Vol 7

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 www.cmuse.org)

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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String Quartet No 15 in D minor, by Mozart – the Trio

Thanks everyone for making this a great year! As the holiday season comes to an end, I’m looking enthusiastically forward to the New Year. (I loved having the chance to spend time with family and friends, playing music together, swimming at the beach – it’s summer here – and taking some fabulous forest treks.) I’m eager to get back to the work I love – and to the String Quartet No 15 in D minor, by Mozart from Volume 7. In this post we have a closer look at the Trio. Mozart won’t mind (and I suspect you won’t) if I include this photo of a friendly koala we met on one of our walks.


The Trio in a nutshell

At the end of the D minor Minuet, the Trio steps straight into D major, with a violin solo that climbs up to a high G in a playful dotted rhythm in arpeggio-like steps, slipping easily down an octave before winding its way back down to D. An 8-bar bridging section follows, culminating in the high A – before returning to the ascending melody from the first part of the trio. The Trio sounds simple and indeed it is, especially now that Mozart has written it for us!

The Dotted Rhythm

Take care to balance the pairs of notes, avoiding undue heaviness on the semiquaver (1/16th note) and allowing the dotted quaver (1/8th note) to sing a little.

Getting this rhythm just right is arguably the most important element to master in the Trio. Start near the tip, playing in the upper half so that G (measure 43) has a whole bow.


Intonation and the High A

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Minuet and Trio from String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, Mozart

In Nurtured by Love, Suzuki recalls how he was transfixed by the experience of listening to Mozart’s music, overwhelmed by sweet sadness and love, losing feeling in his arms. By the time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart left us at the tragically young age of 35 years, he had created a great living trove of the planet’s finest and deepest music, eternal treasures for generations of musicians and music lovers to come, profoundly influencing the direction of music forever. We can only look and listen with wonder at the extraordinary range, abundance and transcendental quality of his compositions that we enjoy with such love and gratitude. Through the human spirit that permeates his music, he urges us to be kind to each other – especially to the children.

Mozart by Greuze

Perhaps Suzuki’s reverence for Mozart caused him to hold out for six long books of music before introducing us to him in Volume 7, with the first violin part of the lovely Minuet and Trio from String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, one the 6 quartets dedicated to Haydn. While it is studied as a piece that can stand alone quite well, I strongly recommend students to listen to (and eventually play) in the original form and context as a quartet.

The Main Points

We play a little higher than in any previous piece in the repertoire: an A on the E string in 7th position, yet we learn more important points from the dotted rhythms. In the Minuet there is the dotted quaver – semiquaver (dotted eighth note – sixteenth note) combination, which is reversed in the Trio. The two rhythms are only visually mirrored opposites: Mozart gives each a completely unique character.

The Dotted Rhythm in the Minuet

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