Korngold had vowed to give up composing anything other than film music, with which he supported himself and his family, until Hitler had been defeated. With the end of World War II, he retired from films to concentrate on music for the concert hall. The Violin Concerto was the first such work that Korngold penned, following some initial persuasion from the violinist and fellow émigré Bronisław Huberman. Korngold had been hurt by the assumption that a successful film composer was one that had sold his integrity to Hollywood, just as earlier he had been hurt by many critics' assumptions that his works were performed only because he was the son of music critic Julius Korngold. He was thus determined to prove himself with a work that combined vitality and superb craftsmanship.
The concerto was dedicated to Alma Mahler, the widow of Korngold's childhood mentor Gustav Mahler. It was premiered on 15 February 1947 by Jascha Heifetz and the St. Louis Symphony under conductor Vladimir Golschmann. It received the most enthusiastic ovation in St. Louis concert history. On 30 March 1947, Heifetz played the concerto in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Efrem Kurtz; the broadcast performance was recorded on transcription discs. The composer wrote about Heifetz's playing of the work:
In spite of the demand for virtuosity in the finale, the work with its many melodic and lyric episodes was contemplated for a Caruso than for a Paganini. It is needless to say how delighted how I am to have my concerto performed by Caruso and Paganini in one person: Jascha Heifetz.
Heifetz's performance launched the work into the standard repertoire, and it quickly became Korngold's most popular piece. However, the fame of the violin concerto, combined with Korngold's eminent association with Hollywood film music, has helped obscure the rest of his legacy as a composer of concert-hall works written before and after his arrival in the United States.
Although Korngold was credited with introducing the sophisticated musical language of his classical training to the soundscapes of Hollywood films, a kind of reverse inspiration also occurred. Like many of Korngold's "serious" works in traditional genres, the violin concerto borrows thematic material from his movie scores in each of its three movements.