Violin Concerto

Benjamin Britten

Violin Concerto in D minor

Op. 15

About this work

Composed in 1939, this violin concerto was written at the close of a magical decade for violinists in which more great concertos for their instrument appeared than any other time (Stravinsky, Bartók, Bloch, Hindemith, Berg, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Sessions, Walton). It has never really been absent from the repertoire, but violinists who are seeking to add a concerto of this era to their repertoires generally choose the Stravinsky, Berg, or Prokofiev in preference to it. It is one of the first works Britten wrote after resettling in the United States. Britten uses a novel procedure in his sonata allegro (here, actually marked "moderato con moto") first movement: the gentle and tender opening theme (which is initially announced over a soft timpani figure) vies in the development with the aggressive second subject and wins by absorbing all the elements of the second theme into itself; when the recapitulation comes, the second subject is entirely absent. The middle movement is a scherzo which has aspects of the first, including the opening drum pattern. For the finale, the largest movement of the score, Britten provided the first of his notable line of magnificent passacaglias. Britten devised a theme of a sort that would return in important works: a patterned set of notes that moves itself around the circle of 12 available tones. He uses it to reach a conclusion that, rarely for violin concertos (a genre that usually ends with a flourish), concludes in territory unsettled as to whether it is major or minor.