Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117 was written in 1937–38. During the composer's life, it was known simply as his Violin Concerto. (His other violin concerto, Violin Concerto No. 1, Sz. 36, BB 48a was written in the years 1907–1908, but only published in 1956, after the composer's death, as "Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. posth.")
Bartók composed the concerto in a difficult stage of his life, when he was filled with serious concerns about the growing strength of fascism. He was of firm anti-fascist opinions, and therefore became the target of various attacks in pre-war Hungary.
Bartók initially planned to write a single-movement concerto set of variations, but Zoltán Székely wanted a standard three-movement concerto. In the end, Székely received his three movements, while Bartók received his variations (the second movement being possibly the most formal set of variations Bartók wrote in his career, and the third movement being a variation on material from the first).
The work was premiered at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on March 23, 1939 with Zoltán Székely on violin and Willem Mengelberg conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
It had its United States premiere in Cleveland, Ohio in 1943, with Tossy Spivakovsky on the violin accompanied by The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodziński. Spivakovsky later gave the New York and San Francisco premieres of the work.
It has the following three movements:
- Allegro non troppo
- Andante tranquillo
- Allegro molto
The concerto is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tamtam (gong), celesta, harp, and strings.