Five 20th-Century Violin Pieces

January 7, 2017, 8:01 AM · Happy New Year everyone! As my break starts to end (my Ravel Sonatine orchestration -- and my string quartet, ending with a bit of inspiration from Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" -- are completely finished!), I'm ready to start really digging into my violin repertoire and am ready to start focusing on it a little more.

This morning before I really got started with my day (at 8am), I was listening to a few different 20th-century works in completely different styles that all featured the solo violin in different ways, so I thought I'd share them here to kick off my 2017 entries!

Five 20th-century composers
Stravinsky, Shchedrin, Lutoslawski, Takemitsu and Khachaturian.

They're all from a YouTube channel I've recently subscribed to - I think they post music in batches that sort of relates in some way. Anyway, on to my list! (I never did finish that 16 Favourite Composers list I was going to... Oh well. Maybe this year.)

Igor Stravinsky - Tango for Violin and Piano (1940)
This piece looks like such a blast to play! I like how he uses the ricochet bowing technique at the end to give an effect of strumming a guitar quickly, making the attack sound somewhat messy in a controlled way, if that makes any sense... The piece is full of thirds, which would need a little bit of practice. You can see as well that this clearly comes from his Neoclassical period, utilizing the Trio section in the middle and being clearly in a d minor key area. Fun!

Rodion Shchedrin - Balalaika for Violin Solo Pizzicato (1998)
This piece sounds fun just by the title, and the fact the bow never gets touched during it! A balalaika is a Russian instrument that has a triangular body that supports just a few strings on it - very guitar-like. This piece utilizes the pizzicato to the effect of a guitar. Although there are some moments where it feels like this guitar (violin) is being strummed, it also feels more like a part for an acoustic guitar that has just been transferred over to the violin. Very different than Ravel's guitar-like violin parts!

Witold Lutoslawski - Subito for Violin and Piano (1992)
This piece is cool for its slower and quicker portions being mixed together - the parts where the violin is scrubbing away at fast notes and the parts where it's a bit more lyrical. Lots of mixed meter and fun little figures contrasting the held chords in the piano part.

Aram Khachaturian - Sonata-Monologue for Violin (1975)
I didn't really have time to listen to this piece in full, but I'd thought I'd stick it in this list anyway. Even though the composer is a Soviet composer, I thought the beginning had a tiny bit of an Indian sound to it with the grace notes. As the piece continues, it begins to develop into a whole different sound world. As I'm currently working on Persichetti's Sonata for Solo Violin, it's cool to get into more of the world of music that only relies on this small wooden object to fill up an entire concert hall - I love that idea!

Toru Takemitsu - Nostalghia for Violin and String Orchestra (1987)
And we end with some '80's music! Though not the kind you're probably thinking of (and although lots of pop '80s music is full of synth, I have heard songs in the car radio that use strings sections from the '80s, so...) This Japanese composer has been my latest curiosity (still) in the world of music in terms of developing my composition style. This piece certainly delivers the kind of Takemitsu style I know and love! (And I'm sure I've listened to it partly before without the score, too. Seeing the score makes me want to learn it myself!) The one gesture that really stuck to me was the bars where the solo violin disconnects from the second violin section and moves quickly upward through the register, ending abruptly on two artificial harmonics. That jump is so characteristic of the composer, as he takes the upper partials of the notes preceding these high ones and brings them into focus in a unique way. The strings, though similar to the held chords in the piano in the Stravinsky, offer really interesting chords, and compliment the violin in a unique way, I think. I love all the harmonic choices he makes and the major sevenths/minor ninths he has as jumps - very much what I have been doing in my pieces recently (for example, B-flat up to B-natural). It is a very nostalgic piece and gives listeners a moment to reflect as they listen.

Well, there you have it! A selection of fantastic newer works featuring the violin. And now it's time to go out to breakfast and hear how Michael Giacchino uses the violins in his new score for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) as I go with my family to see it in the theatre. (Apparently Alexandre Desplat was going to write it.) Well, Giacchino has a certain rep for space movies (all the Star Trek reboots), so I'm sure he'll do a good job! And this story will involve the Death Star somehow... Huh...

Anyways, I hope you had a great holiday season! Even though it's over, we can enjoy the new presents we got (I got an André Rieu CD that has been fun to listen to, as well as lots of scores for Ravel (and Vaughan-Williams' Fifth Symphony!), and can start up our work, continuing on from last year. Let's see what happens here in 2017!


January 8, 2017 at 02:37 AM · For your info Aram Khachaturyan was an Armenian, and the motives and ornaments you hear its from Armenian folk music.

January 9, 2017 at 03:18 AM · Ok, cool - thanks!

January 9, 2017 at 06:06 AM · These are such nice selections, Joshua, because they aren't the typical ones that people play. There were several I'd never heard! Thank you for bringing these to our attention, great pieces!

January 10, 2017 at 07:17 PM · I like Takemitsu especially - I would love to play that piece someday!

January 12, 2017 at 08:48 PM · I love the Khachaturian Monologue! Particularly the way he uses pizzicato, and the way he incorporates folk elements. It reminded me of Jewish music, but I've been immersed in Achron and the like, so my ears are biased. Although the Armenian folk music and Jewish music probably have similarities.

I am working on a piece for solo violin and have been searching for interesting pieces to study. I'm always happy to find new pieces to analyze! (And play!)

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