Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op 61 (1806)
Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Allegro, ma non troppo
- Rondo allegro
By 1803 Beethoven had come to terms with his growing deafness. He also started to shake off the traditional Viennese classicism of his earlier works. The change was most noticeable in his Eroica symphony and the first version of his only opera Fidelio of 1805. By now totally deaf, he also wrote his 4th Piano Concerto and the Appassionata piano sonata during this fertile period. In 1806, not only did he compose both the 4th and 5th Symphonies, but he also wrote perhaps the greatest of all violin concertos.
Written for the 26-year-old conductor at the Theater-an-der-Wien, Franz Clement, Beethoven’s sole completed concerto for violin was only finished on the day of its first performance. As a result Clement had to sight read the solo part. Between the first and second movements he interpolated several works of his own, played on the violin held upside down! It was therefore unsurprising that initial critical response to the concerto was muted. The concerto remained little performed until almost twenty years after Beethoven’s death. In 1844 Felix Mendelssohn included it in the European tour of 13-year old virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Following its triumphant London performance, the concerto’s popularity was assured.
The first movement begins with five soft taps on the timpani. This deceptively simple motif forms the rhythmic and melodic basis for the entire movement. The pulses recur in different guises, sometimes ominous, sometimes heroic but always providing a poignant counterpoint to the often tender solo part.
The hymn-like soulful second movement is in the form of a theme and variations, but with a twist. The variations are actually simple restatements of the theme but with wondrously varied instrumentation. The soloist weaves an intricate web of commentary around the thematic material that is almost entirely presented by the orchestra.
Without a break the violin launches into the jaunty theme of the pastoral final Rondo. Featuring folk-like accompaniments, the writing becomes increasingly virtuosic for the soloist. After the cadenza, a surprising shift in tonality leads to an exciting and dramatic climax.
Performed: March 2020