Violin solos are all the rage!
Ok, so maybe it hasn’t gone quite that far. But they have gained in popularity recently, with modern solos even making it onto the charts of the most-streamed music for various music streaming apps.
Die-hard classical music fans might frown at the thought of the violin being used for solo pop song covers, but we say if it sounds good, it is good.
That said, we do agree that the best violin solos were written long ago by the masters. That’s why they occupy every spot on our list below.
Take a look and let us know if you agree with our choices.
Best Violin Solos
I’m sure there are pieces you would have included that we did not, but I do think you’ll agree that every one of the solos below belongs on this list. They are all unqualified masterpieces.
24 Caprices by Niccolò Paganini
No surprise here. Has there ever been a ‘best violin solo’ list that didn’t start with Paganini’s Caprices?
Being dubbed one of the most challenging pieces ever written for the violin, Niccolò Paganini’s Caprices is made up of not just one, but twenty-four devilishly demanding pieces for the string instrument.
What makes these pieces so hard? The are full of sections that require left-hand pizzicato, double stops, and endless spiccato bowing.
Playing these solos is so hard that it led to stories of Paganini having sold his soul to the devil in return for the ability to play them.
Watch the video below and marvel at Hilary Hahn’s violin solo performance of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices.
“Kreutzer” Sonata No.9 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Who doesn’t know Beethoven? You might not have heard of the Kreutzer Violin Sonata before, but you’ve surely heard the name Beethoven. So, what is it about Kreutzer that landed it a spot on our list of best violin solos?
Here’s a little background. Beethoven dedicated this piece to Rodolphe Kreutzer, one of the finest violinists of the day. But Rodolphe did not like the piece.
In fact, he really hated it. We don’t know why, but it may have something to do with its technical difficulty and its notorious emotional scope. As if that wasn’t enough, Beethoven also made his unusually long, compared to the typical length of violin sonatas.
Play the video below, and don’t be fooled by the calm first few seconds of the piece. After watching the entire piece, you’ll probably say you understand Rudolphe for not loving it at first sight (yes, the first sight of the music sheets!). Watching videos like this one can also give you some ideas on how to mic a violin live.
Partita in E major by Johann Sebastian Bach
Here’s another eargasmic piece. This time from Johann Sebastian Bach. The Partita No. 3 in E Major BWV 1006 is the last of Bach’s six pieces set for unaccompanied violin, including three sonatas and three partitas.
The three partitas demonstrate Bach’s intimate knowledge of the violin’s performing technique. The Partita in E major also shows Bach’s extraordinary ability to compose a complex counterpoint in violin playing, rich in harmony and fascinating rhythms even without an accompanying bass part.
Indeed, J.S.Bach’s Partitas are undoubtedly the best pieces for an unaccompanied solo violin. Treat your ears and your soul and you listen to J.S.Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major BWV 1006 in the video below, played by none other than violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 by Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius is perhaps one of the most underrated composers of all time. He was known for his musical conservatism in drawing musical passages on the central European tradition of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.
No one can deny that his Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47, composed in 1904, is a towering masterpiece.
Here’s why: Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor opens by transporting us to an otherworldly realm. It is kind of ethereal, a mixture of haunting and dramatic.
British musicologist Donald Tovey even once described the piece’s final movement as a “polonaise for polar bears,” claiming that he has “not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work.”
It’s dark, yet virtuosic. No other concerto can touch its genius in combining what the solo violin can do with a unique musical language. Most violin concertos in the 19th century were flashy, but straightforward, a stark contrast with the darkness and difficulty of this piece.
Listen to how Sibelius’ concerto sounds as Maxim Vengerov pours out all his skills and emotion in the video below.
Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms
Hungarian Dance No. 5 is probably the most beloved of Johannes Brahms’ Dances. And rightly so. It begins with an enchanting first theme played in a minor key that quickly tunes you into the swagger to come in the rest of the passage.
It is sometimes called ‘folksy’ thanks to its use of music styles generally associated with traditional gypsy music. This includes ornamentation, mercurial shifts in mood and tempo, and an improvisational spirit.
Brighten your day with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 and maybe dance along to the video below.
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 by Antonin Dvorak
Well-known for his New World Symphony, Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto is shockingly underrated in many concert halls and recording studios. As one of the most patriotic and nationalistic composers, Dvorak begins boldly and dramatic. A relaxed middle section follows and then a cadenza that leads the way to the gloriously lyrical Adagio and finishes with a dance-like finale.
Like all of Dvorak’s works, this one is filled with several first-rate melodies. Watch violinist Julia Fischer in the video below, as she plays the Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 by Antonin Dvorak.
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Composed by Tchaikovsky in 1878, this piece is one of the best-known violin concertos of all time. It opens in Allegro, followed by a majestic section with a Polonaise rhythm. It finishes in an energetic finale.
When it was first performed publicly, it was not especially well received. The reception was mixed, with some considering it too long and pretentious. Clearly things have changed, since today, it is held in very high regard.
Watch Canadian Violinist Joshua Bell in the video below, as he plays Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Air on the G String by Johann Sebastian Bach
Yes, Bach gets a second entry on this list. Although the original arrangement of Air on the G String has both a violin and a piano playing, we still consider it a violin solo piece, because it can easily be played on an unaccompanied violin.
Air on the G String has a graceful melody, making it fitting for occasions like weddings and solo recitals. It has a slow tempo with parts of haunting counterpoints. It is very soulful, and if played with accompanying piano, the interplay between the two instruments intrigues with a musical tension. The sweeping tone of the violin battles the bass melody of the piano.
Beau Soir by Claude Debussy
Beau Soir means “beautiful night” in English Claude Debussy composed this lovely piece while still a student, based on a poem written by his friend, Paul Bourget.
It is melancholic, soulful, and has several sustained notes, requiring a good projection of both high and low notes, which can be tricky to get just right in terms of the rhythm.
Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2 by Eugène Ysaÿe
Eugene Ysaÿe was one of the greatest violinists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries He had little formal training in composition, but that did not stop him from leaving behind a considerable body of work, including several solo violin sonatas, a set of Variations on a Theme by Paganini, and six violin concertos.
Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2 begins with some familiar motifs: quotations from the introduction of Bach’s Partita No.3 in E Major, and opening measures of the Day of Wrath, a section of a famous Requiem Mass quoted by many other composers.
Overall, Ysaÿe mixed a number of different techniques and styles in this composition, which end up making it utterly unique. It is an excellent piece to play as a solo violinist, as the video below demonstrates.
Best Violin Solos: Final Thoughts
There are many more violin solos that could have made this list. The above are simply our favorites. Give them a listen and I’m sure you’ll agree that they all deserve a spot on this list. They’ll have you wondering: “How does a violin make sound, especially one so beautiful?”
Of course, I’m also sure you probably feel we left out some wonderful pieces that need to be here. If that is the case, feel free to let us know in the comments below, so we can add them and keep growing our list of the greatest solos for the violin.
As for playing these solos yourself, well, that’s going to take some practice. They’re all extremely hard, but still doable, even on an entry-level violin. That said, if you’re playing a beginner violin, chances are you’d be better off trying your hand at some easier violin songs first.
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