Accompanied by the Orchestre de Paris, Dutch classical violinist Janine Jansen performs Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15. Conductor: Paavo Järvi. Recorded during the BBC Proms 2013 in London.

Accompanied by the Orchestre de Paris, Janine Jansen performs Benjamşn Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15. Conductor: Paavo Järvi.

Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto

Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15 was written from 1938 to 1939 and dedicated to Henry Boys (1910-1992), his former teacher at the Royal College of Music.

It was premiered in New York on 29 March 1940 by the Spanish violinist Antonio Brosa (27 June 1894 – 23 March 1979) with the New York Philharmonic conducted by the British conductor and cellist John Barbirolli (2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970).

A revised version of the concerto appeared in 1951, including alterations of the solo violin part prepared with the assistance of the British violinist and professor of violin Manoug Parikian (15 September 1920 – 24 December 1987). It was performed by the Polish-American violinist Bronislav Gimpel (January 29, 1911 – May 1, 1979) and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the English conductor Thomas Beecham (29 April 1879 – 8 March 1961).

The concerto is scored for solo violin and an orchestra of three flutes (second and third flutes doubling piccolo), two oboes (second oboe doubling cor anglais), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, cymbals, triangle, bass drum, side drum, tenor drum), harp and strings.


  1. Moderato con moto – Agitato – Tempo primo. The piece opens with timpani strikes, possibly evocative of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto from 1806. The bassoon and other instruments adopt the rhythm, persisting as an ostinato throughout the composition. The violin then enters, soaring above the orchestra with a melody resembling a sorrowful song. Shortly after, a more forceful and percussive secondary theme interrupts the music.
  2. Vivace – Animando – Largamente – Cadenza. The second movement, designed as a frenzied and perpetual-motion scherzo, unmistakably evokes the style of Prokofiev. The movement reaches its pinnacle with a remarkable cadenza that, while recalling musical themes from both the first and second movements, seamlessly transitions into the finale as an organic connection.
  3. Passacaglia: Andante lento (Un poco meno mosso). For the finale of his violin concerto, Britten incorporates a passacaglia, which involves a series of variations based on a recurring bass line, following the tradition of Baroque chaconnes by composers such as Purcell and Bach. The bass line, which lacks a clear tonal center, is initially introduced by the trombone while the violin recalls its earlier lyrical theme. Throughout the movement, the variations take on diverse characteristics, such as song, dance, capriccio, and march. By the conclusion, the bass line is reduced to a chant-like reminiscence, while the orchestra provides hints of a definite D major chord, and the soloist concludes with an undecided trill between the notes F-natural and G-flat.

Despite having three movements, this form differs significantly from the concertos of the Classical and Romantic periods. Sergei Prokofiev first employed this structure in his First Violin Concerto, later used in the concertos of William Walton and Dmitri Shostakovich’s first violin concerto. The latter work’s arrangement strongly resembles Britten’s violin concerto.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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