Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61

I. Allegro ma non troppo II. Larghetto III. Rondo, Allegro

Beethoven’s only violin concerto was written at unusually high speed towards the end of 1806, and it was premiered before Christmas of that year in Vienna, with Franz Clement taking the solo role. Its three movements demonstrate the accustomed construction of a concerto work: the first movement is a sonata form, the second a series of variations on a slow cantabile theme, and the finale a lively rondo. However, the concerto is anything but predictable or perfunctory. The details are not in the least traditional. It is perhaps sufficient just to look at how Beethoven begins the concerto. In the opening bar, we hear only four beats of the timpani. After the four repeated deep D’s, the orchestra enters with a D major chord, and a melodic fragment is heard played on the instruments. A few bars later, the drum again is heard, this time beating out an A. The strings then take over this idea of repetition, this time with D sharp – an astonishing idea at the beginning of a composition in D major, as it immediately draws the music away from its chosen tonal centre. Such daring did not occur to any of Beethoven’s contemporaries, or even composers many generations later. Interestingly, Bartók borrows the timpani solo idea at the beginning of his unfinished viola concerto. When Tibor Serly received the task of trying to produce a performing version of this concerto, he could not believe his eyes and vetoed Bartók’s instructions, electing to replace the drum beats with string pizzicatos. Even at the end of the 1940’s, the use of pure percussion in an introductory thought was seen as bizarre.