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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 tension of each string affects the bounce of the bow differently, and therein lies the challenge. You have to know exactly how much to control the bounce of the bow each time you play a different scale. Furthermore, eight notes is a lot of notes!

Anyway, I first started with the basic stroke, practicing four notes of jeté on an open string followed by a long "landing" note. I then increased to eight notes. Next, I practiced the open string patterns from each scale in the piece. Finally, I had to let go of any real sense of control and just play it, because in the end this stroke is like a cat: not fully domesticable. (Cat owners, you know...)

At the end of the jeté section (m. 7), I chose to take a liberal pause before starting the section marked dolce. Starting on an open string seemed to harsh, so I went with a fourth finger for a softer sound and to keep with the bariolage stroke that follows. The entire section, building up to m. 17, is driven by the bass notes, and the high E's in m. 13 particularly need a light touch.

Our jeté friend returns in m. 17, this time in an easier format: slower with less notes. I had the best results starting it as an up-bow staccato and transitioning midway to the jeté stroke.

At the end, we once more end on a half-cadence. This one does not resolve into Caprice no. 5. However, maybe by this round I've just gotten used to the question-endings, but it doesn't seem as quizzical to me any longer: rather like the music just needs to float off into thin air.

After all the bowing struggles with this caprice, I have to admit: it has become one of my favorites to date! Isn't that often the case though. We love something more when we've had to work harder for it.

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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.

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. 17

I fell in love with Caprice No. 17 when my teacher assigned it to me in middle school. My fascination with the work became one of the reasons I pursued this project: I wanted an outlet to perform it. Because the piece is my favorite, I’ve decided to post it first.
No. 17 is more than just a caprice, it is a delightful Theme and Variations with tons of action packed into four short minutes. Each variation is a micro-caprice with its own technical landscape to explore. While it is appealing musically, the work is also incredibly fun to play. Most of my practice time on this caprice and other early posts was spent holed up in the bathroom during my daughter's nap time, playing with a practice mute on and the door closed. I was working on this one in the middle of the summer and there were hot days when I craved the AC which was on in the rest of the apartment!
Note: Throughout the entire piece, I attempt to keep the same tempo, adjusting slightly for
character. This allows for last t…