternate high and low registers.

Plus the practical input from Franz Clement.

November 3, 2016 at 09:31 PM · Click on this (very) old discussion of various interpretations of the Beethoven:

I don't think I could have said it better myself.



November 4, 2016 at 02:21 AM · They say one of the joys of reaching your 30s is that you finally realize it's okay not to like jazz. Maybe the same is true of the Beethoven Concerto? ;)

I personally love the piece, but there are certainly some standards I don't love. I think most people probably do not really adore every single piece in the standard repertoire, even if they can't bring themselves to admit in polite company which ones they'd rather skip.

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