Listening to a violin solo with an army of an orchestra or an ensemble supporting it is one of the near heavenly experiences one can hope to have. The famous violin concertos of all time are a combination of great composition, directing, arrangement and a stellar performance by the soloists like Joshua Bell. A concerto repertoire with well-thought-out parts will have you at the edge of your seat throughout the piece, like the concertos we will list below. But first, what does the term "concerto" stand for in the sea of musical terminologies?
What is a Concerto?
A concerto is defined as a musical composition in which a solo instrument, like the violin or the piano, is set against a backdrop of an ensemble or an orchestra. The musical work is more like a conversation or a collaboration to evoke an array of emotions depending on the piece being played. The solo violin or piano can alternate, compete or combine parts to create a magical outcome. It is normally the work of a director to facilitate the show and sew everything into place to create the fabric the composer intended to achieve.
There are many concertos, including the piano concerto and the violin concerto, and most were written in the baroque era. If you are learning how to read music for violin, these pieces are a great motivation. Now, onto the most famous violin concertos of all time because I can not wait to share them.
Most Famous Violin Concertos of All Time
Mozart is a gift to the classical music world and is undoubtedly the best, if not one of the best of all time. Mozart has five violin concertos to his name, but the third is the most famous among the five pieces.
The piece is made up of the adagio, the allegro and the rondeau, making it one of the greatest violin concertos ever. The piece has beautiful melodies and range that leave listeners yearning for more right from the first note. If you are hoping to try out some solos, getting the best violin books for beginners is a great place to start.
Fun fact: It is said that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was so young when he started composing that he needed his father's help to hold the pencil when writing music. By the age of five, Mozart he was already composing.
This piece is not only one of the best violin concertos of all time but one of the most engaging pieces ever. The piece is specifically Tchaikovsky's violin concerto no 1 in D major. It follows the classical structure of fast-slow-fast, which keeps the listener on a cyclic roller-coaster of musical marvel.
At first, the piece was not popular for good reasons and had bad reviews. The audience booed whenever the piece was played, and critics were harsh towards this underrated piece. However, Tchaikovsky's genius triumphed with time, and the piece is one of the most-loved concertos. This is common among all walks of life as new ideas are never well-received. From Galileo's claim that it is the earth that moves and not the sun to the impressionist artists who the academies rejected, Tchaikovsky is one among the few who changed narratives in their respective fields.
Fun fact: Tchaikovsky was a lawyer by trade, worked as a journalist and skipped his final exams.
Sibelius violin concerto in d minor is the one and only concerto he wrote, but it managed to divide critics. The piece was written in 1904 and had a dark theme to it. The haunting melodies have a low and rumbling accompaniment that brings the darkest of emotions to the fore. This piece is one every soloist dreams of playing. Composers will tell you the genius that this piece carries and how high a bar the violin concerto sets for other violin concertos.
The piece starts very gently and proceeds to do what few other pieces do in violin concertos. The piece moves to a lyrical middle section and culminates into a troubled section. Nevertheless, the piece is famous for its aural beauty and the musical technicality that other violinists can attest to.
Fun Fact: Sibelius was turned down by the Vienna Philharmonic because he did not make the grade.
Brahms violin concerto no 1 in D Major is a special one. Brahms' concerto in d major was not meant for the violin but was written with the intention to be a piano concerto. Johannes Brahms is the embodiment of what happens when you let creativity take control sometimes. The piece is in three movements and is technical to the player. The first movement is surprising, and by the third movement it is one of the best things to grace a listener's ear.
Brahms violin concerto has movements that make the performance a visual and aural spectacle. The composer must have been in another world when doing the composition. While the concerto in d major (Brahms violin concerto) has no predecessors from the composer, it has remained on the list of the greatest violin concertos of all time.
Fun Fact: Brahms took 20 years to complete his first symphony.
While Beethoven is best known for the moonlight sonata, he has a violin concerto. The Beethoven concerto no 1 in D major was composed in 1806 and had three movements. The movements create suspense and excitement in the listener's ear. This concerto was Beethoven's only one and had its ups and downs, including not being a hit upon its premiere. The piece was later not touched for years. However, today the piece is part of a standard repertoire and is often played.
If you know Beethoven's struggles, you will appreciate how marvelous a piece this is. I consider the piece one of the perfect examples of the allegro-larghetto-rondeau arrangements.
Fun Fact: Beethoven was the third Ludwig van Beethoven in his family. He studied with Mozart's teacher, and no one knew the cause of his deafness.
The violin concerto list would not be complete without including Edward Elgar. The emotional depth that the piece has is engaging throughout the three movements. The piece is known as one of the longest and most complex pieces ever seen. However, the piece has a twist that keeps the music world engaged to this date. The piece has a mystery that is yet to be solved, and that is what makes Elgar a genius.
Elgar's creativity surpassed and surprised many. He would draw musical portraits of his friends, and in one of his manuscripts, he wrote, "herein is enshrined the soul of..."
Fun Fact: Elgar loved cycling, but when it rained, he would just turn back and head home.
This piece is considered one of the best violin concertos of the late baroque. All the pieces we have mentioned are scored for one violin. Enter Bach. Bach decided to write a piece scored for two violins, which was not common at the time. As a result, the piece is often called the Bach double and has maintained its importance and fame throughout the years.
While the Bach double concerto follows the typical baroque three movements style, it is far from comparable with other pieces. Bach decided to arrange the piece for three instruments, each with its own movement. You will be mesmerized by Bach's genius and experience with the second movement.
The two violins exchange roles from solo to supporting roles throughout the piece, and the conversation will have you hooked to the end.
Fun Fact: Bach had 20 children. Seven with his first wife, his cousin, and thirteen with his second wife after his cousin's sudden demise.
The four seasons are the most beautiful concerto of all time in terms of arrangement and visualization. The piece combines four violin concerti, each trying to express a specific season musically. Vivaldi manages to nail each season with each concerto evoking the right emotion related to each season.
Vivaldi had accompanying poems for each violin concerto. Here is a sample;
His tired legs are robbed of any rest
By his dread for the lightning and the frightful thunder
And by the flies and hornets in furious swarms.
The excellence with which Vivaldi executes the piece is hard to beat, even by the best composers. The greats like Bach transcribed Vivaldi's music, and he was a great inspiration to musicians at the time. His dramatic arrangements for the violin concerto form a language of music in the years to come. I know you have bought the best violin bow and you are ready to use it. This is a piece that will get your creative juices flowing.
Fun Fact: A large earthquake occurred in Venice on the day of his birth. At the age of fifteen, he started studies to become a priest and was nicknamed The Red Priest.
Max's violin concerto was one that did not have an easy conception. Bruch would write to his former teacher, telling him how the piece was progressing slowly and about his uncertainties about the piece. Bruch withdrew the first version that was complete after only one performance. Bruch was dissatisfied and sent the manuscript to Joseph Joachim, who sent it back with suggestions. Due to his insecurity about the piece, Bruch consulted his conductor friends.
Bruch rewrote the piece about six times before he was satisfied with it. Finally, the piece was played so much that he could not listen to it anymore. He sold it and no longer received the proceeds from the piece.
Fun Fact: His wife occasionally sang at his concerts
Notable Mentions to Include in Your Playlist
- Felix Mendelssohn-the violin concerto in e minor op 64
- Antonin Dvorak Violin Concerto in a Minor op 53
- Joseph Joachim-the violin concerto no 2 in d minor
- Samuel Barber violin concerto op 14
- John Adams violin concerto
- Hilary Hahn (performances of the concertos)
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold-the violin concerto in d major op 35
- Sarah Chang (performances for famous concertos)
There are many a violinist who would perform the solo of a violin concerto with their interpretation and style in their string quartet or orchestra. The concertos mentioned above have withstood the test of time, violinists, directors and orchestras through the decades while maintaining their greatness. The pieces still represent their periods around are still taught in music school to date. While different orchestras have performed and done recordings of the pieces, the manuscripts will keep speaking for themselves for centuries to come.