The Top Ten Violin Concertos of All Time

My list of the ten greatest violin concertos is a highly personal choice, and subject to amendment depending on: my mood, glorious new recordings, or a particularly brilliant live performance. However, I think I’ve listed the very best examples of the form here (although leaving out Bruch, Szymanowski and Bartok wasn’t easy).

1. Ludwig van Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61

Noble, serene and perfectly balanced, this greatest of all violin concertos is a wonderful example of Beethoven’s ‘middle period’ of composition. His command of form is masterful, and yet there is an overall tranquillity in this piece that is less often associated with Beethoven.
Hear it: Lying in the shade in a field on a beautiful summer’s day.
Best recorded version: Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Eugen Jochum (conductor)


[Above] Beethoven Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by Yehudi Menuin.

2. Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV 1043

My composition teacher used to describe the first movement of this concerto as ‘really swinging’ (in the jazz sense), and indeed it does motor along. But the heart and soul of this timeless masterpiece is, in my view, the most sublime piece of music ever written – the transcendent second movement Largo.
Hear it: In a large cathedral.
Best recorded version: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (violin), English Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (conductor)


[Above] Bach Double Violin Concerto, 2nd movement, played by Rachel Podger and Andrew Manze.

3. Joannes Brahms, Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77

One of the best examples of Brahms’s grand lyricism. Herbert Foss aptly described this giant of the repertoire as ‘a song for the violin on a symphonic scale’.
Hear it: Floating down your favourite river.
Best recorded version: Nigel Kennedy (violin), London Philharmonic, Klaus Tennstedt (conductor)


[Above] Brahms Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by Henryk Szeryng.

4. Jean Sibelius, Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

This is the most recorded and performed violin concerto of any written in the 20th century, and it’s easy to see why it maintains its popularity with audiences and performers worldwide. The technical challenges on the soloist are thrilling without ever becoming empty flamboyant gestures, and the pace never lets up to the final bar.
Hear it: At the top of a mountain.
Best recorded version: Leila Josefowicz (violin), Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner (conductor)


[Above] Sibelius Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by David Oistrakh.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K216

Mozart’s five violin concertos were all written before his 20th birthday, and although they never reach the genius of his mature piano concertos, they are wonderfully assured pieces, particularly numbers 3-5. These last three all deserve a place in the top ten, but today I’m opting for No. 3, for its freshness, abundant vitality, and that heart-wrenching Adagio, which is among Mozart’s most beautiful.
Hear it: Cycling through the countryside.
Best recorded version: Yehudi Menuin (violin), Bath Festival Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai (conductor)


[Above] Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3, 1st movement, played by Isaac Stern.

6. Igor Stravinsky, Violin Concerto in D

As Robert Layton said in A Guide to the Concerto, ‘They are unmusical feet indeed that do not respond on hearing the (Stravinsky) Violin Concerto’. Stravinsky’s neo-classical masterpiece is suffused with the joys of dance and song, and full of imagination.
Hear it: In a late-night lock-in at your favourite pub.
Best recorded version: Kyung Wha Chung (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn (conductor)


[Above] Stravinsky Violin Concerto, 4th movement, played by Kyung Wha Chung.

7. Sergei Prokofiev, Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 19

Who would not be seduced by the enchanting spells that pervade this most original and distinctive of violin concertos? Ethereal, magical and totally beguiling.
Hear it: On awakening in a strange forest.
Best recorded version: Cho-Liang Lin (violin), Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor)


[Above] Prokofiev Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by Vadim Repin.

8. Alban Berg, Violin Concerto

On paper, an atonal serial work written for a youthful dead relative doesn’t sound promising. But somehow Berg manages to make complex schematic music that reaches extraordinary emotional depths. There is no more universally appealing 12-tone music in the repertoire, and this concerto’s sustained ambiguities make it one of the most profound compositions of the 20th century.
Hear it: In a graveyard at night, lit by 23 candles.
Best recorded version: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa (conductor)


[Above] Berg Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by Frederieke Saeijs at the Long-Thibaud competition prize winners gala in Paris, 2005.

9. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35

The ultimate romantic concerto, in all senses of the word. With its passionate outpouring of sinuous melody and sumptuous harmonies, and its highly spirited finale, it’s no wonder this is a perennial favourite in the repertoire.
Hear it: At a candle-lit dinner with your loved one.
Best recorded version: Leila Josefowicz (violin), Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner (conductor)


[Above] Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, 1st movement, played by Jascha Heifetz.

10. Dmitri Shostakovich, Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99

One of the most diverse concertos in terms of mood. From the dreamy introspective nocturne to the twisted jollity of the scherzo, this is some of Shoctakovich’s most enigmatic music. As so often with Shostakovich, it’s hard to know what is meant by it all, but there is no doubt that this is a composition of huge emotional depth and invention.
Hear it
: In your own carriage on the overnight Trans-Siberian express.
Best recorded version: Maxim Vengerov (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Mstislav Rostropovich (conductor)


[Above] Shostakovich Violin Concerto, 3rd movement, played by Leonid Kogan.

68 responses to “The Top Ten Violin Concertos of All Time”

  1. Maybe it’s just because its atmosphere is so close to that of my own soul, but I would make Berg’s concerto #1 🙂

  2. Bruch ? Mendelssohn ? The Lark Ascending ? Gubaidulina – Offertorium ? Anybody ???

  3. I would include Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in e minor op. 64 and Saint-Saen’s concerto no. 3.

  4. Mendelsohn just has to be there. Cant believe that it is missing. I would personally rate it above many of the other ones that you have mentioned in your list. I think a lot of violinists would pick it as one of their favorites.

  5. Ha! I’ll bet no-one gets that 23-candles reference. 🙂

    Mendelssohn does deserve to be on the list. Most people would put the Tchaik higher, although I’ve never quite gotten the fuss about that piece—nowhere near as satisfying as many other concerti. My top three would be Brahms (obviously!!), Sibelius, then Beethoven. Then it gets murkier.

    To some of the other posters: Never saw the appeal of the Saint-Saëns at all. Learned the first movement and hated it the entire time—about as exciting as practicing a Kreutzer etude. Much prefer the lesser-known Dvorák concerto, though I don’t know if it’d make my top 10. And “The Lark Ascending” is hardly a concerto is it?

  6. Thanks for all comments – keep them coming!

    I thought I might get stick for not including Mendelssohn. It is a great piece, but for me it doesn’t match any of the 10 in this list. It’s at number 11, maybe 🙂

    Nathan – great comments. I’m so glad you picked up on the ’23’ reference, I wasn’t sure if anyone would.

  7. where the khatchaturian violin concerto??
    and also has anyone heard the butterfly lovers violin concerto?
    its not technically demanding, nor is it very difficult, but its so beautiful and passionate, just amazing.

  8. The Mendelssohn concerto should have definitely been on this list, because it is a staple of violin repetoire. The Tchaikovsky Concerto should have been much higher because it is one of the most critically acclaimed. In addition, I suggest that you should have added the Saint-Saens Concerto, the Bruch Concerto, as well as the Paganini Concerto, which are also some of the best violin concertos ever written as considered by convention.

    In my opinion, I would have also included violin concertos by Louis Spohr, and Henryk Wieniawski. Also, I generally think the Beethoven Violin Concerto is overrated.

  9. OK – talking of sticking one’s neck out……
    CV Stanford, Violin Concerto in D, Op.74
    is up there somewhere – hear it a few times and it will never leave you!

    John Overton
    (Anthony Marwood and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra recorded the concerto in 2000)

  10. I like this list, but if I were to make a list of the greatest violin concertos, I would choose:
    1. Beethoven Violin Concerto – It’s Beethoven, and this concerto is absolutely great
    2. Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 – Both technically and musically demanding, and in my opinion, one of the hardest. But once you conquer this piece, it is so beautiful. The violin introduction is also so dark and beautiful.
    3. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto – Amazing concerto. Enough said.
    4. Sibelius Violin Concerto – Like the Prokofiev mentioned above, it is very demanding, maybe even more demanding than Prokofiev, but I do not enjoy it as much as the Prokofiev. However, it is still amazing.
    5. Brahms Violin Concerto – Brahms is one of the greatest composers ever to live, and he proves that once again with this great concerto.
    6. Shostakovich Violin Concerto – So hauntingly beautiful just like all of his other works, and it requires great determination, but the result is purely beautiful intervals.
    7. Paganini Violin Concerto No. 2 – Maybe the greatest violinist to ever live, and I like his second concerto more than the first.
    8. Bach Violin Concerto – Beautiful Concerto, and Bach does another fantastic job composing this concerto.
    9. Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 – Dedicated to Sarasate, a natural at the violin and arguably the best violin composer ever. Both a showcase piece and a well-written concerto.
    10. Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2 – Contains most techniques a violinist needs, and it is also a great concerto itself as well.

    This list is in the order from best to last (in my opinion). I am not saying this is the right list, but these are the ten violin concertos I enjoy listening to and playing the most.

  11. Hi there,

    Sibelius is a good choice, not played enough.
    Of course, i agree , Mendelssohn and Bruch should be here, but also Vieuxtemps concerto N°5, and Paganini (all concertos) where is Paganini ????

  12. My personal 10…

    1 – Tchaikovsky
    2 – Khachaturian
    3 – Beethoven
    4 – Brahms
    5 – Mendelsssohn
    6 – Carmen Fantasy (Sarasate)
    7 – Paganini
    8 – Carmen Fantasy (Waxman)
    9 – Saint-Saens (Rondo Capricio)
    10 – Bruch

  13. Let’s make this easy. Time has moved on, forget the “best” 10 — and just move the list to 20 or 25.

  14. Hi there, I can’t see your name, but I think this Culture Club is a great forum for opinions, discussions and for me in particular – learning.
    Can you tell me whether I would be able to obtain and album with the top ten Violin Concertos on it – say from
    My fave is Saint-Saens Concerto No. 3, Second Movement played by the late great Yehudi Menuhin.
    I shall keep looking at your blogspot as it is trememdously interesting and would value any comments to my requests above.

    Thanks and keep on listening to this wonderful music

  15. Hi Kerryn.

    Thanks for your kind comments on this blog, I much appreciate it. It’s great to know that these posts are being read and enjoyed.

    There’s no one album or box set with all these top 10 concertos on (these are my choices). However, I have provided links for each work, to the recordings that I consider the best performances – you can see these under each entry in the blog post.

  16. Im sorry but the Burg is massive doodie. Lets replace that postmodern atonal crap with real music and place the Mendelsssohn there.

  17. I definitely agree with most of the violin concertos that have been cited above, but I would like to add one for consideration: The Lalo Violin Concerto in D minor. It might not break the top 10 of most peoples’ list, but it is full of passion and excessive runs to work out the left hand. Not to mention it is one of the most Spanish-influenced pieces ever written, and it was written by a Frenchman. A truly remarkable piece, and one that should be in the top, hmm, maybe 25 all time best violin concertos.

  18. my personal top 10:

    1. beethoven
    2. prokofiev 1
    3. sibelius
    4. brahms
    5. mendelssohn
    6. shostakovich 1
    7. korngold
    8. mozart no.5
    9. vieuxtemps no. 5

  19. I prefer Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola to any of his violin concertos. For a start we don’t have to put up with excruciating cadenzas (like the ones on the Menuhin recording mentioned above). Despite its title, it IS a concerto.

  20. Ranking music is highly subjective. My favorite violin concertos are:
    1. Beethoven
    2. Brahms
    3. Prokofiev #1
    4. Mendelssohn
    5. Bruch
    6. Bartok #2
    7. Bach #1
    8. Shostakovich #1
    9. Tchaikovsky
    10. Sibelius

  21. Thanks for the great list OP and to all those who commented with their own lists and suggestions.

    I’m just getting in to the world of classical and this is serving as an excellent beginners guide to great violin concertos.

  22. Yes the Barber Violin Concerto!
    No Concerto starts as sweetly or melodically.
    I always hear waterfalls in the first movement.
    The Andante is so quiet and lyrical, always singing – with a dissonant bridge.
    The Presto movement firmly places the piece between the 19th and 20th Centuries with its relentlessly driving rhythm – somehow it still works.

    Always in my top 3 for Violin Concertos

    From the above comments, there seems to be room for 15 Violin Concertos

  23. I think you favor D as a tonality, 70% of the list is in D (minor/major), and Mozarts concertos is in G, but it modulates soon to D (Dominant). Unfair!! Where is Mendelssohn in e minor?

    By the way… Tchaikovsky violin concertois one of the best and the hardest in the history of music. it should either be 1,2, or 3…

  25. Beautiful blog, nice post! You can’t please everyone, and certainly any of these concertos are worthy enough. The list does slant a bit modern, and I personally think the Mendelssohn slight is puzzling. The four Germans should probably be in the top ten, although I would understand if Bruch was dropped. Considering the modernist preference, I assumed that Mendelssohn was not included because he lacks ponderous angst. But then, you included the Mozart (nice!), so I remain perplexed.
    For those who would like a mini homage to my favorite romantic concerto, here it is:

  26. I must say I would not put Berg or Stravinsky on the list, rather Mendelssohn, Saent-Saens, Bruh, Symanovsky, Elgar and there are thousand of others

  27. I would put
    1. Beethoven
    2. Tchaikovsky
    3. Khachaturian
    4. Mendelssohn
    5. Saint-Saens
    6. Bruch
    7. Brahms
    9. Barber
    10. Shostakovitch
    (11. Elgar)
    (12. Paganini 2)
    (13. Wieniawski 2)
    (14. Bach)
    (15. Mozart 5)

    But there are so many more great ones too many to list

  28. Thanks for a great Blog , I will appreciate if any would help and advise the name(s) and composer of a great double concert of both Violine and Piano exchanging same rythm as if in contest . I heard it some time ago and missed the details .
    It is realy great

  29. Frank Martin — tough, evocative, spiritual, brilliant. You can remove the Brahms and Mendelssohn lollipops and make room for some profound (versus sentimental) art.

  30. Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Berg? Not my cup of tea. Give me the “lollipops.” There’s a reason music lovers love them. I would include Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (though categorically not a concerto), the Mendelssohn E minor of course, Barber’s–God, yes.

  31. Regarding Aly’s query of March 15, 2012: I can’t think of any concertos for violin and piano. You may have heard a sonata for those instruments. The one that your question brings to mind is Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major. The two instruments echo each other in the manner you described. Listen to the last movement (Allegretto poco mosso) and see if it doesn’t remind you of what you heard.

  32. Like Rainy Dog I am new to classical music and this has been a great find to learn about what is considered some of the best violin concerti. Being so new I guess I can’t speak with any authority especially technical authority but I can speak about the emotion that the music evokes from me and I find the Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns so entertaining and imaginative. Maybe after I have been listening to classical music longer these pieces may become “overplayed” or too “simple”, but as someone who is just discovering this stuff, I believe I listen with my heart more than my head and these pieces send my heart soaring!!

    On another note, I hate not knowing. Can someone explain the 23 candle reference or supply a link where I can read about it?

  33. @ Thelonious – I hope I don’t sound snobbish about the Mendelssohn. I enjoy many popular works. I keep feeling I should love it, as everyone else seems to, but every time I go back to it, it just never ‘clicks’ for me. Perhaps one day it will. (I love Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebrides’, the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the ‘Songs Without Words’ though).

    As for the Berg reference – he was a believer in numerology and thought that the number ’23’ represented himself. There’s more on this here:

    Quote: “Berg, therefore, identified himself with the number 23, and believed that it was no coincidence that his first asthma attack had occurred on July 23, 1908, at the age of 23. After Berg’s death (on December 23), researchers found a score to his Lyric Suite in which he had written many notes in the margins. These notes showed how he had carefully used certain numbers of measures in certain sections to add up to various multiples of 23, 28, and 10, the number he associated with his mistress, Hanna Fuchs. ”
    For more on this see:

  34. The Bartok 2d is very high on my list, as is the relatively unknown, but wonderful concerto by Karlowicz.

  35. What do you think about the Violin concert by Glazunov? For me it’s one of the best

  36. I would say the best recording of Sibelius concerto is that one by Leonidas Kavakos. ( He recorded both of versions that Sibelius wrote and published, it was in 1991 with Osmo Vänskä). But, of course, it´s always about point of view 🙂

  37. @ ttucker23 – Thank you so much for the explanation and the link! You definitely don’t sound snobbish about the Mendelssohn, I can relate to a similar situation involving popular music that everyone seemed to like except me. Thanks again, I’m looking forward to all the great music referenced in your article and this discussion.

  38. Hi boys
    It is all academic, it’s always hard to find one ten top list, you can vote for Beethoven (later I always mean violin concerts), but if you find better performance of Mendelssohn, you’ll change you mind very quickly. I’m from Poland and country origin has impact on your choice as well. Underestimated is Dvorak , in Poland his concert is one of the favorite violin concertos.
    This is my list, but neither 10 top nor 20 top nor 30 top, if you preparing such list, you pick up the best one without bending your preferences,
    so my gold 14 top list:

    1. Tchaikovsky D-dur
    2. Beethoven D-dur
    3. Brahms D-dur
    4. Mendelssohn e-moll
    5. Sibelius d-moll
    6. Dvorak a-moll
    7. Saint-Saens h-moll
    8. Vivaldi E-dur
    9. Bruch g-moll
    10. Elgar h-moll
    11. Lalo d-moll
    12. Paganini D-dur
    13. Mozart A-dur
    14. Prokofiev D-dur

  39. My favorite of all violin concertos is the Bruch. Then Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

  40. We love making lists such as these, it’s like picking the 10 best of anything where the deciding criteria is SIMPLY A MATTER OF TASTE. For example someone wrote “forget sentimentality and focus on profundity” but what if one’s taste is geared towards sentimentality? Who’s to say that one trumps the other? In any case, it’s fun to do this exercise, and in a lighthearted vein my list is as follows:
    1. Beethoven
    2. Mendelssohn
    3. Brahms
    4. Bruch
    5. Bach BWV 1043
    6. Vieuxtemps Number 5
    7. Paganini Number 1
    8. Schumann
    9. Tchaikovsky

    These works, listed above, are where I find my “profundity”.

  41. Gee so many good ones it’s hard to rank them honestly.

    I do think Mendelssohn should have at least been on there. Oh and I love Bruch’s too =)

  42. Hey, guys!
    Good to see here so many lovers of classical music.
    Also, it feels good to be one through music.
    Defininitely, music is subject to purely personal taste, yet time crystallize
    something that never change, which is far beyond choosing lollipop or cup-of-tea,etc. In a sense, all human minds point to one truth,even it takes time.
    Whoever says whatever.

    then your choice. If your choice were to replace anyone above, it would ,if ever, take more than a millenium. Just wait while listen them all around.

  43. I do not have any idea where this person made that list.
    It is no way to put violin concertos in order of which is the most beautiful, the most romantic, the one that you have to have more ability to play. It is up to the individual listening in such a beautiful moment that he or she may feel.
    I have been blessed to listen in person to Milstein, Szering, Stern, Ricci, and many more, and I am privilege to say that every one of them are magnificent, in the list you may have to add Lalo, and many more (Kabalesky) etc..
    Today we are blessed to compare the sounds and techniques of so many of the great ones, when the time that they did not have the facilities to record like now days.
    I wish the people that compare and dislike the way some of the great soloist play, stop being so critical of something that may can not achieve
    Thank you

  44. definitely: (because of a difficulty of interpretation, melody, technicality, tempo, harmonics, and clarity)
    1 wieniawski #1
    2 bruch #1
    3 szymanowski #1
    4 tchaikovsky
    5 brahms
    6 vieuxtemps #5
    7 sibelius
    8 wieniawski #2
    9 paganini #1
    10 beethoven

  45. Because of a difficulty of interpretation, melody, technicality, tempo, harmonics, and clarity I say these are definitely the best and the most difficult violin concertos:
    1 wieniawski #1
    2 bruch #1
    3 szymanowski #1
    4 tchaikovsky
    5 brahms
    6 vieuxtemps #5
    7 sibelius
    8 wieniawski #2
    9 paganini #1
    10 beethoven

  46. I find hard to consider a ranking in olympic running race (a matter of material, specific training, drugs, sacrifice), imaging with instrumental concertos!
    Why this unnatural resolution in ranking violin symphonic composition? Each concerto has its own story, peculiarities, emotions and pertains to individual mood, memories and apparently silly influence such as light, fatigue, hunger, libido…
    Some compositions contains more virtuosity, other romanticism or introversion. Should we place these aspects into a rank?
    No friends.
    Maybe we could just state ‘Today my favourite concert is…’

    Mendelsshon, Paganini (6 concertos), both Prokoviev’s! But even Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Beethoven’s phantasies deserve a top place.
    Only one fully shared opinion: nobody considers Schumann’s concerto (the great Schumann!), frankly an unsuccessful composition.
    Last: does anyone knows (and loves) Philip Glass first violin concerto? It’s a masterpiece.
    Beppe, Milano

  47. Kris/Chris, pick a name spelling and stay with it!

    Personally, I applaud the absence of Wieniawski. I might put Berg #1 on my list, and wonder if The Four Seasons counts (although it might not make my list).

    Beppe, I like Glass’s.

  48. Typo error, no big deal Kris=Chris the same, and I would add another monumental work Bruch – concerto #2 in D minor op.44 if possible

  49. Concertos by Wieniawski two sublime masterpieces unparallel in difficulty, beauty, originality and melody, fully understood only by connoisseur, also we talk about concertos not about sonatas, fantasies, etc. let’s stick to the subject. Thanks.
    PS. we should add to the list another monumental work by Bruch his concerto No3 in D minor op58, and what about this one M. Karlowicz violin concerto in A major op8 has anyone heard this brilliant piece? It’s amazing.
    I will appreciate if my comments are posted I am entering this text fourth time.

  50. ridiculous that you did not include Mendelssohn, or even Bruch for that matter, if the Em is not right after Beethoven, or even right along side it, your list is pure baloney

  51. A treasure to listening to these concertos as “Masterpeice Paintings” by Rennisance artists in different mediums and moods…..”a snifter of Cognac…relax in a good chair….and listen!……each artist a differentinterpretation and color…manufique !

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