Tong Keat has an M.A. in Violin Performance from MTSU in Tennessee. He is the founder of Just Violin, a free resources site for violinists.
Advanced Violin Concertos
Selecting the right repertoire for students is one of the most critical responsibilities of music teachers. The piece that was chosen for learning must not exceed the level of challenge a student can handle. Students will benefit from a carefully selected repertoire that does not overwhelm their current abilities but poses sufficient challenges that enhance their skills.
With the intent to let their students develop their technique and musicality naturally, many violinist composers in the nineteenth century have written concertos that are less demanding than those of the standard repertoire. Often time, these concertos involve shifting up to only a certain position. Some composers who wrote such concertos include Rieding, Seitz, Portnoff, Sitt, and Accolay. To learn more about their works, go to Violin Concertos for Intermediate Students.
The concertos listed below are suitable for violinists who have mastered the student-level concertos but are still unprepared to take on the “big works” of the Romantic period and the twentieth century. These concertos should not be treated as student-level works as they are artistic masterpieces that call for a high level of technical command and musical understanding. However, they are idiomatically written for the violin, making them a good stepping stone for students going into the advanced level.
1. Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824)
Viotti was born in the Piedmont region of Italy. He studied with Gaetano Pugnani. As a descendant of the great Italian violin-playing tradition traced back to Corelli, he later became the teacher of Kreutzer and Rode. They were both important figures of the “modern” French violin school.
Viotti composed twenty-nine violin concertos between the years 1782 and 1805. "Concerto no.22 in A minor," composed in London in the mid-1790s, stands out as one of his most famous works. It has been performed and recorded by many great violinists. Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, wrote about his admiration for this fantastic concerto. It was also a favorite piece of legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler, who wrote the piano reduction and cadenzas for the concerto, and performed it frequently.
While this work is often regarded as a “student concerto,” it deserves a place among the great violin concertos. The first movement opens with a lengthy orchestral tutti; the soloist then enters with a series of contrasting passages so cleverly woven together. The second movement is a beautiful interlude, leading to the third movement, which brings a sense of anxiousness and unrest.
2. Pierre Rode (1774-1830)
A star student of Viotti, French violinist Rode was mostly known for his 24 caprices. He was a widely respectable musician, and he premiered Beethoven's final violin sonata. The thirteen violin concertos that he composed were nearly forgotten, despite being very popular at his time. Rode's "Concerto no.7 in A minor, Op.9" was one of the few works that Paganini would perform apart from his compositions. It was also a favorite piece of Wieniawski.
The orchestration in "concerto no.7" is rich in texture, and the virtuosic displays never overtake Rode's emphasis on long phrases and the singing quality of the violin. The second movement is a lyrical Adagio, and the third movement is a Rondo marked 'con spirito.'
3. Charles Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870)
De Bériot was a Belgian violinist and composer. While his training can be attributed back to Viotti, he was better known for his compositional and performance style that represents a synthesis of Paganini’s virtuosic display and the elegance of the French violin tradition.
He composed ten violin concertos, and his "Concerto no.9 in A minor, Op.104" was considered as an important pedagogy work for students. The first movement was also included in Barbara Barber’s Solos for Young Violinist, Vol.4 - a popular compilation of violin pieces favored by many teachers.
The first movement is full of virtuosic displays such as double stops and large leaps. Apart from that, one can still hear the grace of the French style in it. The first movement flows uninterruptedly into the second movement, a lyrical Adagio, followed by the third, a delicate piece in 6/8 meter.
4. Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987)
Kabalevsky was a Russian composer of the 20th century. He was a leading figure in the Union of Soviet Composers along with Shostakovich.
He composed three concertos in the late 1940s to early 1950s dedicated to the young people of the Soviet region to hone their skills. The "Violin Concerto in C major Op.48," the first among the three (the other two being a cello concerto and his third piano concerto), was performed by David Oistrakh. He found it to be a fascinating piece of music worthy of performance despite being student-level work.
All three movements of this concerto are relatively brief. The first movement is a short piece packed with interesting rhythmic figures, a singing second theme, and some rapid passages. It is not an easy piece to play for students who have not had a good instrument command. The second movement is a beautiful slow movement full of emotional lyricism. The third movement then returns to its joyful character and fiery display.
© 2017 Goh Tong Keat
Sarah Westwick on August 01, 2018:
Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818) grew up in an orphanage in Venice where she learned to play the violin, and she became a celebrated performer and composer. Tartini not only taught her but he paid for her lessons at the orphanage himself. She wrote 9 violin concerti, 3 in her opus 2 and six in her opus 3, all of which are available on IMSLP. All students should learn at least one of her concerti!