Viola concertos? This is something unheard of to most people and even music lovers, unless they play the viola but, even in this case, few players know many of them. Yet, there are more than expected. Let's see what we can find out about the viola.
The origin of the Italian word concerto is not certain,
means to contend, dispute, fight and also work together.
Over the centuries, the term concerto has changed its meaning, indicating slightly different forms.
At the beginning, in the 16th century, it was used for a group of voices, in fact the word concerto was used for the first time in 1519 in Rome, Italy, to refer to an ensemble of voices getting together with music.
The first publication with this name of works for voices and instruments is by the Venetians Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, a collection of Concerti, dated 1587. Up to the first half of the 17th century, the term Concerti was used in Italy for vocal works accompanied by instruments, many publications appeared with this title. Initially also the word "sinfonia" was used instead of concerto.
Later, the word Concerto came to indicate a particular
form, involving a larger group of performers forming a contrast
with a smaller group of players or a solo instrument player, or various
groups of players within the orchestra.
It was during this period (from mid 16th
of the so-called violin family
(violin, viola, cello, double bass) were created and the most famous
such as Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri, lived. In many cases the
doubled the five-part voice
ensembles, with two violins, two
violas (alto and tenor) and bass. See also the history of the viola
for more on this.
Meanwhile, this Italian musical form became known in Germany, so in 1619 the first works with this name appeared, by Schutz.
Towards the end of 1600 the instrumental concerto
started to appear.
This was generally a composition to be performed by a string orchestra.
Soon the composers started to write music exploiting the
differences in players' skills, alternating the whole ensemble (ripieno or filling) to a
smaller group of more skilled players (concertino).
This is the Concerto grosso.
From the beginning of the 18th century the
term concerto was used to indicate a composition
for one solo instrument
with orchestral accompaniment. Initially it was in four movements
(slow, fast, slow, fast), then the Vivaldi-style, in three movements
(fast, slow, fast), prevailed.
Virtuoso violinists started to write concertos for their own instrument, therefore we have many violin concertos as the violin had become the most prominent instrument.
The classicism concerto form was very clearly defined,
similar to the sonata form:
Here I'll list the more significant
works for viola with orchestra and those
that are available in
The list below already contains a quite large number of works but for those who want a complete list of (nearly) all works ever composed (even if never published), found, kept in libraries, out of print, they are in the catalogue "Literature für Viola" by Franz Zeyringer.
Of course, more and more concertos are being composed nowadays, so if you are a composer who wrote and published a concerto for viola or a player who knows about a published viola concerto and would like to see your viola concerto listed here, send me a message.
the term Baroque, music historians refer to a period that roughly goes
from 1600 to 1750. The best known
Baroque composers were Bach, Haendel, Telemann, Vivaldi, Corelli.
There are not many concertos for viola in the Baroque era. However, the first known viola concerto is a Baroque one, by Georg Phillip Telemann, read about it. Here they are:
There are two more "Baroque concertos for viola" which were actually
written by the violist and composer Henry Casadesus at the end of the
Anyway, they are nice additions to the viola repertoire of this period.
Considering the broader, original meaning of the term concerto, we can include also works
featuring the viola in a solo (or
concertante) role with other
instruments. Such works are:
Classicism is a musical period
quite well defined: conventionally it goes from about 1750 to mid 19th
century, including composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Rolla.
There are several
concertos for viola, although they are not
very well known. The most famous
classical concertos for viola and orchestra are:
Other classical viola concertos available:
Here too, we consider the broader meaning of the term concerto and include other works
featuring the viola in a solo, concertante role with
Among these, there is one of the most wonderful works ever written: Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra.
There are more:
was a literary and artistic movement started in Germany and flourished
all over Europe from about 1820-30 for about a century. Musically, it
was characterized by the
rise of many virtuoso performers of nearly all instruments. The most
famous, the personification of all virtuosos was Nicolò
Paganini, maybe the most famous violin player, who played the viola
Other virtuosos were performers such as Chopin, Liszt
for the piano, the double bass player Bottesini just to name a few.
From the Romantic era, there are no compositions that
can be called real concertos for viola and orchestra. in fact, the
violin was the undisputed protagonist of the musical scene, together
with the piano. However, there are some very good works with the viola
in a concertante role with orchestra.
From the beginning of 20th century many composers start to
write more viola
compositiones including concertos, especially thanks to viola champions Lionel
first and William Primrose later. Thanks to them the viola has become
accepted as a solo instrument at the same level of violin and cello
and now it's normal for composers to write concertos for viola.
The two most famous ones are:
followed by several more concertos:
Walton viola concerto, first movement
Performed by William Primrose, conducted by William Walton
Other works with
the viola in a concertante role
Paganini kisses Berlioz’s hands after hearing
Harold in Italy, Symphony with solo viola,
originally composed for him