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Showing posts from October, 2020

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

Caprice no. 38

We're almost at the end of this book, and in Caprice number 38, Campagnoli takes his hat off to Rodolphe Kreutzer and his 42 Etudes for Violin (1796), by quoting Etude #2. And guess where it happens: at measures 41-42. Is this a coincidence of numbers? Knowing how deliberate Camapagnoli was, I think probably not. We don't know about the two composers' relationship, but it is very likely that they knew each other, and obvious that there was admiration. This all but confirms my theory that Campagnoli held the great Kreutzer in such regard that he wrote 41 caprices, one less than his contemporary. Many of Campagnoli's caprices have a strong focus on bowing. However, Caprice 37 is all about the left hand. And wow - did my left hand feel like it was going to fall off after recording this piece. (even though I was in great shape!) Having said that, it was very important to let my bow arm drive the momentum as much as possible. Almost all of our expression comes from the bow,

Caprice no. 39

Caprice number 39 is such a sweet, gentle piece - it was one that took no effort to practice, even though it's in F# major. Perhaps that was the point: dress up an unagreeable key in a beautiful melody!  Double-stops are definitely a technical focus. My favorites are the ones that resolve a dissonance, for example at measures 18 and 27 . This is overall a great caprice to fine-tune your sense of pitch and harmony. Enjoy!

Caprice no. 37

Caprice number 37 is about as pedantic as it gets for this book. We make our way through the circle of fifths with the same pattern, which explores eighths, sixteenths, and triplet eighths. Campagnoli even repeats C# as the key of D-flat when we make the transition to flat keys (mm. 16-20 ), - an interesting moment for the ear.  My favorite section was the arpeggios (bariolage) section at the end. This, at least, seemed to have some direction and interest in its chord development. Overall, it's an incredibly boring caprice, but it does get the job done on the technical side. Campagnoli gives lots of fingering, which is unusual for him. He wants the player to many different positions and keys, but always with the same finger/bow pattern. This proves to be quite challenging when you have to nail 5th position out of nowhere, like in measures 11 and 25 .  I'll give him this: it's still better than playing the standard etude!

Caprice no. 36

Back to Etude Land with Caprice number 36. The piece is a study in positions 1-3, as well as major and minor keys ordered by whole step. Bowing and rhythm variations are thrown in for further interest. For that, it is pretty creative but certainly not the most captivating. However, I would prefer playing this caprice over any Kreutzer or Sevcik etude! Considering that this is  a caprice, an effort does need to be made to make it as musical as possible. I found it helpful to emphasize rhythmic changes and have that be the driver of different sections' moods. Some examples: At m. 9 ,  the dotted rhythm feels militant and upright. This is followed by a triplet section ( m. 13 ) which was looser and swinging. Fast-forward to m. 24 : here we have a backwards bowing, which serves to make the music feel more muscular and aggressive, working toward the A minor cadence at the end.

Caprice no. 35

Lighthearted and fun, Caprice no. 35 is an example of a piece that doesn't exactly scream viola. (To my non-violist readers: our instrument is usually trotted out for a slow, melancholy number.) I'm glad that Campagnoli expanded the realm of possibility for our instrument, even if his ideas didn't stick for the next 100+ years. I like how every section in this piece has its own special touch of buffoonery. Variation 3 (measure 17) mimics the beginning Theme, but the low register makes it rather burdensome, and a little silly. Variation 10 (measure 73) is supposed to sound sad, but the repeated returns to the "A" harmonic, and the little soprano run at the end (mm. 79-80) give it an air of mockery. And the da capo  turn at the end goes from an over-deflated/defeated minor section, to a just-kidding, flippant ending. For just a few examples. So have fun with it, and enjoy the relative ease of this piece. No major technical curveballs here!

Caprice no. 34

Here is another caprice with mini-movements: Number 34 is a standard Baroque form, switching between Andantino and Presto twice. While officially, Campagnoli lived and composed during the Classical era (he was five years older than Mozart, and outlived him by 36 years), it seems that he favored some aspects of the older Baroque style. A short piece, comprised of four brief "movements"alternating between slow and fast, was typical of that era. During the classical era, movements became much longer and more developed, ending on on full cadences - unlike their Baroque counterparts. They resembled pieces unto themselves, even though they were part of a sonata or symphony.  I really enjoyed playing the Presto sections of this caprice. They have a feeling of one beat to the measure, and roll along. The bariolage is particularly fun ( mm.55-61 ), partly because of the backwards bowing. It feels extremely awkward until your bow arm learns how to embrace it. There are also patterns e

Caprice no. 32

Number 32 is a siciliana, yet another treasure in this wonderful book of caprices! As with the  polacca , this is the only  siciliana  I've ever encountered for solo viola. And, I love how Campagnoli wove these nationalistic pieces, a vogue idea in his day, into the book. It's a joy to play this caprice. There is something so calming about the sicillian rhythm, like rocking on a boat at sea. And the harmonies are gentle and soothing. But my favorite part was the minor section, starting at measure 17. There are no ground-breaking chord progressions here, just timeless favorites that make you want to cry.

Caprice no. 31

The fast and relentless triplets in the 31st caprice remind me of a tarantella . Recording it felt like running the 100-meter dash. I had many failed attempts at a full take. One misstep meant the take was unusable, and it feels like there are countless opportunities to trip up.  No. 31 is technically tricky, but also has many artistic subtleties that needed to be highlighted. As usual, there are no dynamics in the score, but the music almost writes them for you. I didn't add my own below because you may have a different ideas of your own! There is the question of the E-versus-E-flat in measures 35-36 . In the "modern" Primrose edition, the E is changed to an E-flat to make it sound like a diminished chord. However, in both the original printing (which I use) and the second printing, now published by Fuzeau, no correction is made. Furthermore, Fuzeau has a reference section discussing the few possible mistakes in the printing. This particular one is never mentioned. So, I

Caprice no. 30

Caprice number 30 reminds me of J.S. Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze.  I think it's because of the pulsing harmony, present in the dotted sixteenth notes. And just like the Bach, this caprice moves along in rhythm while still projecting a harmonic sense of calm. It wasn't all calm in my head when I was performing this however - there were a few nervous spots, the most notable one being at measure 18 , where one is supposed to sound placid while hitting a fingered tenth on the viola. And since my viola is 16 3/8 inches and I'm only 5'6 (albeit with long arms), this was not an easy ask. Listening objectively, I would have lingered longer on that dissonant tenth, which is part of a beautiful chord progression. But physically I didn't feel like I could without risking intonation! Another spot to watch out for: the long double-stop passage from mm. 25-32.   It gets going in measure 29, and you'd better have your muscle memory in place, even if you're using musi

Caprice no.28

Caprice number 28 is special. It's the only one with a title (rhetorical question): "Kind, willst du ruhig schlafen", which translates as Child, do you want to sleep peacefully. One has to wonder why Campagnoli chose the German, as other caprice tempo markings or headings are in his native Italian. And who is the child? His daughters were adults: famous singers by the time this was published. Was it a grandchild? One can only speculate, but it seems to be written for a child who touched his life in a meaningful way. And certainly, the piece is very playful and child-like, darting in and out of moods but mostly staying happy, just like a toddler. I can vouch for that with my three little ones at home!  This was one of a handful that I didn't try to memorize. As you can hear, there is lots of repetition with a few curve balls thrown in. Case in point: the eighth-note rest in measure 76 is notable because it's absent in measure 36 . These small differences abound,

Caprice no. 29

Back to etude-land with number 29! This one rips by: you know it's supposed to be fast with the marking of  allegro assai. Obviously, scale work is a major theme in this caprice, but I was also surprised to find that bowing work was a big focus too.  If you have read my other posts, you know that I believe Campagnoli was very specific in his compositions, and that one should not overlook his indications for bowings and fingering. So, I went against my instinct to correct for the bowing in the triplet section, starting at measure 21 . What I found was very interesting and also made complete sense once I thought about it.   With the slur-dot pattern the temptation is always to play down-up.  However, if you play strictly as it comes, sometimes, you will play up-down ( mm. 26-28) , and sometimes you will play down-up ( mm. 21-25; 29-33 ) . And at the very end of the caprice, you will end down-bow. All of this leads me to believe that Campagnoli knew exactly what he was doing. He want

Caprice no. 24

I love number 24 for its completeness. Its form is reminiscent of many Baroque compositions, where short movements are packaged together (often alternating slow/fast tempi) to collectively make a piece that is about the same length as a long pop song. Campagnoli utilized the variation to include many different techniques: double-stops, bass and treble voicing, fast passagework, and string crossings. I am glad the fast movements were not any longer. The single take recording was quite a challenge!

Caprice no. 27

Number 27 is definitely more on the Etude spectrum in this book of Caprices.  One of the main temptations is to go into higher positions for the octave passagework. Examples include measures 9 and 15 , and the long run from mm. 18-35 . Notice that at measure 36 , Campagnoli finally writes fingering that inches you up the fingerboard, one position per measure. This is very intentional: it was customary in this period to play everything in first position unless otherwise marked, or impossible to play it any other way.  I found it harder to play the caprice in the intended first position at times, because one has to do more string crossings - and it also challenges the left hand intonation. Think of it as eating your vegetables, fellow violists. Happy etuding!

Caprice no. 25

Wow, what an amazing work: I love number 25! But it is one of the hardest caprices I've encountered. My first attempt at recording failed miserably because of the difficult second variation, and I had to try again during the next scheduled session. I actually love listening to the recording more than playing it. I'm not going to lie - it feels good to put it aside! Besides the obvious challenges of the Second Variation where you have to alternate double-stops with single open strings I also found the Theme to be quite tricky. Campagnoli is quite clear that he wants the triple-stops to sound as one blocked chord, as indicated by the staccato markings. It is quite difficult to get this sound without a lot of extraneous noise. I was finally able to develop the sound I wanted with two specific techniques:  1. playing far away from the bridge (where the string angle differences are less) and 2. keeping a very rigid wrist and bow hand, which you can observe in the video. The