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Silly concerto and fingered octaves

June 24, 2007 at 11:33 PM

Everyone has a right to a bad hair day. However, having just listened to one of the crummiest violin concertos on the planet I am puzzled as to how the creator managed to make this particular metaphorical bowel movement after writing one of the best concertos of all time and following it up with a pretty good 2nd concerto. I refer to good old Mr. Bruch. The 3rd concerto starts out with a somewhat unimaginative rhythm which it repeats incessantly while doing little else for about 3 and a half hours. I may be wrong on that- it just felt that way. I think I woke up at some point where the rhythm was being repeated but the violin did have a nice melody on the e string for a few bars. Maybe its like the Rocky movies in which case we should be thankful he didn’t write violin concerto no 5.
When Carl Flesch wrote the first volume of the Art of Violin playing fingered octaves were still something of a bogeyman for violinists. The context within which he discusses them is the setting of the hand frame and the avoidance of stretching in general. He makes an exception for FOs which he used as an efficient warming up exercises for a few minutes daily while living in a cold climate. The unintended result was a an effective FO technique which apparently provoked jealousy among his colleagues. Flesch went on to include FOs in his scales book but I am not convinced these did very much to dispel the idea that FOs were an advanced technique designed to give the budding violinist trouble and possibly injury..
Personally I think the Flesch book is better suited to more advanced players although that view seems progressively more unfashionable these days. I do believe that after Flesch came a slew of approaches and exercises with regard to FOs which make learning them much easier and safer if done correctly. Dounis and Riccis book on left hand technique are two very good examples. However, I suspect the main reason why FOs are no longer taboo is that understanding of the mechanics of the left hand has moved on so far. Violin technique has moved ever up ward with information exchange, travel and greater availability of the instrument generally.
My own approach to learning them does not involve trying to do three octave scales in FOs alongside regular scales. Rather I pay much more attention to scales that don’t change string practice 131313, then 242424 then 13241324 etc. String crossing is another issue but it isn’t difficult. The key is always relaxation and small hands are rarely an issue. If a problem exists it is far more likely to be cause by tension and misuse of the body.
The practice of fingered octaves is extremely liberating as far as I am concerned. As an orchestral player it is astonishing how often the simple insertion of this slight stretch can make a passage effortless. The amount of energy one saves in a work like Dvoraks New World, Slavonic Dance no 10 or the 1812 overture is amazing. Many orchestral works end fast and loud movements with high passages on the e string followed by octave chords. The high passage wok places the hand in an extended position and when one tries to get the hand back into its `natural frame` it is often too little too late. However, in such cases, FOs may well prove to be much more reliable and in tune. I might even go as far as to say that for playing in an orchestra it is as useful to be able to play outside the hand frame in this way as it is to play in second position.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 1:45 AM
I have had teachers showing me outside the frame fingerings for years and they seemed to make sense but my major failing was that I grabbed for them in a haphazard way. I find that when I discipline myself to establish a pattern: extended, expanded, contracted or some hybrid, that these "outside the frame" fingerings come into focus and I can execute them more reliably.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 4:37 AM
have you read Ricci`s book on left hand technique?
From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 2:10 PM
Don't forget the Scottish Fantasy...
From Robert Berentz
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 2:22 PM
Stephen I have wondered for some time how those who compose can write Ho Hum most of their lives and then create a masterpiece. I can tolerate most St. Saens but "The Swan" blows me away in its beauty. Perhaps we are looking at a bell curve and the good ones just float to the top.

I just wish the top was wider.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 3:14 PM
I have the Ricci left hand book.

Ricci is also getting ready to go to press with a new book on the glissando as a shortcut to violin technique. Do a search in Amazon. It isn't available yet but is expected by 1/2008.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 3:46 PM
Buri - it appears that practicing fingered octaves has improved your spelling! Or maybe it's the continued use of the prunes.
From Ray Randall
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 6:24 PM
Never heard he had a book out. Any revelations in it? Is it worth spending money for?
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 10:22 PM
Doesn't the Kreutzer and Mazas have exercises which include or are focused on fingered octaves mixed in with open octaves?

I thought I wanted to learn Ravel's Tzigane and then after much sweating and careful practice of the first page to get my left hand to play the whole page on the G string without injuring myself (in the practice sessions), I turned the page to find a whole section played octave-style. I just didn't have it in me that day, sighed, and thought about learning Prokofiev.

It is so hard to keep practicing and growing without a teacher.

Oh...and as for using second position in orchestra.....that is right on the money. In sonatas and cappricios etc. you can use second fleetingly and not notice reallyt hat you are in second....because it is just part of the phrase. But in orchestra, second position can't be avoided. Now I love second position.

Hand frames in higher positions sometimes to me feel like I'm taking the cop-out. Because I can just move my fingers within the frame switching strings instead of having to search and find notes. If I were playing that passage solo and not in an orchestra, the sound would not be acceptable, I assume.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on June 26, 2007 at 1:25 AM
sorry I`m forgetting who I am answering....
The Ricci book is well worth buying. It is a tome for fairly advanced violnists. Its a slightly haphazrd creation in my opinion but jam packed full of absolute gems.
Spelling- normal sevice will be resumes as soon a spossible.
Yes, Mazas and Kreutzer can be done ib fingered octaves. The g minor (?) Kreutzer is written both ways in the Galmian edition. I think this is such a useful bowing study anyway I would not bother complicating things with FOs. I once wa smade ot learn Kreutzer no2 in FOs with all the bowings. Not something I would care to repeat.
i also think one gets to acertain stage when using repertoire for difficult passages is useful. so wiythoutburdening oneself with the whole tzigane why not use the material to makeyourown technique stretching exercises. Then one day you may need the work as a whol and have already prepared the akward bits,
From Corwin Slack
Posted on June 26, 2007 at 1:57 AM
Ricci's left hand technique "book" (really a collection of scale like studies) is a real potpourri. The dominant theme of the book is that an advanced technique requires that one open the hand from the basic tetrachord finger patterns and accomodate a larger hand frame that includes fingered octaves and tenths. He encourages the shiftless third scale and strongly recommends the practicing of scales and other patterns in thirds.

He also recommends practicing all scales against a drone and provides useful suggestions for doing this in scales where open strings are not appropriate drone tones.

He does talk about "glissando" shifting (which is what most of us think of when we shift.

He is coming out with a book Ricci on Glissando: The Shortcut to Violin Technique co-authored with Gregory Zavia that can be pre-ordered.

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