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July 2009

Grabbing me after all

July 2, 2009 04:17

Phyllis asked me at the last orchestra concert how I was enjoying the violin sheet music I'd gotten from her.  I felt a little sheepish:  I'd been playing orchestra music, and viola music, not solo violin music.  I had a couple of vague plans to play something from her collection in church and had brought it up with the music director, who was also enthusiastic, but we hadn't gotten further.  I also had had a thought, inspired by Tom Holzman's comment on my blog, of learning the Franck sonata in A major, which Phyllis played for her senior recital many years ago, and playing it for her.

I brought this up with my teacher at my last lesson, after the Stamitz.  We had decided that after my 3 weeks in Europe, sans instrument, I would get back to violin in August.  I ordered the sheet music for and listened to Bloch's "Simchas Torah (Rejoicing)" with the thought of maybe playing that, on my teacher's recommendation.  She had another (high-school age) student who played it, and she said he did a wonderful job.  My first impression of that piece is very positive, to listen to, at least when Joshua Bell plays it.  It is beautiful and joyful, as the title would suggest.  I hear birds singing, people dancing, not raucously but quietly, maybe just alone out in the yard or the woods, happy to be alive.  But the sheet music is intimidating.  It's very high, it's got double stops and unconventional rhythms (birds don't sing in straight 16th note arpeggios!)  Trying to imagine myself and not Joshua Bell playing this, I feel daunted, like if I attempt this I'll be biting off more than I can chew, the way I did with the Rondo Cappricioso. 

I expressed that to my teacher, and she was encouraging, she said she thought I could do this.  I can take it slowly, bit-by-bit, not practically devour it whole the way I did with the Stamitz 1st movement. 

I also mentioned Franck, though, as a possible alternative, and she was enthusiastic about that too.  She thought my personal connection with the piece, the way I got the music through Phyllis, might help me.  I seem to need that sort of connection, because I'm just not very good at being able to pick up a semi-random piece of solo violin music and fall in love with it without some prodding.  So I also got a recording of the Franck--there were so many to choose from on iTunes that it was hard to decide.  I ended up choosing a recording by Sarah Chang, whom I like well enough as a violinist, largely for reasons of price and what came with it if I bought the whole CD since they wouldn't let me buy all 4 movements individually.  But with this CD I could get all 4 movements for a reasonable price plus some other violin sonatas that I might be interested in later.

I've listened to it a couple times now, and except for the 4th movement, it's just not grabbing me.  I don't dislike it, but I don't particularly like it either.  It may be the weather:  the Boston area had one of its cloudiest/rainiest Junes on record, and July has not been any better so far.  Somehow this sonata is reminding me of rain.  Or more specifically, of (hypothetical) rainy days in France, with the lousy weather making the whole experience somehow less than I hoped for.  It doesn't remind me of Phyllis either.  I can't imagine her at 18, playing this piece.  And, the piano part sounds more interesting than the violin part.  Or, there's too much piano.  Or something.  I feel a bit like that idiot in Amadeus who told Mozart that his piece had too many notes. 

I tried Wikipedia, which told me that Franck was something of a late bloomer.  Although he was a piano virtuoso when he was young, he really found his calling on the organ when he was in his 30's.  And he's most well-known for pieces he wrote in middle age or later.  That is pretty cool, I like that.  And he gave the violin sonata to Ysaye, a fellow Belgian, as a wedding gift.  The image of one man giving another man a violin sonata as a wedding gift . . . could that even happen these days?  Maybe in Europe.  I like that too, thinking about Franck and Ysaye being buddies. 

Yet, here I am, writing about it instead of practicing . . .


Well, I played through the 4th movement of the Franck this morning, and my enthusiasm for the piece--at least this movement--has really grown.  And, the sun's out.  Hmm . . .

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