Violin Concerto (Sibelius)

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Violin Concerto
by Jean Sibelius
Sibelius edelfeldt.jpg
The composer in 1904, by Albert Edelfelt
KeyD minor
PeriodLate Romantic/Early Modern
Composed1904 (1904) (r. 1905)
ScoringViolin and orchestra
Date8 February 1904 (1904-02-08)
ConductorJean Sibelius

The Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 of Jean Sibelius, originally composed in 1904 and revised in 1905, is the only concerto by Sibelius. It is symphonic in scope and included an extended cadenza for the soloist which takes on the role of the development section in the first movement.


Sibelius originally dedicated the concerto to the noted violinist Willy Burmester, who promised to play the concerto in Berlin. For financial reasons, however, Sibelius decided to premiere it in Helsinki, and since Burmester was unavailable to travel to Finland, Sibelius engaged Victor Nováček [de] (1873–1914),[1] a Hungarian violin pedagogue of Czech origin who was then teaching at the Helsinki Institute of Music (now the Sibelius Academy).

The initial version of the concerto premiered on 8 February 1904, with Sibelius conducting. Sibelius had barely finished the work in time for the premiere, giving Nováček little time to prepare, and the piece was of such difficulty that it would have sorely tested even a player of much greater skill. Given these factors, it was unwise of Sibelius to choose Nováček, who was a teacher and not a recognised soloist, and it is not surprising that the premiere was a disaster.[2] However, Nováček was not the poor player he is sometimes painted as. He was the first violinist hired by Martin Wegelius for the Helsinki Institute, and in 1910 he participated in the premiere of Sibelius's string quartet Voces intimae, which received favourable reviews.[3]

Sibelius withheld this version from publication and made substantial revisions. He deleted much material he felt did not work. The new version premiered on 19 October 1905 with Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Court Orchestra. Sibelius was not in attendance. Willy Burmester was again asked to be the soloist, but he was again unavailable, so the performance went ahead without him, the orchestra's leader Karel Halíř stepping into the soloist's shoes. Burmester was so offended that he refused ever to play the concerto, and Sibelius re-dedicated it to the Hungarian "wunderkind" Ferenc von Vecsey,[4] who was aged 12 at the time. Vecsey championed the work, first performing it when he was only 13,[2] although he could not adequately cope with the extraordinary technical demands of the work.[5]

The initial version was noticeably more demanding on the advanced skills of the soloist. The revised version still requires a high level of technical facility on the part of the soloist. The original is somewhat longer than the revised, including themes that did not survive the revision. Certain parts, like the very beginning, most of the third movement, and parts of the second, have not changed at all. The cadenza in the first movement is exactly the same for the violin part.

Recent history of the 1904 version[edit]

The Sibelius family has granted occasional permission for a small number of orchestras and soloists to perform the original 1904 version in public. The first such documented authorisation was for a September 1990 performance by Manfred Grasbeck, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä.[6] In January 1991, BIS made a commercial recording of the original 1904 version, with Leonidas Kavakos, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Vänskä. Subsequent performances of the 1904 version have been as follows:

In 2020, Robert Lienau Musikverlag produced the first published version of the original 1904 version of the Violin Concerto.[14]


This is the only concerto that Sibelius wrote, though he composed several other smaller-scale pieces for solo instrument and orchestra, including the six Humoresques for violin and orchestra.

One noteworthy feature of the work is the way in which an extended cadenza for the soloist takes on the role of the development section in the sonata form first movement. Donald Tovey described the final movement as a "polonaise for polar bears".[15] However, he was not intending to be derogatory, as he went on: "In the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto".

Much of the violin writing is purely virtuosic, but even the most showy passages alternate with the melodic. This concerto is generally symphonic in scope, departing completely from the often lighter, "rhythmic" accompaniments of many other concertos.


The concerto is scored for solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.


External audio
Performed by Isaac Stern with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy
audio icon I. Allegro moderato
audio icon II. Adagio di molto
audio icon III. Allegro ma non tanto

Like most concertos, the work is in three movements:

  1. Allegro moderato (with many tempo changes throughout) in D minor, in 2
    mostly, with some sections in 6
    and 4
  2. Adagio di molto in B major and in 4
  3. Allegro, ma non tanto in D major and in 3

I. Allegro moderato[edit]

The first movement opens with a cushion of pianissimo strings pulsating gently. The soloist then enters with a first theme featuring a G-A-D motif, which is briefly echoed by a clarinet solo.

Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf

After a passionate high F and an unexpected E-flat major chord, the soloist introduces a new, dark theme on the G string. The lower woodwinds and timpani accompany the violinist in several runs. Cadenza-like arpeggios, double stops, and more runs from the soloist are accompanied by more woodwind restatements of the theme. The soloist then plays a relatively brief cadenza featuring rapid sixteenth notes and quick string crossings. After an ascending scale from the solo violin in broken octaves, the strings then enter in a symphonic manner, announcing the second half of the exposition material. The music is then carried on by the bassoons and clarinets before another entrance of the soloist.

The violin plays a gentle ascending motif, then a quick arpeggio which ascends into a heroic violin theme, culminating in affettuoso octaves. The soloist softly soars in a slow D♭ arpeggio which leads into a tender, winding broken-octave passage built upon the heroic theme. These octaves build to a trill on one string with the winding figure played articulately on another. Another forceful orchestral tutti leads to an extensive violin cadenza. The cadenza occupies the developmental portion of the movement and ends just before the recapitulation, the heroic theme being played by the violin a semitone higher than before. A long trill from the soloist suddenly transitions into the virtuosic coda, requiring remarkable skill in octaves, rapid and wide shifts to harmonics, and ricochet bowing. An upward cascade of double stops, a chord with a fingered harmonic, and a strong final D conclude the first movement.

II. Adagio di molto[edit]

The second movement is very lyrical. A short theme from the clarinets and oboes leads into the main theme, played by the solo violin over pizzicato strings. Dissonant accompaniments by the brass dominate the first part of the song-like movement.

Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf

After, the orchestra enters boldly with the introductory theme in a tempestuous mood. Suddenly, the solo violin enters with plaintive, double-stopped, polyrhythmic phrases. The passage develops into continuous triplet-sixteenth notes, which lead into a building trill section. After a climactic high C and B-flat, the music relaxes, leading to graceful upward scales in broken octaves by the violinist. Soon after, the solo violin increases the tension once again and finally comes to the movement's main climax, which is essentially a variation of the first theme.

Then, the solo violin restates the first theme and, playing gently grace-noted figures, ends with a light float up to an all-serene harmonic D. Soft B-flat major chords by the orchestra accompany this tranquil close to the movement.

III. Allegro, ma non tanto[edit]

The final movement opens with four bars of rhythmic percussion, with the lower strings playing 'eighth note – sixteenth note – sixteenth note' figures. The violin boldly enters with the first theme on the G string. This first section offers a complete and brilliant display of violin gymnastics with up-bow staccato double-stops and a run with rapid string-crossing, then octaves, that leads into the first tutti.

Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf

The second theme is taken up by the orchestra and is almost a waltz; the violin takes up the same theme in variations, with arpeggios and double-stops. Another short section concluding with a run of octaves makes a bridge into a recapitulation of the first theme.

Clarinet and low brass introduce the final section. A passage of harmonics in the violin precedes a sardonic passage of chords and slurred double-stops. A passage of broken octaves leads to an incredibly heroic few lines of double-stops and leaping octaves. A brief orchestral tutti comes before the violin leads things to the finish with a D major scale up, returning down in flatted supertonic (then repeated). A flourish of ascending slur-separate sixteenth notes, punctuated by a resolute D from the violin and orchestra concludes the concerto.


  1. ^ Ruth-Esther Hillila; Barbara Blanchard Hong (1 Jan 1997). Historical Dictionary of the Music and Musicians of Finland. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 198–199. ISBN 978-0-313-27728-3.
  2. ^ a b J. Michael Allsen. "Madison Symphony Orchestra Program Notes". University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009.
  3. ^ Andrew Barnett (2007). Sibelius. Yale University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-300-11159-0.
  4. ^ Andrew Barnett (2007). Sibelius. Yale University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-300-11159-0.
  5. ^ Francis Shelton (2008). "Sibelius: Pelléas and Mélisande,Violin Concerto; Beethoven: Symphony No.6 'Pastorale'".
  6. ^ a b Matthew Philion (2021-12-31). "A "Dangerous" Feat: Reviving Sibelius' Hidden Concerto". Minnesota Orchestra Inside the Music blog. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  7. ^ Derek Ho (2015-09-10). "Original Sibelius and an Aho premiere: Hannu Lintu and the Finnish RSO". ResMusica. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  8. ^ QSO Media Release: "November a magnificent month of music for QSO", 3 September 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2016
  9. ^ QSO & Maxim Vengerov. Retrieved 5 May 2016
  10. ^ "The newly rebranded Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra launches a star-studded season at the Sheldonian Theatre, with touring and recordings with Maxim Vengerov and Nigel Kennedy" (PDF) (Press release). Nicky Thomas Media Consultancy. 16 July 2015. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  11. ^ Edward Clark (June 2016). "Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra at Barbican Hall – Maxim Vengerov plays the original version of Sibelius's Violin Concerto and conducts Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony". Classical Source. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  12. ^ Jean-Luc Caron (2016-10-08). "Maxim Vengerov éclatant dans le Concerto de Sibelius à la Philharmonie". ResMusica. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  13. ^ Rob Hubbard (2022-01-08). "Minnesota Orchestra's Sibelius Festival provides a star turn for another Finn". Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  14. ^ "Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor (Early Version, Op. 47/1904)". International Musician. 2020-12-31. Retrieved 2022-01-17.
  15. ^ Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis, 1935–39

External links[edit]