Are you preparing for an upcoming violin audition?
Pay close attention to the instructions your auditioners may have given you. Make sure you’re working on a repertoire that meets these requirements.
If you are able to choose which piece to play, you’ll find these suggestions super helpful in impressing your judges. We provide a variety of difficulty levels and musical time periods.
1. Beethoven Sonata No. 7
It’s difficult to have a list of great musical pieces without including Ludwig van Beethoven’s work. Beethoven Sonata No. 7 may depend on the piano a bit more than most of the pieces on our list. However, you can still show your violin skills, particularly within the 1st and 4th movements.
The 1st movement, Allegro con brio, is a sequence of fast but calm notes that you can use to demonstrate your precision and accuracy between strings.
The 4th and final movement consists of slower but considerably louder notes. You can use that finale to demonstrate your ability to switch seamlessly between notes (focus on avoiding scratchy noises).
2. The Devil’s Violinist Caprices No. 4 and No. 14
The 19th-century Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini earned his nickname because of his inhuman violin playing skills.
Paganini was said to play up to 12 notes per second which set him apart even from today’s violinists.
Now, we’re not saying that you need to play 12 notes per second. After all, fast notes don’t mean much if you don’t play them well. Still, showing that you can play some pieces designed by the devil’s advocate will catch the eyes of the judges.
If you’re feeling confident, try to play one of his more difficult Caprices like 4 and 14, for example. Those two Caprices are complex enough to demonstrate your playing skills without overwhelming you as his other Caprices do.
Seasoned violinists of today still struggle with the more difficult ones. Check out Caprice 24 demonstrated by David Garret to know how difficult that piece is.
Note: although it’s great to show off technical ability, make sure the piece is within your skillset.
3. Dvořák’s The Serenade for Strings
In 1876, Czech violinist and composer Antonín Dvořák created The Serenade for Strings. It’s a gentle and mesmerizing piece. Note: originally intended as an orchestral piece, a solo interpretation will showcase tone and vibrato.
Unlike Paganini’s exceptional note blend, Dvořák had more emphasis on slow but well-executed notes in this piece.
The Serenade for Strings begins calmly and progresses to higher notes before going back to its calmness again. The constant blend between relatively loud notes and calm, gentle notes keeps the ear entertained without losing focus on the music.
The piece is over six minutes long and somewhat repetitive. While repetition is not a stranger to music, you’d have pretty much displayed most of the skills needed to play this piece after two or three minutes.
4. Bach Violin Sonata No. 2
Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin skills were said to “make the unviolinistic violinistic.” If you’re familiar with his pieces, you might have noticed the number of different-sounding notes that seemingly come out together at the same time.
Bach Violin Sonata No. 2 is a great demonstration of Bach’s seamless double stops. The double stop isn’t the easiest thing to master, especially if you want the Fugue and Andante to sound as natural as possible.
Learning this piece is much easier than mastering it. The piece is designed to be a solo violin performance so it’s as rich with notes as possible.
If you’re confident that you can play Bach Violin Sonata No. 2 correctly, you’ll win the applause of any judge. This piece is slightly over 20 minutes long and most of it will wow the judges if played well. We recommend the 3rd movement, the andante, which is slow and melancholy.
5. Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3
Johannes Brahms was considered the greatest composer after Beethoven and Bach by his friend Hans von Bülow. Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 is dedicated to Bülow.
The piece uses a fair amount of piano background noise that, although enriching the experience, doesn’t hurt the piece if played unaccompanied. You can perform it in your audition without the piano and still catch the attention of the judges.
However, the slow pace of the Sonata allows for a much easier mistake detection. Don’t let the fair number of notes per second deceive you. Really focus on intonation and tuning – it helps to record yourself playing and listen back to any tonal issues.
Since Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 is over 20 minutes long, we recommend beginning with the Adagio section where most of the musical experience comes out of the violin.
6. Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2
The Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski composed this piece back in 1856 and it’s still a challenge even to the most seasoned violinists.
The amount of practice that goes into playing five minutes of the second movement alone is nothing short of impressive.
Both the 1st and the 2nd movements of this piece will serve to impress anyone. You can use either of them in your audition but we recommend the second one; the Andante non-troppo.
Body language is of utmost importance while playing that movement. You need to “feel” what you play to play it convincingly.
If you’ve already played a slow piece in your audition, you could try the 3rd movement instead. Its fast-paced notes should demonstrate how fast you can play the notes without errors.
Note: although this work is intended as a concerto, the technical ability can effectively be demonstrated when played unaccompanied.
7. Ravel’s Tzigane
The French composer Maurice Ravel created Tzigane and dedicated it to the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi.
Ravel heard Jelly perform Béla Bartók’s Sonata no.1 in London in 1922. His fascination with the piece and the violinist made him compose a piece just for her.
The whole piece is one movement so you won’t have to worry about selecting one. The introduction of the piece is a solo performance by the violin even if an orchestra or piano is present.
The violin solo lasts for a few minutes before the orchestra takes over and somewhat muffles the violin. This is when the judges are more likely to stop you so don’t panic.
8. Amy Beach’s Violin Sonata
Amy Marcy Beach was an American composer who, despite being well-respected, didn’t get enough recognition in her lifetime.
Most of her violin performances leaned towards the Romantic style with a touch of haunting melodies.
Her three-movement Violin Sonata is a perfect example of how she blends virtuosity and romance at the same time. Expect the traditional Romantic characteristics of expressive phrases and dramatic climaxes.
If you want a good chance to demonstrate your quick fingers and precision, go for the 2nd movement, Scherzo: Molto vivace.
9. Barber’s Violin Concerto Op. 14
Samuel Barber, an American composer from Pennsylvania, was a major figure in contemporary music. He’s considered to be one of the best classical music representatives in the 20th century.
Barber was paid to write this piece for a businessman’s son who was practicing the violin. When Barber sent a part of the 1st movement, he was told that his piece was too simple. So, Barber skipped the 2nd movement and worked on the 3rd one until he made a draft.
Conversely, when Barber sent the 2nd draft to the businessman, he was told that it was too difficult to play. This makes Barber’s Violin Concerto Op. 14 a perfect blend between masterful violin playing and gradual build-up of the note’s strengths.
You’re unlikely to play the whole concerto in your audition. So, if you want to pick a rather simple piece to warm up with, go for his 1st movement. If you want to show some masterful playing, play the 3rd movement.
10. Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending
Ralph Vaughan Williams is a fantastic composer from England notable for his masterful piece; ‘The Lark Ascending’. The Lark ascending is an absolutely glorious work for the violin (accompanied by orchestra) and mimics the graceful flight of a lark.
This piece was played for the very first time in 1920 by violinist Marie Hall; the violin player who Williams consulted for the solo part of his piece. It was then played along with an orchestra in London a year later.
The Lark’s Ascending may not be the most complicated piece on our list, nor the one that would display adept violin skills like Paganini’s pieces, for example. However, there are some tricky and fiddly crossing of strings that will impress the judges.
However, we still recommend that you start your audition with it. Should you nail the deceivingly simple notes, you guarantee yourself a fantastic ice breaker for the judges.
11. Handel’s Violin Sonata No. 3
Composed by the brilliant German Composer George Frideric Handel, Sonata No.3 remains one of the best pieces to help you practice Baroque era ornamentation.
We don’t recommend this piece if you’re still a beginner. It’s relatively easy to learn but quite hard to master. On the other hand, it’s a great option for intermediate students to demonstrate their violin skills.
If you’re among those students, we recommend using the 1st movement, the adagio, in your audition. Make sure to practice the trills to effectively finish off phrasing.
Practice Makes Perfect
Choosing the right piece for your violin audition is crucial in impressing a panel of judges.
Whether you want to join an orchestra or go to music school, you need to select a piece of work that showcases your skills whilst playing within your own abilities.
Select excerpts, sonatas or concertos that emphasize your specific skillset.