Ludwig van Beethoven composed his D Major Violin Concerto in 1806. It was published as Opus 61. He wrote it with his violinist friend, Franz Clement, in mind. Clement gave its premiere performance on 23rd December 1806 in the Theater An Der Wien as part of a benefit concert for himself. It was a failure as, surprisingly, the audience was not so interested in it. Part of the failure was attributed to the fact that Beethoven finished writing the solo part very late and Clement had to do sight reading for most of his performance. Also, Clement interrupted the concerto between the first and the second movement with a solo composition of his own which he played on just one string of the violin, holding it upside down. I would venture to guess that it was the first violin concerto that could be deemed as solemnly serious and demanding of spiritual attention and the mass was not ready for it. I feel that they may have been flummoxed by the length and the breadth of the movements with their serious messages. This great violin concerto was pushed into obscurity during Beethoven’s lifetime and it was only revived in 1844 by Joseph Joachim who played it under Mendelssohn with the London Philharmonic. It was finally accepted and since then, it has remained as one of the widely performed in the violin repertoire.
Prior to 1806, Beethoven had written numerous compositions for violin and orchestra. He had written two Romances for violin and orchestra in F Major and G Major. In 1792, he even contemplated writing a concerto for violin in C Major. A fragment of its first movement had survived but lost after his death in 1827. It was never completed nor published.
Many musical critics have explained that the opening of the first movement in martial style with the timpani beat was an influence of the French style at that time, exemplified by Pierre Rode. The broken sixth and the broken octaves that follow the timpani beats are representative of the style of music written by Kreutzer and Giovanni Viotti.
As a result of the failure of the concerto during its initial performance, Muzio Clementi advised Beethoven to revise the concerto and produce a version for pianoforte and orchestra and the result was the Opus 61A creation.
The concerto is made up of three movements – Allegro ma non troppo in D Major > Larghetto in G Major > Rondo/Allegro in D Major. It is scored for a solo violin, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, strings and timpani. Besides Beethoven’s cadenzas for the first and the third movements, other violinists who have written their own cadenzas are Joseph Joachim and Fritz Kreisler. Alfred Schnittke has written cadenzas with a modern flavour.
The format of the first movement is one of the greatest examples that could be given of the sonata structure during Beethoven’s creative second period. You have to be aware of the fact that the length of this movement is as long as the full concertos or symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven articulates every theme and gives it a distinct character. The importance of every theme could be grasped as soon as it is presented. He develops the movement material from a simple six-motif combination of A, B, C, D, E and F. He has created one of the most sublime compositions with this movement in the history of concerto music. You can say that this movement is a fine example of how to achieve an ideal equilibrium in compositions.