Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 was written by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1806. It was written in a number of weeks. This concerto written for violin and orchestra was the only one of such kind.
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In the 18th century, there were many conventional elements, which were dominating in concertos. Beethoven made his contribution to the evolution of the genre. He eliminated these elements and made the concerto closer to the symphonic genre. The composition was innovative and rich in technique and form. It is lyrical and harmonious, without any sign of tragic intensity.
In addition to the solo violin, the concerto is played in flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. The work is in three movements:
- Allegro ma non troppo (D major)
- Larghetto (G major)
- Rondo. Allegro (D major)
Beethoven constructed this concerto symmetrically. Two dialectically opposed parts have a complete motif (A+B, C, D, E) in each section. The structure of the first movement is the “sonata form”. He divided it into three parts: the Exposition (orchestra and soloist), Development and Refrain (with coda). Closer to the end of the Development section, he introduces a new motif, which is not only breaking the monotony, but also has a significant psychological effect. He uses it to prepare the solemn return of the First Theme in the Refrain. This movement has a good example of ‘sonata form’. The second period has a radiance of scale and fine articulation. Beethoven achieved a perfect balance using six pure motifs (A, B, C, D, E and F). The first phrase consists of symmetrical antecedents and consequents.
The second movement has a pure lyricism. The structure is distinctive for the fact that it is completely in G major. The first theme is a pure romanza phrase played pianissimo with two bar coda on a muted strings. Then, goes two variations by the soloist and orchestra. The second theme is made up by a sublime period of eight bars. It begins in bar 45 and returns in bar 71. It is played on the deep strings of the violin. The whole movement consists of melodic variations played by the soloist and orchestra. The unexpected moments is the modulation on the chord (F sharp) in the fourth bar. The strings play with “sordina”, so the color in this movement is soft and warm. The second theme is played on the solo violin. The strings are deep and warm. Then, goes two the variations of the first theme and repeat of second theme with woodwinds. After that, goes cadenza and the last embellishment on first theme.
The third movement has a lively Rondo form. It starts interruptedly with the solo violin in low and high registers. Then, orchestra repeats the theme. In the second theme soloist plays a typical “corni da caccia”. Then, orchestra plays the same theme, altering the fragments, and returns to the main key and Refrain. Then, goes the consequent to the refrain. After that, goes a different pace in a transition to the next Episode. The second Episode is lyrical and expressive, as well as contrasting. The counterpoint is specifically melodic. Then, goes repeat of the first theme, first by soloist, then by orchestra. The third Episode is a variation on the first one. It is characterized by the hunting theme. Then, it is insensibly goes back to the main key. After that, goes cadenza and return of motif A. Then, goes reconduction and coda. The last repetition of motif A leads to the grand conclusion. The movement features the three-part symmetry and harmonic structure.
It is clear that Beethoven did not write the cadence just for violin, but wanted the performer to improvise. The entire Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 lasts for about 45 minutes. The first movement is the longest one and it is about 20 minutes in duration. This concerto is one the most important among the violin repertoire and it is unclear why the work was not recognized by audience and critics of that time.