March 28, 2008 at 12:58 AMCan you play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in 1st position on one string?
Playing the violin is all about extending boundaries and pushing limits. The best studies and techniques push us to to exceed limits. Pushing the limits gives us space to express ourselves even in much easier music.
Last night I rehearsed the third movement of the Sibelius 2nd Symphony. It is a fast study in 6/8 time with eighth note patterns. Everyone knows that its easiest to play the patterns with down bow on the first eighth note of every measure. But why should it be? I have noticed that a lot of my colleagues in amateur orchestras rarely play in even numbered positions? Why? Why do we avoid extensions or extended finger patterns? (Brivati-Sensei mentioned that Gingold asked his students to play Dont No. 2 in one extended pattern per 4 note group. Why not?)
Its interesting that some of the best studies focus very much on extremes. What is Yost but a study in the extremes of shifting: scales and arpeggios on one string using one finger, any two fingers etc? What about son filé? Dounis is all about almost every conceivable limit. Paganini is also a big limit stretcher. He gets them all, thirds, sixths, fingered octaves, tenths, left hand pizzicato, double harmonics (not in the Caprices though), ricochet, staccato, etc. etc. Is there a harder bow stroke than the original bowing for Caprice No. 5?
I think that every study from Wolfhart to Kreutzer and on to Paganini etc. should be approached as a question in extending limits. Can we play more notes per bow? Can we play it in one position? Can we play it on one string? Can we play it with one finger? two fingers? Can we ricochet up bow and down bow one measure at a time? Can we transpose it up a minor second? a minor third? For players in earlier stages of development can we play something without moving the shoulder? the elbow? the wrist? Can we play from frog to tip?
It isn't enough to just try to do something at a limit. One has to consider how the old limits can be breached and new limits set. What postures are necessary, what motions are required, what has to be suppressed, what exaggerated?
This is daunting to consider. I used to see success as a huge mountain peak in the distance. Now I see it as a mountain range, still in the distance, full of jagged and formidable peaks. The most daunting of all is musicality. I hardly know where to start.
Being virtuosic sets shows us not just showing excellence but also a more enlightened sense of freedom, that you can do anything you want in that realm and much more after putting significant amount of human efforts. It means that when you have reached to such level of skills and understanding that you are almost god-like in that part of the world without taking away anything from or limiting others. What more can a mortal ask for in this world?
Now, go back practise and push for the true freedom!
Pushing the limits reminds me of yoga -- you contort your body into all kinds of difficult and challenging poses, thus expanding your range of motion beyond what you might need to, say, walk down the street. But man, you feel great walking down the street after yoga!
I think that learning to do things in the extreme can give you confidence that you can do difficult things, but these do not always good music. In his book "The Inner Game of Music," Barry Green has some exercises in playing extremes, i.e., such as "play it too soft, then play it too loud, then the way you feel most comfortable." Frequently, I couldn't stand the sounds of the extremes, but sometimes I found them well suited for certain passages. I found that once I learned to play the extremes, I felt more comfortable exploring the space between the extremes to find the right sound for a given passage. The Buddhists advocate finding and staying with "the middle way." This is not the mathematical middle, but someplace comfortable and appropriate between the extremes.
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