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Mendy Smith

V - Vieuxtemps

January 16, 2011 at 3:46 AM

As I work backwards from Z to A (skipping X for awhile) it became time to work on "V".  I hadn't played the Vieuxtemps Elegie in a long time.  I last performed the Vieuxtemps was for my Grandfather Smith's funeral several years ago, and it wasn't  the entire piece, just the first several lines.  It was the time to address the piece as a whole.

Picking this piece back up again meant revisiting memories and emotions dulled over time but still present. It is a second chance of sorts, taking the years of technical development and experience to finally be able to communicate in music what I tried to do so many years ago, but in my mind failed to do. 

The Elegie is a virtuostic piece for the viola and makes use of the entire range of the instrument from the low open C to high C four octaves above.  It begins on middle C with a somber mood.  It shifts from somber, to angry, thoughtful, hopeful, then to a dazzling display of almost frantic movement, ending in a dramatic ho-rah.

The first several lines came back easily and within a week were memorized.  Then came the "Turning of the Page" to finally start learning the rest of the piece.  All that talk about slow practice?  I'm using it in abundance.  It is the only way I can learn how to navigate the "Finger Twister" measures.  After many slow repetitions of those measures,  I discovered the fingerings and bowings that worked best and began to work up the tempo.  I'm STILL working the tempo up to where it will finally be.

In lessons, this piece is being used to address two of my biggest bad bowing habits:  stiff wrist/fingers, and speeding up to make it to the tip/frog at each direction change.  Though I've made some progress over the holidays on the stiff wrist/finger issue, there is still much more work to be done.  I'm coming close to one of those "AHA" moments though - it is taking less conscience thought to keep my bow arm/hand/fingers relaxed and flexible. 

The piece is also being used as a teaching tool for arm vibrato.  The only vibrato I've been able to manage to some degree has been a wrist/finger vibrato.  Engaging the arm is a challenge.  My muscles aren't used to such movement and quickly become tired and a little sore. However I know that with time this will go away and begin to feel natural, only if I have the patience and fortitude to overcome the initial frustration.

From Christina C.
Posted on January 17, 2011 at 5:18 PM

I am SO trying to stay on that slow practice bandwagon!

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on January 18, 2011 at 2:52 PM

This was one of the first Elegies I fell in love with.  I especially love the ending - you really have to 'work for it' in the end.  But it's beautiful.

--Ann Marie

From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on January 18, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Wow, nice piece. I named my Youtubechannel to this composer.

Here his difficult Capriccio for viola:

From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 21, 2011 at 5:45 AM


That is a tough one.  I'm still trying to get a few of those phrases up to tempo :)

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