In this blog I will take a look at the woofs and whistles of Kreutzer No. 2, an etude which is perhaps the most widely known in the repertoire.
The first question we might ask is "Why bother?" Writing in Basics, and ‘The Violin Lesson,’ Simon Fischer makes two points. The first is that in order to preserve and develop our bowing technique we need to practice a small number of key bow-strokes every day. Kreutzer No. 2 is ideal for this. The second is more of a practice suggestion to the effect that if we take a break from some music we are working on and practice Kreutzer No. 2 for 20 minutes, the improvements in performance will be substantial. Both points are, of course, absolutely true, with the caveat that one is practicing the etude properly in the first place. So let’s take a closer look at the whole situation.
One thing that has tended to be forgotten in recent years is that the Kreutzer etudes are very high-level basics. What I mean by this is that although really talented kids can eat them for breakfast from five years old onwards, lesser mortals might be better off using simpler etudes.
In particular, I have noticed that a lot of students play this study rather badly out-of-tune, while focusing on the bowing. This study is actually very hard to get perfectly in tune, so constant repetition without care may well lead to learning how to play out-of-tune in C major. This is not a desirable outcome!
Another difficulty is that it involves a substantial number of shifts. This is fine, but if we are really going to focus on this kind of bowing work then Wohlfart Op. 45, No.1 may be a better option. Indeed, one might even think about doing the first page of Schradieck with the appropriate bowings. That would certainly kill two birds with one stone.
The question of how to deal with the intonation is relatively straightforward. As usual, one tunes to the open strings, making sure the fourths, fifths, octaves and unisons are perfect. Another practice method that is beginning to gain a great deal of attention in the violin world is Rodney Friend’s suggestion of practicing in fifths, with hooked bowing. However one chooses to go about it, this etude has got to be in tune. Period!
Having established that some kind of bowing routine using an etude (played in tune) is (probably) a must, the question then arises of how to practice it.
Well, one of the errors that crops up here is the assumption that we just keep changing the bowings and do them at the point/heel/mb (tip, frog, middle of bow). That’s fine of course, and if we can play them with ease at these points very rapidly, we are doing pretty well. However, one might consider sub-dividing the bow into six parts and ensuring absolute fluency in each one…But I digress.
In fact, if we go back to the basic principles spelled out so clearly by Galamian, we should be creating increasingly complex puzzles for the mind by combining accents, bowings and rhythms. The accent aspect is crucial and yet strangely neglected. Apparently Heifetz was very keen on accent practice, and this does not surprise me at all. Once you get going with a metronome, trying to put an accent on the second 16th every time, one starts to realize how inconsistent our sound may be! So it is vital to make sure we are not neglecting both accents and rhythms when working on this etude. The Galamian rhythms are, in my opinion, far and away the best for this kind of work.
If I were being compelled to make final suggestions I would first turn to Albert Sammons, who told my teacher, "My boy. Master the heel and you’ve mastered the bow." (heel=frog) Then I would add: and after you have got it going well, relearn the whole thing in both second and fourth positions. That should be fun!
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