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Caprice no. 21

Have you ever heard of a polonaise for solo viola - or for any solo string instrument? Neither have I. That is why No. 21 is a true gem, buried in the middle of the book. Until I started this project, forcing myself to learn every caprice, I would take one look at this caprice and immediately get scared away by the trills on the 16th notes, and the sheer amount 32nds.

Finally last year, the time came for me to ACTUALLY learn the piece, and when I really took it apart and repackaged it, I realized that I needed to play my viola like a pianist playing a polonaise. Just let the notes fly.

Easier said than done, of course. It took a lot of experimentation and tested my patience. But in the end, I had a lot of fun playing this piece. In fact, now I would love to record it again - and play it just a notch faster. But first, I have a few more caprices to go....


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Caprice no. 20

Well, hello, Positions 1-7.... Caprice no. 20 is by far the MOST ANNOYING caprice I have encountered in the book so far. But, it's also the one that most improved my raw technique!

In fact, I have never been made to hang out in seventh position unless I'm playing on the A string for some stratosphere work. So, it was a new experience having to traverse ALL the strings in these high positions. It was uncomfortable, and very tricky to eliminate extraneous noise, such as a plucked string when crossing over to the next one. Plus, getting a stellar sound way up there is a constant challenge! I had to pay extra attention to my bow: in order to make a good sound it had to be in exactly the right place with the perfect amount of tension and speed.



Caprice no. 18

Perpetual motion pieces are NOT my strong point, so this caprice definitely gave me a run for it. However, as a musician, I love a good challenge. So I came away from my work on this caprice deciding that fast pieces are, indeed, fun to play. But they need the proper amount of drills and practice time (ie, a LOT more than you initially think) to settle in!

Because of the amount of drill work involved, memorization was the easy part. There was one caveat: mm. 39-47, which fall into an A - A' pattern. Here I really had to switch tracks quickly with my brain, to not get stuck in an A-A loop pattern.

The trickiest section was the double trills at mm. 14-16. Instead of really digging in , I tried to haze over the notes a little, since my fourth finger was not always reliable. The last three measures of the piece pose a real challenge for intonation: switching between the E and B Major chords harkens back to Caprice no. 15!

My favorite passage is mm. 60-64. I had fun shaping the bow st…

Caprice no. 19

Number 19 is an imaginative way to review all twenty-four major and minor keys, without playing a single scale. Campagnoli packed theory and bow technique into this caprice: he cycles through the entire circle of fifths, in the major and minor variations of each key, throwing in a different bowing for each. The result is twenty-four mini caprices, each with its own character and style.

Notice for instance, how G (mm.5-6) major sounds jolly, A major (13-14) sounds slightly aggressive, and C-sharp minor (29-30) sounds mysterious. The hardest part of learning this caprice was discerning all the characters and attempting to convey them in performance.

To accomplish this, I had to extract each 2-measure section and repeat it until I got the character I wanted. Much of the time, characters were determined by the bowing and shape of the line. For example, A-flat major (mm. 33-34) is whimsical, because of the displaced arpeggios and lopsided bowing. B minor (43-44) is sneaky, with the stacca…

Caprice no. 16

Caprice no. 16 was a bear for my left hand, which I contorted in ways I previously thought impossible. I disliked it for a long time because frankly, I couldn't make it sound good. The very first chord in particular, with the extended fourth finger, is just barely playable for me on a 16.5-inch viola. However, after clearing the hurdles, I've decided it's one of my favorite caprices. 

The key of E Major sounds mellow, rich, and joyful. especially on the return of the "A" section after the C-sharp minor section (mm.17-end). Campagnoli certainly does interesting things with the bariolage stroke, especially in mm. 9-16 where he staggers the slurs. This makes it extra tricky for the left hand, as if any more challenges were needed in a piece like this! I found it most helpful to emphasize the bottom note of each chord, to keep the line going and also to keep my bow and left hand on the from getting distracted by other technical complications.


Caprice no. 15

I had fun working on number 15 - it's a caprice that tends to play itself. The key of G major makes the most of the viola's natural resonance, especially in a nice hall like the one in Riverside Church that I used for the recording session.

I want to take a moment here to thank Riverside Church for providing the inspiring space. And a big thanks to my new recording engineer, Stuart Breczinski, for signing on to this project. He has done an amazing job with the audio and video: his work speaks for itself!

So back to this caprice: the temptation was to start at a quick pace. But I had to look forward to passages like mm.13-17, and 35-36, where the passagework demands a more conservative tempo. The latter passage was especially challenging for the stratified voicing. Jumping back and forth between the G and A string, or the C and D string, requires a quick and adept adjustment in arm weight to make the string speak properly.

I observed many posts ago that many of these caprices …

Caprice no. 14

Caprice no. 14 juxtaposes harmonization in thirds with florid melisma. These beautiful "aria" caprices seem to point toward the aria style that was developing in Italian opera. One of my listeners recently mentioned that this caprice reminded them of an aria from Verdi's Don Carlos.

Campagnoli seems to use the viola solo as a one-person show: I get to play my own curtain rise with the prelude (mm. 1-12), and a duet, starting at m.13. The voices are distinct enough that they could function on their own. Notice how they even break apart into a dialogue at m. 26, coming back together in the last measure for a satisfying resolution.