Writing a Violin Concerto

A concerto is typically "a three part musical work in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra." 1 Each movement should showcase a different emotional journey for the performer and the instrument - and yet be related in some way.

The path I am taking is writing the piece for solo violin and chamber orchestra. The movements will be:

  • Molto Allegro - dark, tragic and perhaps a bit ominous
  • Poco Andante - a lament
  • Presto - frolicking

I'd like to say the piece is has a tonal center of C, but I tend to be a bit more fluid in my approach to tonal centers, so saying it is in the key of C is the best way to describe it. However, saying that, neither Philip Glass or John Adams identified their violin concertos with a key. The key of C isn't typical for a violin concerto. The major and minor keys of D, A and G, with the minor key of B and major key of E tend to be more common. However, Saint-Saëns did write one in C major. As I will tend toward the minor mode for the first two movements, that would suggest I might be more focused on C minor which is not particularly a good key for the violin.

There are also a number of cross rhythms and syncopated sections in the first movement, with a large number of time changes. Right now this has me a bit concerned as, while the piece should be demanding, I don't want the piece to be so demanding the accompanying ensemble struggles to keep it together - and the soloist has a counting nightmare. (IMHO) One key to writing a good concerto is making the solo part truly organic to the instrument.

One way to do this is to examine previous works, in order to gain an understanding as to the different emotional paths other composers have taken. To get an idea as to who's done what, a list is helpful. Wikipedia has a list specific to Violin Concertos. But violinist.com has a list of 20th Century violin music which extends the list to beyond violin concertos and provides some interesting insight into violin music.

Numerous composers before me worked with virtuoso violinists to polish the violin part and make sure the writing was possible and yet challenging enough to showcase their talents. It is my hope to work with Tristan Gurney, the first violin for the Edinburgh Quartet. The concerto is well underway. It's not my first large work, nor my first piece written for the violin, so there are a number of things I can accomplish straight away. If Tristan is willing, I hope to have something for him to look at toward the end of the week - a fairly finished first movement.

My violin concerto is nearly finished. Click here for more information and mp3's you can listen to.


Chip Michael said…
There are other posts with updated information for this Violin Concerto. Perhaps the most important is the upcoming performance by Grace Kwon in Boston. There is not a date as yet, but March 2010 time frame.

So, look for more information on this blog in the coming weeks and months.

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