On May 1, 1761, Haydn got the appointment that made his career when Prince Nicholas Esterházy hired him as his vice-Kapellmeister. The Prince had another promising young musician, Alois Luigi Tomasini (1741 - 1808), hired at the age of 16 as a valet du chamber, but also such a fine violinist that Nicholas sent him to Venice to receive the best violin training. Haydn shrewdly wrote as many as four concertos for Tomasini to show their boss that his trust in both of them was well-founded. (Both served the Esterházy family for life with Tomasini the trusted concertmaster of Haydn's orchestra.)
In 1949 Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon discovered the manuscript of this concerto in the Abbey of Melk. It was written no later than 1771, and in most commentators' estimation is the equal of the D Major Cello Concerto -- in other words, the first great violin concerto of the classical age. In 1961, another copy of this concerto surfaced in the Marcello Library of Venice. It posed an editorial problem: while the Venice copy was obviously meant for the use of a string orchestra, the Melk manuscript had an incomplete horn part and mentions an oboe part (though none was found). Fortunately, the manner in which those instruments were used at the time was rather standardized, and so Anton Heiler and Robbins Landon were able to reconstruct them.
In this concerto Haydn already shows some of the innovations he was bringing to the symphony form at the same time. Although it can be said that there is one predominant theme in the first movement (Moderato), Haydn varies it to produce a version that serves as a contrasting second theme group. Haydn observes a standard format of exposition without a solo part, then another with the solo, but he also adds new material for the soloist during this section. The violin leads off a creative development section.
The second movement, Adagio, also begins with a tutti section, fully stating an arioso theme. This has a tender, operatic quality, particularly when the violin takes it. This is a tender, serenade-like movement.
The finale, Allegro, also observes the convention that the orchestra without soloist states the main theme first, followed by the violin. The music is not so fast to make the violin lose its essential lyrical characteristic, but it has energy and a virile quality that allows some athletic display.