Ranking Major Violin Concertos!

Edited: August 31, 2018, 12:33 PM · Hi guys, not sure if this has been discussed before, but I'm really curious how you all rank the major violin concertos in the repertoire, based on both technical and musical difficulty.

From this list:
Bruch 1
Paganini 1
Saint Saens 3
Mozart 5
Prokofiev 1
Prokofiev 2
Hadyn C
Mozart 4
Mozart 3
Wieniawski 2
Vieuxtamps 5
Bach E

Replies (32)

August 31, 2018, 12:38 PM · Dorothy Delay's concerto sequence (scroll all the way to the bottom): https://music.indiana.edu/precollege/year-round/strings/repertoire.shtml
August 31, 2018, 9:56 PM · Yup. Advanced repertoire is grouped, rather than sequential. And all of it tends to be uneven in difficulty throughout the work.
August 31, 2018, 10:14 PM · Is Shostakovich really more difficult than Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven?
August 31, 2018, 11:05 PM · I would say from this list, Haydn and Bach is still hanging outside of the "Serious Concertos" gate, Bruch and Mozart 3 gets you in, then we talking Mozart 4, 5, Mendelssohn, then the rest is like what Lydia said, "grouped".
September 1, 2018, 12:27 AM · I guess this depends on the meaning of "serious"...
September 1, 2018, 1:53 AM · Ever tried the Elgar?
September 1, 2018, 9:32 AM · Bruch is in the same category as Mendelssohn.

Mozart 3 is in an intermediate-concerto category with Kabalevsky and such.

Dorothy DeLay's group III are all the 20th-century less-popular concertos that tend not to be learned until after a lot of other works are learned. I don't think they're more difficult than group II, necessarily. It's just a categorization of sequencing since the priority for most people will be on the more popular works.

September 1, 2018, 10:07 AM · Within the groups, are the concertos ranked? Like for group II Tchaikovsky is listed first; does that mean it is the easiest out of all the concertos in the group?
September 1, 2018, 10:10 AM · Also isn't it a bit weird that Wieniawski F# minor is ranked at the same level as the D minor? It's often regarded as much harder
September 1, 2018, 11:29 AM · The lists aren't fully sequential; I think they reflect a general teaching order and not purely a difficulty order. Thus Barber is taught later in the sequence despite being easier, for instance.
September 1, 2018, 12:04 PM · I find this article on this subject to be very interesting. He start with issues with the local violin education, and then goes into the concertor repertoire and using it for learning. However, despite deference to the author, I would not take any such article or list by itself to be definitive and would encourage everyone to use their own minds, adapting what they hear from others to their own circumstance and findings.


September 1, 2018, 4:25 PM · Thanks for your answer Lydia!
September 1, 2018, 8:55 PM · That's a really interesting article! Don't get why the Dvorak should be played after Tchaik and Sibelius though. The author seems to rank it alongside Glazunov, Bartok and Prokofiev.
September 1, 2018, 11:59 PM · Because those concertos aren't being taught for pedagogical purposes in that sequence. They're learned in order to fill out your repertoire.
September 2, 2018, 12:21 AM · I'm curious as to which concertos are most challenging to perform with an orchestra, where the soloist needs to project as largest sound possible. Dvorak's seems challenging in this respect.
September 2, 2018, 12:40 AM · Agreed, because the orchestral writing is quite dense and rich
September 2, 2018, 8:27 AM · Of all the common concertos, Brahms has the most stamina demands. It's thickly orchestrated as well as long. Tchaikovsky has similar endurance issues, but not quite as severe.
September 2, 2018, 5:04 PM · What interesting responses!

Just my two cents: the toughest concerti I find in front of an orchestra are Elgar, Sibelius, Dvorak, Khachaturian. Of course - Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart have their myriad difficulties (pristine music-making, anyone?), but those first four are challenging for tonal production and stamina.

September 2, 2018, 5:55 PM · I remember someone saying "everyone can write something that no one can play" so I would only consider a piece's difficulty to be a feat in light of its popularity. Concerto-wise I've heard that Beethoven, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky are really difficult, yet they have become somewhat standard repertoire in concerto study (which indicate their amazing popularity, despite their insane difficulty).
September 2, 2018, 6:21 PM · Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are *merely* difficult. Beethoven is much more difficult to play well than either of the former.
September 2, 2018, 6:27 PM · And they're not insanely difficult. They're just difficult.

They are not, say, "Last Rose of Summer". They don't have those kinds of virtuosic tricks.

September 2, 2018, 7:38 PM · Thanks for the info Mary and Lydia.

I'm an adult starter (30-ish) which means these concertos should be out of my reach no matter how long I would play, and I guess they are generally inaccessible for most other adult starters too, so only from my perspective they are really difficult.

In your opinion is the 'Last Rose of Summer' the most difficult of all across the well-known repertoire?

September 2, 2018, 8:50 PM · There's weird contemporary "extended" technique, but if you're just looking for a video that more or less goes through the range of "typical" virtuoso tricks, watch a video of Last Rose (Ernst).
September 3, 2018, 3:52 AM · Sibelius is very hard to pull off. I'd say it's between Tchaik and Beethoven.
September 3, 2018, 4:14 AM · Oh and what about Scottish fantasy? I know it's not really a concerto, but I think people still consider it as such
September 3, 2018, 8:55 AM · In the second tier.
September 3, 2018, 10:46 AM · I actually learned Sibelius before Tchaikovsky; I would rate them as in the same general ballpark of difficulty but with different challenges. Tchaikovsky is much more of an endurance contest.

I agree with Lydia about Scratch Frantically, er, Scottish Fantasy, which I think very much is a concerto.

September 3, 2018, 2:21 PM · I'm curious why the Beethoven violin concerto is considered harder than Mendelsohn, Bruch, etc. I've just scratched the surface of the "major concerto world," so I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but just from looking at the music and listening, Beethoven looks to me easier than these two. Just to name one reason-the hardest thing for me when I started to play Mendelssohn was all the double stops... almost no double stops in the Beethoven!! Curious what is considered "more difficult" about it compared to the first group...
September 3, 2018, 2:56 PM · The Beethoven concerto must be played impeccably; there is nowhere to hide. In that sense it is like the Mozart concertos but on steroids. The octaves at the beginning are absolutely unforgiving of any minor intonation peccadilloes. Musically it is also quite sophisticated. Yes, it looks like scales and arpeggios, but it takes a lot of maturity to make it sound NOT like scales and arpeggios.
September 3, 2018, 7:59 PM · "Musically it is also quite sophisticated."

Which is what it's all about. To take the Beethoven and put it in a ranking of difficulty, and perhaps to evaluate certain showpieces as higher than it is to cheapen its music. I'm not saying that anyone in this thread is doing that, but rather that to play it and have it mean something more than just a technical achievement, to be worth listening to, it also has to speak musically.

September 3, 2018, 8:46 PM · Thanks Lydia. Does that make it harder than Saint-Saens and Vieuxtamps?
September 3, 2018, 9:02 PM · The Scottish Fantasy? Yes.

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