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Repertoire challenges

Lydia Leong

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This thread is inspired by the "Hardest Concerto" thread. I thought I'd try to ask a potentially more "practical" and specific question, namely:

Of each of the major cornerstones of the violin repertoire, what is the difficulty level, and what are the specific challenges inherent in it?

(This is of particular interest to me, because I'm thinking about what I want to play next, and what will cater to my strengths and challenge my weaknesses without causing undue frustration.)

I'll start with two examples:

Mendelssohn concerto: Moderate difficulty. Requires blending classical style with romantic flair, and a technique that allows the challenges to *sound* effortless.

Beethoven concerto: High difficulty. Use of scale-type passages requires absolute purity of intonation, as well as significant musical maturity needed to make those passages interesting, and supreme technical control in order to convey the musical subtleties.

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 07-28-2000).]

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For me, Mendelssohn is easy - not fingertwisting, a bit uncomfortable at times, but very very playable.

Beethoven is even easier for me - key of D major, doesn't require a lot of vibrato, has a joyful old Austrian style, no flying notes.

Both those concerti utilize the natural resonance of the violin (open string keys)

Glazunov: HIGH difficulty level because of the crazy modulations, unviolinistic passages, and incredibly tough last movement (only Milstein plays it with the grace it needs). Most people play the last movement too fast because it's very hard to get the notes out otherwise.

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Originally posted by Lydia Leong:

This thread is inspired by the "Hardest Concerto" thread. I thought I'd try to ask a potentially more "practical" and specific question,

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 07-28-2000).]

Thanks for branding my thread impractical Lydia.

Just kidding smile.gif, it probably was a bit too broad.

Anyway, don't feel accomplished enough to post on this thread. You guys talk about concertos that I can only dream of playing as being "moderately diffucult" or "extremely easy".

I think I'll go practice. Mabey when I'm done I'll be able to match wits with you on undulating modulating scale patterns of the Mendelssohn and Beethoven.


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In reference to the "difficult factor" of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, here is my opinion: I think that at least one reason it's not easy for violinist to play is because of it's length. It has been evident to me that even concert artists will lose their concentration in a concerto that is so long. Even if the player only occasionally becomes unfocused, it can sound wayward, disjointed.. unconnected. When this happens, the interpretation usually becomes unsatisfying for me, the listener. It will sound more like a (long) technical exercise, instead of the masterpiece that it most certainly is.


HuangKaiVun said, in part:

> Beethoven is even easier for me - key of D major, doesn't require a lot of vibrato, has a joyful old Austrian style, no flying notes.

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I agree that Mendelssohn is one of the easiest to play among the popular concertos. No offense, but the competition syndrome has caused many of my younger students to be playing it (and others like Bruch No. 2 in d)

at a relatively young age.

Too be realistic, almost all concertos are quite difficult, unless you are talking about those by Rieding, Seitz, Accolay (some of the students concertos are quite 'tricky')which I will regard them as easy for intermediates.

The hardest concerto I have learned, technically, is the Elgar concerto. You need a good stamina to endure such a long and challenging piece.

Talking 'bout being lyrically difficult, I vote for the Beethoven....K

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i have to agree with jon and digimark... it is kinda haughty to say the mendolssohn or beethoven concertos are easy. the long scale-like passages in both concertos can be difficult. also you have to be pretty fluent in the higher registers to be effective in these pieces.

one of my favorite concertos is the beethoven. and i think just for the length and maturity of playing required, it is a difficult piece.

i think wieniawski's polonaise in d major is one of the hardest pieces i have ever played. the difficulty lies in wieniawski's style, lots of double-stops and scales in almost non-existing octaves. especially when he puts in double, triple stops in high positions and then requires that the notes be very fluid -- that's really quite a challenge (you have to watch out for so many things at once). though his style is never too elusive, unlike prokofiev sometimes. because of these factors, wieniawski's violin concertos are also, i find, quite difficult in the many technical feats.

[This message has been edited by Nagase (edited 07-31-2000).]

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  • 7 months later...

I can't agree. I think Gavinies falls below the difficulty of Wieniawski's Ecole Moderne, and certainly below the difficulty of Paganini's Caprices.

The emphasis is a little different, though -- tackle a bunch of challenges and really make the tone sing, whereas in Paganini, etc. you first have this mess of technique to tackle and master -- and then, if you're good enough, you can make it sing, too.

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The Bartok #2 should be mentioned here, as

should the Schonberg and William Shumann.

Lydia, there is a big gap between hitting

the notes to a Concerto and playing it

well. The notes arent that hard to the

Mendelssohn, but it is still a very difficult


I have heard the Mendelssohn at least 200

times at auditions, but I have never heard

one person play the first page in tune, not

one. Sure, everyone is nervous and a lot of

money is at stake, but it is extremely

hard to walk out behind a screen and play that first page in tune.

As for the Beethoven, most people have the

common sense not to try that at auditions.

To walk out and play those octaves in tune

under pressure is , well, impressive, to

say the least.

I played the Mendelssohn when I was a boy,

then again in College. I havent touched it

since, not my style. I play the Ysaye Sonatas

all the time, have played most in recital

several times. For me, they are much easier

than the Mendelssohn or Beethoven.

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It all depends on what you consider difficult, I suppose. There are some works that are finger-twisters. There are some works that are musically difficult. There are works that combine varying degrees of the two.

The Mendelssohn has some dangerous spots on the first page. The Beethoven has those opening octaves you mentioned. The Dvorak also opens with a treacherous passage of octaves. And the 4th Mozart opens with that extremely dangerous D-major triad. All of these spots are particularly difficult because they are also exposed. (At least with the octaves in the Mendelssohn you get a bit to settle in first -- the others you have to attempt 'cold'.)

Works with a more classical bent -- and the Mendelssohn sits on that border of classical inspiration but nonetheless in the Romantic vein -- end up being more difficult interpretively, sure.

I think a distinction must also be made between playing a work *acceptably* -- good enough that you could perform it for a largely uncritical audience -- and playing a work to a standard that you'd be comfortable presenting professionally, whether in an audition or in a major concert venue. Difficulty judged in that light is going to be different.

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Hi Iwl, yes, you nailed it. Some pieces are

hard on the fingers, and some hard on the soul and the mind. I dont want to change the

tone of this thread, but I have an analogy:

In Orchestral auditions, everybody plays

Don Juan fairly well, they all hit lots of

notes. Pull out Beethoven Eroica Scherzo,

it is a disaster. The Sherzo is probably the

simplest Symphonic movement Beethoven ever

wrote, but for some reason, noone can play it


Why? Because it is simple, must be perfect,

impossible to hide behind virtuosic technical

skills. Same thing with the Mendelssohn

Concerto, no room for error there.

I think a better title to this thread might

be " What are the more difficult pieces,

technically" because in my experience the

Concertos with the smallest note count have

the greatest percentage of error.

[This message has been edited by DavidK (edited 03-19-2001).]

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Originally posted by lwl:

"The Dvorak also opens with a treacherous passage of octaves. And the 4th Mozart opens with that extremely dangerous D-major triad"

The Dvorak concerto opens with octaves? I thought it opened with just embellishments of A minor and E major arpeggios basically (a few thirds thrown in there, too).

I love the Dvorak concerto, but no one plays it! People would rather play Sibelius or Tchaikovsky. Why? The Dvorak is just as lyrical (2nd mvt is breathtaking!) and has many technical challenges as well...It's a great piece!

As far as Mozart 4. Those arpeggios are not difficult if you stay in one position. Just keeping the 1st finger on the D and F# with 3rd and extend a tiny bit for a with 4th finger. I have the Joachim edition and his tempos and fingerings are just Terrible! The only think worthy of his edition is the Cadenza. Joachim added tricky fingerings and faster tempos (come on...140 bpm for the Allegro!) because he was trying to turn the Mozart concerto into something it was not, a virtuoso show piece. But if that's his interpretation fine. It's not the way I or most 'modern' players would do it. People have started searching for what the composer wanted to say with the piece. I think that's great! It should be that way. But its nice to add a little bit of yourself to a piece, too. Find common ground between yourself and and the composer and bring that out in the music.

[This message has been edited by iupviolin (edited 03-19-2001).]

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One distinction that I'd draw is between pieces that can be worked on in a linear sort of way and those that need to be learned prior to starting.

What do I mean by that? Beethoven (or most of it) isn't easy, but it does respond to methodical work. Spend ten minutes shoveling out in a Beethoven sonata (or the Concerto or most of the quartets) and it will likely sound better. For that reason, I was never so intimidated by the Concerto, even though I'd have to put in some serious hours to take it before an audience again right now.

Wieniawski and similar composers' works don't come as easily, at least to me. If you already have good tenths, or chromatic staccato scales, and similar tricks, a lot of his music is not so hard. But it's harder to just push your way through without that ready-made toolkit already assembled and close to hand.

People's technical strengths do vary of course, as do their learning styles and temperaments.

Another thing that I'd add is that some things are hard to play because they're hard to hear.

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The opening melody of the Dvorak is in octaves.

That Mozart 4th triad isn't easy even in one position (is there anyone who tries to shift? I don't think so), because you have *zero* margin of error. I've heard that flubbed by major soloists in performance.

Joachim's fingerings aren't hard because he was trying to be more virtuosic. Joachim's fingerings -- and fingerings in older editions in general -- are difficult because the fingering practices of the time were different. In particular, they tended to avoid even-numbered positions, as well as extensions, and they shift in places that we would not today due to the undesirable slide. Flesch and Szigeti, as a side note, both have some notes in their books, on historical fingering practice and how solutions have become "modernized".

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In DavidK's first post on this thread he mentions both the Bartok #2 and the Beethoven.

I think that comparison is very instructive. The Bartok, which I just finished studying, is very difficult for the ear, and not so hard for the fingers or the bow arm. Almost all the time I spent learning the piece--which was substantial--was spent getting very difficult intervals into my ear. But once you have done that, the piece is relatively easy to play well: intonation is truly critical only in a few places.

The Beethoven, on the other hand, seems to me to present entirely different kinds of technical problems. There are no ear difficulties, but even after the work is in one's fingers and bow, maintaining the requisite purity of intonation is essentially a full-time job. Not to speak of the emotional demands imposed by the music.

While it is certainly true that it takes great care and concentration to perform even the simplest music really well, it is also true that the great concertos present quite different kinds of challenges. Therefore, I think it is not possible objectively to answer the question "What is the most difficult concerto"?

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Originally posted by HuangKaiVun:


For me, Mendelssohn is easy - not fingertwisting, a bit uncomfortable at times, but very very playable.

Beethoven is even easier for me - key of D major, doesn't require a lot of vibrato, has a joyful old Austrian style, no flying notes.


Huang, boy, I am surprised!!

You have said many times how difficult you believe it is to play well Twinkle-Twinkle!!

How come you say now that these concerts are so easy? Will you please explain? We are now in doubt... Is the Beethoven easier to play than Twinkle-Twinkle?

You said in some thread that it took you years to learn Twinkle-Twinkle... wink.gif


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  • 20 years later...

I don't think this question has a definite answer, but I would recommend (outside of Concertos) Ravel's Tzigane or Sarasate's Carmen Fantasie.  For Concertos, if you consider the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and The Beethoven Concerto to be of moderate playing ease maybe try the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1 or the Berg Concerto.




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