Witches’ Dance by Paganini, the Violin Magician

Franz Xaver Süssmayr wrote the melody on which Niccolò Paganini, the most famous violin virtuoso of all time, based his set of variations called Le Streghe, or The Witches. The Witches’ Dance is a simple version of the theme.

Paganini

 

Born in Genoa, Italy, Paganini (1782 – 1840) was an unprecedented musical phenomenon – violin virtuoso, violist, guitarist and composer, whose musical athleticism, showmanship and self-cultivated mystique transfixed concert audiences in 19th century Europe. His famous Caprice No. 24 in A minor is a stunning example of his technical accomplishments and compositional mastery. Take a look at this classic performance by Heifitz of the Caprice on Youtube:

 

Witches’ Dance builds on the dotted rhythm skills studied in The Two Grenadiers and features the triplet (3 notes in the same duration as 2). The score is available for download in Resources.

Main Study Points

The Dotted Rhythm
This bowing pattern uses quick long bows for the dotted quavers (8th notes). Play the first dotted quaver F# and stop. Then continue down with the short semiquaver E and follow immediately with the long upbow on D and stop. Then continue with the short C# and downbow on D. This pattern is sometimes called the hook stroke. The most common error is making the dotted quavers too short.

Witches Dance Ex A

Triplets
The triplets first appear in bar 7. A little more accent on the first note of each triplet brings out the dancing beat: 123/223, but don’t overdo it. It’s awkward for students to do at first because the accents alternate between a downbow and an upbow. Review the Twinkles triplet variation.

Two or four beat rhythms come more naturally – as in the even rhythms of walking and running. If students find the accents within triplet rhythms difficult, try clapping or tapping it out first. Then transfer it to open string practice with slow bows until it starts to feel and sound natural. Since the upbow accent is harder to do, practice by leading off with the upbow triplet.

The Minor Section
There’s a brief visit to the D minor key, starting in bar 25. To play it nicely in tune, practise slowly and carefully, preparing fingers in the following three steps:

  • Place 3rd, 2nd and 1st fingers on A, G♮ and F♮ before playing bars 25 and 26.
  • Prepare for the next two bars (27, 28) by placing 3rd finger on A as the anchor, 4th finger on B♭touching 3rd; 1st finger on F#; finally 2nd finger on G, touching 1st finger.
  • Before playing bar 29, prepare 1st finger on F♮.

When this section is fluent and consistently accurate, students can dispense with the pre-placing of fingers.

Witches Dance Ex B

In bar 37, watch out for the downbow marked below – because the bowing differs from earlier passages, it’s easy to start the triplet section on the wrong bow.

Witches Dance Ex C

Suggestions for Musical Expression

In strict time, the dotted quaver (8th note) is three times as long as the following semiquaver (16th note), but this sounds rather stilted if played too precisely. The composer’s intention is a more emotional effect – a lively and vigorous dance. I’ve never seen dancing witches, but I imagine they would be anything but measured and restrained. Slightly extending the long bows and reducing the short bows makes it sound more convincing.

At the key change in bar 25 play meno mosso, a little slower, with smoother connections for a passing mood of gentle sadness before returning to the cheerful theme.

Bring the final triplets home with the rollicking 123/223 beat, lifting the bow on the final note, A – and smile!

The PDF score for Witches’ Dance is available for download in Resources. Right click on the link and select Save link as… and choose a place to save the file. All downloads in Resources are free, and Members can download free resources from Members’ Resources.

Thanks for coming to Teach Suzuki Violin.

Happy playing!

John

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