The piece stemmed from a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. When he first received the commission, Berg was working on his opera Lulu, and he did not begin work on the concerto for some months. The event that spurred him into writing was the death by polio of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler's wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg set Lulu to one side to write the concerto, which he dedicated "To the memory of an angel."
Berg worked on the piece very quickly, completing it within a few months; it is thought that his working on the concerto was largely responsible for his failing to complete Lulu before his death on 24 December 1935 (the violin concerto was the last work that Berg completed). The work was premiered after the composer's death, with Krasner playing the solo part, on 19 April 1936, in Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona.