The Music

Veracini Gavotte – Jumping for Joy

Here we are at the fourth movement of the Veracini Sonata in E Minor in Vol 8, the Gavotte – an apt name, since the music jumps and skips along with bouncing bows and springing staccato. In this sonata there are more opportunities to learn, improve and enjoy ricochet and spiccato bowing  than in any previous piece in the Suzuki violin repertoire.

kangaroo

The Main Points

As I’ve said elsewhere, after spending so much time and effort learning to keep the bow on the string, controlling weight, speed and position, it feels counter intuitive to allow it to bounce. At first, somewhat alarmingly, it springs too much, recoiling off the string with large uneven notes or with a rush of little reverberations. Also entering the string cleanly is harder to achieve, resulting in scratchy and crunchy sounds as the bow hair lands on the string. Ouch!

Learning the skill is as much discovery as study. Search for the right weight, arm motion, position on the bow and proximity to the bridge that produces the sound and tone you want to hear.

Ricochet

The series of triplets in measures 7-8, 21-22, 37-38 are played with ricochet bows. These passages are an ideal (and easy) introduction to this and similar bow techniques.

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Veracini Sonata in E Minor, Menuet

The third movement of Veracini Sonata in E Minor is a good-natured and bright little minuet – or menuet if you’re using the French name – in E major. While it’s not really an experience of chromesthesia (seeing sounds as colours), the key of E major summons up for me a rich yellow, reminiscent of Wattle blossom. To my mind, this clear sunny colour suits this minuet perfectly.

Wattle-blossom

The menuet form comes from the French small-stepped dance for couples – easily imagined when listening to this piece!

Bow Magic

If there’s a main point for this movement, it’s about the nuances of shape, colour, accent, weight and tone of individual notes, figures, passages and phrases. Perhaps more than the other parts of the sonata, the menuet requires expressive playing with close attention to even the finest of details.

It’s revealing to look at the different arrangements of the slurs in the various published editions of the menuet to compare them with Veracini’s original score. Veracini’s slur groupings only partly explain the contours and shapes of figures and phrases, yet the musical message is quite clear. The melody itself shows us the type of bowing we should use.

Notice the slurs in the opening figure of Veracini’s autograph score and how later editions try to make the picture a little clearer for us by grouping notes into long upbows. Whether you choose to use separate bows or not, listen to how the phrase builds – and don’t be tempted to use too much bow on the pairs of semiquavers and dotted quavers (16th – dotted 8th notes). Read More →

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Veracini Sonata in E Minor II, playing with fire

In the 2nd movement of the Sonata in E Minor (No. 8 in Op. 2), marked Allegro con fuoco, Veracini shows his true colours as a violinist and composer. It is intended to be played with fire (con fuoco) and passion, as no doubt this controversial and stellar Italian virtuoso would have loved performing it. Stellar? Perhaps it was this music that caused the astronomers at the University of Arizona’s Spacewatch to name an asteroid after him! (No. 10875 Veracini.)

Night_Sky_Stars_Trees_02

Photo by Michael J Bennett

The Veracini Sonata in E Minor II shines and sparkles with ornaments, especially a host of scintillating trills, but Francesco Veracini didn’t just write them for virtuosic display. They form an intrinsic part of the heart and character of the music, and are not merely the expression of his (or the music’s) colourful personality.

The Main Points

What does this movement have to teach us? Firstly, playing in a quick tempo, although Fiocco’s Allegro is just as good for understanding speed. There’s also some resonant chords, bow division and staccato problems to solve. The real benefit to our technique is studying Veracini’s trills. He was quite obviously very good at playing them.

Tempo

We must hold on to our hats and play with real velocity to create the energy and excitement that Veracini intended. Nonetheless it is not as relentless as a Moto Perpetuo, or intended to be played at a breakneck pace. This movement balances fireworks with genuine baroque charm and grace.

Bow Division

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Veracini Sonata in E Minor, Largo

Florentine violinist-composer Francesco Maria Veracini (what a great name!) makes his second appearance in the Suzuki violin repertoire at the end of Volume 8 with the Sonata in E Minor (Sonata No. 8 in Op. 2). This sonata has some memorable melodies, especially the Allegro con fuoco – coming up in the next post – some of which can serve well as short student concert solos and the range and complexity of bowing techniques and ornaments makes it a good stepping stone to the Mozart concertos in Volumes 9 and 10.

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The first movement, Largo, begins with a 7 bar introduction, which builds expectation as if promising to create a dramatic entry. In fact when the moment arrives, the violin begins with a charmingly sedate little Q and A phrase. (Veracini’s quick movements are where he really excels.)

The video of the Veracini Sonata below features Korean violinist Jae-In Shin and Thomas Lee on piano.

What are the main points for the Veracini Sonata in E Minor, Largo?

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Largo by J.S. Bach, the sound of tranquility

This innocent little piece by J.S. Bach in Volume 8, named simply Largo, is from arguably the most famous set of solo violin music ever written. It is the serene 3rd movement of Violin Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005, from the 6 Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. These towering works, which include the legendary Chaccone (in Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004) are regarded by violinists as the pinnacle and archetype of solo violin composition.

photo-Jennifer-Bailey

Suzuki Volume 8’s Largo is a simplified version which omits the contrapuntal richness of its many chords and double stops, yet still retains its essential melodic shape. To be honest, notwithstanding the lovely melody that remains, I think it is pared down too much. I guess it had to be all or nothing. The transcription was probably made by French organist Gaston Choisnel (1857-1921).

Largo by J.S. Bach

It’s likely that Suzuki included Bach’s Largo to expand students interpretative studies and to focus on musical expression – the shapes, colours and qualities of phrases, legato bowing and the subtleties of different note connections. Because Bach’s phrases and melodic structure are more easily seen in this version, it provides a good opportunity for students to contemplate the both the larger musical forms and fine details in a less complicated arrangement. Read More →

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Tamborin by Grétry, a shining little pearl

Tamborin by Grétry is a little marvel of a piece every Volume 8 student loves to learn and play. Exciting, verging on flashy, and a popular short solo in our school, it is perfect for student concerts. Tamborin has an instantly likable melody and features bow techniques that make it into a great showpiece.

tambourine

Off-the-string bowing, dancing upbow staccato and some fiery slurred arpeggios show us Monsieur Grétry’s creative genius for a good tune and evidence of his background on the violin (his father was a violinist.) In this little pearl he really got the balance right – and Suzuki made an inspired choice to include this piece to teach them!

First a bit of history. André Ernest Modeste Grétry  (1741 – 1813) was a celebrated composer from Liège (present-day Belgium), who lived and worked from 1767 onwards in France, taking French nationality. He is most famous for his opéras comiques. He wrote 50 or so operas in a very hard-working and productive life as a musician and composer.

Main Points

I should mention that it’s not necessary, of course, to wait until Volume 8 to learn the bow techniques Tamborin uses. They can be studied at any time from Volume 4 level or so onwards. Earlier, perhaps.

Tamborin’s personality springs forth in the very first phrase and to my mind, with the very first note! Start with a clean, bright attack, and quickly lift the open A off the string for a moment of ringing resonance, following up by creating similar resonance on the next A and the C. Accent the E in the next measure – but don’t exaggerate.

Tamborin-by-Gretry-Ex-A

The opening melody moves up an octave in measure 9. A similar resonance is achieved by allowing the A string to ring in sympathy with the higher A. The harmonic at E should have the same ringing clarity. Read More →

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Sonata in G Minor by Eccles, Part 3

I’ve decided to go directly to the fourth movement of the Sonata in G Minor by Eccles together in this post and skip over the third movement. No. 3, Adagio, in my opinion, with apologies to Eccles, Valentini and Bonporti, who are not around to contradict me, is a rather sleepy movement, in contrast to the fourth movement, Vivace, which sparkles with energy and interest, played at a rapid pace with exuberant off-the-string staccato strokes.

sleepy puppy

Photo by Adam Grabek

Bowing

One of the key bowing challenges quickly becomes apparent when students begin playing the 4th movement at the right tempo: to seamlessly move between on and off the string bow strokes.

Whilst each type of stroke is easy to play separately, transitioning smoothly from one to the other is more difficult to do musically. As every violinist knows, the bow’s natural tendency is to bounce! Lots of diligent practice is necessary to acquire good contact with the string. Allowing the bow to rebound off the string seems to counter the all the hard work we’ve done to prevent it happening. (I remember this stage well in my own studies.)

Listen to how well Felix Ayo does it in this excerpt from the 4th movement!

Although you can practise this technique directly in the piece, another issue arises – moving into different positions. A good solution I found for teaching the transition skill by itself is to use an exercise based on Suzuki’s Perpetual Motion. Start near the balance point, concentrating on the changes from on to off the string strokes. The bowhold must be soft and flexible with finger motion. Bear in mind that the bow bounces differently at a fast tempo and as the tempo increases the stroke becomes more like sautillé (see video below). Read More →

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Sonata in G Minor by Eccles, Part 2

The lively 2nd movement of Henry Eccles’ Sonata in G Minor has the unmistakable character of a composer who plays the violin well, but was it by Eccles? We’ll probably never know. Many of his published works were actually by Italian composers Giuseppe Valentini and Francesco Antonio Bonporti.

Deciding that there were greater opportunities for him in France than in his native England, Eccles joined one of Louis XIV’s bands or orchestras, probably spending time at the Sun King’s magnificently grandiose palace at Versailles. That alone would have been worth moving to Paris.

Versailles-in-winter

Versailles Palace in winter

Sonata in G Minor by Eccles, 2nd movement (Suzuki Volume 8)

Chords

G minor is a naturally easy key for violinists, and especially for its 4-note chords. In this rather quick tempo the chords should be played nimbly – to avoid sounding too laboured and heavy. To create lighter sounding chords, it makes good sense to play the whole of the 2nd movement mainly in the middle and upper half of the bow.

In the second phrase, some violinists just play the upper G alone rather than the whole G minor chord, and treat the whole phrase as softer echo of the first phrase. On the other hand, there are musicians who play the repeated phrase boldly as an affirmation of the first phrase. That’s the wonderful thing about music. The opportunities for creative interpretation are limitless. In either case, the upper note should carry the melody line clearly and not be submerged in the lower notes of the chord.

Minor Points

Some students have a little trouble playing the rhythm and beat in measure 30 clearly, mistaking the last two quavers (8th notes) for semiquavers (16th notes). The note values in this bar are more understandable by practising without the trill. Read More →

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Sonata in G Minor by Eccles, Part 1

In his quirky ingenious wisdom, Suzuki assembled a fascinating collection of pieces for Volume 8. It features two sonatas, two quick and two slow shorter showpieces, and unlike volumes 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10, no concertos. The first sonata is by Henry Eccles (1670–1742), born in England, the son of composer Solomon Eccles and brother of John Eccles, also a composer.

mountain-view

The delightful Sonata in G Minor by Eccles is rightfully his most famous work. Paradoxically, musicologists have revealed that the second part of the sonata was composed by Italian violinist-composer Francesco Bonporti.

The short first movement is marked Grave, a rather solemn and serious term that shouldn’t be taken too literally. Images and scenes can be more evocative of musical character and I recall practising this movement gazing out from my window to the majestic snow-capped mountains of the Japan Alps.

Henry Eccles wrote a lot of his compositions while living and working in Paris, which helps explain the continental flavour of his music. Vive la différence!

Recordings

Of all the recordings of the Sonata in G minor by Eccles, the one I like best is by violin virtuoso Felix Ayo, founder of the legendary Italian string ensemble, I Musici. Ayo, born in the Basque Country, is a naturalised Italian. Unfortunately his Phillips recording was published in Japan and is rather difficult to track down.

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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement (Part 3). The Way Home

Here we are at Part 3 of the Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement. On the way home at last!

On-the-way-back-home

By now most of the hard work is done, except for the bariolage in measures 105 – 116. Before we get to it, there’s one small point to watch out for – a clever little double stop where the main theme crosses back over into the solo melody in measure 94.

Don’t stop at the Double Stop

Bach intended this double stop to seamlessly transition to the solo. It’s an abrupt turn and can be a bit of a jolt, but don’t worry, he also wanted to make it obvious that the direction has changed. This means that it needs to be both smooth and prominent.

To achieve the right balance, work on each of these qualities separately. Create a circular practice loop of measures 93 and 94, practise first without the upper note, C and aim for an unbroken line from D to A (4th finger). Then give the A some weight, to mark the beginning of the solo melody. Finally, add in the C, which is where we say goodbye to the the tutti theme.

Bach-A-minor-3rd-mvt-Ex-G

The Bariolage

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