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Music for Two, Three, and Four Violins

Updated on September 13, 2017
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Tong Keat obtained M.A. in Violin Perf. at MTSU, TN. He is currently a member of the Selangor Symphony Orchestra and Strettosphere Quartet.

Violin Duo: Two is Company

  • Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1761) – Six Canonic Sonatas, TWV 40:118-123

The six canonic sonatas were written to be played by two flutes or two violins. Each sonata contains three movements, all to be played in strict canon where the second player begins to play the exact same part when the first player reaches the spot marked with the sign (il segno). Both players will end together with the second player omitting the final segment of his part.

  • Béla Bartók (1881-1945) – Forty-four Duos for Two Violins, Sz. 98, BB 104

Bartók’s 44 Duos was commissioned by Erich Doflein, a German violin teacher, for the purpose of pedagogy. Besides serving as technical studies, these duos are also meant to introduce young players to folk music. While the melodies are mainly based on folk tunes, the compositions are constructed using Bartók’s modern idioms, notably with polytonalities, polyrhythms, and plenty of dissonances.

  • Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) - Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56

This four-movement sonata follows a slow-fast-slow-fast structure. It was written in 1932 for the inaugural concert of Triton, a Paris-based association dedicated to promote new music. Prokofiev, in his autobiography, wrote the following:

“Listening to bad music sometimes inspires good ideas... After once hearing an unsuccessful piece [unspecified] for two violins without piano accompaniment, it struck me that in spite of the apparent limitations of such a duet one could make it interesting enough to listen to for ten or fifteen minutes….”

  • Eugene Ysaÿe (1858-1931) – Sonata for Two Violins, Op. posth.

Belgian violinist and composer Ysaÿe was better known for his 6 sonatas for solo violin, each dedicated to a great violinist of his time. The sonata for two violins was only published after the composer’s death. This highly challenging piece of music was composed during the composer’s self-imposed exile in London, where he was taking refuge from the war.

List of other composers with extensive works for violin duo:

  • Jean-Marie Leclair

  • Ignaz Pleyel

  • Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda

  • Louis Spohr

  • Charles Dancla

  • Giovanni Battista Viotti

  • Federigo Fiorillo

Violin Trio: Three is A Crowd

  • Charles Dancla (1817-1907) - 6 Petits trios faciles et concertants, Op.99

Dancla was a French violinist who upon the recommendation of Rode, studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Pierre Baillot. In 1857, he became the professor at the Paris Conservatoire and taught there for over 35 years. Each of the six trios for three violins contains two movements, and they are suitable to be played by intermediate-level students. The parts can be played mostly in the first position, and they involve shiftings only up to the third position.

  • Karol/Charles Mikuli (1821-1897) – Scherzino in C minor for Three Violins, Op.25

Mikuli was a Polish pianist, composer, and most notably, a student of Chopin. The Scherzino published in 1880 was dedicated to Joseph Joachim. It follows the form of a Scherzo and Trio. The melody of the scherzo section is very lyrical and emotionally intense while the trio section has more of a dance-like character.

Mikuli's Scherzino in C minor for Three Violins, Op.25

Violin Quartet: Four is A Party

  • Richard Hofmann (1844-1918) – Quartet for Four Violins, Op. 98

Hofmann was a German composer and a professor at the Leipzig Conservatory. The quartet has four movements and despite its unusual instrumentation, resembles a string quartet piece of the Classical period.

  • Jakob Dont (1815-1888) - Quartet for Four Violins in E minor, Op. 42 and F major, Op. 45

Dont was a Viennese violinist and composer. His technical works, particularly 24 Etudes and Caprices, Op.35, along with 24 Preparatory Exercises, Op.37, are some of the most important etudes found in the violin literature. Among his modest output of chamber music, he composed two quartets for four violins.

  • Charles Dancla - Three Pieces for Four Violins, Op.178

The three pieces carry a title each, namely Departure, Arrival, and The Return. It was published in 1890 and like a lot Dancla's other works, it is suitable for intermediate-level students.

Hofmann's Quartet for Four Violins, Op.98, 1st mvmt

"Even though I started playing the violin when I was four, my early chamber music experiences helped build a strong foundation for my solo work, as all music is a rich language and dialogue that is shared on stage, no matter what the size of the ensemble." - Anne Akiko Meyers

© 2017 Goh Tong Keat

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      Goh Tong Keat 3 days ago from Malaysia

      Yes, definitely. Very beautiful concertos. Thanks for suggesting!

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      JUJU 4 days ago

      What about Telemann's 4 Concertos for 4 violins. They are unaccompanied.