Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, is his last large orchestral work. It forms an important part of the violin repertoire and is one of the most popular and most frequently performed violin concertos in history. A typical performance lasts just under half an hour.
Mendelssohn originally proposed the idea of the violin concerto to Ferdinand David, a close friend and then concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Although conceived in 1838, the work took another six years to complete and was not premiered until 1845. During this time, Mendelssohn maintained a regular correspondence with David, who gave him many suggestions. The work itself was one of the foremost violin concertos of the Romantic era and was influential on many other composers.
Although the concerto consists of three movements in a standard fast–slow–fast structure and each movement follows a traditional form, the concerto was innovative and included many novel features for its time. Distinctive aspects include the almost immediate entrance of the violin at the beginning of the work (rather than following an orchestral preview of the first movement's major themes, as was typical in Classical-era concertos) and the through-composed form of the concerto as a whole, in which the three movements are melodically and harmonically connected and played attacca (each movement immediately following the previous one).
The concerto was well received and soon became regarded as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time. The concerto remains popular to this day and has developed a reputation as an essential concerto for all aspiring concert violinists to master, and usually one of the first Romantic era concertos they learn. Many professional violinists have recorded the concerto and the work is regularly performed in concerts and classical music competitions.
Ferdinand David, the violinist who premiered the piece and whose collaboration was essential for the concerto's birth
Following his appointment in 1835 as principal conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Mendelssohn named his childhood friend Ferdinand David as the orchestra's concertmaster. The work's origins derive from this professional collaboration. In a letter dated 30 July 1838, Mendelssohn wrote to David: "I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace."
The concerto took another six years to complete. There are many possible reasons for the delay, including self-doubt, his third symphony and an unhappy period in Berlin after a request from King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Nevertheless, Mendelssohn and David kept up a regular correspondence during this time, with Mendelssohn seeking technical and compositional advice. Indeed, this violin concerto was the first of many to have been composed with the input of a professional violinist, and would influence many future collaborations. The autographed score is dated 16 September 1844, but Mendelssohn was still seeking advice from David until its premiere. The concerto was first performed in Leipzig on 13 March 1845 with Ferdinand David as soloist. Mendelssohn was unable to conduct due to illness and the premiere was conducted by the Danish composer Niels Gade. Mendelssohn first conducted the concerto on 23 October 1845 again with Ferdinand David as soloist.
An autograph manuscript of the concerto re-emerged in 1989 in the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Kraków, leading to some scholarly scepticism of the veracity of Breitkopf & Härtel's 1862 edition of the published score. Some notable differences include the tempo character of the first movement being written as "Allegro con fuoco" rather than the commonplace "Allegro molto appassionato" as well as significant alterations of the solo violin's passagework.