...could have written a fine VIOLIN CONCERTO

Edited: June 15, 2023, 3:08 AM · Pure speculation, about concertos that were never written. I feel that Mahler, César Franck, Ravel and Gershwin might have delivered fine works. Your thoughts?

Replies (41)

June 15, 2023, 4:38 AM · I think Rachmaninoff would have written a really good concerto for any strings, really
June 15, 2023, 4:41 AM · Ravel and Gershwin, to be sure. Schubert might have been interesting, although his gifts weren't for solo string writing.

The funny thing about this question is that it brings to mind all kinds of composers who aren't at the very top of the head, and then you realize that Britten, Stravinsky, Nielsen, et al actually did write violin concertos.

June 15, 2023, 4:48 AM · Other than those already mentioned, I have two very different composers in mind: Schubert and Villa-Lobos.

Schubert wrote an 8-minute Konzertstück that is sometimes referred to as his violin concerto but probably shouldn't be called one.

June 15, 2023, 6:26 AM · I think Aaron Copland could have produced an amazing violin concerto.
June 15, 2023, 7:24 AM · Franck might have preferred to write a cello concerto.
Mahler is mentioned, but what about Bruckner?
Fauré did write most of a concerto, but only one movement survives, and is improved upon in his much later string quartet, the second movement of the concerto being reworked into an Andante for violin and piano. But a full length concerto from him would have been good.
Amy Beach might well have produced a good one.
June 15, 2023, 8:13 AM · @John - you ask "what about Bruckner?". I'd say from a composer who showed absolutely no interest in instrumental virtuosity, a violin concerto would probably be unusual to say the least.
June 15, 2023, 10:55 AM · The other side of this is the folks who wrote GREAT violin concertos but did not write anything comparable for the cello, not to mention the viola. But that's probably because many of them were diverted to writing for other instruments like piano or organ or symphony orchestra.
June 15, 2023, 7:09 PM · Not fully content with everything Mozart has given us, I wish I could go back in time and commission from Mozart a hefty concerto in a minor key along the lines of his d minor and c minor piano concertos.
June 15, 2023, 8:56 PM · BTW, if I could go back in time and commission a viola concerto from a composer who didn't write one, I'd try to get one from either Dvorak or Nielsen.
June 15, 2023, 9:11 PM · Too bad Schubert and Rachmaninoff didn't write violin concertos.
June 15, 2023, 9:14 PM · I'm with Raphael. A concerto from late Mozart would be very interesting.

As much as I love Faure, I think he did right to rework the concerto into his string quartet. I think his mastery lie in smaller and more intimate forms.

I love the Poulenc violin sonata and all of his concerti; that's my vote.

June 15, 2023, 9:19 PM · A Rachmaninov violin concerto would’ve been great. As would a later Mozart Concerto along with a solo viola concerto. His Sinfonia concertante is great, but considering he played the viola in addition to the violin I don’t know why he never wrote a solo viola concerto.

I would also love a Clara Schumann concerto as well as viola concertos written by Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Brahms.

June 16, 2023, 1:03 AM · Thanks for so many thoughtful replies. I'm now wondering to what extent the great violin concertos emerge from composers who are fully grounded in both song/lied and dance. The final movements of the Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are all great foot-tappers. The great twentieth century violin concertos perhaps run more on the lines of lonely poets or philosophers.
June 16, 2023, 4:42 AM · Bruckner is not your man, unless you want 40 minutes of tremolando! Rather like commissioning a medieval cathedral architect to do something nice for over the sofa.

Copland would have been interesting. He never showed much interest in virtuosic violin playing, per se, but he did write idiomatically for strings and did fine work in the concerto form.

June 17, 2023, 1:49 AM · A Bruckner violin concerto would be great. He had a great knowledge of the violin, especially his chamber music.
June 17, 2023, 6:49 AM · Richard Strauss (Heldenleben) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnole) both certainly knew how to write for the violin.
June 17, 2023, 7:26 AM · And Strauss actually did do a concerto.
Edited: June 17, 2023, 9:31 AM · Some great dream concerto wishes on here already. I particularly like Alexander’s choices (Schubert and Rachmaninoff). Richard, I know from my teacher Erick Friedman that Gershwin was actually in the process of writing a violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz but sadly passed away while writing it. I believe there are sketches of the score that do exist. Prokofiev was also in the process of writing a 3rd violin concerto for Heifetz and passed away before it was completed.

I would’ve probably loved a violin concerto by Debussy, Ravel, Chopin, or one by the great film composer Bernard Hermann.

June 17, 2023, 12:23 PM · Many of the most famous concertos were in fact collaborations with a violinist (Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovich and others). Many of the suggestions here (Chopin and Rachmaninov most obviously) seem to demand help in that way. Whom would you pair up with either of them or with other candidates?
Edited: June 17, 2023, 5:15 PM · An interesting observation and a good question, Albrecht. Chopin could have consulted Paganini: they met, and Chopin wrote a piano piece in homage.
June 18, 2023, 8:22 AM · Mahler's brother in law was Arnold Rose, whose playing can still be heard on his quartet's recordings and on a few solos with the Vienna Phil before he was chased away in 1938. Very 19c sound, but he knew what he was doing!
June 18, 2023, 9:25 AM · Thinking of a potential collaboration with Paganini, what if Berlioz had given him the kind of concerto he wanted and expected when Harold turned up instead?
Edited: June 18, 2023, 6:35 PM · @ Steve. I thought that after Paganini commissioned Berlioz for the work for viola he claimed it had "too many rests" and not enough for the viola to do. I believe at the time he owened a Stradivarius viola.

Maybe if it was a true collaboration with Paganini for his input for a flashier violin concerto, it would have been possible for such a work by the two men.

Edited: June 19, 2023, 3:42 PM · Rachmaninoff's daughter married the son of Julius Conus, a great violinist who composed of one of my favorite concertos for violin. Conus could have easily provided some technical assistance had Rachmaninoff decided to write a violin concerto. Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein were close friends with Rachmaninoff. Either of these two violin giants could have also rendered some assistance if needed. Sadly, we will never know exactly why he did not write a violin concerto.
June 18, 2023, 11:43 PM · good points, Alexander!
June 19, 2023, 12:29 AM · Nate - the story of the planned violin concerto by Gershwin is a good one. I wonder if there is sufficient sketch material for somebody to complete the work. Stephen's mention of Arnold Rosé (with the implication that he could have been the godparent of a Mahler concerto) reminds me of the tragic story of his daughter Alma Rosé, who directed the prison orchestra and eventually died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Steve & Jeff: did Paganini really know Berlioz, the artist and musician? It would seem that their psychological profiles were completely different, so that Berlioz could not possibly have written something that would satisfy Paganini's expectations. De todas formas, 'Harold en Italie' is a much better work that the thing Paganini expected and wanted!
June 19, 2023, 2:26 AM · Yes Paganini and Berlioz knew each other. Paganini actually commissioned Berlioz to write a viola concerto for him after acquiring his stradivarius viola which we now know as Harold en Italie. Paganini didn’t really care for it much deeming it not flashy enough and too full of rests. Paganini went and wrote the Sonata per la grand viola for himself instead.
June 19, 2023, 7:05 AM · I read somewhere that Paganini really liked Harold (the music)... he just didn't want to play it himself. (Ernst took the piece on tour.) The Sonata per la Gran' Viola is (originally) for a five-string.
June 19, 2023, 7:45 AM · Paganini or no, Berlioz' under-rated Reverie et Caprice gives an intriguing hint of what a VC from him could have sounded like. A job for AI maybe?
June 19, 2023, 3:48 PM · Other composers who I would have loved a violin concerto from are Carl Maria von Weber, Gioachino Rossini, Georges Bizet, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini.
June 19, 2023, 9:17 PM · Scott I think you're right. I believe I read somewhere that he did like it musically, but the Sonata per la Grand Viola suited him better in terms of performing.
June 20, 2023, 4:24 AM · He had a brand to protect. He also played late Beethoven quartets privately, but never risked having the public hear him do that.
Edited: June 20, 2023, 2:03 PM · Alexander, there is definitely an operatic slant to your post from yesterday! Five great tunesmiths, though I wonder how Verdi and Puccini would have managed without a libretto, albeit they both had flirtations with the string quartet. A Puccini concerto might have been something like the three by Ottorino Respighi. They are attractive and rather neglected.
Edited: June 21, 2023, 2:00 AM · No great composer whose interests were chiefly operatic seems to have written a violin concerto or a piano concerto or a symphony (Bellini at least wrote an oboe concerto and Wagner a symphony but they are both early works). Of course you might argue for recent exceptions to the rule and how "chiefly" is chiefly but I think it tells us something. The genres are as separate as painting and sculpture, suggesting that they demand quite different castes of mind.
June 21, 2023, 12:05 PM · The violin is a singing instrument. I suppose an operatic composer who has written beautiful arias might be better positioned to undertake a violin concerto. But yes, it would be a bit of a stretch for them.
June 21, 2023, 1:33 PM · Violin concertos aren't entirely about singing. I suspect many successful 19th century opera composers were rather unfamiliar with the concept of symphonic structure.
June 21, 2023, 9:08 PM · No one's mentioned Borodin, whom Philip Heseltine wrote was the master of classical forms in the 19th Century rather than Brahms.
June 25, 2023, 11:58 AM · Late Mozart. Ravel and Debussy.
Edited: June 25, 2023, 3:24 PM · Wonderfully comprehensive ideas of who could have written a violin concerto but didn't.
In considering Paganini, knowing that as a child he apparently had a lot of exposure to Italian opera, his concerti have orchestrations and themes that make many of the individual movements sound like opera arias, with the solo violin sounding like the vocal soloist.

Just listen to any of his concertos, as if you're hearing an Italian opera with the violin as a kind of super-voice.

June 25, 2023, 3:38 PM · Yes Sander. Mozart's instrumental music is very very "operatic" too.
June 25, 2023, 3:46 PM · Early Messiaen, early Webern. Maybe Liszt - but maybe he was too busy cannibalising violin concertos for piano works!

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