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Mendelssohn Cadenza


Stephen  Fine
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I'm "retooling" my Mendelssohn cadenza. I'm trying to wipe out all other ideas I've ever had about the music. How should I go about learning it anew. How did you learn it for the first time. If you're going to say "slow practice" please... I know that, be a little more specific. Tell me your musical ideas. Right now I'm listening to a combination of recordings: Milstein, Grumiaux, Heifetz, Kreisler, and Chang (ick)... Tell me what you think. BTW... I'm talking about the first movement's cadenza.

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Whatever you do.........TAKE YOUR TIME. Don't rush through the Cadenza. Approach each new phrase as though you were making it up on the spot....approach them almost hesitantly...then as if you have confirmed the idea and decided you like it... go ahead with it and dazzle everyone.

roman

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I would say start without the violin. Where did the cadenza come from? Is it based on thematic material? What is going on harmonically? Ask questions such as these to form your own, new musical ideas. Don't copy others unless you know why they do what they do (of course, I doubt anyone will really complain if you sound exactly like Oistrakh smile.gif )

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Ferdinand David, the great 19th century violinist (previous owner of Heifetz's Guarneri violin), assisted Mendelssohn closely in writing this concerto.

When I look at other works of Mendelssohn's, I am convinced that David's influence exerted itself extremely strongly.

Back then, vibrato was in its infancy (or not used at all). Tempi were slower, bowing was softer.

My suggestion to people playing this concerto is that they imagine themselves as 19th century virtuosi - particularly in the cadenza.

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Oh My...

Dear Lymond,

Good luck, but forget about playing without vibrato. You have to protect the string and by today's standards for strings, halls, etc. you should vibrate or it will not carry very well. From the time of Wienawski, vibrato was used because halls and audiences were getting larger.

Relearning is difficult, especially if what you did before you are no longer satisfied with and you want to start fresh. I think enough time has passed from what you wrote, where the fingers may have forgotten what they learned. Now comes the part of looking at the cadenza and deciding how you want it to go. Sing it. Make notes in your music as to where you would take a breath, and where you would emphasize passages. In this way you would come about a more natural sound, your sound. Then pick up the violin and do there what you did with your voice. (that's the hard part).

Well, those are my thoughts, and hope it helps some.

-J-

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There's an interesting tempo issue to check out. I have seen what purports to be a clean edition of the score specifically warning "non rubato" and "sempre staccato" at the points where Kreisler and his successors slow down and go legato (right before the spiccato arpeggios toward the end). Not at all what we're conditioned to think of as normal, but worth a look as long as you're going at it fresh.

In any case, I think that "Mendelssohnian" can be taken to mean swift, regular tempos with a minimum of swooning or pulling about. His conducting had that reputation during his own lifetime (for good or ill-- some thought it a little superficial). For this reason, I really like the Heifetz/ Milstein approach to the music as opposed to the Kreisler, although obviously all 3 men used a lot more vibrato than was customary in the 1840s.

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 10-27-2000).]

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Actually, Kreisler's tempi (in his both versions) are not that slow, especially comparing to some of the slow-moving performance one hears today. They may not be the fastest version available, but Kreisler does keep the music flowing well. His tempi are very fluid and flexible. And I think they work pretty well.

I will not comment on small details right now since I am away from my library.

Toscha

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Try an end run around the cadenza-specific questions. Listen to (or play) as many non-concerto pieces by Mendelssohn as possible. Start with the Octet and maybe some piano music. The quartets and trios are a great way in. Get a sense of where the guy's taste was in the works that haven't been reduced to cliché by generations of violinists.

To my way of thinking (others may disagree), Mendelssohn had a very orderly, proper, bourgeois sense of style. Rhetorical flourishes not out of the question, but only in a supremely classical context. Mustn't offend the Queen or scare the horses. So-- 4-bar phrases answer one another with great regularity and one always has the sense of a great machine ticking away. The emotion is calibrated to fit the design and never runs wild. It's not cold, just reserved and respectful of order.

So the right answer (if you buy all the above) is that you should never lose sight of the longer line, and the logic that says this phrase (or paragraph) follows that or leads to the other.

Another approach is to learn the thing cold with the metronome, and purge any tendency to deviate from tempo. If you're like me you will be surprised at where you drift off the mark but you may learn something about the music's structure if you figure out why you slowed down or accelerated at a certain point.

After you've got it under control and can have the music make sense sans nuances, figure out where you would like to breathe, etc., and add those things with discretion. If a nuance or flourish makes the music sound more like Mendelssohn, then keep doing it.

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 10-27-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 10-27-2000).]

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Originally posted by JKF:

Oh My...

Dear Lymond,

Good luck, but forget about playing without vibrato. You have to protect the string and by today's standards for strings, halls, etc. you should vibrate or it will not carry very well.

I find it EASIER to project in halls without vibrato than with it, particularly on the Mendelssohn (which I've performed with orchestra).

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I'm trying to understand what all of you are writing about. Is it generally acknowledged among the experts that vibrato came about to accommodate big concert halls?

Or: Did someone notice that a creative, cool sound occurred when vibrating the string that just so happened to carry better in the large halls?

I'm very ignorant about vibrato--and just notice in my own listening that I don't like a lot of it--but I do like some to a certain degree as in the Milstein's performances I'm familiar with. He vibrates, but not overly so--Nadja Solerno being an obviously wildly oscillating vibrator in contrast to Mil.

And are we in kind of a peak vibrating period? Is it just a vastly "in" kind of thing these days? If so, is it moving past its peak--or is it simply here to stay: the best of the best will do it for a long time to come?

Curious--and wish you luck, Lymond--I love the Mendelssohn and think he had a great deal to say in this concerto.

Theresa

PS: Listen to it sometime when you're traveling alone in the mountains on an autumn day with the light strong in the leaves. Watch the dried grasses in the valley pass you by during that cadenza--there's a powerful statement there about beauty passing swiftly--too swiftly.

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If you vibrate too much, you screw up the integrity of the note - thus forcing audiences to instinctively struggle to hear the note itself.

Similarly, too much left hand oscillations will disrupt the bowhair-string connection - thus ruining one's expressive subtlety and projective articulation.

This is why modern violinists have to struggle so much to get a basic projection in big halls.

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Lymond, I'm not waxing poetic. When I "wax poetic" in earnest it's not like what you read here on the Fingerboard. It's actually not waxing at all, come to think of it. It's more of a closing in tightly--intense confinement. I was simply recounting an experience as it actually was.

Last November, I went on a four-hour drive by myself to the mountains in Hot Springs, Virginia. The only CD I took with me was Milstein playing the Mendelssohn--can't remember which year, which specific recording.

Most of the leaves were gone, but here were still, of course, the beech leaves holding fast as they do nearly all winter, and then some other species bravely holding onto a show of final color. The sun was brilliant; the air was frosty; and I had Milstein strongly filling my car. I had the sun roof open, heater on at full blast, and a heart so full of joy that, had I died suddenly, it would have been a happy death. I even remember thinking just that--although I didn't desire leaving quite yet.

But what kept striking me was the cadenza itself--what a rush--what quickness--what an apotheosis of a comment on the transiency of life. I will never be able to hear that concerto again without recalling how well it played in the mountains of Virginia on a sunlit, cold autumn day--and the cadenza that you're working on being such an emotional sunblast/speedblast.

This year when I travel back up there for the MENC convention in a couple of weeks, I'll have a teacher with me. Obviously, I won't be alone. And there is no way on earth I'll have a similar listening experience. It'll be a human one--and will have its own wonder, but I count myself lucky to have that November day from 1999 when neither Milstein nor Mendelssohn ever had a more attentive, appreciative audience.

Now were I to write a poem about the experience, it wouldn't be this phrase upon descriptive/narrative phrasing. It wouldn't even be about Milstein or Mendelssohn so much anymore. It would probably be a poem about you, Lymond, and how you have placed yourself in a phrase into that memory--a voice from Florida--brainy.

Respectfully,

Theresa

[This message has been edited by Theresa (edited 10-31-2000).]

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I don't know why I feel compelled to reply, but I guess I better,

My comment on vibrato has to do with protecting the string. Without vibrato, a bad sound results. Not too much, not too little...just right (I can't believe I just said that. Wasn't that in a book somewhere? Sorry everyone) Now I think everyone knows what I'm talking about, and I really don't need the detail?

When HKV keeps talking about no vibrato, I fear a wrong impression may be given. H, sorry I'm not impressed with your playing with orchestra in big halls; a lot of people have (no offense intended). Our professor is one whom I listen to for his internationally recognized authority in violin and performance...I wrote exactly what he would say about vibrato. He really doesn't like the overuse, abuse, or misuse of vibrato feeling that the overly wide and ambitious vibrato employed of late causes the player to wiggle out of notes...but that's another case. When I post, I assume that folks understand to most of what I'm referring. The only time I envision the lack of need in vibrato is in fast passage runs, for then it would be ridiculous. I leave it here, because this discussion of vibrato is inappropriate to Lymond's ?, and belongs on the vibrato post.

Sorry Lymond, I didn't mean to run on. I guess I felt the call to explain. Now I hope you can get a better response to your question, than my offering and rambling.

-J-

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-31-2000).]

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Yikes, I pressed the wrong button....I wish we could still delete our own mishaps. Anyway,

Good Morning Theresa - You were posting the same time I was. Now that's inspired, and a far better offering than mine!

I hope I haven't caused any upsetting. I just had to clarify. This concerto is one that is so very connected..., and very emotionally inspired. It has to be played well, or,... oh well, enough from me.

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-31-2000).]

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No upsetting was caused, JKF! We all appreciate your thoughtful analysis!

In the context of Mendelssohn, discussion of vibrato usage is VERY appropriate.

Modern violinists do that vibrato thing all the time, only stopping in fast passage runs when it's too fast for their hands to catch the vibrato in.

They get admirable effects doing so - hence you feel that a vibrated sound sounds "better" than an unvibrated sound, JKF.

It is not "wrong" to not play without a vibrato, particularly when the concept of vibrato may have postdated both David AND Mendelssohn.

Nor does it necessarily sound "better" or project better to play with a vibrato, though it definitely sounds worse from a "modern" perspective. This must be heard to be understood - there is nothing like hearing a clean unvibrated tone coming from a master violinist (e.g. Milstein).

My favorite food is white rice and my drink is cold water.

[This message has been edited by HuangKaiVun (edited 10-31-2000).]

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Perhaps it's an unfair comparison, but I've never heard any violinist do vibrato like Sarah Vaughan did vibrato, where every oscillation had a meaning for the music. And yet I can't think of any reason or excuse for violinists not aspiring to that level of expression. (I'm not there yet.) But then jazz is more my idiom, and such expression may simply not apply for classical music. But again, I personally can't see why not.

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Theresa,

If my poetry were as poetic as your prose, I'd be satisfied with myself as a poet. Your description of Mendelssohn is truly beautiful, and I can almost "feel" the way you "feel" about it.

Huang, your advice about playing in time (to a metronome?) is advice well taken. In fact, I've already started doing that. I'm making sure I've got the basics first before I attempt any "advanced" phrasing.

Mlbouquet, I love Sarah Vaughan and though I don't think her vibrato "style" would be appropriate for Mendelssohn (although maybe it would be?) I love the idea of mimicing the vibrating style of jazz greats like Vaughan.

I just went through my collection of Mendelssohn recordings and I find that I no longer can find my Milstein (AHHHHH)... do not fear (I keep telling myself) I will find it soon (I hope).

Searching quickly now

in time perhaps I might find

that which I should seek

Thanx for the replies!

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