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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.

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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.

Caprice no. 13

Caprice no. 13 at first glance appears to be a study in the octave, and my first instinct was to play all the octaves with the modern approach of 1st and 4th finger (ie: lots of shifting). With further study, I realized this was the wrong approach: the work also explores arpeggios, tenths, and other intervals. Furthermore, if Campagnoli wants a fingering that takes you out of first position, he will usually indicate it.

Therefore, most of this caprice stays in first position. Ironically, staying in first position makes intonation more difficult. This is because often, you jump from the C string to the D string, or the G to the A, and the left hand has to adjust across the fingerboard. So, in order to play this successfully, your left arm will have to swivel slightly, back and forth to guide the LH adjustment. You can see how this works for me in the video.

Caprice no. 12

Number 12, marked Allegro assai, should fly off the fingers and at least give the impression of ease. After hours of practice, I did find that this piece began to feel enjoyable at a fast clip. As with many of Campagnoli's caprices, you cannot find even one dynamic marking: this gives the performer creative license with dynamics and shaping.

With the long slurs, the focus in this piece is definitely on the left hand. The left hand should feel as pliable as possible, as often shifts happen fluidly: an extension of a finger, followed by hand adjustment. Measures 4-6 are a perfect example: the first finger reaches back and the hand follows suit. I found the most difficult passage to be mm. 21-26. I devoted a lot of time to backwards practice here!

Caprice no. 11

Caprice no. 11 is an unabashed celebration of the arpeggio. It doesn't invite the kind of subtle music-making that many of the others do, however, it is not purely a technical exercise either.

One thing I admire in this piece is the harmonic rhythm and flow, created out of large building blocks (one chord per measure). Rhythm is another way to control the musical flow. At the beginning, each measure has a period at the end: a full quarter note. At measures 10-16, the last beat of the measure follows with continuous eighth-notes, which creates the musical equivalent of a run-on sentence.

Although this piece is simple enough, measures 17-18 and 23 pose a real challenge because of the precarious shifts. In each, I found that besides the obvious challenge of hitting the right note, I also tended to try to leave it early - even if I nailed it. As I work through these caprices, I find that even in the simpler ones, Campagnoli usually manages to throw in some monkey wrench just for the …

Caprice no. 10

The tenth caprice is another beautiful aria that highlights Campagnoli's gift for melody. It lets the viola sing naturally, with simple phrases in the first half and florid passagework in the second.

Note: Usually I advocate for following the bowings which I find to be purposeful from a technical standpoint, but I did correct a few here,  in mm. 1, 5, and 7 to facilitate a down-bow at the top of a phrase or on a triple stop.

My favorite part of the piece is the coda, from mm. 18 to the end. The top line should always be held while the bottom one undulates: the effect is a rich harmony and texture.