If you are looking for etudes that will help you hone your expressive and melodious playing, you might want to look beyond Rodolphe Kreutzer's famous 42 Studies.
Kreutzer’s Etude #1 of the 42 was an attempt at a melodious etude. It is not the etude that most people remember. It’s aggravatingly slow and has an uninspired melodic theme. I doubt that anyone started his 42 Studies with #1. The main purpose of etudes is to instill patterns and formulas into budding musical minds. #2 satisfies that with lilting one-octave arpeggios and tiny broken thirds. It sets up simple phrases that teach us how to add dynamics when there aren’t any written and how to observe a measure by its arc rather than its notes.
But Etude #1 -- I call it Kreutzer’s "Long Day’s Journey." (It may be as long as the other 41 studies combined.) I would have preferred something with a tune that was actually melodious. What’s missing is the ease and emotion connected to melodies which make them so endearing to us.
Fortunately, there is a book designed to make lovely melodies useful as a teaching tool. The Melodious Etudes for Violin, Selected from the Vocalises of Marco Bordogni (Carl Fischer) are edited by Doris Gazda. I find them well suited to developing a warm, rich sound. Practicing these 15 minutes a day rounds out the vibrations of the strings and encourages a healthy vibrato to match the expressive bow.
A Tenor Who’s a Teacher
Marco Bordogni (1789-1856) was a man who sang the leading tenor roles of several first performances of Rossini’s operas. He later became a teacher at the Paris Conservatory, and Hector Berlioz wrote that he was the best singing-master of his time. A vocalise is "a singing exercise using individual syllables or vowel sounds to develop flexibility and control of pitch and tone." (Oxford) When I practice the 54 etudes that Bordogni composed, I benefit from the gift of a man who sang the leading tenor roles of several first performances of Rossini’s operas.
Let’s absorb our knowledge of legato from a tenor who understands that dynamics, tempo, and texture change with every dramatic turn.
Expressing the Melody
Putting life into a melody requires attention to certain details which may or may not come naturally. This list of reminders helps me start the melody with the right attitude.
Knowing When to Pick Up the Tempo
If you’re like me, sometimes the rhythmic nuances that the composer felt was obvious slips right by me. A melodious etude trains us to see the beginning of a sequence that builds to a climax. A diminuendo may start on the last measure, but the music implies that you should start earlier. Even if you’re a metronome junkie and a bit of a robot, you can learn the skill of bending to the will of the music.
The greatest skill of all time is to be able to lead and follow at the same time. For most of us mortals though, it’s enough that we follow the will of whichever group we happen to be in. We can derive a lot of satisfaction from that. There are three benefits:
Making music is not about bending other people to your will, but about everyone finding the common thread.
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