Vivaldi Recital in A minor

May 21, 2010, 11:25 AM · "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 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.


May 21, 2010 at 04:50 PM ·

Thanks, Laurie.  I look forward to encountering this Concerto in a couple of years!

May 21, 2010 at 08:06 PM ·

Laurie - your comments about the challenge and value of this concerto is a real shot in the arm for many of us (especially those in the new "Stuck in Book 4" group on Facebook)!  Thank you.

May 21, 2010 at 08:46 PM ·

So true!!! Everything started from there for me as well (it will never finish but it started there ; )  It was the first time that I sounded like a violin and was also my first enjoyable public experience.

I have always loved this concerto because of this! The melody is so nice too. I'm very happy to have done it when I was quite old too (17 yo about...)  Because as a late started, I was more mature to try to sound ok than if I had started violin at 5.    I think this nice music deserves to be considered the most seriously possible and to be played in the most mature way possible that the player can give. 

I love Vivaldi ; )


May 21, 2010 at 09:33 PM ·

I love that piece in spite of the fact that there are passages that still give me trouble 15 years after I first learned it (the Galamian edition). it's truly a wonderful piece of music, and one that should violin students should learn to love. I know it's hard, but so worth the effort!

May 22, 2010 at 01:02 AM ·

I must confess that I never played the Vivaldi a minor as a student! Maybe that's why I still love the piece; I was never burnt out on it.

I love giving Vivaldi and other Baroque music to that sort of Intermediate level student to start germinating in the student's mind the idea of Historically Informed Performance - trills, grace notes, and bowings in the Baroque style. It can really give the student something a little more in depth to work on than getting the technique down for pieces like this.

May 22, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

Thanks Laurie for this entry.  It's great to learn from a teacher's perspective about this piece. I've never performed in my teacher's studio recitals. After reading this, I'm seriously contemplating playing in the next recital in December as a challenge to myself. With luck and hard work, I might even be ready to perform the first movement of Vivaldi Concerto in A minor by then. :)

May 22, 2010 at 03:33 AM ·

I love this concerto, too.  Who is playing it in the recording you posted?

May 22, 2010 at 12:09 PM ·

Just wondering how much time you would expect for a student to memorize the Vivaldi ?  I'm sure that there is not a single answer for all students but what is "typical" ?

I  once heard a major classical piece and someone asked the (high school) soloist how long she had been preparing ?   7 months !   And she certainly WAS prepared.  First class !


May 22, 2010 at 05:56 PM ·

It's still two pieces away for me.  Maybe in the December recital....  Thanks for posting.

May 22, 2010 at 06:54 PM ·

Don, you are right, the answer is that it depends on how much practicing you are doing and also how solid your foundation is up until this point. A student who has mastered their pieces up until this point (memorizing them, reviewing them frequently) could probably learn the piece in a month or less, then perform it a month after that. I stick to the rule that if you are going to perform something by memory, it should be fully memorized a month or more in advance of the performance. It can take quite a lot longer, though, and very often does. So I'd say two to six months. If it takes longer than six months, you might need a little more foundation work.

May 22, 2010 at 08:08 PM ·

 This is the only one of the "student concertos" from your other blog that I have actually played.  I played it in 7th grade.  I didn't memorize or perform anything back then, but I still think that I got quite a bit out of it.  

I liked the piece then, and still like it now.  I think Vivaldi is somewhat underrated and underappreciated by today's students.  Last summer I accompanied two cellists who were playing the Vivaldi double cello concerto, and it was just sublime.  I ended up loving it so much that I transcribed it for viola and played it in church with a friend.

May 22, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

In the Suzuki literature, the Vivaldi is the first complete concerto learned by a violinist.  This alone makes it a watershed.

May 22, 2010 at 08:29 PM ·

Thanks for the blog.  I am working on the 1st and 3rd movement, and although they are hard, and will take a lot of time, they are wonderful, musical pieces.  There are times when (parts) sound like the real deal...(parts, bits, measures...but I trust that in time thoses will be strung together into a whole piece....or most of one! 

May 22, 2010 at 11:47 PM ·

 Hearing my sister play the Vivaldi A Minor inspired me to take up the violin.  It really resonated with me.

May 22, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

I never learned this concerto as a student.  It could be I didn't need it, or it could be my teacher was (cough) sick of it...I do teach it now, not out of the Suzuki books, but the Galamian edition.  Besides fingering/bowing suggestions, I like to teach a whole concerto, not bits and pieces here and there.

I really like teaching this piece, and I agree it is a big watershed in a student's development.  The kids usually like it a lot. 


May 23, 2010 at 02:38 AM ·

 Have always encouraged this concerto along with the g minor, to all my students.

Both pieces have delighted and helped young and older students alike.

I learned both with Tivadar Nachez included improvisations; know I use original compositions and the Nachez improvisations I leave for later, or let the students do their own.

You can never go wrong with Vivaldi!

Mr. Szeryng, and Mr. Grumiaux often played these concertos, and recorded them!!

Zina Schiff has a wonderful recording of both in the same CD. (She was a student of Heifetz)

May 23, 2010 at 03:57 AM ·

I thought that everyone who played violin played this piece --I too was about in 7th grade when it was my turn. I was so proud to be working on it. I was surprised when (during the interim when I taught my daughter) my daughter expressed her dislike for the piece. I think she was frustrated b/c she didn't get the musicality of it.

May 23, 2010 at 04:34 AM ·

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.


 I'm a 36 year old adult beginner, been playing since last July, and I'm in the middle of learning this piece right now.  Thanks, Laurie, for that very interesting analysis.  I've got a long way to go to get this piece right, but it's helped me in all the ways you've mentioned.  I look back even a couple of months ago and can see definite improvement.  I love this piece.  I love the challenge of getting the difficult passages slightly better every day.  And the little cadenza (is that the right word?) near the end of the first movement is so beautiful even if it's hard.  The day I can play that well will be a highlight.

But memorising and playing in public!!! That might be a little way away.

In the city of Albany, Western Australia, where I live, we've just had a week of a music Eisteddfod.  I got up on stage with a group of about 50 fiddlers (mostly kids and a couple of violin teachers) and played an Irish tune - great foot-stomping stuff, lots of percussion, lots of fiddles.  That's a great way of starting in public - there's no pressure when you can hide at the back and know that while you are important in contributing to the tune, you can make a couple of mistakes without spoiling the piece.

Now it's back to Vivaldi before my next lesson ...

May 23, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

It is perhaps the 1st time a student violinist plays something that makes them sound like a legitimate (no reference to heritage) violinist, to themselves !  However, it's really the 1st movt that enables this transformation. Removing the Suzuki non-musical bowing makes it more attainable and increases the prospects for personal expression.

In New York State Evaluation festivals, it is listed as a Level 4 solo, meaning of intermediate difficulty. Having been a NYS judge for way-too-many years, I have heard it performed by all ages, to all degrees of quality, on all manner of instruments, in d minor by violists where it presently remains at Level 5, on occasion 15 times in a row, and never seem to tire of it. While some teachers send numerous students all on the same solo, with the same inadequacies, it is like a "break" for me, as I have a extensive list of critical comments at hand, to make depending on what I'm hearing.

I totally agree that this piece is responsible for the retention of 100's of students that otherwise would have stopped playing...It puts them over the fence, to the good side, and they crave the feeling of accomplishment this piece lends....The teacher's job is to establish a series from the literature that will enhance and sustain this feeling.

May 23, 2010 at 04:36 PM ·

And then, when Mozart appears, it breaks all this and makes you realize that this time, it will take much more work to make it sound decent ; )  This is the little ego break we students need to stay humble... well at least one is too young to realize he/she should work more on Mozart!)


May 26, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

 Thank you Laurie for your comments.  If I only had a violin teacher like you, I would be on top of the world.



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