The Violin Concerto in D minor by Jean Sibelius is his opus 47. It premiered in 1904 in Helsinki. Sibelius withheld this version from publication and made substantial revisions. The new version premiered in 1905, in Berlin. The initial version was noticeably more demanding on the virtuosity of the soloist and has been resurrected in recent years for some special interest recordings. The revised version is considered one of the world's most important concertos.
Like most concertos, the work is in three movements:
- Allegro moderato (approx. 14:00)
- Adagio di molto (approx. 7:00)
- Allegro, ma non tanto (approx. 7:00)
This is the only full-blown concerto that Sibelius wrote, though he composed several other pieces for orchestra and solo instrument. 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 Francis Tovey dubbed the final movement a polonaise for polar bears. The piece consists mostly of showy, virtuostic material, yet it contributes to the lyrical material in a way.
The first movement, marked Allegro moderato, opens with cushion of pianissimo strings pulsating gently, then the soloist enters with a almost sobbing characteristic IV-V-I, or G-A-D. The violin announces the theme and is echoed by clarinet briefly, then continues into developmental material. More low woodwind and timpani accompany the soloist in virtuostic runs. Almost cadenza-like arpeggios and double-stops and more runs are accompanied by more woodwind restatements of the theme. The strings then enter brazenly for the first time, announcing a second theme. Developmental material leads to a difficult cadenza which then opens into the recapitulation. The coda ends in numerous restatements of past themes and in which the soloist and orchestra compliment each other with differing themes played simultaneously.
The second movement is a lyrical movement. A short introduction by the full orchestra leads into a lyrical solo part over pizzicato strings. Beautifully dissonant accompaniments by the brass dominate the first part of the song-like movement.
The third movement opens with another solo violin annoucement of the theme. The second theme is taken up by the orchestra and is almost waltz-like in sound, and the violin takes up that theme in variations, with arpeggios and double-stops. Another virtuostic semi-cadenza full of double-stops and runs returns the first theme to the violin, but is rudely interrupted by more runs and double-stops and runs to harmonics. Another orchestra interlude pits the violin as accompanist as the solo part takes up trills and harmonics. Broken octaves and more virtuostic material keep the soloist busy while the orchestra takes care of the rising action. The concerto ends in a brief arpeggiated run to a high D, and the orchestra helps close the piece with a simple unison D.