What is the Most Difficult Violin Piece

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When talking about the most difficult violin pieces ever written, a lot of ambiguity exists among the many repertoire lists that have been compiled over the years. It is important to take into consideration the technique as well as the expressive demands required to play the piece when rating pieces, including factors such as bow control, dexterity, vibrato, tone quality, and tempo.

But one thing that most violinists or aspiring violinists will attest to is that when it comes to playing some of the hardest violin pieces written for solo violin and orchestra, it takes hours and hours of practice, dedication, frustration, and nimble fingers to master them.

These are pieces that are not for the faint of heart! They are, on the whole, technically demanding, and are also a challenge to pull off, musically-speaking. The hardest pieces, or those that are the most technically demanding, are either concertos or virtuoso solo pieces in which the violinist is totally “exposed” as he or she is playing.

Top Difficult Violin Pieces

As a starting point for our review of really complex violin works, the technical and expressive requirements for each individual piece are given that the instrument itself has developed during this period of time, as well as the technical skill of the performers.

1. Partita D minor BWV 1004 by JS Bach (1720)

J S Bach was renowned for the ability to improvise immensely complex pieces on the spot and his reputation as a formidable organist was deserved. Even though Bach’s wove beautiful polyphonic musical textures through many of his works this was never at the expense of melody. This gift alongside Bach’s immeasurable ability to create robust musical structures is in evidence in this partita.

One of the greatest challenges for the composer himself, leaving aside the challenges for the violinist, is the obvious fact that it is composed for a solo violin without accompaniment. This means that for nearly thirty-two minutes the violinist must play almost continuously, providing both melody and accompaniment: no small technical feat.

This partita is a reasonably late piece of Bach and shows Bach’s full mastery of the violin which he studied as a young man. The Partita was a musical form popular in the Baroque period and comprised of a number of movements based on dance–forms from the Renaissance.

In this partita, they are as follows: Allemande; Courante; Sarabande; Gigue and Chaconne. Most violinists consider that the faster sections of the partita are the easier to play but Bach saved the greatest test for the final section; the Chaconne. (The chaconne itself is thought to have its origins in Spain).

Bach takes this old musical form and composes an inspired eight-bar theme which is then followed by thirty-two variations. From relative simplicity springs one of the most difficult violin pieces Bach ever wrote and one of the most beautiful closing sections to any piece of music

2. The ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata No.9; Op. 47 in A Major by Beethoven (1803)

You only need to listen to the first five minutes of this piece to realise that it is a magnificent piece from Beethoven’s pen as well as a tremendous feat of performance skill for both the violinist and the pianist alike. Like the ‘Eroica’ Symphony that shortly followed this composition, there is a sense of the heroic and of struggle. It forms a central focus to many of Beethoven’s that followed.

The sonata was written originally for George Bridgetower but following a disastrous first performance, Beethoven erased the dedication altering it to the now more familiar, Rudolph Kreutzer who was an outstanding French violinist.

As you may expect, this sonata is made up of three movements, each with its own difficulties. Beethoven opens the sonata with a short lyrical introduction in the tonic minor (A minor), before launching into a hair-raising presto that forms the main part of this movement.

The second movement is a slow one marked Andante con variazioni interestingly written in F major. As a final movement, Beethoven chooses a rondo form, bringing the work to a spirited close. The whole sonata requires huge levels of technical control together with vast amounts of energy. It is a deeply lyrical and intense work for only the virtuoso to attempt.

3. 24 Caprices by Paganini (1802–1817)

We return for this selection of pieces to the world of the solo violin. These pieces were composed in batches over a fifteen-year period for solo violin and together make one of the most formidable collections of pieces ever composed for the instrument. Paganini was a legendary virtuoso performer. There are many accounts of his technique being so incredible that rumour spread of his association with the Devil himself.

caprice is a piece that is usually lively and one capable of almost instant changes of mood or direction. Each of these caprices Paganini composed is full of character, together with a specific technical challenge that the master himself would have ably demonstrated.

As you listen to each of the works do not be fooled into thinking that they are purely technical exercises. Each Caprice is uniquely musical and similar perhaps to the miniatures Schumann wrote for piano. As you listen to the Caprices some violin techniques to listen for are double, triple, quadruple stopping of the strings; harmonics; very fast passagework; bowing and plucking simultaneously and double-stopped trills.

It is the last caprice that is perhaps best known amongst the twenty-four as composers who came after Paganini has arranged and made extensive variations on this compelling melody. Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini”; Eugene Ysaye – “Variations on Paganini’s 24th Caprice”; Lizst – “Etudes d’execution transcendante d’apres Paganini”.

4. Violin Concerto in D minor; Op.47 by Jean Sibelius (1903; revised 1905)

I realise I’m stretching my definition of Romantic music with this choice but it is a vitally important work to violinists across the world as well as being one of the most difficult pieces written for violin and orchestra. Sibelius is an often neglected composer whose music follows on from the great Romantic composers before. His facility to conjure the landscapes and images of his homeland of Finland are unparalleled.

This Violin Concerto is a truly virtuosic work drawn from Sibelius’s own experience as a violinist himself. In his earlier years, Sibelius was determined to become a virtuoso soloist on the violin attracting compliments like genius from his teachers at a Helsinki University. Unfortunately, Sibelius suffered significantly throughout his life with depression and eventually alcoholism and so resigned himself to the life of a composer, not a performer.

It is perhaps all the more remarkable then that no trace of any personal weakness is evident in this masterful work. Even the revised version of 1905 that ‘simplified’ passages for the violin soloist, still leaves an immensely daunting task ahead for the instrumentalist learning the work. (Listen for the independent rhythms the soloist has to play following the climax of the 2nd movement).

The movements are as follows:

  • Allegro moderato
  • Adagio di molto
  • Allegro

5. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Written in 1878, this is one of Tchaikovsky’s best known pieces and one of the hardest to play.

Playing aside, the concerto is 35 minutes of heaven for classical music lovers.

Split into 3 continuous movements, the piece was first played by Adolph Brodsky in 1881 in Vienna.

Tchaikovsky wrote this piece of music in a somewhat tumultuous time in his life, after experiencing relationship issues and a crisis of confidence in his previous work.

You can hear his roller-coaster of emotions in the concerto, extreme highs and pensive lows, culminating in an uplifting ending, that signifying him coming to terms with his feelings.

The concerto has been used in many film scores and TV programs over the years and is nothing short of beautiful.

6. Concerto No. 1 in a minor, Dmitri Shostakovich

A hauntingly beautiful piece of music, that takes its audience to places they have never dared to go, in terms of their emotions.

This hidden gem has been growing in popularity amongst soloists, all striving to do justice to its melancholic tones.

Writing this concerto in a time of censorship in his home country, Shostakovich showed courage and belief in portraying his feelings in a time where everyone was meant to stay quiet and not question communist rule.

A modern masterpiece, this three movement concerto is one to be enjoyed by lovers of all genres of music.

7. Concerto in D Major, Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven went on to influence many violinists with this wonderfully uplifting concerto.

First performed by Franz Clement in 1606, to less than enthusiastic audience, and made popular by Joseph Joachim in 1844, it has been performed by thousands of violinist since.

The concerto consists of 3 movements, the first being a soaring 25 minute introduction, that mesmerizes its audience.

Originally a slow burner, audiences soon warmed to the concerto when they heard the energy, vigor and power of the piece.

Beethoven is a household name, even with those most skeptical of classical music finding themselves enjoying his music.

8. Concerto No. 5 in A Major, W.A. Mozart

A list of best violin music would not be complete without the genius that is Mozart.

Any of Mozart’s compositions would not look out of place in a list like this, but this one stands out for its vibrancy and uplifting elements.

The solo violin comes in with a short piece during the opening adagio and goes on to gently play over the orchestra throughout the remainder of he concerto.

It is hard to keep from smiling when you listen to his concerto, evident in the faces of both audiences and players.

The concerto is made up of three movements, lasting 328 minutes in total and includes an unusual piece of Turkish music during the Rondo Finale.

9. Johann Sebastian Bach: Chaconne in D Minor

Written between 1717 and 1720, this piece consists of 5 movements, each one with their own identity to stamp on the audience.

From the first note, audiences are captured by its spirituality and they are invited to go on a roller coaster of emotions.

Much loved by soloists, due to being structurally sound, it is one of the best known concertos by Bach, and rightly so.

This piece is a popular choice for teachers wanting to challenge their students, so it is music that you have most likely have heard, if not go search for it now.

Have we missed out your favorite violin composition? Like we say, it is very difficult to narrow it down decades of wonderful violin music and we would love to know what piece of violin music would you rate best?

10. Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Vivaldi’s Violin Concertos in E major (RV 269), G minor (RV 315), F major (RV 293) and F minor (RV 297) are familiar in many more minds than those that know that’s what they’re really called. We’re of course talking about the set of concertos that make up The Four Seasons (“Spring”, “Summer”, “Autumn” and “Winter” respectively).

Despite being composed nearly 300 years ago, the works have remained a mainstay of concert halls and popular culture, often inspiring new compositions such as Max Richter’s 2012 Recomposed and Anna Meredith’s 2016 Anno, which incorporates electronics and visuals.

11. Niccolò Paganini: “Caprice No. 24”

If it’s technical, virtuosic violin writing that this article’s had you craving since the title, Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24” has that in droves. A variation form solo violin work that’s long been considered one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the instrument, this caprice has it all: agile scale and arpeggio passages, parallel octaves and double-stopping for days, plenty of running up and down the fingerboard, and some left hand pizzicato thrown in for good measure.

If that’s gone way over your head then just give it a listen—technical knowledge aside, it sounds pretty darn incredible.

12. Vittorio Monti: “Czardas”

Like Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, Italian composer Monti’s “Czardas” pops up regularly in the crowd-pleasing parts of concert programmes. Composed in 1904 after a traditional Hungarian folk dance (or csárdás), the work starts slowly with plenty of raw Italianate emotion before breaking out into frenzied semiquaver passages juxtaposed later with heaving melodic phrases.

With all that drama and sentimentality, perfect for an expressive instrument like the violin, we’re not surprised it remains an instantly-recognisable favourite. We challenge readers less aquatinted with the concert hall not to know this one too: think Lady Gaga circa 2010…

13. Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor

Once you’ve heard the main theme from the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor you’ll find it hard to forget: that’s certainly one of the work’s biggest appeals for us. The violin gets a stab at the beautiful melody first (which is quite unusual for concertos of the period) and the theme is heard in different iterations and over interesting textures throughout the sonata form movement.

14. Johann Sebastian Bach: “Chaconne” from Partita No. 2 in D Minor

Jagged chords herald the beginning of the “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for violin, giving it as dramatic an opening as any work included in this list. Bach’s popular violin piece, composed between 1717 and 1720, puts any player to the test with stretches across four-note chords and multiple melody lines sounded simultaneously.

Violinist Joshua Bell has described it as “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect”. Very much worth a listen then.

15. Ralph Vaughan Williams: “The Lark Ascending”

Nothing is more quintessentially English, nor more satisfying for violinists and violin lovers, than the soaring melodies of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous “The Lark Ascending.” Originally written for violin and piano and rescored for solo violin and orchestra in 1920, the work endures as one of the most popular pieces in concert halls in Britain and abroad.

It is based on George Meredith’s poem of the same name which, just like the opening violin solo, witnesses a lark as “He rises and begins to round / He drops the silver chain of sound…” It’s the epitome of nostalgic English pastoral romanticism.

16. Johann Sebastian Bach: Air On The G String

In the 19th century, German violinist August Wilhelmj wrote an arrangement of the “Air” from JS Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major for solo violin and orchestra. As well as singling out a soloist (instead of having a whole group of first violins playing the melody), the arrangement transposed the piece to a new key and required the soloist to play their whole part on the violin’s lowest string, which presented new possibilities in terms of how the piece could sound (and how difficult it could be!).

It has remained popular ever since, inspiring the chord sequence in Procol Harum’s hit song “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and cropping up in numerous film soundtracks and TV ads.

17. Locatelli’s Caprice in D major Op. 3 No. 23 ‘Il labirinto armonico’

Originally written as the cadenza to Locatelli’s 12th violin concerto, this caprice is a full three minutes of pure, uninterrupted violinist hell. Some claim that this is even trickier than some of Paganini’s knottiest stuff, thus preceding that brand of flashy super virtuoso tradition by over 50 years.

Chappell White deemed the cappriccio “the most difficult display passages of all Baroque literature.” Probably as a tease to those zany enough to tackle this monstrosity, Locatelli wrote an inscription beneath the piece which reads: “Harmonic Labyrinth: Easy to enter, difficult to escape!” Well you don’t say!

18. Ernst’s Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer”

The transcendental difficulty of Ernst’s violin works belies his relative anonymity. It was once said that those who can play Paganini, believing that they already have enough to show off, can’t be bothered to learn Ernst, just because, well, he’s miles ahead in the difficulty department. A case in point: Variation on “The Last Rose of Summer”.

This set of variations is considered to be one of the most difficult solo pieces for violin owing to its almost impossible, superhuman demands, including fingered harmonics and left-hand pizzicato on top of tricky arpeggios. I swear, at times I hear two violins playing. No wonder only a small handful of violinists would dare touch this piece.

19. Sivan’s Transcription of the Liszt B Minor Sonata for Solo Violin

Liszt’s sonata in B minor is highly respected in the piano world. His terrifying pianistic difficulties make it one of, if not the most difficult work in the standard repertoire. So what happens if you rewrite the heaviest piano piece for violin? All hell broke loose.

The premiere of this 2007 transcription took place only in 2011, go figure it out! Giora Schmidt, the violinist who presented the premiere of the work, calls it “A Goliath written for ten fingers” – an understatement, given the length of the work (35 minutes, non-stop) and unpaired requirements.

20. JS Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in D Minor BWV1004

First, there’s Bach, then there’s everyone else. Not only did the great German composer churn out some of the most beautiful music known to mankind, he has also written some of the most fiendish pieces for solo violin. While all of his sonatas and partitas are known for their difficulty, the concluding Chaconne from the Partita no. 2 in d minor takes the cake.

It’s longer than all the four movements that precedes it combined, and covers virtually every technical aspect of Baroque violin playing. Now if that doesn’t daunt you, maybe its extreme musical and intellectual demands will. Whoever said violin virtuosity started with Paganini?

Conclusion

So here it is: my list of violin pieces that I will never play in my life (although “infamously difficult violin pieces” also work).

There are a lot of difficult violin pieces that we did not include in this article due to space. If you’re going to pick any of the above options as your hardest violin piece, be ready with plasters for your fingers. Even so, your experiences will be better once you get a hold of the movements. The secret is practice and more practice until you get there!

FAQ for The Hardest Violin Pieces

What is the hardest violin piece?

The hardest violin piece is the one that is not written. It is the one that transcends music and language, which can only be experienced.

The most difficult violin piece is the Paganini Caprice No. 24. It has a total of 88 notes and is considered one of the most difficult pieces in the world.

Who wrote and how long does the most difficult violin piece in history?

The longest violin piece was written by Johann Sebastian Bach and it is called the Partita No. 1 in D minor. It is over 130 minutes long and has a total of 24 movements, which include such difficult passages as the Fugue from Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

What is the most difficult piece for a beginner violinist to learn?

The most difficult piece for a beginner violinist to learn is the first one. It is called “The Minuet in G.”

The minuet in G is the first piece that a violinist learns. It is a classical minuet, which means it has three parts: the minuet, the allemande, and the gigue.

  1. The first part of this minuet consists of two measures of repeated notes on A and C, followed by four measures of quick notes on E and D.
  2. The second part starts with two measures of repeated notes on B and D, followed by four measures of quick notes on A and C.
  3. The third part starts with two measures of repeated notes on G and F, followed by four measures of quick notes on E and D.

Are there any violin pieces that are too difficult even for professionals?

There are some violin pieces that are too difficult even for professionals. These pieces require the skills of a professional violinist to perform and there is no chance they will be able to play them.

Some of these pieces include Paganini’s 24th Caprice, Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, and Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky.

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