Czardas! From the moment they hear the alluring gypsy-like melodies, every young violinist wants to play this famous showpiece. It’s impossible play Czardas without the pulse quickening and life seeming a little better than before. The romance of this cliche-defying classic continues to attract and thrill audiences everywhere.
Paradoxically, Czardas wasn’t composed by a dashing dark-eyed Romani violinist from Hungary. It was written by Italian violinist, mandolinist, conductor Vittorio Monti, born in Naples in 1868.
This iconic piece’s enduring popularity has caused it to be transposed and arranged from the original versions for violin or mandolin and piano into a bewildering array of instruments and ensembles.
Violinists can enjoy the improvisational flavour of Czardas by adding their own personal ad lib touches, as you can see in some of the video performances below.
How hard is it to play? Those of you who are waiting longingly for your turn to learn Czardas may be surprised to hear it’s not quite as difficult to play as it sounds. This friendly feature is part of Czardas’s charm. Of course any piece is challenging to play well, yet the key skills Czardasians require are speed and agility, accurate shifting and a feel for its flexible rhythms.
And… some fiery flair and flamboyance.
Let’s look at some of the main points of the seven sections in Czardas.
Czardas builds excitement and expectation for the dazzling quick sections to come with this slow lingering Largo on the G string. The melody is deliberately delayed and restrained by soaring slides, runs, exaggerated rubato, pauses and changes in tempo.
The first slide up to A – with 3rd or 4th finger, must be accurate and clear to achieve the desired musical effect. Some glissando during or at the end of the shift adds a little drama and helps you hit the high A more securely than shifting with a soundless leap.
Although shifting to a semitone higher to B♭ in the next bar might not have the surprise of the A, the tension needs to be maintained to keep building the sense of expectation.
Monti stretches out the feeling of anticipation in the second Largo section (at measure 14) with arpeggios of triplets and taking the melody through several ups and downs to reluctantly arrive on at key note, poised for takeoff. This section, perhaps more than any other, lends itself to imaginative improvising.
At last the quick melody springs forth with skipping syncopated notes, followed by rapid semiquavers (1/16th notes) played a little off the string with sautillé or spiccato bowing. All restraints are now released for the emotions to flare up in the crescendo molto at the end of this section.
The rapid flurry of notes continues in the second part of this section, beginning with two repeated arpeggio motifs. The second one is a little awkward to play cleanly. Any of the several possible fingerings requires extra practice to carry off this section with complete freedom and gusto. Some violinists stay in 1st position, playing the C#-E-Gn with 2nd finger. A few examples are shown below.
Arriving at this calmer section, the chords are played smoothly with even bow weight on both notes, with close attention to the (upper) melody. Slide up on A string for a daring E harmonic. Stay there for the following harmonic or add a little bravura by playing it on the E string.
Meno Quasi Lento
This section is a combination of natural and artificial harmonics. Natural harmonics are fairly plain sailing. We’ve studied them in the 3rd movement of the Vivaldi A minor concerto and elsewhere. Artificial harmonics seem more daunting at first, since it means pressing a lower finger down (1st in this section) and lightly touching the the string with a higher one (4th). Maintaining two different pressures takes a bit of practice, as does accuracy.
The key point is to listen to the pitch of the harmonic you are producing while you work to improve tone quality. The best results come from a combination of good bow weight and finding the right place near the bridge.
This section begins with a repeat of the earlier Allegro section from measure 38, finishing its ascending run in D Major in preparation for the brilliant finale sections.
The first of the quick sections (Allegro Vivo from measure 22) reappears, now in the major key. The impending finale is becoming clearer with each note. Finally at measure 126, marked Molto più vivo (much more animated) the music accelerates off to its dramatic conclusion.
Here’s a few of the best performances from among the numerous Czardas videos on the internet.
Erzsebet Pozsgai performs a superb Czardas, a live recording in Budapest, Hungary.
Vadim Repin – watch and learn.
Katica Illenyi – tasteful and deeply musical playing with great improvisations.
Maximum virtuosity from Maxim Vengerov in this grainy showoff recording.
Well, it’s been a few weeks since my last post and this is still not quite finished. The score will be arriving soon.
Thanks for visiting Teach Suzuki Violin – and for the friendly emails. Happy playing and teaching!