Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61

    Description by Michael Rodman

    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.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro ma non troppo
    2. Larghetto
    3. Rondo. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886691
    2017 Onyx ONYX 4167
    2017 Accent ACC 24320
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295763084
    2017 Weitblick SSS 020402052
    2017 NEOS NEOS 21602
    2017 Masterworks / Sony Classical 88985395202
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886721
    2017 Warner Classics 561986
    2017 Gramola 99101
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 09036
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796220
    2016 Decca
    2016 SWR Music SWR 19018CD
    2016 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186237
    2016 Capriccio Records C 7210
    2016 Exton 65
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796316
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796314
    2016 Urania WS 121153
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88843095342
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795983
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646777051
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646075973
    2015 K-Tel 136439
    2015 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 14026
    2015 Warner Classics 552362
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646129805
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94857BR
    2015 Onyx Classics ONYX 4154
    2015 Sony Classical 88875123912
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    2015 Warner Classics 0825646144433
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    2015 RPO RPOSP 049
    2015 Edition Classics EDN 1058
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    2014 Praga PRDDSD 350082
    2014 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 354
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    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 9112
    2014 ZYX Classics / ZYX Music CLA 101832
    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 9122
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    2012 The Entertainment Group 107570
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    2003 Past Perfect 205633
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