The Music

Hungarian Dance No 5 by Brahms

Hungarian Dance No 5 by Brahms, like Monti’s Czardas in the the previous post, is another one of those flamboyant pieces riding at the edge of passionate abandon. Johannes Brahms borrowed the melody for his four hands piano composition thinking it was a Hungarian folk tune, not knowing it was written by Hungarian composer-conductor Béla Kéler. Martin Schmeling arranged it for orchestra and its popularity produced numerous arrangements for other instruments.

Brahms-at-the-piano

Violinists such as Joseph Joachim and Fritz Kreisler wrote arrangements for violin that make dramatic use of chords, double stops and higher registers. The easy version in this post is a good concert solo for violinists at about Volume 4 level.

(On a personal note, although I didn’t get the opportunity to know my Hungarian grandfather, I inherited a love of the music of his country – prompting a visit to the Liszt Academy in Budapest a couple of years ago during a dark and icy European winter. We realised while we were there that in addition to producing great music and musicians, Hungarians also make the best cherry tart on the planet.)

Hungarian-cherries

Main Points of Interest

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Czardas – Monti’s Marvel

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.

Photo by Nat Farbman 1939

Photo by Nat Farbman 1939

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.

v-monti

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. Read More →

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Corelli’s Courante

Arcangelo Corelli’s Courante in Suzuki Volume 7 comes from his Concerto Grosso No. 6. Today a concerto is known as a piece of music in three movements, usually played by one solo instrument and orchestra, but why grosso?

Photo by Larisa Birta

Photo by Larisa Birta

Grosso means big in Italian, and concerto grosso refers to a concerto with a group of soloists plus orchestra – a kind of big concerto. Corelli was the first major composer to use the term and other composers, such as Geminiani, Locatelli, Torelli, Bach and especially Handel, subsequently took up the form. Finally it was superseded by the solo concerto and sinfonia concertante.

Concerti grossi (plural) from the Baroque era (approx. 1600  to 1750) are generally pleasant harmonious pieces, often without prominent solo lines, a reason perhaps why they were overtaken by the solo concerto.

Corelli’s Op. 6, for two violins and cello, with stronger melodies and themes, has the balance about right, and it remains a popular concert piece.

Trills

When violin students first encounter trills in Volume 2, the big issue is finger speed. In the effort go faster, however, the upper trilling finger may hammer down too strongly and the lower finger may press down on the fingerboard with too much force. Paradoxically, it has the effect of restricting speed. It’s better to relax the left hand, focus on clarity and listen for accurate pitch in the upper note.

What is the musical purpose of trills? Are they simply ornamental? One way to find out is to play the piece omitting the trills. If you know the piece well enough, it sounds like part of the melody is missing, though not as much as when you leave out a note or two.

Trills in Baroque music are usually added to produce harmonic suspensions, preparing for and leading into cadences. They may begin on or above the principal note and unless there are specific signs in the score, can be played at the performer’s discretion.

There’s some trill exercises on previous posts here at Teach Suzuki Violin. Here’s the links: Read More →

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Courante from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major by J.S. Bach

Cellists will instantly recognise this famous Courante from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major by J.S. Bach, BWV 1007, a natural inclusion by Suzuki in Volume 7 to follow the Gigue from the same cello suite. A delightfully quick dance, it has a memorable melody of attractive leaps and runs set against the deep resonances of bass notes, many of them on lower open strings.

Mischa Maisky

Mischa Maisky

As you’ll see below in the YouTube performances, this attractive piece has been arranged for several other instruments. Because it sounds so good and right on the cello, and despite what it teaches us musically, I can’t help feeling it almost seems a folly to play the Courante transposed for the violin. It makes us want to learn the cello!

Study Points

The falling staccato notes require cello-like resonance, which involves taking care with both the attack and the end of each bow stroke. Aim for a clean attack without extraneous string noise and  areverberant ending. Practise the finish of the stroke by lifting the bow off the string to listen to the ringing sound. Now try to achieve equal resonance gently leaving the bow on the string.

Even beats, even notes

Due to the surging melodic structure of the Courante, some students tend to rush the semiquavers (sixteenth notes) in relation to the quavers (eighth notes). Practise with a metronome to even out the beat before letting go of the reins for the right balance of time flexibility.

Tempo

When you listen to Maisky, Rostropovich, Casals and Carr play the Courante, you’ll soon realise that playing at the correct tempo is a vital part of the musical expression. Often it is played too slowly on the violin, and with excessively long bows for the staccato notes.

Quick Tech Tips

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Adagio from Sonata No 3 in F Major

Sonata No 3 in F Major, appearing in Suzuki Violin Volume 6, has long been attributed to G.F. Handel, yet understandably, music scholars have expressed doubts about its origins.

The Child Handel

Reading the story of its history solved a quandary of mine, as the Adagio in particular just seems to lack the Handel flavour. Where are the clean melodious voice and lucid harmonies? If you’re interested, you can read the convoluted story of pirated sonatas and the nefarious publisher Mr Walsh here.

Even though we don’t know who composed it, No 3 is an attractive sonata, with a very good second movement, Allegro, as we’ve seen in this previous post.

Adagio from Sonata No 3 in F Major

In some ways the Adagio tries to do too much – with too little. The rather plain descending theme returns in measure 18 in an altered state, and in part again in measure 48. The melody travels along pleasantly enough, yet never seems to get anywhere, except of course at the end.

Nonetheless it compensates for any austerity with some imaginative key changes and unexpected detours, without stretching belief or taking us too far from the path, to finally lead us with a clear sense of direction into the next movement, the excellent Allegro.

In the first of the YouTube videos below, violinist composer Gary Kuo makes an excellent job of transforming it into real music with his fine playing and compelling interpretation.

Study Points

Connecting the Notes

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Gigue in D Major by Bach

We’re in unaccompanied violin territory this week with the Gigue in D Major by Bach from Suzuki Violin Volume 7. This bright little dance was composed for cello in Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, part of the monumental works for solo cello Bach wrote around the time of  the great violin solo sonatas.

Gigue in D Major by Bach

The Gigue transcribes well from the cello-friendly key of G Major to the violin’s equally amiable D, exploiting the deep resonances of open strings. As expected, this effect is much stronger when played on the cello, and violinists have to work hard to create a corresponding sense of tone colour. Is it possible? Listen to some of the magic performances by cellists Mischa Maisky and Mstislav Rostropovich – and decide for yourself.

An interesting feature of this piece is Bach’s use of repeated notes with slurs before and onto the beat, giving these parts of the melody a lilting rhythmic quality within the flow of quavers. Performers usually play these two notes in the same bow, distinctly separated and a little more weight on the beat note, creating surging shapes and runs within the stream of notes.

A Few Study Points

Bowing

The Gigue is an excellent opportunity to study the direct relationship between bow control, note connections and tone quality. For example, the right amount of separation between notes marked staccato (dot or dash) and the repeated notes with slurs depends on their role in the melodic line and phrase.

In measure 3 – and in similar patterns later in the piece – stop the bow before playing the staccato notes.

Gigue-by-Bach-Ex-A

Chords and Trill

Practise the chords without the trill at first, taking care not to rush and to ensure each lasts for the correct duration. Play with a smooth even sound – as if tuning up. Read More →

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Allegro by Bach

The Allegro by Bach in Suzuki Violin Volume 8 comes from the Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Keyboard, BWV 1023. The movement has an improvisational quality, like a fantasia, lending itself to a wide range of interpretative ideas and arrangements.

fantasy-picture

J.S. Bach was a fluent improviser who could extemporize with virtuosic ease. Some genres, such as Jazz, are more or less based on musical invention in the moment, whereas the score grew to dominate classical performance. Now there are signs that the art of improvisation in classical music, especially in cadenzas, is starting to return from its long decline in the 20th century.

Suzuki and Bach

Parents and students sometimes ask me:

Why is there so much music in the Suzuki violin repertoire by Bach, a German composer who lived over 300 years ago, especially when there’s an abundance of violin music by composers from later times that is equally suitable for violin study and performance?

It’s an interesting question.

During the time he lived and studied in Germany, Suzuki heard the works of the great German composers performed by German musicians at home in their native musical culture, and at this poignant period between the wars, this music enjoyed a refreshed authenticity.

It was like experiencing Italian opera at La Scala or Tchaikovsky at St Petersburg. We can imagine powerful musical awakenings in these settings. Suzuki’s well-known attraction to Mozart was formed through profoundly moving experiences with his music.

Yet the reasons for including so much of Bach’s music into the violin books go beyond Suzuki’s musical tastes. As any violinist knows, J.S. Bach’s music lives at the heart of string playing. After hearing, studying and playing his compositions, a musical world without his music is unthinkable, unimaginable.

Bach’s music teaches us so much, but we don’t learn to play it for educational purposes. We do so to live and believe in a beautiful world – and to fly.

Allegro by Bach

At first glance and at first hearing, it seems that the main technical point is associated with speed and tempo, yet for the most part the Allegro moves through a series of chords, which makes for relatively easy and simple fingering.

Melody

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Violin Concerto in A Major, by W.A. Mozart, I – Part 2

As we study and master Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A Major, we become aware of his extraordinary gift to music. Students by this stage have learned the Veracini Sonata with all its thrills and trills, encouraged and excited by the expressive possibilities of bouncing and springing bows. Arriving at Volume 9’s Mozart A Major Concerto, however, students enter a new musical world.

New-World

Violin Concerto in A Major, by W.A. Mozart, 1st Movement

This brilliant concerto is played every day by professional violinists and orchestras around the planet, and although there’s not much new technique to acquire, Mozart’s buoyant melodies depend on fluent athleticism to sound right, and need to be played with unforced and unfettered vitality.

Semiquaver Passages

Mozart creates the energetic character of the first movement with passages of rapid semiquavers (16th notes), transparent melody lines ascending and descending in exuberant steps and leaps.

Without overdoing it, use accents on the beat to give clarity, energy and drive to these passages, especially when bringing them up to speed. Concentrating on the rhythmic underlay makes it easier to play at the correct tempo.

Also, in a few situations, the bowing may need rearranging to suit your interpretation. At the end of the first phrase, for example, experiment with the slurs for the run down to G#, as shown below.

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Violin Concerto in A Major, K.219 by W.A. Mozart – Adagio

The Violin Concerto in A Major, K.219, nicknamed The Turkish,  was written by Mozart in 1775, living in Salzburg under the patronage of Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, already having composed such wonders as his other four violin concertos, five piano concertos, 28 symphonies, and a great host of quartets, piano sonatas and church music, just to name a fraction of his previous works – when he was merely 19 years old!

sunlight-on-the-mountain

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major is considered by many as the finest of the five and the most adventurous, featuring the “Turkish” melody in the key of A Minor within the 3rd movement, Rondo.

After a lively 39 bar introduction by the orchestra, the tempo falls to Adagio as the solo violin enters alone with a simple A major arpeggio. Looking at my score, I see pencilled in several alternative fingerings for this first measure. Not only had I experimented myself with these opening notes, I’d watched the concerto played many times by other players, taking careful notice of their choices of fingering, reflecting their particular interpretations. More about this later.

Some players preferred a little glissando, flavouring it with a taste of melancholy, and the bolder purpose of an intense vibrato. In any case, to be convincing to the audience, the intent must be clear and of one mind. Although the Adagio is preparing us for the approaching Allegro, it also stands alone as a vision of stillness and beauty like beams of sunlight on a mountainside.

Following the poignant pauses in measure 45, we are off on an ebullient run, fired with energy and cheerfulness. The happy mood continues unabated right through the movement.

The Main Points

High Positions

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Allegro by Corelli – velocity with good taste

The final piece in Suzuki Volume 7 is Allegro by Corelli, from his Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 1 in D Major. Allegro is very likeable, tasteful music – and it’s good for left hand fingering technique, a happy combination of benefits, especially since it’s not overly difficult for players at this level.

Painting by Orazio Gentileschi 1612

Painting by Orazio Gentileschi 1612

If we didn’t know from the historical records of Corelli’s fame as a performer, we’d see from his music that he was a violinist and composer who both marked and originated significant advances in violin playing.

To our ears his music sounds sweet, sonorous and symmetrical, quite similar to the music of his more famous successor, Antonio Vivaldi, yet more than anyone it was Arcangelo Corelli (what a great name!) who prepared the way for the great flowering of Italian baroque string music, spreading into Europe and beyond, even influencing the immortal works of J.S. Bach.

The Main Points

Left hand – 3rd and 4th fingers

Remember how hard it was to practise 4th finger trills? There’s no trills in Allegro, but it’s a great workout for fingers 3 and 4 in preparation for those tricky 4th finger trills coming up in Veracini’s Sonata in E Minor, Allegro con Fuoco in Volume 8.

In contrast to, Allegro by Fiocco in Volume 6 for example, Corelli’s Allegro is not excessively fast, yet should be played with real zip and vigour to reveal its true colours. Practise slow then practise quick, play fast.

Changing finger patterns while shifting

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