Ludwig van Beethoven composed a Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, in 1806. Its first performance by Franz Clement was unsuccessful and for some decades the work languished in obscurity, until revived in 1844 by Joseph Joachim. Since then it has become one of the best-known violin concertos.
Beethoven had previously written a number of pieces for violin and orchestra. At some point in 1790–2, before his musical maturity, he began a Violin Concerto in C, of which only a fragment of the first movement survives. Whether the work, or even the first movement, had ever been completed is not known. However, even if complete, it was neither performed nor published. Later in the 1790s, Beethoven had completed two Romances for violin – first the Romance in F and later the Romance in G.
These works show a strong influence from the French school of violin playing, exemplified by violinists such as Giovanni Battista Viotti, Pierre Rode and Rodolphe Kreutzer. The two Romances, for instance, are in a similar style to slow movements of concerti by Viotti. This influence can also be seen in the D major Concerto; the ‘martial’ opening with the beat of the timpani follows the style of French music at the time, while the prevalence of figures in broken sixths and broken octaves closely resembles elements of compositions by Kreutzer and Viotti.
The first known recording of Beethoven’s violin concerto was made in 1925 for Polydor by violinist Josef Wolfsthal, with Hans Thierfelder conducting the Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra. Hundreds of recordings have been made since, among which the following have received awards and outstanding reviews:
- 1953: Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin), Berliner Philharmoniker, Eugen Jochum (conductor), Deutsche Grammophon – “Rosette” by the Penguin Guide
- 1955: Jascha Heifetz (violin), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch (direction), RCA Victor – “Mid-price choice” by BBC Radio 3 Building a Library, September 2003
- 1959: Isaac Stern (violin), New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (conductor), Sony “Unique cadenza in last movement”
- 1974: Arthur Grumiaux (violin), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Colin Davis (conductor), Philips – “4 star” by the Penguin Guide
- 1980: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini (direction), EMI – Gramophone Award, 1981
- 1997: Thomas Zehetmair (violin), Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Frans Brüggen (conductor), Philips – “First choice” by BBC Radio 3 Building a Library, September 2003
- 2006: Isabelle Faust (violin), Prague Philharmonia, Jirí Belohlávek (conductor), Harmonia Mundi – “First choice” by BBC Radio 3 Building a Library, April 2011; “Diapason d’or” by Diapason, April 2011
- 2011: Isabelle Faust (violin), Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado (conductor), Harmonia Mundi – “Disc of the Month” by Gramophone, March 2012; “Disc of the Month” by BBC Music Magazine, April 2012; “Diapason d’Or Arte” by Diapason d’Or and Arte; Gramophone Award, 2012; Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik; Echo Klassik 2012; “Highly recommended recording” by Gramophone April 2014,