Orchestra Excerpts Part 2: Prokofiev 'Classical Symphony' and Strauss 'Ein Heldenleben'

April 12, 2021, 11:42 AM · Some orchestra excerpts expose one or two skills on the violin with tactical precision, while other excerpts seem to demand everything we have. Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" (first movement, beginning to letter H) and the solo from Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben" (2nd bar of rehearsal 22-rehearsal 32) definitely fall in the latter category.

If you missed my first post (here it is), I am posting a series of videos in which I play orchestra excerpts and talk about them. I have two new videos up about some of the hardest excerpts in the repertoire!

There are a lot of videos online for this excerpt from Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben," including many from world-class violinists. My aim, as ever, is to speak primarily to other students who are still getting their feet wet in the excerpt biz.

The Strauss is an interpretive labyrinth, but there are ways to tie it all together if you think critically through all of the sections. This whole section of the piece is an exposé on Strauss' wife, Pauline (not the most flattering portrait). It's key to tie the musical action to a narrative surrounding this character. This can turn the music into something much more interesting than a collection of difficult notes -- passagework becomes a temper tantrum; a melody becomes an apology. Similarly, if you can break down the repetitive elements throughout, you can start to scaffold structure. A series of unrelated episodes becomes a saga with an arc. After that, all you have to do is learn the notes (the subject of a different video, surely).

Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" continues to haunt my nightmares. Seriously, it's got to be one of the hardest things out there. Each measure seems to use a different bow technique, and navigating them gracefully is a challenge. The opening two measures alone employ at least four different bow strokes, and there is still a long way to go!

Prokofieff 1935

The key to this type of playing is developing a hyper-specific bow plan. What is the angle of your wrist? How high is your elbow? Where in the bow do you desire to end each phrase? How much movement do you need for the string crossings (hint: probably not much)?

In the video, I talk about strategies for some of these tricky corners. You need a magnifying glass to work through all of the levels of detail, especially in moments like the quintuplet swells, which cram four different dynamic markings in a single beat. I also discuss the last movement excerpt (beginning-D), which is more character-driven and less of a technique show-pony. There is some tough passage-work, but in my opinion it's infinitely more manageable.

I had to put a little pause on making these videos because of my last degree recital, but now I have to finish the rest of them before I graduate in May and lose access to a) a video camera and b) a cool room to film in. So buckle up - April is excerpt month!

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April 13, 2021 at 03:15 PM · Looking forward to your future videos, thanks for posting them!

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