Work: Violin Concerto
About This Work
Beethoven wrote his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806), at the height of his so-called "second" period, one of the most fecund phases of his creativity. In the few years leading up to the violin concerto, Beethoven had produced such
masterpieces as the Symphony No. 3, Op. 55 (1803), the Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58 (1805-1806), and two of his most important piano sonatas, No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ("Waldstein," 1803-1804), and No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ("Appassionata," 1804-1805). The violin concerto represents a continuation -- indeed, one of the crowning achievements -- of Beethoven's exploration of the concerto, a form he would essay only once more, in the Piano Concerto No. 5 (1809).
By the time of the violin concerto, Beethoven had employed the violin in concertante roles in a more limited context. Around the time of the first two symphonies, he produced two romances for violin and orchestra; a few years later, he used the violin as a member of the solo trio in the Triple Concerto (1803-1804). These works, despite their musical effectiveness, must still be regarded as studies and workings-out in relation to the violin concerto, which more clearly demonstrates Beethoven's mastery in marshalling the distinctive formal and dramatic forces of the concerto form.
Characteristic of Beethoven's music, the dramatic and structural implications of the concerto emerge at the outset, in a series of quiet timpani strokes that led some early detractors to dismiss the work as the "Kettledrum Concerto." Striking as it is, this fleeting, throbbing motive is more than just an attention-getter; indeed, it provides the very basis for the melodic and rhythmic material that is to follow. At over 25 minutes in length, the first movement is notable as one of the most extended in any of Beethoven's works, including the symphonies. Its breadth arises from Beethoven's adoption of the Classical ritornello form -- here manifested in the extended tutti that precedes the entrance of the violin -- and from the composer's expansive treatment of the melodic material throughout. The second movement takes a place among the most serene music Beethoven ever produced. Free from the dramatic unrest of the first movement, the second is marked by a tranquil, organic lyricism. Toward the end, an abrupt orchestral outburst leads into a cadenza, which in turn takes the work directly into the final movement. The genial Rondo, marked by a folk-like robustness and dancelike energy, makes some of the work's more virtuosic demands on the soloist.
At the prompting of Muzio Clementi -- one of the greatest piano virtuosi of the day aside from Beethoven himself -- Beethoven later made a surprisingly effective transcription of the violin concerto as the unnumbered Piano Concerto in D major, Op. 61a, famously adding to the first movement an extended cadenza that employs tympani in addition to the piano.
-- Michael Rodman, All Music Guide
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