The original title of this Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra was simply "Concerto Academico," but Vaughan Williams changed it around 1951 to its current title, though the older one is usually retained parenthetically in most listings. However one calls it, this work is clearly an homage to Bach, specifically to his Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, a composition Vaughan Williams deeply loved and admired. He may have been inspired to pay this tribute by Holst's 1923 Fugal Concerto, but neo-Classicism was already in the air, and the independent-minded Vaughan Williams usually needed little stimulus to stray off the beaten path.
The concerto is cast in three movements, with the lively outer panels framing a serene Adagio. Vaughan Williams borrows a rhythmic idea from Bach's A minor Second Violin Concerto to open the first movement. As one might expect, he also infuses the music with a healthy dose of contrapuntal activity throughout this panel. Still, there is little doubt about the authorship of the themes here: though they are lean and muscular, they have that hearty, folkish character so typical of the composer. Marked Allegro pesante, this is one of the composer's busiest, most vibrant instrumental movements.
The Adagio is dreamy and relaxed in mood, and features mostly delicate, triadic harmonies. The violin writing often resembles that in the composer's earlier masterpiece, The Lark Ascending (1914; rev. 1920). In the central part of the movement a climatic episode of a most celestial character appears to stir this otherwise serene musical landscape. On its return this same material sounds less forceful and a bit darker.
The Presto finale opens with a theme that is pure Vaughan Williams, a jig tune taken from Act II, scene 2 of his opera, Hugh the Drover (1910-14), which had premiered in July 1924, shortly before the composer began work on this concerto. At less than four minutes, this is the shortest movement, but its bustling energy never flags, its folk-like spirit permeating the whole movement, leaving relatively little to identify with Bach. In the end, this concerto must be assessed a masterpiece, perhaps a major masterpiece. The work was dedicated to violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, who premiered it in London on November 6, 1925, with Anthony Bernard leading the London Chamber Orchestra.