"And now, Peter will play the Vivaldi Concerto in A minor, third movement..."
It wasn't quite as funny as when I had three students playing the "Gavotte" by Martini, and I was able to announce to the parents, "This is going to be a three-Martini recital..." But I had a lot, a LOT, of students playing various Vivaldi pieces at my studio's spring recital Monday evening.
I tried to mix it up, putting Vivaldi between duets and other pieces. And at one point we got to hear the first, then the third movement of the A minor, right in a row, which gives everyone a feeling for (almost!) the whole concerto.
"When students play Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor," I found myself saying to everyone, "they start the piece at one level, and when they finish, they emerge as an entirely new violinist."
I didn't actually plan to say that. But with five students all at the beginning, or in the middle, or just beyond, the Concerto in A minor, I've had quite a lot of time to think about this piece and its effect on students.
In the Suzuki sequence, most of this piece is presented in the latter part of Book 4: the first movement, then the third movement. The second movement, the slow movement, comes later, in Book 5.
Now make no mistake, the A minor concerto was used for teaching purposes well before Suzuki incorporated it into his method books some 35 years ago. I studied with a traditional, non-Suzuki teacher as a kid, and yes, I played the Vivaldi A minor concerto, the version edited by Tivadar Nachéz. This is the same version that appears in the American Suzuki books, though there is dissention in the ranks over its use.
Having learn the Nachez version as a child and taught it for many years, I was taken by surprise when I took out my fiddle and read through a new edition by Kurt Sassmannshaus, which is more along lines of the original. First, there are the differing slurs and articulations, but in say, m. 24, and m. 60 – typically difficult for a student – there are different, easier notes! The same is true in the third movement, with the difficult passage at m. 75; it's easier, more violin-friendly.
My students all overcome those Nachez-imposed hardships, and I think they are better for it. On the other hand, I'm a pretty big fan of going with the composer's original wishes.
But back to my original point, I do believe this concerto usually transforms a student. I would argue that once a student has learned this piece, she or he tends to emerge with faster fingers, a better ability to do passagework, increased endurance, increased confidence and ability in third position and a stronger bow stroke.
Of course, I must explain what I mean by "learning the concerto": I mean memorizing it and performing it in public. Making your way through a piece of music, without memorizing or performing it, is a lot like chewing a piece of bubble gum. You get some sugar out of it, but then you spit the thing out. You don't reap a lot of nutrients. When you memorize and perform a piece of music, you digest it in a way that is just not possible otherwise. The memorizing demands that you truly solve the problems. And you will hold yourself to a much higher standard, if you are required to perform the music.
For most students, certain passages in the Vivaldi A minor Concerto require more practice and repetition than anything they've ever played up until this point. To conquer these difficulties is to reach a new understanding about what is possible. A certain passage seems impossible at first, but after breaking it down, repeating it correctly (likely with rhythmic variations, etc.) many many times, it becomes possible. You may understand this idea and accept it, but until you actually do it for yourself, you know it in only a superficial way.
I've seen students resist this piece, and I've seen complaints about it on Violinist.com. Students say they don't like it, they are sick of it, they just want to play something else.
Well, I'm not sick of it after 30 years. It's a good piece. I suspect students resist the piece precisely because it is not low-hanging fruit; it requires a lot of work. They want to find a way around it, so they don't have to go through it.
You don't like it? Listen to it more; it's a well-crafted piece. You don't like the work? Tired of playing the same piece? Keep in mind that repetition is part building advanced technique – in any endeavor. And there is a reward for the work: reaching a new level of ability.Tweet
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