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Two years ago, I assigned one of Bartolomeo Campagnoli's 41 Caprices for Viola, Op. 22 to a student of mine. At our lesson the following week, she told me she had searched for a recording online but couldn't find one. Listening to assigned pieces is a regular exercise for her (as for many of my students), and the fact that she couldn't find a recording hindered her progress that week. I went home that evening and began searching online for recordings of the caprices, and found they were sadly lacking. Campagnoli's Caprices for Viola are as difficult and musical as Paganini's 24 Caprices for Violin, yet as scarce as Paganini's are popular in representation. That's when I realized someone needed to change that. In fact, I could change it. I thought up a far-fetched dream to record all forty-one caprices.

After practicing some of my favorite caprices and realizing their true difficulty, I got discouraged and put the thought away for a while. I resurrected it while toying with the idea of recording an historically accurate version of them on a period viola with gut strings, which proved too difficult to keep in tune, and perhaps too inaccessible for a broad audience. 

And then there was the question of getting the right videographer/sound engineer, and space for the job. I started the project in a low-tech way by recording in my apartment. Then, after recording with the talented recording engineer Stuart Breczinski, I realized the project could be brought to a whole different level with him on board. Thankfully, he agreed! Riverside Church has provided the perfect space, on the 9th floor of the beautiful bell tower. And this perfect combination provides the magic you see in my more recent recordings.

The Concept

Why video? There are two reasons. First, it's always easier to learn by sound and sight. Secondly, I believe that there is an unhealthy expectation that classical recordings should always achieve the highest level of perfection. However, we all know that is not reality. I hope to break down the barrier and unrealistic expectations that come with highly edited, "perfect" recordings, and give my listeners an unadulterated, live performance experience. 

These videos will be an instructional tool, following in the nature of the works themselves. Each caprice is accompanied by my written thoughts on the technical aspects of the piece, how I worked on specific passages, the specific challenges I faced, and questions of artistry: for they are caprices (short, artistic pieces), not etudes (method works).

Finally, I simply love these pieces. I fell in love with Caprice No. 17 when my teacher assigned it to me in middle school. That is why I've gone out of order to post No. 17 first. I've taken the book with me on my many moves over the years since, reading through selections when I had the chance, in between degree recitals and orchestra auditions. This project finally gives me gives me an excuse to delve into every caprice in the kind of detail that I've always wanted to. I hope that this project will give you inspiration to do the same.

The Music

Today's classical player must obtain much more diversity in her playing than a string player from the last century, as contemporary music and period baroque music have become a staple of the classical genre. These styles demand a high level of position work and bow technique, as these caprices, in their original publication were intended to develop. I highly suggest that you use the original version (available for free) should you decide to work on these yourself. There are a few mistakes, which are agreed upon by music scholars, and I point them out in my write-ups.

Note: you can no longer purchase a bound copy of the original engravings. There is a copy of the second publication available through Fuzeau. Having referenced both, I still prefer the original version, since the second publication has different mistakes of its own.

I have chosen to use the original engravings, published in 1827 by Bretikopf and Härtel and available on IMSLP. The version in wide use today (Peters Edition, edited by Carl Herrmann, ca. 1900) contains bowings and fingerings that are vastly different from the original edition. The edits are adapted for 20th-century playing: they favor slurs and high positions over more advanced bow technique and string crossing.

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Caprice no. 40

Caprice number 40 was difficult to learn but ultimately fun and rewarding. As musically simple as it is, I think it's one of the flashiest pieces in the book. (Case in point: my recording engineer, Stuart Breczkinsi, decided this one should be the background piece for the introductory video to my project.)  The key of B Major makes the notes bright and cheerful on the viola. And the string crossing sections almost give it a fiddling/bluegrass feel (mm.27-37) . Of course, that style emerged from Baroque violin technique.  Don't be fooled by the eighth notes: this one should fly off your fingers (and bow) as the Vivace assai marking requests. As with any fast piece, practice working up your speed in very short bursts, at times only a measure. Always remember to land on the next downbeat so you can thread your section practice together into longer fragments.

Caprice no. 41

I couldn't think of a better way to end an epic book of caprices. Caprice number 41 is a grand bookend for a grand project. I used to think number 17 was my favorite, but this piece took the cake once I discovered it. It is joyful and stately. And the sonority it draws out of the instrument makes the solo viola sound like a chamber group.  Perhaps it's the crescendo of energy and sound output. This can heard and also clearly seen in the music, at about  measure 26 , going on to the end of the piece. Double-stops and bariolage, and sometimes both at once, make the viola into a mini-organ. This was my favorite section to play because I felt awash in sound.  This piece mostly tries to be a fugue, but also reaches for something greater. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the fourth movement of Hindemith's Op.11, No.5 sonata (another favorite of mine). The Hindemith obviously came later, and is much longer and more fantastical. But both pieces give you the feeling that you have bee