Late 1806 in Vienna
December 23, 1806 at the Theater an der Wien (Vienna Theater), performed and conducted by Franz Clement
Beethoven still had very little experience composing for solo violin and orchestra by 1806, having preferred instead to focus on the genre of the piano concerto (his Fourth Piano Concerto was completed just that summer). The little experience he did have consisted only of two recently completed romances for violin and orchestra (Op. 40 in 1803 and Op. 50 in 1805), and a section of an unfinished C Major concerto that he worked on between 1790-92.1 The man whom Beethoven would finally write a full concerto for was Franz Clement, a highly regarded Viennese violinist and conductor who had premiered Beethoven’s Third Symphony the year before. The latter half of 1806 would turn out to be a very active compositional period for Beethoven—in addition to composing the Violin Concerto, he also completed his Fourth Symphony and 32 Variations for piano that fall, and began fully sketching out his Fifth Symphony that winter.2
Accounts vary regarding the premiere on December 23, 1806. One well-known story is that Beethoven, who had a propensity for completing his concertos with little time to spare, did not even deliver the concerto to Clements until the morning of the concert.3 An alternate account given by Beethoven’s former pupil, Carl Czerny, claimed that the concerto was actually completed two days beforehand, giving Clements a slightly larger window to prepare the piece.4 While there are some discrepancies regarding the circumstances of the premiere, one fact that remains undisputed is that the concerto only enjoyed moderate success during Beethoven’s own lifetime. In fact, fewer than ten performances of the concerto had been given before 1844, when Felix Mendelssohn conducted thirteen year-old Joseph Joachim in a performance widely credited for the concerto's rise to prominence.5 This performance also provides an interesting connection between Beethoven’s D Major concerto and Brahms’s D Major concerto, since it was the same Joseph Joachim that Brahms wrote his only violin concerto for in 1878-79.
1 Field, 62.
2 A number of sketches for the Violin Concerto are even interspersed among the sketches for the Fifth Symphony.
3 Lawrence Sommers, “Beethoven’s Violin Concerto,” Music and Letters 15, no. 1 (January 1934): 47.
4 Field, 62.