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Corwin Slack

Professional Music

March 27, 2009 at 12:28 PM

I think that Stravinsky's Firebird is a fabulous piece -- if someone else is playing it.  There is some music that is just not meant to be played by amateurs and not just for reasons of difficulty. I have played Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. It is very hard but the part has a high degree of violinism. I would really enjoy the challenge of playing Don Juan with the right folks. But there is just some music that doesn't lie well on the violin, is filled with absurd transitions etc., that should be limited to people who get paid to play it. 

Firebird, Pictures at an Exhibition, Pines of Rome, Rhapsody Espagnole etc. are all in the category of great pieces to listen to but just a terrible imposition on anyone not being paid to play. There are many hard pieces that I would bust my chops to play (in the right circumstances) that are generally seen as too hard for amateurs. I would practice for a year to play Enigma Variations, any Brahms symphony or a Strauss tone poem. I have played Mahler symphonies and the like in performances that have been reasonably successful. It isn't hard that I am complaining about. It is the brutalization of the instrument and its principles that I don't care for. I can't argue with the aural effect. But you'll have to pay me to play them and if you're going to pay you'll undoubtedly find someone more able.

Sigh... the performance is this Sunday and I am resigned to it.

From Dottie Case
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 1:42 PM

One of the things I was surprised by early in my playing days was how 'unviolinistic' certain passages can be that might be easily played by other instruments.  At the time, I was doing pit orchestra music for a man who wrote sacred musicals.  He was a professional flautist as well.  I can remember this one nasty passage in a flats key (not as easy for me at the time) that required some really fast and awkward know, those ones where the notes lie just outside of the span of the hand, and must all be done on one string due to the speed, etc.   I remember telling him how terribly awkward it was on the violin.  He didn't really believe me, and said  it was easy on the flute.  I told him that it WAS easy on a flute and then proceeded to play it for him on the flute.  I think he believed me then, that the instruments really aren't that interchangeable.

Likewise there are certain violinist things...thing Vivaldi  or Handel...with fast string crossings passages where you just park your fingers and let the bow do the work that sound difficult but are really easy on a violin.  However, they are terrible on wind instruments or piano, and darn near impossible on certain brass instruments.

That was the first time that I really understood how much a good  composer needed to understand the mechanics of each instrument, and how unnecessarily difficult they can make it for us when they don't.  You can always tell, particularly with some modern pieces, when the composer didn't know anything about violin.  Not to mention the few times that I've seen music with low Es and Fs on them.  :)  We are not violas...

Good luck on you concert.  Sorry you're not getting paid!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 5:41 PM

Dottie's point is a good one.  Lots of composers were not violinists and did not understand the violin well.  That was why Brahms had Joachim vet his violin concerto, and why Joachim ended up doing a certain amount of rewriting.  Even Beethoven, who knew something about violin, has some passages in his violin concerto where the bowing does not make much sense.  I suspect that Stravinsky and Strauss may also fit in the category.  Good luck with it.  There are plenty of pieces you could not pay me enough to play because the violin part is so awful.  Currently, my community orch is rehearsing Fingal's Cave.  The first violin part is god-awful and does not make much sense to me.  It is at the limit of my tolerance.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Some are not meant for amateurs? Well, music is for everyone who can play it and of course, for all the listeners. So, if one can play a difficult/beautiful professional piece even if it's an amateur, their is no problems!  I've heard some amateurs and excellent kids on youtube with pro sounds! It's no that frequent but it exists.


From Adam Clifford
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 7:50 PM

 I entirely understand what you're getting at! This year, Virginia's [youth] Southeast Regional Orchestra played the Pines of Rome and Capriccio Italian. The Pines of Rome, although a fun piece to listen to, should not be played by an amateur orchestra. It can most definitely be enjoyed by anyone and if an orchestra of 'amateur status' wants to play it, they can go right ahead but I do agree that such a piece is not necessarily 'fit for unprofessional musicians'. I suppose I've sort of taken this a bit further than you were intending, sorry!

From Ray Randall
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 11:23 PM

Huh? Pictures, Rhapsody, and Pines aren't that hard to play.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on March 27, 2009 at 11:37 PM

Well for you perhaps Ray. 

It isn't hard that I am railing against it is the thankless drudge work to make something like those playable and yes listenable. Only someone getting paid or anticipating payment would have any motivation for these. The total effect is wonderful. So is the result of slaves toiling in a salt mine.

From Lawrence Price
Posted on March 28, 2009 at 2:15 AM

 I presently play in a university orchestra.  We often play music that is beyond the capability of many of the players.  However somehow the students find the time to learn the most difficult and exposed passages and are able to manage the performance.  The value of this kind of work is that it allows students to learn music that will be a part of their life if they go on to become professional musicians.  While the performances of the orchestra may not be up to professional standards, it forces them to push the boundaries of their playing.  I am not paid but play for my own enjoyment.  I have played most of the works that have been discussed in this thread with professional orchestras and find the task of bringing back the music into my fingers very satisfying.  It does require a lot of work but it is much easier than having to be ready to perform in two or three services as is the usual case with a professional orchestra.  The rehearsal time is a luxury and it gives the opportunity to experience the music in wonderful ways.  Making music is the ultimate goal of this exercise and I appreciate the challenges

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 28, 2009 at 12:19 PM

What bugs me the most is unreadable manuscript music.  I have a hard enough time reading ledger lines without them all being at different, non-standard heights.  If they're printed and I can draw an imaginary staff in my head, I will muddle through it at first and eventually be able to learn it pretty well with practice.  But when there are 5 or 6 (or 7 or 8) little squiggles crammed together between one line of music and the one above it, and the sharps look like naturals and vice-versa, that's when it becomes like a salt mine to me.  And I don't even need bifocals yet . . .

From Corwin Slack
Posted on March 28, 2009 at 1:23 PM

Some music is like climbing a mountain--hard but rewarding. Other music drags you around by the ear. Hey do this! No now do this! It is almost sadistic torture by the composer for his ends.  

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