The fun thing about really getting to know the violin concerto repertoire is that there are always more treasures to discover…
The violin concerto repertoire is so rich and satisfying, I’m embarrassed to admit that, prior to becoming an adult beginner on the violin in 2005, I was only familiar with a few of them. This, from a self-proclaimed classical music fanatic. Whoops.
But maybe that’s you, too. Now, I know some of my readers are violin peeps and this list of top violin concertos will not produce any surprises, but I have a hunch there are plenty of you out there, more ballet-oriented, who are more familiar with piano repertoire. Or maybe you’re a newcomer to classical music in general. This is the list for you.
One thing I should add. Most of these hail from the Romantic Era and beyond. You, therefore, won’t see works before 1806, before Beethoven’s opus burst forth, eras that would include concertos by Mozart (five of them, written in his late teens), Vivaldi (something like 230) Bach (two for solo violin, one for two violins). Also I didn’t include Paganini (who wrote six) who, like Beethoven, sort of straddled the Classical and Romantic Era.
So, without further ado, here are my personal faves, in no particular order. If you click on the composer’s name, it will bring you to a YouTube link of the concerto. If the composer has more than one violin concerto, I’ve highlighted and linked to a video of the one I prefer.
Classical Girl’s Top 10 [and then some] violin concertos
- Tchaikovsky (in D major, Op. 35, 1878)
- Brahms (in D major, Op. 77, 1878)
- Sibelius (in D minor, Op. 47, 1905 – A staggering piece of work – my essay + link HERE)
- Bruch (No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, 1867; No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44, 1878; No. 3 in D minor, Op. 58, 1891 – and all three are worthy! Wrote about Bruch HERE)
- Korngold (in D major, Op. 35, 1945)
- Beethoven (in D major, Op. 61, 1806)
- Barber (Op. 14, 1939)
- Saint-Saëns (No. 3 in B minor; his No. 1 and No. 2 aren’t often performed)
- Mendelssohn (in E minor, Op. 64, 1845)
And this is where it gets very tricky, because there are so many wonderful violin concertos still, so here are ten contenders for my tenth spot:
- Shostakovich (No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77, 1955; No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129, 1967)
- Britten (Op. 15, 1939)
- Dohnányi (No. 1 in D minor, Op. 27, 1915: No. 2 in C minor, Op. 43, 1950)
- Bartok (No. 1, BB 48a, 1908, but published posthumously, 1956; No. 2, BB 117, 1938)
- Dvorák (in A minor, Op. 53, 1879)
- Wieniawski (No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1853; No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22, 1862)
- Goldmark (No. 1 in A minor, Op. 28, 1877; he composed a No. 2 that was never published)
- Berg (Written in twelve-tone, Op. unknown, 1935)
- Prokofiev (No. 1 in D major, Op. 18, 1923; No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, 1935.)
- Schumann (in D minor, published posthumously) The Stravinsky VC really belongs here but I am sentimental about the Schumann and its otherworldly story—I wrote about it HERE.
And yes, I know, you violin peeps are sitting up now, exclaiming, “Wait! No Lalo? No Viotti? No Khachaturian or Elgar?” Glazunov. Hindemith. Ligeti. Nielsen. Szymanowski. Previn. Walton. And Vieuxtemps certainly deserves to be on the list; he wrote a whopping seven violin concertos. And then there are the hard-on-the-ear but well-respected concertos that deserve a mention, like the Schoenberg, the Schuman (note, spelled with only one “n,” an important differentiation to recognize). Berg’s concerto, while atonal, somehow manages to conjure something beautifully expressive and bittersweet—no small feat!
And still, there are more. That’s the fun thing about really getting to know the violin concerto repertoire, and the violin repertoire in general. There are always more treasures to discover.
Give each one a listen and let me know which one is your favorite. As for me, if I had to be stranded on a desert island with a CD player (and somehow, magically, a lifetime supply of batteries) and only three concertos, I think it would have to be the Sibelius, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. Yikes. Tough choices. Maybe the Beethoven would have to switch out one of the latter two. With the Tchaikovsky next in line. Only please don’t make me choose.
I could tell a story about each and every one of these concertos and/or their composer’s creative journey, but that would make for a long essay. Instead, I’ll try to give each one its own essay in due course. In the meantime, here are a few essays I enjoyed reading that offer great details on their own Top 10 picks (you’ll see a lot of similarities).
Republished with gracious permission from The Classical Girl (2017).
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