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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. 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. 23

No. 23, Andante sostenuto, is a melancholy work that draws its character from the beautiful sonorities of the viola. This is a great piece to explore your rich sound in many different forms. Because it repeats so many times, there are small opportunities to improvise with ornaments, change dynamics, or play certain notes on different strings. All of these variables can help you to change the character as you wish.

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. 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.