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Samuel Thompson

Be A Violinist First....

February 3, 2010 at 9:02 PM

Well...not sure how to start this one but I'll say again that it does feel wonderful to be in a state of "punching my way out of the dark".

In thinking about our responsibility to ourselves as musicians and the craft of musicmaking, I have found myself remembering the words and advice of many teachers and people from whom I have had the opportunity to take lessons. The theme, of course, was all the same: "Be a violinist first."

So, this year I've decided that I'm going to study Nicolo Paganini's Twenty-Four Caprices....while in graduate school one of my summer assignments was to go through the caprices at the rate of one a week. Of course, as I look back the goal was simply to get through them, with the added benefit of improving my technique. Back then (this was in 1997 or 1998), I think I got through two of them. It is humbling to admit that I did not have the patience to analyze those thorny bits back then, and even more amazing to find that now I DO have the patience AND the desire to know them and to improve, as the true benefit is in both study and preparation.

Of course, with the goal now being one caprice every TWO weeks (with two weeks off after the first twelve), I know that I will only be taking a cursory look at these works which are both technically and musically fascinating. Nevertheless, it's a "hard slog" that I'm enjoying at the moment.

Perhaps in a few years I'll be able to play at least one of them in public...


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 4, 2010 at 6:51 AM

I like your approach.  I have my students go back to pieces they learned in the past and see how much better they can play them with their new knowledge and skills.  Onwards, Sam.

From John Cadd
Posted on February 4, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Sam   What a scary thing to impose a timetable on Paganini.My main question would be -----How will you cope with cramp?That physical barrier must be there if they are the extreme end of the spectrum.     Next question is about the speed to play them. I always have a gripe about the performance of Moto Perpetuo.Not one of the caprices but same composer.   Surely, there should be a speed for the man in the street to listen to apart from the "Menuhin"type performance on you tube which ,to me, makes no real musical sense.It is purely a technical performance. The first Caprice is often played so fast that the instrument itself is unable to give more than a wretched scratchy noise. Phrasing goes straight out of the window.   If I have been trying these pieces myself and I cannot hear what is going on then something must be seriously wrong. So start with a "man in the street speed " first.I mean,somebody has to enjoy it.

From Royce Faina
Posted on February 6, 2010 at 11:01 PM

How do you go about choosing / recomending a piece?

From Samuel Thompson
Posted on February 7, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Pauline:   Happy New Year, and thank you for your comment.    It is definitely a welcome challenge, and these works, which demand both musical and technical "completeness" in a sense, seem to be an ideal growth vehicle.

In response to Mr. Cadd (sp?):  Of course, with any work in the violin repertoire, the temptation may be to approach these caprices as if one were Superman.    That is most definitely not my intention, as years of study and performance have indeed made me aware of both my strengths and weaknesses.   I must say, however, that while I understand that a year may indeed not be a significant amount of time to give to Paganini's caprices, I am confident that the very close attention paid to the technical demands made present on each page (i. e. studying as a scientist) as well as ensuring that I am managing any limitations in addition to managing my phycial self as a whole will prevent issues such as "cramp", etc.

Furthermore, taking the time to study the tempos used by those who perform and record the Caprices regularly will aid (at best) in establishing a framework from which a clean and audible performance (should one arise) can be produced.

With this being my first "crack" at them all, the time limit (one caprice every two weeks) has been established so that I continue moving forward.   In-depth study of at least one will take place after this somewhat cursory yet very detailed and involved journey.

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