22 Most Romantic Violin Solos
Top 22 Most Romantic Violin Pieces
You’ve had it happen: the moment you tell a new acquaintance that you’re a violinist, he or she gasps with awe and says “Oh my, I love the violin, it’s so romantic”. Perhaps you tire of always getting the same comment, but truth be told, the violin’s inherent sentimentality is our superpower. Romantic violin pieces are the most lovely to listen to and the most delightful to learn. To help you find your next gorgeous piece of repertoire, here is a list of twenty-two of the most romantic violin solos. Many of them are original compositions for the instrument, but some of them are solo violin transcriptions of works originally for piano or ensemble. Regardless, solo violin sheet music can easily be found for all of these pieces.
One other brief note before getting to the juicy part. I am using “romantic” here in the broad sense. There is a specific style of classical music from the 19th century referred to as the Romantic era which includes Dvorak, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. You’ll notice my list also includes composers like Bach and Mozart, who were from the Baroque and Classical eras respectively. Their music is romantic because of the feelings it evokes, not the time in which it was written.
Without further ado, here is my list of twenty-two romantic violin solos, roughly in order of difficulty. Most of them are linked to the free violin sheet music and piano accompaniment.
Humoresque Op. 101 No. 7 by Dvorak
Any violinist who has played Suzuki book 3 is familiar with this little piece. Dr. Suzuki transposed it to D major to accommodate intermediate players, but the original key is G♭ major. Dvorak originally wrote it, along with six other Humoresques, as part of a piano cycle. This seventh one is the most famous and has been transcribed many times for different solo instruments such as violin, viola, or cello. Dvorak started the Humoresque cycle in 1894 while he was working at the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York. He used ideas from the Humoresque for some of his other American-inspired works such as American String Quartet. Humoresque No. 7 became very popular in America and even became considered a sort of folk song which was set to a variety of lyrics.
Although most violinists are only familiar with Humoresque No. 7, the other six are quite lovely and have their own interesting stories. For example, Dvorak started writing the first Humoresque on New Year’s Eve in New York and subtitled it “people singing in the street.” The fourth Humoresque was part of his ide for Hiawatha, an opera he never wrote. I wonder what an American opera by Dvorak would have been like?
Canon in D by Pachelbel
While infamous to some, this piece does have strong romantic connotations for millions of people because of its frequent use at weddings. Pachelbel’s canon is one of those works that even those who never intentionally listen to classical music will recognize, so I feel that not much needs to be said about the piece itself. Instead, let’s talk about who this Pachelbel guy (1653-1706) actually was.
Can you guess how many pieces of music Johann Pachelbel wrote in his lifetime? If you guessed one, you are unfortunately wrong. He composed over 500 pieces, over 120 of which were organ fugues. He was an exceptionally gifted organist, very popular in his day, and taught many successful students. He was about thirty years older than J.S. Bach, and did become friends with the Bach family when he moved to Eisenach. He was even the godfather to J.S. Bach’s sister Johanna Juditha. He later lived in Johann Christian Bach’s house and bought the house when Johann Christian died.
Pachelbel was a highly respected musician and teacher, a contemporary of the Bachs, Telemann, and Buxtehude. Canon in D is a beautiful piece, but he should also be remembered for his other incredible contributions to German middle baroque repertoire.
Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod
This lovely piece could be described as a collaboration 100 years in the making. How could J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and Charles Gounod (pronounced goo-no, 1818-1893) have written a piece together?
To explain, we go back to 1722, when Bach started his ground-breaking work The Well-Tempered Clavier. The point was to prove that by using the tempered tuning system (a mathematical-musical conundrum we won’t go into detail about here) it was actually possible to play beautiful music in any and all keys, something that was unthinkable before. (Previously keyboards could only be tuned to one key signature at a time, so it was not possible to switch keys in the middle of a piece or play different key signatures consecutively.) The two-volume set consists of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys. Prelude and Fugue in C Major is the first work in the second volume, and one of the most famous. The Prelude is simply a gentle broken chordal pattern that ebbs and flows through many chord changes and dynamics.
Over 100 years later, the French composer Charles Gounod improvised a romantic melody of Bach’s baroque chord study. His future father-in-law transcribed the inspired improvisation and published it in 1853. It has since become one of the most widely played Ave Maria settings.
Schindler’s List by John Williams
What Bach, Pachelbel, and Telemann were to the organ school of baroque Germany, John Williams is to the film music industry of today. A graduate of Juilliard, he has been writing music for over seven decades and composed some of the most famous movie themes ever. Now ninety, he is working on his final film (an Indiana Jones movie) before settling into “retirement” to work on other pieces, including a piano concerto.
One of Williams’ most heart-wrenching themes is the one from Schindler’s List, recorded for the film by Itzhak Perlman. The 1993 film tells the true story of Oscar Schindler, a german who saved over one thousand Jews from concentration camps during the Holocaust. In the beginning of the film Schindler is focused on making his fortune, but over time he uses up his entire fortune helping refugees. The german officers in charge of the camps charge Schindler exorbitant bribes before allowing him to help the prisoners. Schindler survived the war, and was honored by the Jews he helped.
In a 2015 interview about the movie, Itzhak Perlman talks about how incredible it was to work with John Williams on the score. “Everywhere I go in the world”, he says, “they ask me to play Schindler’s List. That’s the piece.”
“Air on the G String” by J.S. Bach
Nicknamed “Air on the G string”, this piece is actually a movement from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major. I hate to tell you this, but originally it was not played completely on the G string. Shifting into unnecesessarily high positions was not common practice in the baroque era, and certainly not in orchestral music. The nickname comes from an arrangment for violin by August Wilhelmj in 1871. During the romantic era, composers experimented a lot with the rich tonal variations made possible by shifting up on one string rather than changing strings. Wilhelmj thought it would be a cool idea to transpose the first violin part of this Bach movement so the whole thing could be played on the G string. The romantic resonant sound had a great effect, and performing the piece in that way caught on. Bach’s original is written for first and second violins, viola, and continuo. It is often played with just a solo violin and keyboard, or by the full ensemble with a soloist playing the first violin G string part.
Largo from Xerxes by Handel
A German by birth, Georg Frederic Handel spent most of his life working in England. There he founded the Royal Academy of Music, now a major conservatory, as an opera company. The opera and oratorio medium fascinated Handel, and he became one of the most celebrated opera composers of his day. Many of his operas became obsolete for a period after his death, but the opening aria from Xerxes, “Ombra mai fu”, continued to be performed. It is a very moving piece of music in its own right, but in the opera it is actually part of a comedic moment. Take a look at a translation of the lyrics:
Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.
Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.
This romantic aria is not sung to a beautiful maiden, but rather to a tree under which king Xerxes is sitting. Although this seems a strange way to start a very serious opera about love and revenge, it sets the stage for an interaction that is crucial to the rest of the story.
This aria is of course not originally a violin solo but playing it on violin has become very popular. Here is a beautiful recording by the amazing soloist Antal Zalai.
Ave Maria by Schubert arr. Wilhelmj
In terms of popularity and familiarity, this piece is right up there with Pachelbel’s Canon. But if you think that Schubert sat down one day with the intention of writing the most popular Ave Maria setting ever composed that would be sung in churches and ceremonies around the world, you would (like most people) be mistaken. The melody comes from part of Schubert’s setting of The Lady of the Lake, a poem by Walter Scott. The main character, Ellen Douglas, has hidden herself in a cave, and calls upon the Virgin Mary for help. However, it is not in the traditional form of the Hail Mary prayer. But the connection was close enough that others later adapted the song to the familiar words. Wilhelmj, the same guy who had the bright idea to play Bach on one string, made this beautiful arrangement for violin solo. The melody is not very difficult, and although the rhythms look complex it is so familiar that you probably know it mostly by ear!
Songs my Mother Taught Me by Dvorak
Songs my mother taught me in the days long vanished,
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children each melodious measure,
Oft the tears are flowing,
Oft they flow from my memory’s treasure.
This sentimental song is another work for voice that has found its way into the violin repertoire. This work is romantic not just in the emotional sense but also in the stylistic sense. Dvorak composed in the late 19th century, a period characterized by chromaticism, sweeping melodies, and rich harmonic colors. Songs my Mother Taught Me is the most popular work in his seven-song cycle Gypsy Songs composed in 1880. The 20th-century virtuoso Fritz Kreisler transcribed the work for violin, and it has since been recorded by many prominent artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, and Augustin Hadelich. If you really want to treat yourself, listen to the recording by Glenn Miller. If it is possible to perfectly capture the nostalgia of the big-band era and the romanticism of classical music at the same time, this is it.
Adagio in G Minor, attributed to Albinoni
I’m so sorry to disappoint you again, but the melody known to music lovers around the world as “Albinoni’s Adagio” is not (you guessed it) actually by Albinoni. Albinoni was a real composer who lived from 1671-1751, but the Adagio did not surface until the 20th century. According to the musicologist Remo Giazotto (the actual composer of the work) he discovered an Albinoni manuscript fragment in the partially-destroyed Dresden State Library after WWII. He claimed the fragment was just a few measures of an unfinished sonata, so he constructed the missing parts based on the theme and published it as “Adagio in g minor for strings and organ, on two thematic ideas and on a figured bass by Tomaso Albinoni.” However, Giazotto never showed anyone the fragment he claimed to have worked from, and there is no evidence of it ever being in the library. Coincidence? I think not. Such deceptions have been common in the musical community ever since the baroque era, and even Fritz Kreisler claimed to have “found” pieces that he actually wrote himself in order to drum up popularity for his work. Regardless, it is an impressive and harmonious piece, so if you really want to play it I don’t think Albinoni will be mad.
The Swan by Saint-Saëns
A list of romantic violin solos would not be complete without this piece, even though it is technically for cello. But if Jascha Heifetz does it, then you can too. This is just one movement from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, a suite he composed purely for fun. He performed it a few times in private chamber music societies, rather than large public concerts, and his friends and colleagues received it with great enthusiasm. Apparently the musicians even sometimes wore masks of each animal they represented, which added to the humorous character of what most people today would consider a serious piece. The Swan is the only movement that was published during the composer’s lifetime as an arrangement for cello and, originally, two solo pianos. Back then Saint-Saëns refused to have the whole suite published during his life because he was afraid it would damage his image as a “serious composer.” He even went so far as to specify in his will that it be published posthumously. When it was finally released, audiences recognized it as one of his greatest and most intelligent masterpieces.
Meditation de Thaȉs by Massanet
This is the most memorable part of the otherwise little-known opera Thaȉs by Jules Massanet. Even though it is an interlude, not even part of one of the scenes, some call it the best five minutes in the whole opera. It is a turning point in the story. Set during the rule of the Roman Empire over Egypt, the opera follows two seemingly opposite characters: the ravishingly beautiful pagan cortesan Thaȉs, and the Christian monk who seeks to convince her to reform her life. At first Thaȉs scoffs at him, but after awhile she begins to realize that her reckless life of pleasure is empty and unfulfilling. After a long moment of reflection (cue the violin soloist) she agrees to follow the monk into the desert despite anger and disdain from her former friends.
Meditation is one of the few moments in opera where the turning point of the story does not appear in a dramatic aria or action-packed scene, but in the eloquent reflections of a single instrument. This is not one of the most virtuosic pieces of the violin repertoire, but its simplicity bears more weight and meaning then a large orchestral tutti or operatic fireworks would have for this story.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (or “a little night music” if you haven’t been doing your German homework) is not a “romantic” work in the stylistic sense. Mozart was an 18th-century composer firmly rooted in the Classical era. So why is his music on a list of the most romantic violin pieces? Mostly because this piece is incredibly nostalgic even if you don’t know its real title or composer. The first movement, which everyone is familiar with, is very light and joyful, but if you, ahem, listen to the rest of the twenty-minute piece, the second movement contains some beautifully lyrical and longing phrases.
This piece, like many on this list, is not a violin solo originally. Mozart wrote it for string quintet (two violins, viola, cello, and bass) but arrangements have been made for solo violin and accompaniment. Since it is such a beloved tune, it is worth learning the solo part of at least the first movement (or the whole thing) to play at a recital, wedding, etc. By far the most impressive performance of this piece is by Roman Kim. He is a Kazakh violinist known for his incredibly complex transcriptions of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and others.
Romance No. 2 in F Major by Beethoven
This piece is a violin solo, and literally has romance in the title. It is one of two pieces for solo violin Beethoven composed before creating his violin concerto in 1806. Romance No. 2 was actually composed first in 1798, but published in 1805 two years after Romance No. 1. More lyrical than virtuosic, it is not considered a part of the “major violin repertoire” per se, but like Meditation de Thaȉs it is beloved by performers and audiences for its profound depth. The orchestration is fairly simple, just flute, oboes, bassoons, horns, and strings. The accompaniment is very classical, outlining the chords of each measure in gentle eighth-note rhythms. The solo part opens with a beautiful melodic line that is still fairly reserved, like someone reflecting on a happy memory while resting in a moment of peace. Later on, a distressing thought pierces that memory when the violinist changes key and comes in on a high dramatic F. The music weaves its way through descending patterns and calms again before returning to the theme and a wistful, dare-to-hope conclusion.
Czardas by Monti
A czardas is a hungarian dance form with a slow introduction and a wild finish. It comes from the hungarian word “csárda” which means “inn”. How would you like to hear this in a Super 8 lobby. The Italian composer Vittorio Monti wrote this piece based on a traditional Hungarian Czardas in 1904. It opens with a robust, dramatic slow theme, and after a brief fermata jumps straight into a rhythmic sixteenth-note passage full of sautille. Sautille is a fast, bouncing bowstroke. It is notoriously difficult for students to learn, but the key lies in the right arm being relaxed and passive and allowing the natural tension of the bow hair to do the work. Also, the wood of the bow bounces, but the hair actually can remain on the string. Many students make the mistake of tightening the upper arm and trying to push or lift the bow off the string after every sixteenth. This obviously is not a sustainable solution. The most important thing is to focus on clarity achieved by crisp left hand motion and using the exact same amount of bow for every note. Practice slowly and in rhythms (another topic) to achieve that clarity first, and pay attention to the action of the stick as you increase the tempo. Simplify your motions, stop thinking so hard about your sautille and it will improve.
Salur D’Amour by Elgar
Now we’ve started getting into some of the lesser-known pieces. Edward Elgar (1857-1934) did not write Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or Air on the G String, but he was an incredibly gifted English composer who wrote some gorgeous violin music.
Salur D’Amour (Love’s Greeting) is a wonderfully warm and enriching little piece. In 1888, Elgar became engaged to his future wife Caroline. As a gift she sent him a poem she had written and titled “Love’s Grace”. Inspired by his love and his art, Elgar set it to music with the german title “Liebesgruss”. The love token gained him some material wealth as well when he entered it in a composing competition and won 5£ (about 2,600£ in today’s money). His publishers insisted that it would sell better if it had a French title, so he got it published as “Salur d’Amour”.
If you enjoy Elgar’s love offering, he has many other works worth exploring. He wrote a violin concerto that is frequently performed. His most famous compositions are the Enigma Variations, most notably the ninth movement called “Nimrod”. And if you have a bent for the dramatic, check out the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius about an old man who beholds a glorious vision of heaven.
Clair de Lune by Debussy (arr. A. Roelens)
Nothing captures the lilting, sweet melancholy of moonlight and soft night air better than this piece. It is also a beautiful example of three different arts—music, painting, and poetry— interacting to create a masterpiece. The inspiration for this 20th century piece started back in the 18th century with the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). He depicted French Baroque courtly life and romance. Some of his paintings feature the courtiers wearing costumes for masquerade parties. These paintings inspired Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) to write a series of poems. His poems go beyond the face value of the paintings, hinting at the possibility of hidden griefs behind the costumes and questioning the revelers’ true happiness. Debussy later turned six of these poems into solo piano works, and published this, the most famous one, in 1905, fifteen years after orignially writing it. You have certainly heard the work before (here played by Anton Zalai in an arrangement for violin) but now listen with new ears after reading Verlaine’s poem:
Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
Of being sad in their fantastic trim.
The while they celebrate in minor strain,
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,
The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.
-Paul Verlaine, 1869
Nocturne in C-sharp Minor by Chopin (arr. Milstein)
This recording is a precious example of a great violinist playing a piece he arranged himself. Nathan Milstein is one of the must-know performers for violin aficionados. The sound quality of this vintage performance is not what we are used to now, but that doesn’t take away from its beauty and Milstein’s technique.
Chopin was exclusively a piano composer. He did not write any music for solo violin. Like Debussy’s Clair de Lune, several of Chopin’s pieces make for exceptional violin transcriptions. Nocturne in C-sharp Minor is short, slow, and sweet, but it does present some challenges. It contains several chromatic runs in triplets that must be both quick and graceful. To achieve an gentle, intimate sound, many of the phrases that would normally be played on the E string are moved up the A string instead, so there are lots of shifts and high-position passages. Overall, it is an excellent piece for an intermediate player looking to improve chromatic scales and shifting while making beautiful music.
Tango by Albéniz (arr. Fritz Kreisler)
Now we move back to a completely different genre. Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was one of the most important Spanish composers of the post-Romantic era. An incredible child prodigy, he passed the entrance exam at the Paris Conservatoire, but was refused because he was only seven years old. Instead, his father took him and his sister Clementina on a concert tour of Spain and eventually all around the world. (Like Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart, but just in the 1870s.)
After performing as a child in Spain, Cuba, San Francisco, New York, and London (to name a few) he spent some time at the Leipzig Conservatory before enrolling in the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Enjoying the patronage of wealthy European benefactors, he continued to have a successful concert career until dying of kidney failure at just 48 years old.
Albéniz was a pianist who primarily composed for his own instrument. However, many of his pieces have been transcribed for other instruments. His works are standard guitar repertoire even though he never wrote for the instrument directly. This arrangement for violin of his most popular piece Tango in D was done by Fritz Kreisler, which goes to show how truly popular it was. It features many double-stops and slides (called glissandi) that combine Kreisler’s unique sound with Albéniz’s inherent Spanish flair.
Swan Solo from Swan Lake by Tchiakovsky
Here we have a two for one! The ballet repertoire contains some of the most beautiful violin solos, and Tchaikovsky is one of the most skilled composers. The classic Swan Lake contains not one but two exquisite solos to add to your repertoire. The white swan solo represents the beautiful Odette, and the black swan solo is for Odile, who is transformed to look like Odette by her evil sorcerer father with the intent of making the prince fall in love with Odile rather than Odette. Both pieces are short but have their unique challenges. One interesting thing about them is that they were written only two years before Tchikovsky’s famous violin concerto. These four-minute motets reveal Tchaikovsky’s skill as a solo violin composer that then becomes abundantly evident in his concerto. These are not the only pieces for violin and orchestra he wrote. If you enjoy listening to and learning the swan lake solos, you should also check out Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, and for virtuosic fireworks look up Valse-Scherzo.
Romanza Andaluza by Sarasate
Pablo de Sarasate was another 19th-century Spanish prodigy, and one of the most famous violinists of his time. The poet George Bernard Shaw said “he left criticism gasping behind him.” Sarasate came from a musical family and started violin at age five. He performed publicly by age eight, and at twelve began studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he eventually won the Conservatoire’s highest honor.
Sarasate toured world-wide performing his own compositions, winning the hearts of audiences and fellow composers alike. Many of the greatest violin works are dedicated to him, including Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3, and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Wieniawski’s Concerto No. 2,and Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.
Romanza Andaluza is one of Sarasate’s eight Spanish Dances, short pieces containing both folksy melodies and virtuosic flair. Romanza Andaluza opens with a haunting gypsy melody, mysterious and sad with a hint of a smile on it. The theme develops into a rollicking dance section that climaxes in a chromatic octave run. The theme returns in graceful double-stops, as though the heroine is humming to herself in the moonlight walking home from the dance. The second iteration of the theme is more peaceful, concluding in a gentle dimenuendo.
The Spanish Dances are some of Sarasate’s most popular compostions. Other works in this set include Malagueña, Habanera, and Zapateado.
Three Old Viennese Dances by Kreisler
What Sarasate was for spanish music, Fritz Kreisler was for Vienna. He was a master at imitating different styles and composers (sometimes legitimately confusing musicologists). Everything from baroque Italy to San Francisco theater inspired him to write music. But he always had a special talent for the music of his own land. Three Old Viennese Dances capture the noble romanticism and grace of Austrian culture. The adjective “old” is a bit confusing: Kreisler originally published these in 1905 intentionally attributed to Joseph Lanner. Lanner was a German composer who had dies about fifty years previously. Kreisler habitually released his finest works ostensibly as “discoveries” written by other composers. He may have added “old” to try and convince people that the pieces had been written sometime earlier. Kreisler frequently used these as encores on his concerts, and finally copyrighted them under his own name in 1910.
The three pieces are Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy), Liebeslied (Love’s Sorrow) and Schön Rosmarin (Lovely Rosemary). All three exhibit Kreisler’s characteristic trademarks of rubato and portamento. In order of least to most difficult, Liebeslied is the best piece to start with. It contains no doublestops, has a slow waltz tempo, and does not go past fourth position. Lovely Rosemary is not terribly fast, but does have several upbow staccato passages. It is a wonderful short piece for practicing this technique. Liebesfreud is the most difficult due to the faster tempo and consecutive thirds in the opening.
If you’re a pianist, check out the solo piano transcriptions written and recorded by Kreisler’s friend Sergei Rachmaninoff!
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Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate
For our last example of romantic violin solos, we return to our old friend Sarasate. A virtuosic piece in every sense of the word, Zigeunerweisen is even harder to play than it is to pronounce. The eight-minute piece is comprised of four very short movements. The first movement begins with ominous tremolos in the piano. The violin storms in with a dramatic g-string theme followed by a giant chromatic run all the way up the instrument. Followed by an even gutsier g-string passage and a longer run. You get the picture.
The slow second movement is high-strung and free-flowing, expressing deep longing and perhaps even pain. The accompaniment is just sustained chords, allowing the soloist to use rubato at will. The third movement calms down to a more melodic, introspective character.
Virtuosic flair returns in the fourth and only happy-sounding movement. It is incredibly fast and incorporates rare techniques such as left hand pizzicato. The style is very similar to Monti’s Czardas, using a theme from Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13. It is a thrilling and dramatic close to a sensational piece.
Whether they are original violin compositions or transcriptions, these twenty-two great romantic violin solos provide variety for your next repertoire selection. If you frequently play for weddings, anniversaries, or other special occasions, it would be a good idea to have several of these under your belt! As violinists, nothing feels so good as when someone comes up to us after performing and says, “Thank you for your beautiful playing, it made me cry.”