Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, concerto for solo violin and orchestra by Ludwig van Beethoven that is one of the earliest and most frequently performed of violin concerti on such a grand scale. It premiered in Vienna on December 23, 1806. It was Beethoven’s only concerto for violin, and it is considered to be his most lyrical work.
Beethoven wrote his concerto during a three-year period of intense creativity that produced nine large-scale masterworks, including his Triple Concerto and the Razumovsky Quartets. The Violin Concerto was commissioned by violinist Franz Clement, who wanted a dramatic showpiece for an upcoming concert. Beethoven completed the work within a few weeks but only shortly before the concert.
The piece’s first movement, “Allegro ma non troppo,” is written in classic sonata form, including exposition, development, and recapitulation (with coda). The second movement, “Larghetto,” is a group of variations on two themes. The third movement “Rondo: allegro,” is a hybrid form sometimes known as a rondosonata, which includes elements of both musical forms. It incorporates a cadenza composed later by Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler.
The structure of the 1st movement is one of the finest examples of the "sonata form" of Beethoven's second period: grandeur of scale (the 1st movement alone is as long as - and longer in some cases - than entire symphonies by Haydn and Mozart), clearly articulated form (each Theme has its own distinctive "character" and one grasps its great importance as soon as it is heard). Developing material from a mere six motifs (A, B, C, D, E and F), Beethoven creates one of the most sublime concerto "movements" in the history of music, achieving perfect equilibrium.
This particular Beethoven violin concerto is constructed symmetrically: each Section has the same outline (two dialectically opposed parts) containing the complete motif (A+B, C, D, E).
The movement follows the standard "sonata form" of Beethoven's predecessors almost to the letter. It is divided into three parts: the Exposition (orchestra and soloist), Development and Refrain (with Coda). Since the Exposition is often repeated in classical sonatas, it is nearly always played by the orchestra alone and then by the orchestra with the soloist. This "bias" towards the first of the three parts is set off by an extended Coda which is no longer an appendix to the Refrain but a section in its own right.
The introduction of a new motif ("f" in the description below) towards the end of the Development section is a highly personal touch which is also found in other works of the same period (including the Third Symphony). As well as breaking the monotony (the sheer length of the movement means that the material is repeated), the new motif has a great psychological impact which Beethoven cleverly uses to lay the ground for the triumphant return of the First Theme in the Refrain.
The structure of the remaining part of this Beethoven violin concerto is extremely linear and clearly articulated: the description below contains a summary of form and characteristics, outlining the traditional SECTIONS of the Sonata Form, the PartS which make up each section, the musical MOTIFS and the TONALITIES it contains. A short explanation of the movements and Beethoven's APPROACH to composition is given below.
The first phrase of this Beethoven violin concerto, which links the timpani motif to that of the woodwinds, consists of symmetrical antecedents and consequents (bars 1-9).
In the next phrase, the strings take up the timpani motif (bars 10-17). In the following 10 bars, neutral devices (scales, arpeggios) prepare the next part.....
B b Maj.
A coup de théâtre, typical of Beethoven, with surprises in the form of melody, harmony and dynamics (bars 28-42).
The 2nd theme is introduced by the woodwinds; a variation on the "timpani theme" is heard constantly in the background. The following phrase develops the 2nd theme in D minor, leading in to a variation on the 1st theme and returning to the main key (D major).....
Epilogue (conclusion of Exposition).
The soloist comes in on neutral, almost improvised, notes.
Repeat of 1st theme (timpani and woodwind motif), over which the solo violinist weaves ornamental variations.
This section mirrors the orchestral Exposition, although the transition is played by the solo violin.
The 2nd theme is taken up first by the woodwinds and immediately after by the soloist.
Variations on the timpani motif.
Transitional Motif, in a different tonality
2nd theme motif, suddenly developed in a "tutti" by the orchestra, "fortissimo".
2nd theme ending, in a new tonality
The soloist comes in, like in the Exposition, but in a different tonality
The 1st theme melodic material is transformed in this episode in "minor"; in background we hear the "timpani" theme, now played by the other sections.
New, lyrical, episode (in the background the horns play the motif A). It's the heart of the 1st movement, by which Beethoven brings us back to the beginning in a glorious way.
Long pause, to increase tension, on melodical fragments (motif A) by trumpets and timpani, while the soloist goes back to the 1st theme by a continous ascent to the high register of the violin, reaching the bright D maj. tonality.
Triumphant version of the 1st theme, played fortissimo by the entire orchestra. The soloist comes back in, playing ornamental variations on the initial themes.
The 2nd theme is introduced by the woodwinds then taken up by the soloist; the development is the same as in the Exposition.
Epilogue to 2nd theme (now in D major) and build-up to the same moment of suspense as at the end of the solo Exposition, this time leading into the Coda.
Variation on motif A (same as at the start of the Development) which leads in to the tutti of the Coda.
B b Maj.
The transitional motif which leads in to the soloist's Cadenza.
Free solo part (composed by Fritz Kreisler)
The orchestra comes back in and the soloist plays the 2nd theme for the last time.
The bassoon takes up the theme from the Epilogue and the movement, with a repeated cadence, ends on a crescendo.