The Music

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.


The delightful Sonata in G Minor by Eccles is rightfully his most famous work. Paradoxically however, 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!


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!


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.


The Bariolage

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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd Movement (Part 2)

Harmony, melody, rhythm, volume and speed: the musical elements musicians must draw together into a seamless whole. Just how fast, how loud, what shape, which colours and what kind of connections between notes depends on the point of view of the performer.


To illustrate this, I’d like you to listen to the audio below. I’ve put together the first 7 or 8 bars of the 3rd movement played by 10 different violinists and orchestras. Listening to them shows the extraordinarily unique way each player and orchestra realizes the same music. Studying and performing a work, we all have freedom to choose what makes sense to us and how we want to communicate the music to the audience.

First, choose the one you like best and tell us why in the comments for this post or email me at To make a comment, click on ADD REPLY under the post title, then Have your say… will appear at the bottom of the post with the comments box. Thanks!

Second, see if you can guess the correct order of the violinists. I’ll reveal it in the next post. Here’s the list in random order:

Julia Fischer
Itzhak Perlman
Issac Stern
Susan Lautenbacher
Hilary Hahn
Andrew Manze
Simon Standage
Koji Toyoda
Henryk Szeryng
Takako Nishizaki


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Concerto in A Minor, Bach – 3rd movement (Part 1)

For the 3rd movement of the Concerto in A Minor, Bach assigned the tempo Allegro assai (very fast) and yet there are significant variations in the way this tempo is interpreted by violinists and orchestras around the world, from what feels like a meandering Allegretto, right up to a breathless Presto, each creating quite different qualities of energy and rhythm.

Apart from the questions about a suitable speed, rhythm and beat are the key elements that makes this movement move – and dance, so much so that occasionally some violinists do literally dance as they play it on stage. See what British violinist Hilary Hahn does in the above YouTube video and how the slurs are arranged to enhance the bowing of the jig-like rhythm in this spirited performance.

Whether they are slurred as in Hilary’s performance or not, playing the triplet rhythms in the opening theme presents few problems. It becomes more challenging to maintain and project the same rhythmic impulse in the solo sections, with their exciting semiquaver runs, especially in measures 31 to 44 of the first solo.

The Main Study Points (Page 1)

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Concerto in G Minor by Vivaldi, 3rd movement – Part 2

A music critic once said Vivaldi’s concertos all sound the same, an astounding opinion in view of the extraordinary breadth, depth and variety of this Italian Baroque composer’s music. From the same perspective you could see the French Impressionist artist Claude Monet’s paintings as all looking the same!


And just as it is easy to identify a Monet painting, Vivaldi’s music has a unique sound that we all recognise – and an unmistakable brightness, vivacity and exuberance.

Vivaldi enriched us all immeasurably, yet despite the quantity of celebrated music he wrote, the prestigious commissions and honours, he lived his final years in financial difficulty. Unfortunately this is not an unusual story for musicians, composers and teachers throughout history: Much of humanity’s great artistic achievements have been meagerly rewarded. Like many teachers today, Vivaldi was on a yearly contract, with his teacher’s position at Ospedale della Pietà depending on a vote of the Board – and yet the requirements of his job were considerable. Apart from the demands of teaching, he was required to compose an oratorio or concerto for every feast.

In this post, Part 2 of the Concerto in G Minor by Vivaldi, 3rd movement, we look at the study points for pages 2 and 3.

The Main Study Points

Intonation Quicksand!

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Concerto in G Minor by Vivaldi, 3rd movement – Part 1

Concerto in G Minor by Vivaldi, 3rd movement in Volume 5 is an exciting point in the Suzuki violin repertoire, where for the first time students complete a whole concerto in one sitting. The three movements of Vivaldi’s A minor concerto, in contrast, are studied separately in Books 4 and 5, making them seem like separate pieces. The G minor concerto is classic violin wholefood – healthy traditional fare in three connecting courses.


Yet for some students, Volume 5 is a challenging book. Setting up our music school on return from Japan and the UK, we received a few queries from parents whose children had lost momentum and wanted to revitalise their playing. Some had stalled in Book 5 and were floundering on Vivaldi’s G Minor Concerto. “It’s too long and too hard,” they complained.

It is easy to see why some students get stuck here. The G Minor takes longer to learn, memorise and perfect than earlier pieces and has a number of passages that are more difficult to play nicely in tune. All in all, Book 5 requires a real up-step in playing, so if practice is irregular or patchy, there won’t be enough momentum to progress at the same rate as the earlier books.

The Big Picture

For many students, the key technical challenge of the 3rd movement is achieving accurate intonation, mainly on the second page from the solo, beginning at measure 79. The chief culprits are innocent looking A♭s and E♭s, which are not difficult or unusual notes in themselves, yet are harder to precisely pin down in some awkward places, as we shall see later.

The tempo is more demanding than the 1st movement of the concerto, particularly for the final solo (on the 3rd page). Make sure the piece is securely memorised before bringing it up to speed.

The Main Points

1. Positions and Shifting

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 2nd movement

Here we are at the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 2nd movement. When I hear this piece, it reminds me of the first time I discovered Bach’s music. It was a Brandenburg Concerto and I was perhaps three years old, transfixed by the happy ocean of sound that was somehow both familiar and new.

Photo by Griffin Keller

Photo by Griffin Keller

Years later in the the teaching studio, I see that same love and attraction to Bach’s music in the faces of very young students, the essence of kindness.

The Main Points

In the solo violin part of the A Minor Concerto 2nd movement, a distinctive feature becomes apparent, somewhat unusual for Bach: breathing spaces of a measure or two in between the phrases. Many of Bach’s compositions have a non-stop quality, carrying you upwards and onwards with intertwined harmonies and counterpoint, overlapping phrases, leaps into other registers and excursions into surprising places. In this movement, however, we sometimes get the chance to stand still and contemplate the scenery…

Where’s the Beat?

Study Tip: Divide the beats into quavers (8th notes) – at least until the piece is memorised. Read More →

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041- Part 3 (final)

This post is the 3rd and final part of the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach BWV 1041, 1st movement.


As soon as I write this, I think: no music is really finished and final. Bach won’t be adding to any of his scores, yet his music didn’t end with his departure. Just as a script is not the play, the score is not the music . Each time you perform a piece, you start anew, with the potential to discover new insights, meanings and ways of expressing the music inside the score.

Whenever someone asks me how musicians (especially classical musicians) can bear to play the same piece of music over and over, I think of the extraordinary concerts of the Tchaikovsky concerto I’ve experienced, by a dozen or so particular musicians – each so different and unique. When composers leave us, their music lives on in musicians’ souls.

Ok, before this sounds too much like pontificating, let’s look at the main study points on page 3. You’ll be happy to know that most of the hard work has been done in pages 1 and 2.

The Long and Ascending Road

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Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach – Part 2

This post continues our look at the main study points of the Violin Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach, which I described previously as the iconic concerto in the Suzuki violin repertoire, the piece that elevates you into the world of Mozart concertos and more.


Of course to reap the benefits, students need to put in a lot of hard work learning to play this music. The rewards  are plentiful: refinements to technique – better intonation in minor keys, shifting with pinpoint accuracy and enhanced bow division; musical developments – creating complex phrase shapes, subtle dynamics, experience playing with the orchestra; and increased memorising power.

The first objective of learning a new piece is to memorise the music accurately, so you can focus totally on the musical, expressive, interpretative qualities – and bring it up to the correct tempo.

The Key Study Points

1. The Violin Stands Alone

The first time a student rehearses the first movement with the piano accompaniment or orchestra, it can be a slightly unnerving experience to be left alone in measures 61 and 62, then in again in 65 and 66 as the accompaniment falls silent. Maintain an steady pulse and avoid the temptation to rush ahead!


2. Intonation

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Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach – Part 1

The Concerto in A Minor by J.S. Bach in Volume 7 is the iconic concerto in the Suzuki violin repertoire, a kind of doorway to the upper levels. When students master this immortal masterpiece, they find themselves in a different world and look forward with confidence to the two Mozart concertos and beyond. The A minor is an enriching piece to learn to play, and since it is such a well-loved piece, there’s a wealth of wonderful recordings by great players on CD and video to help your studies.


Art of Fugue, J.S. Bach. (courtesy of

Visiting Barcelona several years ago, we came across an intriguing little music shop, its venerable entrance beckoning us to take a look within. In a dark and cramped back room I stumbled across a treasure trove of old scores in tattered hard-cover folders, neatly bound together with faded black ribbon.

Take your time,” Allie had said with a knowing smile as I reached up eagerly for the folder titled, Bach Violin Concerti, written in elegant white lettering, “I’ll be in the clothes shop next door...”

Old editions of scores can provide useful insights into how music was played and interpreted by past musicians. Looking at the violin part of the A minor concerto, I immediately noticed a small significant detail.

The first note was marked with a zero – an open E. I’d been taught to play this E in 3rd position (2nd finger on A string) and always wanted it to ring out a little more, which yes, can be achieved with a fingered note – yet is so much cleaner and more natural with an open E. In my mind, the first movement needs a good kick off to get our hearts beating and an open string might work better. I remember watching video performances by David Oistrakh and Isaac Stern, who both begin the concerto this way.

This post is the first of 3 parts on the Bach concerto: page 1, up to measure 55.

The Tutti

In a bold and usual move by Bach, the soloist joins the first violins for the opening tutti (measures 1 to 24), making the solo violin part less transparent when played with the orchestra. This robust tutti pushes on through a false cadence in measure 17 to end emphatically in E major to set the stage for the espressivo entry of the first solo.

The opening motif with its characteristic bowing reoccurs in various forms in the tutti and later, unleashing new bursts of energy.

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