When many people imagine the virtuosic concert violinist, they picture the violin soloist on stage, in front of the orchestra, showing off their musical gymnastics.
This is typically the part of a violin concerto referred to as the “cadenza”, where the composer writes in a long section (usually in the recapitulation) for the violinist to tell the musical narrative all on their own, a moment away from the orchestra.
As violinists, the cadenzas that make up our violin repertoire are vital to know and understand, just as it is important to familiarize ourselves with the soloists who gave these cadenzas a new breadth.
Here, we’ll take a look at the top 5 violin cadenzas that every violinist should know.
1. Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 (Kreisler)
The final cadenza from Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which was written closer to the end of his career, is one of the most important excerpts of violin writing for a few reasons.
First off, this is surely one of the more expressive cadenzas on this list. Fritz Kreisler, who composed this cadenza for the concerto, dynamically juxtaposes slow, lyrical sections with super fast, technically demanding phrases, creating a narrative-like effect for the violinist to explore.
Secondly, it plays with a lot of motivic material from particularly the first movement in a very creative way. This idea is a very Beethoven-esc concept that is put perfectly on display in this violin cadenza.
Lastly, due to the piece’s context in Beethoven’s career and highly ambitious sound, it takes the violin into the early era of romantic writing in a dramatic, triumphant manner.
For these reasons, Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza from the Beethoven Violin Concerto is a must know for all violinists.
2. Brahms - Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Fast forward about 70 years, and we arrive at the cadenza from the Brahms Violin Concerto.
This is a piece that takes the early-romantic lyricism from a piece such as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and pushes it to a new level of stylistic maturity.
Brahms’ use of double stops to create harmonic interest, combined with largely contrasting musical characters, makes this cadenza a must know for violinists looking to push the characteristic qualities of their instrument to the next level.
3. Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto
One of the reasons the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is so important for violinists to know is that it’s famous for requiring a high level of virtuosity and technical proficiency.
As a matter of fact, before it debuted back in 1881, it was considered to be nearly impossible to play. Now that it has integrated itself into the repertoire, the technical requirements are seen as slightly less demanding as they were back then, but they’re still incredibly challenging and rigorous.
The concerto features fast and challenging passages for the solo violin, as well as intricate and expressive melodies that require a high degree of musicality and interpretive skills.
Additionally, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is generally an important work in the classical repertoire, and its place in the canon of classical music has made it a cornerstone of the violin repertoire. Many of the greatest violinists of all time have performed and recorded the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and it has thus become an iconic piece for the instrument.
For something a bit fun, check out Patricia Kopatchinskaja (“PatKop”)’s very improvisational approach to the concerto:
4. Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5
Hopping back a hundred years to the writing of Mozart, the cadenza from his 5th Violin Concerto is a must for a list of the top violin concertos.
Mozart packs a lot of musical character into a relatively short cadenza, which enhances the dramatic flare of the cadenza.
One moment, a lyrical arpeggio rings out of the instrument, and the next moment, the violinist is running down a flurry of notes. For this reason it’s just as exciting to watch being performed as it is to listen.
5. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
Closing out this list is the cadenza from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Mendelssohn packs so much color and expression into a single cadenza, to the point where the spaces in between the slow phrases feel just as dramatic as the sweeping gestures in the fast sections.
This is a must know for anyone looking to master the violin, or just familiarize themselves with the repertoire.
While we do think these are arguably the top 5 stand-out cadenzas, these are still just a few of the many jaw-dropping violin cadenzas out there.
For further listening (consider this an honorable mention), check out Max Bruch’s violin concerto cadenza, as well as the Sibelius violin concerto for some amazing displays of violin virtuosity.
Did you learn something new?
Feel free to click this link to check out our in-depth courses on violin, taught by artists including Grammy winning violinists and professors from schools such as Juilliard, Curtis, and more.
On tonebase, you will find in-depth courses and workshops with some of the world’s top violinists, covering a wide range of subjects such as repertoire-specific lessons, violin technique, and more.