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Lunatic Beethoven, orgasmic Haydn and a little krispy Kreutzer

January 9, 2007 at 4:07 AM

Post-winter vacation is not the time for serious thought so just some idle rambles while my brain gets back into gear over the next week or so.
Ended up last year with two touching musical experiences. First I was booked to er, lead Beethoven’s 9th. Apart from some tricky passages in the last movement this is not exactly technically challenging but I prepared as well as I could and rolled up on the day. Was somewhat puzzled and asked the organizer where the orchestra was since I could only see five chairs and a grand piano on stage. `That’s it,` I was told. `Beethoven’s 9th symphony for chorus accompanied by violin, viola, cello , clarinet and a piano. By the way, its going to be broadcast on TV.` Lunacy aside, as we were playing it was astonishing the way the greatness of Beethoven’s music still managed to be so deeply moving.
When I think of Beethoven I always think of the quartets which I heard so many cycles of as a boy (parental fetish I suspect) , always in cold British churches out in the boondocks. Although I have played all of the many times with many different groups of esteemed colleagues I have never been in a situation where putting together and keeping a satisfactory quartet has worked. Its just not compatible with the lifestyle if most music students (somebody always has a lesson) , professionals (someone always has a gig) or Japanese musicians (somebody always has to commit hara kiri….) For me, creating a good quartet takes hour upon hour of rehearsal day after day. I have never quite got the satisfaction from playing quartets `for fun` that I have always hope dreamed of. It only takes one less talented player or hitherto unsuspected personality defect and -poof- the new group you have been looking forward to for weeks mumbles polite goodbyes. Better luck next time….
Our piano trio has been performing regularly over the last few years and this particular genre has less logistical and temperamental problems. However, there is a simple truth about this kind of group- you gotta have a truly outstanding pianist. One who can flip open a Schubert Trio, look at the black notes , twiddle around for 30 seconds while volubly cursing, and then just play. Our first pianist was not quite up to it but her replacement is a superb Geidai graduate who eats fistfuls of notes like I used to chomp donuts before I became a guru of the bowels. Now, although we are constantly working in detail on concert repertoire, we can meet and just play through Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart trios as will. It’s bloody marvelous. And this technical freedom to explore has thrown up some of the most fantastic gems of music by Haydn that have just blown me away. I find myself asking again and again, why is it that when we are asked who the greatest composer are Haydn rolls of the tongue somewhere in the top ten if he’s lucky? In the piano trios there is music so exploratory and weird it sometimes feels like one is playing some modern composer, and then there are so many slow movements that are so timeless and beautiful it is like your heart beat is suspended in a different universe (not sure what that means....). I am thinking in terms of a Haydn cycle over the next year or so .
Finally I noticed in a recent discussion a reference to just `playing through` Kreutzer no.2 using the prescribed (or should that be proscribed) bowings. This started an interesting line of thought about the value of such work or not. In Fischer’s book Basics, he mentions that many professional players keep their bowing in shape by playing through this etude everyday in a plethora of variations. But I wonder if this kind of approach has been misinterpreted to some extent. Does it really follow that playing through this etude as opposed to Kayser no1 for example, really does revolutionize the bow arm? Or is it simply that it’s a good brusher upper for already well trained bow arms (which I suspect was Kreutzer’s original plan)?
Part of the problem is that it is potentially very boring and boredom is a warning sign that must be interpreted correctly and acted on immediately. Boredom is our mind’s way of telling us something -very- useful in our practice: our current work is either too easy of too difficult. Effective practice occupies the zone between these areas and we have to develop the skill of nudging our way back into this rather narrow area where the task is interesting and moderately challenging. One way of doing this with the Kreutzer is to consider our goal. For example, it may be that we want to equalize the sound on up bows and down bows or make sure that the 16th notes have equal tonal weight. We can do this by telling ourselves to listen but this task does become boring because it is not precise enough. There is a flurry of fast notes and we have to decide which one exactly was a little unequal and then what? Stop and go back? More often than not we just let it pass because that is the human thing to do. It is perhaps helpful then to do something different with the problem to get it back into the useful practice zone. I suggest working with the accents, they are provided in the Galamian editions as the first 4 variations. Instead of focusing on equality one is then focused on a very clear task of creating INEQUALITY on specific notes. This is the kind of focus the mind can work with very well and it can only be done initially by paying attention which is when work is effective. One can double the potential work by starting up bow instead of down as well. But then things can become more complex if one decides to mix these accents in with the bowing exercises provided. If one does that then a whole slew of new challenges crop up to dispel routine.
But maybe I am getting ahead of myself here. Instead of approaching the etude as something to be played through as a whole, perhaps one can break it down into its constituent patterns first. Thus, if one were to play the first bar the pattern for bow arm without left hand is aeee eeaa aeee eeaa (assuming an open e) which can be isolated and practiced in all parts of the bow and with all variations even before combined with left hand. One might choose to work on only a few bars in this way in a single day so that the etude actually takes a week or so of detailed work to build up. Just like Sevcik!
This kind of work also gives one time to isolate and work on the two fundamental areas of bowing that are frequently ignored completely during the robotic play through approach:
1) The bow moves towards the next string prior to a string crossing.
2) One should take the time to make conscious decisions which unit of the arm is actually doing the string crossing. Is your brain actually confused about whether it is supposed to keep the arm in one place and use the wrist and or forearm or vice versa?
All this is before one has even considered the left hand which always interest me in this etude. When I worked on this piece in college my teacher made me play it in 2nd, 4th and 6th positions. That is completely logical and may well have been what Kreutzer had in mind. It does of course triple the workload. But then we violinists are a diligent bunch, are we not?


From LisaJo Borchers
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 3:20 PM
I like what you said about effective practice, that boredome results from material that is too easy or too hard.
I find that effective practice is also hallmarked how the passage of time is perceived. If you are really getting something done, the time flies. Even with endless metronome work. I illustrate this to my students when their lesson time is over and they tell me--"Already? That was fast!" I tell them: That means we were getting some meaningful work done. You were fully engaged and connections were being made. Your practice must be like this.
Thanks for your insights.

bon chance


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 3:49 PM
Dear Buri,
Beethoven's 9th on violin, viola, cello, clarinet, and piano? When I read that last night I laughed so hard that the grape juice went shooting out my nose. Since your gig is to be broadcast on TV, is it possible that you can post this on Youtube for all to enjoy? Please?
Thank You.
P.S. Alas, the Van Gogh never got here.
From Emily Liz
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 4:39 PM
I always love your blogs, Buri! Keep 'em coming! ("guru of the bowels" haha)
From Megan Chapelas
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 6:04 PM
Buri -

Playing Kreutzer 2 in various positions has been mentioned a few times on this site - maybe by you? Did you transpose or play the etude as it's written in other positions?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 9, 2007 at 8:34 PM
yes it was e. You play it exactly as written. No transposition.

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