It is a common mistake, an easily made assumption: words are exchanged, confused for each other – with their meanings blurred and their differences ignored, the movements all tangled together. The concerto is named a symphony; the symphony is deemed a concerto; and the truth is forgotten in the wake of simple misunderstanding. Those with only passing interests (and knowledge) of classical music believe these to be the same and offer no time to learn the distinctions.
But such distinctions do exist and should be noted – if only to offer these forms the respect they have earned throughout the centuries. They are not philosophic copies, twin notions divided by a simple title. They are instead separate ideals and should be mastered. The concerto and the symphony are among classical music’s oldest techniques and, while they are harmonious, they are not identical.
The Concerto: established on the cusp of the 17th century, this Baroque style is unique amongst the medium. Its reliance on solos instead of the typical orchestra sounds branded it an instant sensation–as well as an originality. With an emphasis on string selections, it offered three movements and a minimal backing of other instruments. Its power is in its singularity.
The Symphony: argued as the first of all classical music movements, the symphony can be found described within parchment from the Middle Ages. This genre featured a reliance on orchestras, with large collections of instruments brought together to create a specific sound. And, while a symphony could include selections from a concerto (as well as other forms), it ultimately was meant to prove the value of many individuals over the work of one.
And it is this that best defines the differences between the symphony and the concerto. While they can exist within each other, they are not intrinsically linked. Their origins and their purposes are unique; and this must be remembered – if only to spare you the too common blunder of thinking them the same.