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Introduction



Background

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. Then I had a child: another major (but wonderful) roadblock. After I met a fellow parent and documentary film maker, Philip Swift, who agreed to produce the videos, I finally arrived at the groundbreaking of this project. It's truly an exciting moment after nearly giving up several times. As with everything, the hardest part was getting started!


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. 6

I have finally made my return to writing (but not playing), two months after baby number 2! If you are a parent and reading this, you understand...if not, let's just say life is organized chaos at this point (especially since my oldest just turned two). Although this is a forced hiatus from playing - this was recorded back in March - I'm enjoying the time off. I hope to come back to the viola with a new perspective and fresh ears in August!

Anyway, let's jump back in with the contemplative Caprice no. 6. This was so relaxing to play, both in practice and performance. I felt that I had time to breathe, and think about phrasing and shapes. Caprice number 6 is all about bow control, starting with the very first note. I found a reasonable tempo to be between 50-60 bpm.

Notice the hairpins marked in measures 1, 2, 5-6, and 8. These markings are rare for Campagnoli, but they emphasize that he was going after a specific type of bow use in this caprice: slow, steady, and with max…

Caprice no. 5

I recorded Caprices 5-8 over two weeks ago, at 7 months of pregnancy with my second child. Needless to say, I'm taking a break now, as my energy wanes and I anticipate learning how to navigate life with a toddler and newborn!

Caprice no. 5 has always intrigued me, but when giving it the cursory read-through I would realize that it was too difficult to read for fun. This one took the most time to learn out of the current set, and the biggest challenge was giving it the light, playful character that I believe it deserves. There are lots of bowing inconsistencies in the engraving, and I marked what I deemed appropriate, trying to stay true to the few decipherable patterns. However, there are many other possibilities depending on one's personal preferences.

Another choice that I've made is to not re-articulate the top note in the slurred triple-stops, occurring at mm.32-33 and 36-37. This follows historical performance practices, as well as a more literal interpretation of th…

Caprice no. 4

When preparing to record Caprices 1-4, this was the one that held me up and admittedly caused some anxiety for the recording session. The culprit was the jeté stroke, featured prominently at the beginning of the caprice. Having never played violin in my earlier days, I was excused from having to learn this stroke, and developed jeté phobia as a result.

So kudos to Campagnoli for believing that violists can do it too. It isn't the most practical, everyday manner in which we use the bow- but if you master it, you have really accomplished a hyper-control of your bow hand. At least that's how I felt once I got the technique down.

To practice the jeté stroke for this piece, I spent a lot of time on open strings practicing a semi-controlled bounce of the bow. The challenge is that the four times it happens, it is over an eight-note descending scale, each one a note lower then the last - meaning that your open string pattern will be slightly different each time. Of course the tensio…