October 2009

Paganini with prunes

October 28, 2009 20:42


I didn’t respond to it at the time but I remember being somewhat startled by a comment on this site about Paganini being a second rate (?) composer/orchestrator, his name being coupled with Chopin in this regard.  The work of the latter cited was the f# minor piano concerto.  Actually I was playing that work in orchestra at the time and thought that in spite of the criticism of banality it actually had quite a few creative and interesting aspects and was thrilling to play.
Alas, I cannot offer the slightest sensible analysis of Chopin or even Paganini for that matter,  but I have been pondering this question a bit recently.  Since my in depth musical knowledge is profoundly limited I tend to see the following three criteria as equaling a `good` composer/orchestrator:   1) good tunes 2) interesting combinations of orchestral instruments and 3) knowing when to stop (as opposed to Schubert…)
I adopt these rather ad hoc criteria because in the above thread I cite, Paganini was defended quite admirably but in what seemed to me a slightly patronizing way, `we have to remember he was an operatic composer writing in the Rossini type genre for a certain public etc etc.`   For myself this doesn’t interest me so much.  Recently I have been listening to Paganini four.  It seems to me that it meets all my criteria to be truly great music perfectly well.  It has beautiful singing melodies, interesting orchestration (note that Paganini was very creative in who accompanies what with bassoons underlying violin tunes and so forth.  Made me think Pag was a tad influenced by Beethoven at times.) and no overkill. Enough said on why I like this great music;)
As for performer, I suspect quite a few people on this board may not have heard Ferraresi.  I was lucky enough to have the complete recordings presented to me by a good friend. This Italian player is simply extraordinary. To give you an idea of his stature,  he was invited to follow Zimbalist as director of the Cleveland Institute.  He turned the job down because he wanted to stay in Italy.    A pupil of Ysaye (purportedly his favorite) he has the most astonishing fast twitch violin chops I am aware of.  He can do what one might call virtuoso stuff with considerably more speed and precision than many of the greats (at times....).  At his best he is way ahead of the monster pack.  In some ways he is like Prihoda on speed, but good heavens he has a sound. To go with it. It all sings. At his best there is –no-one- better and I include Kogan, Heifetz et al in that statement.  The problem is that he is not always at his best;) Not only are all his recordings either live or one  shots,  but he is wildly inconsistent so he can sound truly horrible at times….  However, his Paganini 4 is so death defying I rate it above any other recording of this work.  The cadenza is also one of the spookiest demos of violin technique I have ever heard, even after Vengerov,  Kogan and Fodor.  As a demonstration of his inconsistency the recording is followed by a rendering of Bazzini`s violin concerto no. 4 that is truly crude and dull. Speaking of the relative value of virtuoso works,  that goes for the composition too! Maybe there is a connection…..

2 replies | Archive link

Mining for prunes

October 25, 2009 19:38


Aside from prunes does anyone have a secret addiction?
I have to confess I really love DeBeriot`s music.   It all started a few years back when I recall reading that a noted teacher used DeBeriot`s method books as his main study material.  I thought that was a lilt odd at the time given that although 9 is purportedly a rite of passage to bigger works IE love it and drop it,   the rest of the material is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Kreutzer, Rode and Don’t.  Over the years I have been exploring his material and have been very satisfied with the results.  And for people who want a small break from the old faves it is a route well worth taking.
As an aside I would mention that the uncritical use of etudes because they are famous or in a particular sequence (next one please) is a no no as far as I am concerned.  One has to approach each new work thoughtfully and decide how it will affect the whole plan you have for the student in question.  This caveat aside let us suppose you decided to do Caprice no 3 from his book of six Caprices (you can download free from IMSLP) it might serve as an alternative or preview to the similar Kreutzer etude in which a large number of 16th notes are slurred within a single bow stroke.
One would then have to make some decisions about how to mine this resource and in what order.   What exactly do I mean by this?
Well, I believe that a good etude is a huge laboratory in which the student and teacher can explore together many different aspects of technique.   Of course one has a basic objective in mind but by applying a whole range of possibilities the aim itself may well be achieved more quickly, with greater felicity or even in some cases actually changed as one realizes that an apparently simple work has actually got more subtle and important goals.
However, let us assume that in this case the objective is basically a fairly fast left hand with sustained legato bowing.  A very laudable aim. (The same skill is required in for example the Wieniawski 2nd concerto in the section using up bow staccatos: whole bars of 16th notes are played in single bow strokes and so on.)  In essence we are talking about independence of the left and right hand which will develop all aspects of the player as a bonus.
Having talked this over with the student one might begin by setting some realistic goals for the first week of practice.  It seems to me that one needs to consider three categories: left hand, right hand, and combined.  So the integrated goal is :
`perform at a moderate tempo , in tune, with good bow distribution.`
One could then discuss with the student how to achieve these goals.
Example for left hand:
Repetition hits; keeping fingers down; preparing fingers for string crossing; a few rhythms; fast fingers/slow tempo; trill the shifts.
Example for right hand:
Establish bow speed on single open string before beginning etude; practice with no left hand; practice with no left hand stopping the string crossings; practice working through to the other end of the bow in bars where there are only four notes in a bow stroke;   start up bow/start down bow; practice I separate bows; use different bowing combinations and play in various parts of the bow; play with various accents within a long bow stroke.
Obviously a lot of the previous work involves combining but one might perhaps put in this slightly fuzzy category: independence work (sustained long tone on g string and finger left hand for entire etude);   play with a whole variety of dynamics within one bow stroke;   practice with no left hand weight at finger tip, then 25% , then 50%, then required amount; turn it into a study for left and right hand pizzicato. Practice sautille, various types of spiccato and flying staccato etc. Play it as slowly as possible with no vibrato.
Obviously the teacher has to use  judgment in helping the student experiment with how they practice and when to stop!  But I think it is worth encouraging this kind of technical exploration of material from an early age so that the student is always able to keep in active mind in private practice.

13 replies | Archive link

Have more faith in prunes....

October 19, 2009 15:40


the older I get the more dumb things I do it seems. Got a phone call last week from a family living
something like two hours drive from me who want their daughter (s) to take lessons with me. I was so awed by the thought of anyone driving that far to see me that I forgot to ask a crucial question:   `what pieces can the elder 9 year old play?` No problem I thought. Experience tends to suggest that  nine (and seven) probably means a quick go at the Reiding concerto (which I actually like a lot) kind of level. Hah!
 Anyway they turned up none the worse for the drive seeming awfully cheerful. `Who are her most recent teachers?`   Get the name of very famous Japanese pedagogue. Uh ohhhhh.
 `ER. What concertos has she played?` Mozart 3, 5, Bruch, Lalo etc.   Waves of self doubt roll over me. These poor people travel all this way and I probably have very little to offer except a cup of tea.
Lesson begins. First movement of Haydn c major concerto. Cool. At least I can demonstrate this one from memory. I take a peek at her copy. Have never seen so many annotations and sentences in Japanese. Heart and confidence sink even lower.  Do I really have anything to tell this young lady? Playing begins. In tune, rhythmical, somewhat stylish, all ff. Really rather enjoyable.
Knees locked back tight against the joint; right hand thumb bent the wrong way; right hand finger immobile; arm vibrato and only one speed;   very little use of sound points and bow speeds to create colors.
`Okay. Let’s take a look at the thumb. This is called finger staccato.....`
Basics are still out of fashion. I still have a job.

14 replies | Archive link

Polish the mirror and grind the prune.

October 6, 2009 22:35


one of the reasons I respect adult beginners so much is that they are conforming to a philosophy of life that I hold to be fundamental: if you don’t strive continuously to learn new things then life is not much different from death.  
This seems straightforward enough but it has a number of dimensions  which, in my opinion one needs to constantly reflect upon. Suppose one starts out with a decision to learn something new that challenges you to get out of the rut.  The first thing one often finds is that even the first initial stage of acting upon that decision is hard enough given our propensity for staying all our lives in our current comfort zone.  Other people’s skepticism or hilarity is often a factor here, too.   Having surmounted this, one may then find there is the problem of sustaining our involvement given the sacrifices it may entail which can be as serious as losing touch with or moving away from many of our current circle of associates and friends.  Indeed,   when we make a choice to grow rather than stagnate and when someone close does not wish to follow in some sense then the end result can be the destruction of apparently solid relationships, marriages or what have you.   
After all this we may still need to face the more long term  final question which is as scary as it is subtle: does staying with this new venture and exploring it in ever greater depths  constitute `a new and adequate challenge?`   Or is it as deceptive a rut in the long term as if one had done nothing at all?   It’s a question only the individual concerned can answer and it’s not always easy to be honest about it.  Facing hard truth`s about ourself is never easy or fun.

9 replies | Archive link

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