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Because it's been some time, I got some motivation to make a 'progress video', of the Casadesus viola concerto (I like it a lot), so here goes :
I've been trying to play it for a loooong time, and I'm still getting nowhere near what it should sound like, but I'll manage… someday. For now, I slowed down the first movement to 85%, it's more than enough. There are some failed passages here that I sometimes do get right, but generally only when I play them by themselves, and not the whole thing from beginning to end.
Err, I totally left out the third movement, of course. It's beautiful but there's no way I'll tackle that one before 5 more years !
I'm not too sure about how to work on it, though.
- Section by section and then try to put them together progressively ?
- Should I slow it down more (say to 75%, or as much as needed) and get it right at slow speed first ?
- Or focus exclusively on special difficulties, one at a time (more or less everything's still difficult for me, though) :
- passages with double stops,
- the beginning chord (4 notes) that I don't quite know how to play (1-2-3-4 successively, or 1+2 then 3+4 ? haven't decided, can't make it sound right one way or the other)
- the places that involve shifting (I forget to shift, half of the time :--)…)
- the dynamics (most of the second movement ranges between pp and mp (not my favorite, ugh)
Or just put this piece aside for the moment, work on something else and come back to it at a later point.
How would you guys proceed?
@wtw Great playing! It is a beautiful piece—thank you for sharing it
I don’t think any of your approaches above are wrong—they’re all good. I would say that anyway in which you break it down so you can focus on how to get it right is good.
Typically, I’ll first practice as slow as I need to in order to get the fingering (and intonation) in a passage correct before I try to speed up.
So, I’ll have passages at different stages of “development” while I’m practicing it.
Practicing slow is important to get the fingering right, but I find that I bow differently when I practice a passage slowly compared to when I speed it up.
I know that sometimes, when I want to work on speed, I’ll break down measures into chunks, and do a “chunk” fast, pause, then move onto the next. For example, after I’ve practiced a 4 beat measure slowly (to get the proper fingering), I may take the 1st two beats of notes at a faster speed, and then pause before doing the next 2 beats.
Also, my teacher has had me change the rhythm of a passage while practicing it to help get my fingering faster. It may seem awkward at first, but I have found that it helps.
I’ll focus on difficult passages first, and then end my practice of the piece playing through passages that are less difficult, maybe putting together passages that I had been playing separately that I can now play through together, etc.,
Characterize people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words.
Slow it down AND work on it in sections. And focus on specific difficulties within each section -- even consider things like practicing the left and right hands separately.
Re: the beginning chord, play it 1+2 / 3+4. Casadesus wrote this concerto in the style of J.C. Bach (he tried to pass it off as a J.C. Bach composition), so it's basically an early Classical piece. It should not sound like it's rolled one string at a time. Make sure you give the lower strings a decent amount of bow so that they ring. My teacher advocates giving the lower strings at least one-third of the bow (which I don't always do but I'm trying to get better about it); you do want to get to the upper strings quite quickly, but it means you need a faster bow speed on the low strings.
A thought on dynamics: keep in mind that this is a concerto and it's meant to be played with an orchestra. Softer dynamics in the solo part still need to project, so you can't play them that softly. Continue to use plenty of bow, and reduce volume by reducing pressure and tilting the bow. Vibrato can also help with being heard while playing softly. A fast, narrow vibrato would be appropriate.
Thanks for the advice everyone. So gotta be patient and practice a lot, bit by bit, and hopefully I'll get somewhere.
@AndrewH pity, rolling the notes would be easier :--). I'll have a hard time getting that chord to sound "light" (so that it doesn't sound like I want to destroy my viola - or everyone's ears). I suppose the same applies to the 3-note chords in other places ("1+2, then 3").
I'll try long (/ longer) bows throughout. That will be more comfortable than micro- bow speed.
@SharonC I'd read, or heard, about this idea of "pausing" and grouping the notes differently for practice. I do it sometimes, it does help. I'll try what you say about speeding bits up and changing rhythm.
If nobody minds, I may use this thread occasionally to post videos of sections if I'm making any progress – or if I'm not… Feedback from you guys is useful to me (I'm a self-learner, but with limits)
@Thomas B. thank you !
I'd never heard anything by this Henri Casadesus before. Wikipedia says he wrote another viola concerto, I'll have to look it up.
The three-note chords should be 1+2 / 2+3. The chords need to sound solid, but not heavy. The key to getting the chords to sound light is relying on bow speed, not pressure. This is especially true in music from before the 1780s (and in this case, music pretending to be from that era), because bows back then were not designed to dig into the string like modern bows.