Looking to make a cadenza

September 9, 2016 at 12:49 AM · Hello! I am learning Mozart's 3rd violin concerto and have opportunities to perform a movement with a few orchestras. I am learning the Sam Franko cadenzas, but would like to create my own for fun. Does anyone know anything about composing cadenzas? Is there a form? It would be appreciated if anyone could help.

Replies (8)

September 9, 2016 at 12:21 PM · I've composed many cadenzas - but I can't give you a formula, maybe a few guidelines:

1. Some of our greatest composers - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven - have written down for posterity, SOME of their cadenzas. Yet all of them were also celebrated for their improvisation skills. So a cadenza ought to sound more or less like you almost might be improvising it as you are performing it. Though a cadenza is a kind of set of variations on a theme, it's looser. No variation 1 followed by a clearly demarcated variation 2. There is no exact form or template. There should be more free flow rumination on some themes, like a stream of consciousness. And your transition passages don't have to exactly reflect any particular theme in the original.

2. You don't have to hit on every theme. You don't have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Select a few themes that you like and work with those. Maybe there is some tutti passage that never made it to the solo part. No law against using that, too - if it appeals to you.

3. I can't give any guidelines for creativity or imagination - even for myself. Either the ideas come or they don't. Just to restrict myself to my Mozart cadenzas for the moment, I've written cadenzas for concertos 2-5, the adagio in E and the rondos in C and G. Why not no. 1? The ideas never came for that. Maybe one day...

Some of my cadenzas have come about in a labored, piecemeal way. With one concerto I had some ideas, then got stuck and put it away. I came back to it months or even years later and got stuck at the same place. Then one day the solution came to me and I finished it. There is another concerto where the ideas just so flowed out of me for the 1st movement that my first draft - which can look like chicken scratches - looked like - and WAS both a one and only draft and a fair copy! I don't know how I did it! Yet, the next day, the same thing happened with the 2nd mvt. and the next day with the 3rd! I still don't know how I did it! Yet, surveying my finished products, I don't think that the labored and the free-flow cadenzas are any better or worse than one another. You'd never know, listening to them, which was which. When I've done something fairly decent, after some time I don't know how I did it. It almost seems like someone else did it or that I trance-channeled it!

4. So, how to start? Put some staff paper on your stand or desk, but begin away from the paper by picking up your violin and bow and just fool around with some themes. Change them a little here or there. Add double stops. Make a major theme into minor or vice versa. Try to transition one theme to another in a different way from the original. If something comes to you that you like, write it down. You may at first get an idea that you know would work towards the end or in the middle. That's fine, and you may want to indicate it. See what happens. Have a feeling of receptiveness to your creative juices. You may have a big "OH!" moment or a small one, where a light bulb seems to go off in your head and a nice idea comes to you. Put it all down. Worry about sorting things out later. You must have had "OH!" moments working on your piece where you get an idea for a phrasing or a nuance - or even something as prosaic as an idea for a fingering or bowing. I don't feel that those are so radically different. It's all creativity. Keep the staff paper handy even when you've put the violin away. You never know when an idea may come to you. If you need to take the violin out again, that's OK; if not, even better.

Most of all, have fun!

September 9, 2016 at 03:37 PM · I really like Joshua Bell's cadenza for the first movement of Mozart 3. There is a suspended arpeggio that just really grabs me. (It's very similar to the suspended arpeggio in the third movement of the Vivaldi A Minor actually).

September 9, 2016 at 03:59 PM · My thought process on this subject is much like Raphael’s -- although I’m more into improvisations and haven’t tried any cadenzas of my own for concertos by others.

One step the late author and writing teacher Gary Provost prescribed for overcoming writer’s block: COPY SOMETHING. For me, this works in music, too. Playing a snippet of someone else’s work often acts as a springboard for my own ideas to develop. I’ll play partly by ear, partly from memory, in this stream of consciousness, drawing on studies and repertoire I played in the past. The typical catalyst will be a melody -- Mozart, Beethoven, Kreutzer, Mazas, Rossini, just for starters -- that makes me say to myself: “I wish I’d come up with that.”

I finish and memorize my improv’s -- even with revisions and retouches -- well before I can actually write them down. Writing takes me a lot longer, even with today’s computer technology.

September 10, 2016 at 12:21 AM · I think Robert Levin (who improvises all his Mozart cadenzas in concert) put together a bunch of violin cadenzas, or perhaps a cookbook of cadenza ingredients. Haven't seen it to know for sure.

Zukerman's early Mozart 5 recording added a nice one after the opening slow intro, before the Aperto begins.

September 10, 2016 at 06:52 PM · The fermata embellishments (Eingaenge) in pieces like M5 are meant to be true improvisations, so even if yours is canned, it should be made to sound improvised. I think there are many times when a composer's intention is that written notes should sound like spontaneous improvisation, and I set forth as an example the reprise of the opening theme at the end of the first movement of the Bruch G Minor.

It is said that, in days of old, performers improvised entire cadenzas, but my guess is that they had prepared in advance a collection of practiced thematic variations to at least build upon. If anyone knows differently I'd be interested to learn more about that.

September 10, 2016 at 08:42 PM · Sure, but couldn't you argue that's what improvisation usually is about anyway? You learn licks and standard chord progressions, learn other people's solos, practice improvising around a tune on your own time, etc. It very rarely is just completely out of nowhere.

September 10, 2016 at 09:31 PM · Yes, Sarah -- we agree completely.

September 10, 2016 at 10:11 PM · *high fives*

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