a question about 20th century violin music

September 6, 2005 at 02:43 AM · i read the biography of gioconda da vita and she went on record as saying she disliked modern vioin music because it wasn't violinistic. so i made a list of 20th century violin pieces and came up with

milton babbitt - violin concerto

samuel barber - violin concerto

bela bartok - violin concerto (1938)

arnold bax - violin concerto

amy beach - violin sonata in amin

alban berg - violin concerto

luciano berio - 2 pezzi

leonard bernstein - serenade

ernest bloch - violin concerto

ernest bloch - baal shem

lili boulanger - violin sonata

pierre boulez - anthemes for solo violin

benjamin britten - violin concerto

anthony burgess - violin concerto

ferruccio busoni - violin concerto

john cage - chorales for solo violin

john cage - one6 and one10

john cage - freeman etudes for violin solo

elliott carter - violin concerto

mario castelnuovo tedesco - violin concertos

samuel coleridge taylor - violin concerto

aaron copland - violin sonata

claude debussy - nocturnes (version 2 from 1894), originally a concerto for ysaye

frederick delius - violin concerto

david diamond - violin concertos

tan dun - crouching tiger, hidden dragon

edward elgar - violin concerto in bm

george gershwin - porgy & bess fantasy

alberto ginastera - violin concerto

philip glass - einstein on the beach

phillip glass - violin concerto

alexander glazunov - violin concerto in amin

sofia gubaidalina - offertorium

paul hindemith - kammermusik viii

hans werner henze - violin concertos

gustav holst - concerto for 2 violins

charles ives - violin sonatas

dmitri kabalevsky - violin concerto in cmaj

aram khachaturian - violin concerto in dmin

gyorgy ligeti - violin concerto

witold lutoslawski - chain ii

gustav mahler - violin concerto in f#m

bohuslav martinu - violin concerto

giancarlo menotti - violin concerto

nikolai myaskovsky - violin concerto

carl neilsen - violin concerto in gmin

arvo part - fratres

kryzstof penderecki - violin concertos

allan pettersson - violin concerto

astor piazzola - piano trios

sergei prokofiev - violin concertos

maurice ravel - violin sonata

maurice ravel - tzigane

steve reich - violin phase

ottorino respighi - violin sonata

george rochberg - violin concerto

joaquin rodrigo - violin concerto

christopher rouse - violin concerto

arnold schonberg - violin concerto

arnold schonberg - phantasy

roger sessions - violin concerto

dmitri shostakovitch - violin concerto in amin

dmitri shostakovitch - violin sonatas

jean sibelius - violin concerto in dmin

jean sibelius - six humoreskes

richard strauss - violin concerto in dmin

igor stravinsky - violin concerto in dmaj

igor stravinsky - a soldier's tale

karol szymanowski - violin concertos

michael tippett - violin concerto

anton webern - concerto for 9 instruments

ralph vaughan williams- the lark ascending

kurt weill - violin concerto

if i missed any, feel free to add them.

i personally have my own beliefs which i'll share later but i wanted to ask your opinions first.

do you feel any of these pieces are violinistic and have historical greatness in them? or do you agree with ms. vita that 18th and 19th century compositional standards were better? again, why?

Replies (49)

September 6, 2005 at 04:05 AM · So many wonderful pieces! I would have to add the Schnittke violin concerti and Bryars concerto "Bulls of Bashan" and some more but I could be here all night but those are two that immediately came to mind.

I personally have played many of the composers on that list and some of the works listed and I think good violin writing is still happening today. The Barber concerto for instance, is there a more gorgeaus slow movement out there? Ok some would disagree I'm sure but that is one of the few concerto's that takes me on a major trip somewhere everytime I hear it and perform it. The writing itself feels good on the violin and is a joy to play. The Lark Ascending, that is an absolutely gorgeaus work which I also find plays well on the violin and is always fun to play. I've heard pretty much every work you've listed (with the exception of a few) and I actually find that I enjoy a lot of the repertoire you've listed more than the concertos of Bruch, (dare I say it) Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and all the usual big name concertos of the repertoire. Maybe it's because I find the "usual" concertos somewhat overplayed or so often heard played by students but not a magical performance by a seasoned player who has security and maturity with the piece (though young players who are inexperienced can also bring many positive points and highlights to those works as well). On a whole I feel a bit more connected to 20th century music, there's something about the harmonies and dissonances, rhythm and structure that I find appealing and fun to play. There isn't nessecarily more freedom in the works but there isn't 300 years of interpretations and ideas on how to play the modern concerti and repertoire and which way is "right" so I feel more at liberty to be myself allowing me to go deeper into the music because there isn't that nagging feeling that someones going to hate what I've done with the piece.

ok I have to add Korngold, Goldmark, Part (the double concerto), Adams, Penderecki, Duttelieux, Rautavaara, Neilsen, Prokofiev (sp?) and many more.

September 6, 2005 at 07:49 AM · The 19th cent. pieces did less and less for me until I finally stopped listening. THey're great vehicles for a particular kind of event, but as music I'm permanently burned out on them and a lot of stuff in your list too. My complete thoughts on it are even more ironic than that. One thing I would like to hear that isn't on your list is the William Bolcom concerto, and I'll probably get around to it someday.

September 6, 2005 at 06:11 AM · "Schnittke"...O_O I played a Quintet by him, for his mom, I think. Very depressing. I have to say, comparing 20th century music to say...Baroque music or something, I definately prefer the latter. I Wuv romantic music though ^_^ (I know I'm weird)

I've only heard a few of those...

September 6, 2005 at 01:42 PM · What about Edgar Meyer's Violin Concerto?

September 6, 2005 at 02:42 PM · "or did the art of beautiful violin writing disappear after 1900?"

You already have a very good list comprised that answers this question well. There is much beautiful music written for violin written after 1900. There is music being written for the violin right now that is beautiful. There is also music that is being written whose purpose is something beyond simply being beautiful; much if it is meant to elicit a strong response whether it be shock, disgust or pure amazement.


September 6, 2005 at 03:25 PM · Don´t forget Offertorium by Gubaidulina one of the best violinconcertos of all time!

September 6, 2005 at 10:26 PM · Who is this gioconda da vita and why do you care what she says? She won't google.

September 7, 2005 at 04:49 AM · The Walton Violin Concerto in Bm is excluded from your list...

September 7, 2005 at 05:15 AM · The name is Gioconda De Vito, not vita. She made some enjoyable recordings with Menuhin, by the way.

Joseph Achron violin concerto.

September 8, 2005 at 09:32 PM · I would definitely add the Walton Violin Concerto to that list.

September 20, 2005 at 02:27 PM · Don't forget the Vainberg Violin Concerto? It's kind of like Shostakovich, but it is very beautiful, just like the Shostakovich pieces.

September 20, 2005 at 07:35 PM · Remember the concerti by Korngold, Lyapounov and Lehmann.

David Lillis

June 23, 2009 at 04:28 PM ·

Hello, I know this is not a response, but since yours was the post on 20th century violin music I hoped you could help.  I have a friend who has been looking for a piece of music for about 7 years.  It is a song he heard on a documentary and it was a beautiful, fast, aggressive, slightly dark piece of violin music.  He thinks it was probably turn of the century or newer because of how "simple" it was.  I would like to give him some possibilities for his birthday if it can be found.


Any thoughts?

June 23, 2009 at 05:13 PM ·

You could include the Berg Kammerkonzert, a raft of sonatas by Bartok, and the Walton Concerto.


I also have seen (not heard) a solo sonata by Rosza.


Don't forget John Harbison, who is married to a violinist and has written a fair bit for violin..

June 23, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

Do you have a link to this music so that we can hear it?

June 23, 2009 at 06:49 PM ·

Quite sadly no, I have his odd explanation of it.  I was going out on a limb just posting a question here.  But I thought if anyone would have a hunch it would be someone on here.  I've been trying to find documentaries so that he can tell me which one it was he saw it in so I can track it down that way.

June 23, 2009 at 10:33 PM ·

Hi, for my taste, much beauty dissepeared making place to battle, dissonance, powertrips, odd soundings etc.  Few nice things lost in the battle field.  (IMHO)

But, not all the composers did such things (and I understand that these weird and agressive (IMHO only) effects have an historical signification). 

As an exception: I'm in love with Miakovsky's violin concerto... beautiful, melodious, drammatic and sensitive yet powerful (the perfect balance!)  Not to forget Sibelius!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


So, generally, I like more the previous composers but I like and dislike composers of all eras. Note, when I say composers, I mean the type of music they did and not the individuals they were.  I respect every single one very much because they did the effort to give something they found wonderful to humanity.   They work very hard for it.


June 23, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Cronology doesn't always dictate style. There are some 20th century composers who definitely sound like they could have been born 100 years before, like Sibelius, Rachmaninoff (sp?), and sometimes Americans such as Bernstein and Barber (again, sometimes...). I would say personally I find even a lot of the more modern sounding stuff beautiful, like the Berg violin concerto. Hilary Hahn's reading of the Schoenberg was also something special. Also, some 20th century composers seem to have more soul than others, Shostakovich is one that really speaks to my heart.

So, to answer the question, in my opinion beautiful violin music has never ceased to be written, and it probably never will. However, our aesthetic parameters of what is beautiful are constantly changing, that is just inevitable.

June 24, 2009 at 12:40 AM ·

@ Anne-Marie

the Sibelius concerto was mentioned in the original list by D Wright.

adding to this list:

André Jolivet, Violin concerto 1972, recorded excellently by Isabelle Faust (coupled with Poème)

Lorin Maazel, Violin Concerto

Nicholas Maw, Violin Concerto, rec. by Joshua Bell & London Philharmonic, Norrington. Julia Fischer had played it in Aspen last year.

Mathias Pintscher, Violin Concerto

Gubaidulina's 2nd Vc was recently premiered by Anne-Sophie Mutter

Karl-Amadeus Hartmann, Concerto funebre (1939; revised 1959) for Violin and Stringorchestra

June 24, 2009 at 01:50 AM ·

Hi, I was not saying it wasn't there just that it was one of the exceptions. A concerto that i liked very much of the 20 th century (since I am not a fan of many modern works)  

It was just saying that I didn't dislike all these concertos  (one would have to be fussy to not even like one in all these :)


June 24, 2009 at 12:40 PM ·

My wife is fond of saying that the 18th century had the best violin makers, the 19th century had the best composers, and the 20th century had the best musicians. One disagrees with my Sweetie at one's own risk, but when it comes to violin makers and violin players, my feeling is that right now is the best of times. Composers are lagging, and while this is only my opinion, I think one of the biggest problems is that too many modern composers do not write for the violin violinistically. The buzzword among the current composing crowd is "edgy." "Edgy" is a word that informs the listener ahead of time that he or she is not going to like the music because it will be atonal, dissonant, and, well,  as edgy as a piece of shattered glass.

I think that many composers must feel that all the good melodies have already been written, all the good harmonic progressions and modulations already have been discovered, and, in short, that "it's all been done before" to quote a composer I once spoke with on this topic. Modern composers seem to feel compelled to glean through the things that their predecessors rejected, and often upon hearing the resulting music, I can understand why these things were rejected.

Still, that leaves the baffling problem of why so many composers (movie music composers possibly excepted) do not write for the strengths of the violin, which is, after all, the most lyrical of instruments and the one most like the human voice. There are two major schools of composition in my neck of the woods, and I have suffered through many concerts where the violin is kicked, bitten, and struck (OK, it's a bit of an exaggeration) or, at best, written for percussively. If I were a composer and actually wanted to include a melody in my score, I certainly wouldn't write it for the snare drum!

If you like a good read and know how to shop the antiquarian bookstores, look for a little gem entitled "The Agony of Modern Music." It is old enough now to list composers like Stravinsky as "up and coming," but the thoughts of the author (Henry Pleasants) resonate with a remarkably modern force. It's also very well written and most of the time will have you laughing in agreement with its arguments.

June 24, 2009 at 01:24 PM ·

I would add the Walton violin sonata (there's a wonderful recording by Daniel Hope and Simon Mulligan).  Also both Prokofiev sonatas (Oistrakh, Zimmermann), the first Bartok sonata for violin and piano (Tetzlaff has a fabulous recording of this), and the first Bartok violin concerto (Oistrakh).  Also the Janacek violin sonata if it hasn't been mentioned (Faust).

To my taste the 20th century was one of spectacular creativity.  

June 24, 2009 at 02:40 PM ·

@ Robert Spear-

I dig what you're saying.  And I have to agree in many ways to what your wife stated.  I mean no disrespect to those who pioneered the instrument, the compositions for it, and those that played it!  They are thoroughly immitated/refrenced and set the platform for those after them to be where they are now.  Immitation is the highest form of flattery...some would say.

June 24, 2009 at 03:29 PM ·

Yeah, in the modern music I hear, it seems as if the composer is scared to death to write something that would be recognizable as a melody (i.e., something you'd get pleasure out of singing to yourself in the shower), with harmonies that sound like they were inspired rather than constructed. Instead, there seems too much "boop-n-doop-n-beep" type stuff.

If I had any talent, knowledge, imagination, or whatever else it takes to compose music, I would love to write a good-ol'-fashioned violin concerto with great big violinistic melodies and exciting technical passages. What's wrong with writing a "warhorse"? The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has been around for over 125 years, and is consistently one of the most beautiful and popular pieces ever written. Say what you will about it, but I don't see it being replaced by anything in its unique genre for at least the next 125 years. Can you say that about 98% of the concertos listed in this discussion?

[Argue with me if you like about this, but it is, after all, an opinion.]

June 24, 2009 at 08:52 PM ·

Sander, I like the way you describe a melody!   I had already think about what you said, about composing a piece with melodies but I am not a composer either... 

Quite a few miss this style...

You know what, all v.commies (those who would like to hear more of these old fashion concertos...) that are able should try to post a few bars (one or two lines) of something beautiful they compose (Just the violin part) with the rule that it has to be a nice melody, something the majority would get pleasure from (even for those who send virtuosic stuff).  After this, we should give these inspirations to a composer who could put them in the same key, harmonize this a bit, do the orchestra or piano part and hopefully do a super nice piece\concerto or whatever. 

I know it seems impossible, but someone somewhere have to save this style that is dying more and more each day.  Seriously, finding a nice melody for a few bar is easy and maybe a collective effort would give a nice resault.

Am I completely crazy with this idea:  a v.com beautiful concerto\ violin piece in the old fasion style?  Sometimes, craziness can bring interesting things...

Sorry if it is off topic,


June 24, 2009 at 10:22 PM ·

what a pity that Paul McCartney is no v.commy, and John Lennon/George Harrison are no longer among us. They might have done the job you are looking for.


June 24, 2009 at 10:45 PM ·

How about Wolfgang Rihm?

Out of his four  works called "Musik für Violine und Orchester" Anne-Sophie Mutter premiered No.2 in Zurich and No. 4 was premiered by Carolin Widmann with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchestra. I have a recording of ASM, its not very "edgy" but rather quite atmospheric. I would assume he might be qualified and talented to write something like Anne-Marie dreams of.

Hopefully Julia Fischer will debut a new violin concerto by Matthias Pintscher he is working on for her, scheduled to be premiered in 2010 with the London Philharmonic.

June 25, 2009 at 08:56 PM ·

Hansjurgen, this would be so cool!  I really think it would be fun for all of us.  It's not more excentric than the youtube symphony, after all and this DID work!  Hopes Laurie read this... (but a little more than 2-3 v.commies to participate would be the best...) lol    In addition, the concept of a collective concerto\piece is exciting! Anyway, have a nice day,  : ) Do you think I should do a blog to ask all v,commies what they think?  


June 26, 2009 at 08:52 AM ·

Pourquoi-pas ? Good idea.

in a hurry, concert tomorrow - Dvorak 8th, Sibelius Karelia plus Finlandia plus Elgar P&Cplus un encore - Nimrod ...

Haj, not feeling high.


June 26, 2009 at 12:49 PM ·

The digital percision is reflected in everything it seems not just new musical compositions. That is one reason why contemporary players and luthiers seem so great, and recordings are so perfect. Yet when digital precision is reflected in composition it does not satisfy our longing for a personal narrative to connect to. Our society values precision over expression in some cases and has the tools to deliver on the expectation that some things need to be perfect. A perfect personal narrative is just a major disconnect.

Movies seem like the place where music and narrative still come together sometimes. Think Lord of the Rings, The Hours, and the older Days of Heaven. As for the collective composition idea it makes a lot of sense if you have time for that type of thing. The move I see is more toward this type of "bee hive" type of culture in the arts. The collective thought and collective action versus the individual narrative or individual effort. In fact the new individual effort in some cases seems to be moving toward getting other's particiate. That is the purpose versus any particular outcome.  The value is the degree of participation from disparate corners (read: global) versus a internal experience by an individual. There are tensions between the two ideas but the tweet, chirp, the YouTube symphony, the collective thought reminds me of the hive/ant colony approach. A constant  "pinging" of  members who have secured a type of celebrity of a sort. It reminds me of the Borg on Star Trek a bit. So the atonal patterns of newer composers might just reflect that change not cause it. Maybe that is what they are hearing. When they listen they hear what is around them and just write it down. That is their world not nature, or a pastoral scene or a high mass at a cathedral. Think about what was considered purposeful in the arts then as compared to now. That leads some interesting places.

While I have no issue with collective creation, one has to question the time dedicated to it. Time is the finite commodity for artistis. Who really benefits from all this activity. I suggest that those collecting data benefit more than artisits. Even v.com requires this constant input to secure advertisers. That is the business as I see it. Art and creating is something different. I for one have become vigilant as to how much time I spend on the collective network. Discussions must have some clear benefit or it is a big waste of time that could be better spent on something productive.

June 26, 2009 at 12:49 PM ·

Hanjurgen thanks for the support, I'll do it soon and see what others think about this!  


June 27, 2009 at 07:36 AM ·

sorry, Anne-Marie for withdrawing my support,

and this in the light of the valid points made above by J Kingston, I'm reconsidering any such -as he she said- "beehive" network composing efforts as huge potential timewasters.

I would rather rely in competent people like Erkki-Sven Tüür, Rihm or Pintscher, and not to forget Salvatore Sciarrino, Pierre Boulez, Magnus Lindberg, as well as Carolin Widmann's brother, composer-clarinettist Jörg Widmann, and the great composer ladies Kaija Saariaho and Sofia Gubaidulina. Let them "meet Bach" and ask him for some support.

June 27, 2009 at 07:44 AM ·

"Discussions must have some clear benefit or it is a big waste of time that could be better spent on something productive."

Thank you Jay for this incentive to leave the keybord to PRACTICE.


June 27, 2009 at 10:57 AM ·

Hansjurgen, there is nothing wrong there. I don't expect everybody to agree with me : ) But one day, I still want to make this blog to see the people's opinions on this. Of course,I'm not saying it would create a master piece of sorts (Also Laurie is the boss for any project). With things like this, it can come out super or less super than what you thought!


June 27, 2009 at 01:15 PM ·

@ J-- Very insightful thoughts, and very nicely written. I guess we'll all get to see and hear where this approach is going.

June 27, 2009 at 06:55 PM ·

Making a movie is, if you will, a corporate art form. It requires many different kinds of artists, craftspersons, businesspeople, technicians, writers, and composers to come together and be coordinated to create the film. And its success depends upon the integration of all of those talents and areas of expertise. But composing a piece of so-called absolute music - in the classic sense that Bach and Beethoven and Bartok wrote symphonies and concerti and sonatas - that is not a corporate art form. It did not depend on different people working together to coordinate the writing of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. It does depend upon the composer's inner musical vision and the ability to express that vision into musical notes. So, beehives are for making films; inner expression is for making symphonies.

June 27, 2009 at 07:04 PM ·

Yes concur but does someone still believe a collective work could be interesting even if it's not as beautiful as the big masterpieces (if we send the inspirations to a composer who picks the good inspirations and harmonize and modify it into a nice piece?) 

Yes this blog is comming and we will be able to discuss all this.

A nice day to all,


June 30, 2009 at 03:47 AM ·

Yes I concur the idea it is interesting. No doubt. The question remains whether it will be purposeful. That separates great work from activity. True collaboration from just "hanging out." That is what I was trying to say earlier.

Sander while I agree with you in general, one cannot forget that the Bachs and other great composers often had patrons or "the man" paying for their efforts. The church was a type of corporation in those days. They commissioned masses and other works much like studios hire composers to work on a film. So while it may seem more crass now, I would argue it is simply more efficient and therefore less romantic because we don't have the misty fog of history to make it seem more pure somehow.

Robert Hughes writes about, "the tyranny of the interesting." So then it remains to see what is the purpose of all this activity except to see if it can be done and to be some type of reflection of our collective media savy-ness (if that is a word at all which I highly doubt.). That is endless and thankless activity maybe, but with the right project, with purpose, it could be profound in my view. So we are all left to discriminate between the vortex that steals our time, or best efforts, and those that really make a difference. That is the jewel you seek and the challenge to anyone how wants to create with a collaborative approach. Not the noise of the endless activity. Stimulation is not engagement but many people think they are synonyms.

I always liked some of the performance art projects. I liked Cristo's installations for example but he did not get everyone to pile on. They are not really collaborative but more environmental so there was participation in that respect. So I don't dismiss the idea out of hand, but think it is difficult to craft a purposeful experience for so many people without a lot of thought. Good luck. Maybe you are the one who will come up with a creative purposeful idea and a new form will emerge that no one has thought of yet. Why not try to make it great? Why would you settle for less than that?

June 30, 2009 at 12:12 PM ·

Yes, Bach and Mozart and others had their patrons and supporters and those who funded them (e.g., Brahms and his publisher). However, the artistic product itself - the music - was a solitary activity, unlike a movie. And as such, the composer as an individual would (at his or her best) project his or her individual, inner vision. A movie is different. The actual artistic product is a corporate, collective, coordinated effort. That was my only point.
Hope that clarifies it.

July 6, 2009 at 02:38 AM ·

There IS a Mahler violin concerto?!  Is it good, and how can I get my hands on it?

July 6, 2009 at 02:53 AM ·

no there isn`t. It was an April Fool.

July 6, 2009 at 06:01 PM ·

Too bad.  Although the thought of playing a 90-minute concerto, as claimed, isn't exactly for the faint of heart anyway. 

July 6, 2009 at 10:00 PM ·

 Poor Manuel Ponce--no one wants to list his sonata or concerto (both recorded by Henryk Szeryng)

And if anyone finds a digital version of the Szeryng recording of the sonata, please let me know.

July 7, 2009 at 08:34 PM ·

Is there a Violin Concerto by John Cage for prepared violin?
Is there a 5th Vivaldi concerto in the 4 Seasons set? (the Oregano Concerto?)
Is there a second Nielsen Violin Concerto? (The Indistinguishable?)
Is there a Schoenberg Violin Concerto for Unprepared Violinist? (which uses a 112-tone scale?)


July 7, 2009 at 08:51 PM ·


the fifth Vivaldi was discovered in a pachinko parlour here in Japan. Its `the rainy season`. Alas the manuscript was too soggy to read.



July 8, 2009 at 01:59 PM ·

Buri: Ah, yes, is that from the Vivaldi concerto set from "The Conflict Between Harmony And Pachinko?" (or was that, "The Conflict Between E-Harmony and Intention?")
:) Sandy
PS. We're getting a little loose here in our associations, aren't we?

July 29, 2009 at 10:27 PM ·

In all honesty, my favorite violin concertos of all time are 20th century works...

Berg Violin Concerto

Both Bartok Violin Concertos

I also really like Philip Glass' Violin Concerto, although I'm generally not a huge fan of most of his other works (guess I'm not a minimalist),

<sigh> Sometimes these discussions kind of depress me, especially when some of the works we're discussing are nearly 100 years old now...


August 26, 2009 at 09:23 PM ·

My favourite modern violin concertos are Stravinsky and Glass (though this thread has reminded me to dig out my cd of Symanowski).

Both are highly violinistic and generally great music, and I suspect they both stretch the boundaries ot violin technique in different ways...

August 27, 2009 at 12:56 AM ·

Some beautiful concertos written in the 20th.cent.but very melodistic, romantic and unplayed




Dohnanyi 1 and 2


Gruenberg (but it seems that only Jascha could play it!)

Otar Taktakishvilii No.1 ((one of the most beautiful works I ever heard)

Nicolai Rakov No.1

Joan Manen "Concierto Español"

Federico Elizalde (Ferras!!)

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