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May 2010

The Underachiever's Concerto

May 7, 2010 13:04

Since I last blogged, I've had 2 concerts, a vacation, and a viola recital, changed my lesson arrangement, and begun a viola hiatus.  I missed blogging the entire month of April 2010, the first month I've missed since I started this blog in 2006.  I would have half-formed blogs in my head, think "I should write that down," and then something would happen that seemed more important.  I mean, if your recital is coming up, you should be practicing, right?  Not blogging about practicing (or blogging about not practicing)!

Watching my daughter cringe at the prospect of her first real recital, coming up in two weeks, brings back some uncomfortable memories.  At her age (10), I enjoyed playing violin for myself, but was terrified to play alone in front of a group.  I didn't play particularly well in that situation, either.  Everyone says that they don't, but with me it was really true.  I sounded and looked as uncomfortable as I felt.  I finally seem to be getting over this as an adult, but the inconvenient truth is that it's still a slow process.  Apparently one doesn't get over 30 years of industrial strength stage fright in 2 or 3 years of trying.  I still get nervous and it still wreaks havoc on my intonation and my vibrato.  

The night before the recital, our church had a talent show, and I decided to do a run-through of my recital piece there, the first movement of Anton Stamitz' viola concerto in D.  My teacher thought this was a great idea, to be able to perform the piece twice.  

Anton Stamitz seems to have been overshadowed by his older brother Karl, his father Johann, and his famous violin student, Rudolphe Kreutzer.  The Stamitz family were very active in the Mannheim school in the 18th century court of Charles III Philip.  According to Gary Smith of the online Mozart forum, Wolfgang Mozart wrote to his father Leopold in July 9, 1778, from Paris, "Of the two Stamitz brothers only the younger one [=Anton] is here, the elder [=Carl] (the real composer a la Hafeneder) is in London.  They are indeed two wretched scribblers, gamblers, swillers and adulterers - not the kind of people for me.  The one who is here has scarcely a decent coat to his back."

Even Anton's birth and death dates are not known exactly.  He is listed in wikipedia as (1750 or 1754) - (1798 or 1809). So he could have lived as briefly as 44 years or as long as 59.  (I find myself hoping that it was 59).

 I first heard this concerto when I was 17, living in West Berlin between high school and college.  My father, a chemistry professor, was doing a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet.  I was playing violin and studying at a Musikschule, who had a chamber orchestra accompanying a soloist.  I don't remember the name of the soloist; but I do remember that I played first violin in the orchestra accompanying her.  I'm not sure why the piece impressed me so much at the time.  I'd heard soloists before, but maybe not a viola, or maybe not someone who was essentially a peer of mine.  And I found the piece very hummable, it stayed in my head long after rehearsal was over.

Many years later, when I was learning the viola myself, I thought I'd just come back to it, and that it would be easy to find.  I knew that violists frequently played a Stamitz viola concerto in D, I assumed it was that one from Berlin.  So I went on YouTube, but it wasn't there.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  Finally I took a chance on sheet music for a viola concerto in D by A. Stamitz that Shar had for sale, and got the right thing.  I blogged about that, back in 2006.  At the time I thought it was too hard for me, but maybe I'd be able to learn it in a year or two.  Well, I'm not too far behind schedule!

I introduced it at the talent show by pointing out that it wasn't on YouTube--yet.  Now it is:

At the recital, the violinist who performed after me played a Grieg sonata for violin and piano, which was very different.  Watching him, I felt a little nervous.  I'd already decided, and announced to everyone who cared (as well as to some people who didn't), that this recital was going to be my farewell to the viola for an indefinite period, in order to concentrate on violin.   Was that decision a mistake?  I had gotten myself to the point of being able to perform Anton Stamitz on the viola, but something like the Grieg on the violin?  I could never do that.  It was complicated, confusing, and passionate.  Unlike the Stamitz, there were some parts of the piece that I actively disliked--even as the soloist, who was another adult amateur like me, did a great job. 

But honestly, I think I'm finally done with this piece, in a good way.  It was more fun than a Kreutzer etude, but once I'd memorized it and performed it more than once, I started to see its limitations too.  Except for that high A, it's pretty comfortable.  It's full of arpeggio's.  It's all in D.  It's linear.  There's a lot more music out there, and I have work to do.


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