The work opens with a series of timpani strokes, a reminder perhaps of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The rhythm is taken up by the bassoon and other instruments, persisting as an ostinato throughout the entire work. The violin enters with a song-like lament, soaring above the orchestra. The music is soon interrupted by a more militaristic and percussive secondary theme.
The ensuing second movement, cast as a wild, moto perpetuo scherzo, unmistakably recalls Prokofiev. The movement culminates in an impressive cadenza which, while recalling musical material from both the first and second movements, acts as an organic link straight into the finale.
As the finale, Britten uses a passacaglia: a set of variations on a ground bass, in the tradition of the Baroque chaconnes by Purcell and Bach. The ground bass, tonally unstable, is initially introduced by the trombone, as the violin recalls its lyrical theme from the first movement. Individual variations unfold, taking up characters of song, dance, capriccio and march. By the end, the ground bass is reduced to chant-like reminiscences; the orchestra leaves hints of an unmistakable D major chord, while the soloist is left undecided in a trill between the notes F-natural and G flat.