Vol 4

Concerto in A Minor, 3rd Movement, Vivaldi – Part 2

In my previous post about the 3rd movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, I ventured that it is more challenging than the 1st movement because of the quick tempo and the tricky arpeggio section on page 2. In this post we finish our climb to the top, examining the arpeggio section in detail – the key problems and the strategies for overcoming them.

But before we go there, I want to tell a little story behind the edition of this concerto in Suzuki’s Volume IV. Years ago, listening to the 3rd movement on Swiss Classic Radio, I was surprised to hear Itzhak Perlman play a completely different arpeggio section than the version I had studied. Tivadar NachezIt sounded easier. A bit of research revealed that Suzuki and many teachers of his time used an arrangement by Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachéz (1859-1930). Nachéz, who lived most of his life in London, was also a composer and arranger. He added a piano accompaniment to his edition of the concerto, perhaps the reason it became so widely accepted.

Predictably, there has been controversy since about which version is the correct one to study and play. Laurie Niles, founder of the excellent site violinist.com picks this up in her article on the piece here.

Improving the Hard Bits

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Concerto in A Minor, 3rd Movement, Vivaldi – Part 1

Antonio Vivaldi’s music is instantly recognizable and easily differentiated from his composer contemporaries, coloured with his unique Venetian flamboyance and flair. The 3rd movement of the Concerto in A Minor is written in his trademark lively style, more of a challenge to learn and play than the 1st movement, for two reasons: firstly it’s a little quicker – Presto; and secondly, there’s a tricky arpeggio section on page 2 (bars 75-90). What’s new here, technically speaking? This piece makes good use of 2nd position and features harmonics – neither exactly new to Book IV players, but common hereafter. And there’s an interesting twist to the story of that arpeggio section.

Students like the fact that the 3rd movement is just one of three parts of a whole piece of music, to be performed at one time. Knowing a seven page piece is an impressive achievement. When I joke, “Volumes IX and X are easy books: only one piece each,” they always ask, “How many pages do they have?

The energetic character of the music is clear from the beginning: vigorous bow strokes – staccato and martellato (hammered).

Main Study Points

  • A descending shift through 3rd and 2nd positions – bars 16-18 (intonation);
  • The run up to the harmonic E (harmonics);
  • High 3rd position – bars 58-60 (intonation);
  • An arpeggio section – bars 75-90 (memorizing, shifting, string crossing)

I’ll take these points one at a time: Read More →

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Bach Double Concerto

Johann Sebastian Bach composed this sublime concerto while employed at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen from 1717 to 1723. From this happy and productive period came the exuberant Brandenburg Concertos, the first book of the Well-tempered Clavier, the Orchestral Suites and many other important works.

The  Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor or Bach Double Concerto (jokingly called the Dark Bubble) is revered as the most perfect concerto of the baroque era. The voices of two violins intertwine in a fugue of matchless invention: from Bach’s musical imagination and mastery came a timeless wonder.

In a bold move, Suzuki placed violin II of the 1st movement at the end of Volume 4, perhaps using its allure to inspire students to overcome the challenges of learning. The melody line is more complex than the Vivaldi concertos and takes more time to memorize, but there are not too many daunting technical difficulties to surmount. There are a couple of leaps in the melody that require careful study and some sections that look awkward at first, but all these can be worked through in the buoyant momentum of discovery.

The Study Points

When we teach or study any piece of music, it’s useful to think about two broad perspectives: the purely musical or artistic view – how to perform and communicate the piece as a whole; and the physical techniques we must to master in order to play with unrestricted expression. Read More →

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Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, 1st Movement – Part 2

Antonio Vivaldi, the Italian violin virtuoso and composer made a spectacularly lasting contribution to music. He wrote a prodigious number of works while teaching music and directing the orchestra at Ospedale della Pietà where he worked. By the time he died at 63, his influence had spread far and wide, inspiring J.S. Bach and new generations of composers. Vivaldi’s music has a unique voice that is instantly recognizable: exuberant, lively, rhythmically inventive and harmonically compelling.

Some scholars have categorized as many as 639 instrumental compositions, including 522 concertos, of which 253 are violin concertos.

Suzuki had a lot to choose from. He saw that the Concerto in A Minor had exactly the right qualities for a significant place in the repertoire, a perfect combination of allure and challenge to make young violinists enjoy playing and working on it. It became a cornerstone of the Suzuki graduation system.

This post is Part 2 of Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, continuing on from where I left off last week.

Main Study Points (continued)

Some students groan when I start talking about study points. To them the words just seem to represent more work, but I like to give another perspective, and attempt a little humour.

When you learn a new piece of music, I say, invariably there are passages, notes, a few bars, parts that are more difficult to play than the rest. Real musicians rejoice when they find them.

This statement is usually met with a blank look. I press on regardless.

Yes, they are overjoyed because they have found the frontier, the leading edge of their current ability. Now they know exactly what to work on to become a better player! This is what separates real musicians from the hobby players. The work may be difficult, even exasperating, but it is exciting – the path ahead is clear. 

One or two roll their eyes, but I wax on with,

How else can your playing improve? Just mindlessly playing the easy stuff over and over, skirting around the challenging bits, cementing errors and wearing a groove in the brain. There’s nothing more boring. Now that’s hard work. But a true musician thinks, Great! I’ve found the point I need to study! Now I can make some real progress.  

I could go on. Music, study, life without challenge and inspiration – without trying to discover what to do – takes a kind of endurance I’m not prepared to endure. Are you?

But on with the show… Read More →

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Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi, 1st Movement – Part 1

When I first came across the Suzuki Method in the 1970’s, the Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi was the golden goal of all young Suzuki violin students in the city where I lived. The concerto was idolised as the first ‘real’ music in the repertoire, played by professional violinists around the world. This iconic Volume 4 piece was the acme of achievement, the first one using higher positions – and played with an orchestra! Antonio VivaldiI’m sure Antonio Vivaldi, who taught violin to children in the Pio Ospedale della Pietà orphanage in Venice, would be delighted with his concerto’s popularity among today’s young violinists.

Successive generations of Suzuki students have set their sights on higher and higher musical goals, but it has retained its attraction. I still love to teach and play this delightful evergreen piece. Unless you’ve become jaded by too much morning FM baroque radio, I sense we all like it, as everyone has since it was written in 1711 by the extraordinarily prolific Vivaldi, known as il Prete Rosso (The Red Priest) for his dashing red hair. Opus 3 No 6, RV 356 is kind on the ear and on the fingers – agreeable to listen to and relatively easy to play. This post is Part 1.

The Main Study Points

In a nutshell, the key points or technical challenges to study are:

  • The Solo section in bars 24-27. Learn this semiquaver (16th) section one bar at a time.
  • The Big Shift up to high D in bars 27 and 28. Three steps to a successful shift.
  • Those tricky notes in bars 33 and 34. The secret is… 2nd finger.
  • Bars 65-67 on page 3. This innocuous looking passage is hard to memorize and play with correct bows. Why? Read More →

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Seitz Concerto No 5, 3rd Movement

Back home after my years overseas, I was surprised to notice that the last Seitz piece in Volume 4, Concerto No. 5, 3rd movement, was sometimes skipped over by students, because they judged the double stop section on the second page too difficult. Admittedly, in contrast to the pretty opening melody, this section is more interesting than attractive, but Fritz Seitz wrote these concertos for student players, so perhaps it suffers a little from its intended purpose. Nevertheless once mastered, the flowers blossom and we all realize its musical drama, colours – and charm.

Main Study Points

The cheerful opening melody calls for a quick light bows and dancing staccato. Speed the bow to create the accent of the pulse – bringing out the first beat. Seitz uses this is little motif to start the phrases in this section – a quaver (8th note) before the beat leading to a rush of staccato semiquavers (16th notes). Push ahead in these little rapid runs – don’t let them lag behind. These quick semiquaver bursts establish the energetic character of the piece. Read More →

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How to Teach Seitz Concerto No 2, 3rd Movement

When I first began teaching the three Seitz concertos in Suzuki’s Book IV, I was curious about the composer. My thoughts were something like this: the music’s got a 19th century flavour, and these little concerto movements feature a surprising variety of styles and techniques. They are attractive and easy to play – ideal for student violinists. Who is F Seitz?

Fritz Seitz

Fritz Seitz

He was hard to track down in those days, but now you can find him in Wikipedia. Fritz (Friedrich) Seitz (born in Thuringia, Germany in 1848 – died 1918) was a concertmaster violinist who wrote chamber music as well as the eight student violin concertos. Now, many years later, I’ve taught this piece and the other two countless times. I still love it. And Concerto No. 2 still makes a great solo showpiece for little violinists. Here’s the points I teach. If you are a parent or student, listen often to the recordings before starting to learn and memorize.

Concerto No 2, 3rd Movement by Seitz

Main study points

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Concerto No 5, 1st Movement, F Seitz

Teach Suzuki Violin

Teach Suzuki Violin

As I said in my Song of the Wind post, from time to time I will cover  pieces from other Suzuki books, not necessarily in the order they appear. The reason for this is that you may be working with a later piece and would prefer not to wait until I finally get there from the beginning. That being said, if you’d like me to discuss a particular piece or aspect of Suzuki teaching, please reply in the comments below or email me at john@teachsuzukiviolin.com. Ok, Let’s get to it!

Concerto No. 5  is another of Fritz Seitz’s marvels of invention for the young student violinist. The first movement packs an array of little musical treasures into just two pages, with little gems such as dancing triplets, surprising key changes, a sonorous legato section, an exciting flow of rapid semiquavers, finishing with some emphatic double stops.

There are some great recordings available by artists such as David Cerone, David Nadian, Takako Nishizaki, William Preucil and the original Suzuki version by Koji Toyoda. The brillante section is quick, too fast for young students to play along with easily. During the buildup to normal tempo, practise slowly and evenly.

Main study points

  • The violin solo begins with a bold risoluto – whole bow minims in a short four bar phrase, backed up with four answering bars. This strong opening theme is balanced by the meandering eight bars of the third phrase. The bowing may feel a little unusual in this phrase, so memorize accurately from the beginning. Take care with the B# C# slur – using 2, 3 or 1, 2 fingering for B# – C#.
  • The dancing triplets at bar 30 are a burst of energy. Listen to the melody and pulse on the first notes of each triplet, without becoming too obvious or heavy.

Click on the scores below to view and print. A PDF version is also available in Resources.

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