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As I grew up playing the violin, I always thought that I can play any piece without greater effort that has technique inside my range. If something was too technically difficult, then it was of course not possible to play the piece, but if something was sort of achievable, then I would not have to practice much in order to learn the piece. As a great fan of Sarasate, I felt that all my limits where only in my technique.
After a 7 years break when I retook the violin and focused only on etudes, I kept this mentality. I felt like a super hero for learning so many etudes in one year (the first year), and thought that soon, I will be able to learn almost anything… 🙂 I was so confident about technique and tone.
So came the day,when I met my pianist, and we decided to play Brahms d minor sonata. I tried it. I learnt the notes. It still sounded bad. I continued learn. It still sounded really bad. "This piece is not for me!" I said, and we performed only the last movement. As I fell in love with the Brahms A major sonata, where the sheets looked quite easy, we decided to learn it as well. How difficult could it be, considering it seemed pretty easy on sheets, sounded easy when Anne Sophie Mutter plays, and I really loved it?
The first month, I got totally depressed. I wanted to give up. It sounded dreadful every time I tried to play it. Where was the beautiful tone I was convinced that I had? Where was the technique that I should have built up with all those etudes? Not only I learnt that just because it looks technically easy, it still can be a nightmare to have such octaves and shifts. It was difficult, really difficult. Second month, I still wanted to give up, but now finally forced myself to work on the problematic places in the first movement (everywhere). Suddenly, came to my mind that PHRASING was important. Every day I played it through, and realized that Brahms had to be solved as one puts a puzzle, where the phrases, dynamics, rubatoes where the pieces one had to put. And it took long time, 5 months before we performed the complete.
This experience, made me realize, how actually much I have to learn, and how much one has to work on one piece before performing. From that day, I never again believed that I can do any piece, even the little Gluck melodie, without investing months into it.
I also saw a few times the last years, several very confident and very talented amateur violinists with lovely tone and great technique going up on stage, and crashing romantic sonatas, and as a result refused to go up again playing chamber music (which is very sad, when it would be worth giving it a second try instead!)
This makes me think: can playing romantic sonatas make you humble and teach you the essence of hard work? is it something in the way we are taught to play the violin (or teach ourselves) that does not include handling the difficulties of chamber music? can it be that if one relies too much on the tone and technique, one will have difficulties handling a Brahms sonata?
I think some slower music is a big challenge for expression. It says to the audience, "Relax but listen carefully to every whisper and finesse and I will let you share the beauty that I hear." Then too I've been in larger concerts where seat belts were in order!
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
This is a very interesting question... I am JUST beginning the violin, though the sound of it for years has captivated and enchanted me. When I think of your question I am reminded of the fact that what makes us humble are the things that initially challenge us! Some may find it challenging to play a romantic piece while others would find it difficult to convey fiery passion in a upbeat and wildly exciting piece of music. We are all challenged differently. The thing about music is it so widely appeals to human emotions and each person is defined by their attitudes towards life.
Some people are genuinely able to convey deep sensuous romanticism with ease while others would be boggled and could not come up with the slow, effective drawn out pleasure of bow against string, vibrato sweeping sweetness into your soul. Some would simply and utterably find this difficult- because it is not a place inside themselves that perhaps they are able to go yet. Again, much that makes music sincere is emotion.
And still others would find it hard to whip out a fast ditty and find that in order to do that they would have to push out a lot of energy and they just aren't the type of personality to be so exuberant! So they would have to work harder at bringing out the fiery excitement that certain musical peices ask of you.
Than there are some people who can readily express all of these emotions with ease. They are great feelers in all areas of life. They can go to the abyss of pain, to the sweetness of love, to the joy of discovery and convey it all beautifully and fully in each note.
These are just my thoughts on the subject. Thanks, you certainly got me thinking! I believe that yes, for some, romantic sonatas can be humbling. And for others a quick Irish Jig would deplete them of self-confidence if they could not play it as well as the romantic pulse of a slow drawn out passion.
To each his own.
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