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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 everywhere, which are fun because you can tune out intellectually (at least a bit) and let your muscle memory kick in. Ride the waves!

The Andantinos are nearly identical, and they both evoke the classic hunting music, with heavy use of thirds and fifths. (Listen to The Autumn Hunt from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and you'll hear what I mean.) 

Now that I've played all of the caprices and am looking at them with fresh eyes for these blog posts, I have come to a realization. It seems that Campagnoli wanted to give violists a truly comprehensive book of caprices, a greatest hits, if you will. There is a polonaise, a siciliana, several fugues, several theme and variations, a tarantella of sorts, and more, plus all of the flashy technique usually reserved only for violin music. The diversity and amount of material that Campagnoli has written for the viola, in this book alone, is astonishing!

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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 w

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