What is a concerto?

A concerto is a piece written for a single type of instrument (maybe just one, maybe many – think piano or violins.) The solo instrument will be joined by an orchestra.

What makes a concerto different is that the solo instrument is in a kind of conversation with the orchestra. It is conversation that alternates between  independence, friendliness or an argument, but all together it combines to make the music flow.

The concerto is often a large scale affair. They are popular with audiences as they usually involve a famous soloist.


Who/what plays a concerto?

A concerto is played by a solo instrument or group of instruments as the central focus with the orchestra as a kind of backing/contrasting group.

A concerto can be written for any instrument. Some of the most common are for:

  • Piano
  • Violin
  • Cello
  • Flute

How long is a concerto?

A concerto is a large scale work. The average length is 30minutes, however many of the great composers wrote concertos well over an hour long.

Famous concerto composers

As a concerto is a large scale iconic piece of classical music most of the famous composers you will have heard of had many in their repertoire.

Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky wrote many notable concertos for violin and piano, while Elgar and Dvorak are known for their cello concertos. One of the best known concertos is actually a group of four violin concertos by Vivaldi – Four Seasons.



Four Seasons by Vivaldi, soloist Janine Jansen

This is a great piece to be able see the composition alternating between the solo instrument/s and the whole orchestra playing.



Piano concerto No. 1 (1st movement) by Tchaikovsky, played by Sydney Symphony Orchestra


Traditionally the concerto was written in 3 parts or movements.

These movements would have similar tones and repeating themes but would often differ in pace or flow of the music. The interaction or conversation (sometimes they’re friendly, sometimes angry) between the orchestral ensemble and the soloist is what makes the concerto interesting. This continues throughout all the movements but with contrasting things in each.

For instance they may adopt the common fast- slow-fast dynamic, which allows the soloist to display their the range of their skills.

*Featured mage via joe Shlabotnik, Flickr 

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