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Kreutzer, Rode, Dont and a touch of madness...

October 12, 2012 at 9:52 PM


October 9, 2012 · by Simon Smith

I need some help, please. Let me explain.

So, Louise, our new head of strings here in Birmingham and I start an email exchange. I volunteer to do one of her lecture/recitals that she is planning, in which a musician will talk through their approach to a piece of music. I am thinking of all my favourite pieces, Szymanowski perhaps (I could tell Neaman’s version of the story to Fountains, that he got from Thibaud, who played it with Szymanowski) or maybe some other piece of which I am proud of my interpretation.

I am, however, slightly wrong footed by a reply from Louise. “Maybe if you are doing a session like this you could even include some relevant tips on preparing for technical assessments within this? Just wondering”. ” Well she can keep wondering” is my first reaction. How would I do that? Why would I want to?

After clarification that I can really do anything I want, and that it was just an idea, I begin to think. Of all those Studies that I have heard from my students over the years, of what it must be like to sit on the panel for these midyear exams. A twinge of guilt sets in, maybe I do have something to contribute, maybe what the students need is to see me stand there and tell them all about the context of the composition of Rode and Dont and Gavinies. To show them how they can prepare studies with the same musical attention to detail as they would for a concerto, and find the drama and emotion hiding beneath the surface of a technical drill.  So, I agree, I’ll do the research and practice, it will be good for me, Szymanowski can wait, studies it is.

As it happens, my regular end of summer post holiday technical rebuild includes (as well as a complete traverse of the Flesch Scales obviously!) the relearning of a classic set of Studies. Rode, Fiorillo, Gavinies have featured in the last few years, and this year was Kreutzer. Inspired by the new Schott edition (edited by one of my former classmates, Maria Egelhof, with the attention to detail that I used to find quite charming when we were younger) I have just got to the end of the 40, having decided to ignore the two that weren’t written by the master himself.

At this point the madness of the obsessive violinist takes over. How will I decide which of the Kreutzer studies to perform? Why not let the audience decide? Let them vote! To begin with, I laugh at myself – how could I even contemplate walking in to a room full of students ready to play any one of these 40 pieces, that range from quite tricky to very hard indeed. I have a family, and a mortgage, I don’t have time to do that much practice. But I know them all already, some from memory, and have taught them many times. I seem to find the difficulty of the plan a challenge; exciting in a typical testosterone filled masculine way, and I feel the urge to give it a go.

So, please help me. Tell me not to do it, tell me to pick one or two and practise them thoroughly. Tell me I have enough on my plate already.  Tell me it would be like signing up to do a marathon in a months time, when you are only capable of jogging 2 miles. Tell me it would be professional suicide.
Please. Otherwise I might just do it….

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