Beethoven began sketching this concerto's first movement in the early 1790s, but not to completion. It wasn't until the German composer had finished the majority of his concertos on his preferred instrument the piano that he returned to this piece and completed it.
Beethoven wrote the concerto for his colleague Franz Clement, who was a leading violinist of the day. The musician had earlier given Beethoven helpful advice on his opera Fidelio. The work was premiered on December 23, 1806 in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna at a benefit concert for Clement. It is believed that Beethoven finished the solo part so late that Clement, who was the evening's soloist, had to sight-read part of his performance. Perhaps to express his annoyance, or to show what he could do when he had time to prepare, Clement interrupted the concerto at the end of the opening movement with one of his own compositions, which he played on one string and with the fiddle upside down.
The concerto received only a lukewarm response from the critics at its premiere and was little performed in the following decades. It wasn't until 1844, when 12-year-old violinist Joseph Joachim performed it in London and Dusseldorf with an orchestra conducted by Felix Mendelssohn that it got the recognition it deserved. The work is now considered one of the most important works of the violin concerto repertoire, and is frequently performed and recorded.
Piano virtuosi Muzio Clementi persuaded Beethoven to transcribe this violin piece as the unnumbered Piano Concerto in D major. The composer added to the first movement an extended cadenza that employs tympani in addition to the piano.
A performance by violinist Marcia Crayford features on the soundtrack of the 1998 movie My Name is Joe.