Violin Concerto (Brahms)

From Academic Kids

The Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms is one of the best known of all violin concertos.

In common with most concerti, it has three movements in the pattern quick-slow-quick:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace

Originally, however, the work was planned in four movements: the intended scherzo was omitted.

The work was written in 1878 for the violinist and friend of Brahms, Joseph Joachim, who was the dedicatee. Brahms asked Joachim's advice on the writing of the solo violin part. The most familiar cadenzas used in the work are by Joachim, though a number of people have provided alternatives, including Leopold Auer.

The work was premiered by Joachim in Leipzig on January 1, 1879. Various modifications were made between then and the work's publication by Fritz Simrock later in the year.

Critical reaction to the work was mixed: the conductor Hans von Bülow said the work was not so much for violin as "against the violin". Henryk Wieniawski called the work "unplayable", and the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate refused to play it.

Against these critics, modern listeners often feel that Brahms was not really trying to produce a conventional vehicle for virtuoso display, as his peers perhaps had expected him to; Brahms had higher musical aims. Similar criticisms have been voiced over the string concerti of other great composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven's violin concerto or Hector Berlioz's Harold in Italy.

Technical demands

The Violin Concerto is considered one of the most important works in the violin repertoire. The technical demands on the soloist are formidable, with generous use of double stopping, broken chords, rapid scale passages, and rhythmic variation. The difficulty might be attributed to Brahms being chiefly a pianist (this may also explain the technical demands Tchaikovsky made in his violin concerto).

Brahms's choice of D major for his concerto is significant. Since the violin is tuned G'D'A'E, the open strings, resonating sympathetically, add brilliance to the sound. Probably for the same reason, this key has been used in several other concertos, such as Beethoven's and Tchaikovsky's.


Brahms wrote three other concerti: the Piano Concerto No. 1 (1859), the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1881) and the Double Concerto (1887), for violin, cello and orchestra.

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