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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: which solo works would you choose, Bach, Paganini or Ysaye?

December 8, 2007 at 1:11 AM

As violinists, we are lucky that many of the world's most gifted composers devoted so much of their output to our instrument.

Of all the literature written for our instrument, though, the works for solo violin are the ones that delve most deeply into the violin's capabilities, technically, musically and emotionally. The works that stand at the core include the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, the Paganini 24 Caprices and the Ysaye Solo Sonatas.

Each of these bodies of work is worth deep study, and repeated study. But if you were given time to devote to just one of them, which would you choose? That's our poll for today:

For fun:

Vengerov plays the Sarabande from Bach's Partita No. 2.

Heifetz plays Paganini Caprice 24

Nikita Borisoglebsky of Russia performs the Ysaye Sonata 3, 'Ballade' at the Tchaikovsky Competition last summer

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 4:20 AM
Once again I voted, but cannot choose.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 4:58 AM
I think that Bach would have been consider a great composer if the only thing that survived was the Gavotte and Rondeau from the E Major Partita.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 6:59 AM
The works of all three of those composers are complex and difficult. All three composers understand the unique capabilities of the violin and take them to the max. However, which one wrote music that is beautiful to listen to as music? Bach leaves the other two far behind. Bach's violin music represents a beauty of the soul that is evidence of the divine within us mere mortals.
From Albert Justice
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 7:20 AM
My practical side that melts under melody agrees with Pauline completely. But, my intensely creative side keeps saying: "Ysaye". I would listen to Ysaye, when I had a lot of energy and wanted to explore voice on violin. Bach, when I need energy and inspiration--but also in the other case as well I s'pose.

I listened to Hilary doing Partita's awhile back when I was doing some light carpentry, and it was like, any stress from having to figure things out: gone...

I have an emotional connection with Ysaye, a complete connection with Bach I think.

I think each feeds different parts of our personality. Paganini? When I first heard concerto one, I could hear excruciatingly difficult technique, and picked a few out even. Listening to Emil play, gave me some more insights, but I'm still learning about Paganini.

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 7:30 AM
uh, perhaps I should master martele and a straight bow before worrying about any of this?
From Royce Faina
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 11:24 AM
I was watching/listening to Vengerov playing the Bach on U-Tube. His playing sounded very Etherial! I just loved it. At first I thought he had a Baroque violin, or had sympathetic strings. I guess not, I noticed he was bowing down at the fingerboard, even over it. I tried bowing, as best as I could, to duplicate his and it dawned on me that "Where" he was playing could have quite a bit of an influence on his sound and that his technique is a hundred miles way ahead of me! I thought his performance of the Bach piece was just great! I realy look forwards to playing like that!
From Rev. Edwin Perez
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 12:06 PM
Choose just only one- now that was a difficult choice. If there was a fourth choice- 'all of the above'- I would have picked it because each body of work is worthy of intense study on a musical and technical level. But there is something about "Sonatas and Partitas" of J.S. Bach in which a violinist can spend a lifetime studying this magnificent work. It is pure music as intended by the composer. All you have to do is listen to various violinists interpret and perform this work. Just about every violinist that has recorded this work or sections of it approach it differently.

On the technical side, there must be an awareness on the part of the violinist studying J.S. Bach's work that the difficulties that are found in the music weren't meant to exploit the technical capabilities of the violin or the violinist. And yet, those difficult passages must be mastered so that the music may reach the listener in an uninhibited manner. Here's an example: voicing the fugue movements of the sonatas presents multiple challenges for the left and right hand simultaneously.

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 2:27 PM
Bach shines above the other two as a truly great composer at least in my mind. I love the Paganini caprices, but to me they aren't as interesting musically as they are technically.
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 2:29 PM
Of course in reality you do not "choose" rather you travel the path that your heart takes you and it is not linear nor arbitrarily narrow.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 6:54 PM
I'm not too surprised, here!

This question came to me after my conversation with Ricci, who delved so far into the Paganini (not to the exclusion of everything else, mind you.) But though I've studied all the Bach and feel that I still want to keep studying it until my dying day, I never have felt motivated to do the Paganini. It was assigned to me in school, and I did my best to avoid it. I've made myself do some of it as an adult. But it's so much technical work, for a lot less musical depth than Bach.

BUT, that said...I believe the technical rewards to mastering all the Paganini Caprices are incredible. It's just A LOT of work, but there you have it. Like what Ricci said, "You don't get technique practicing the pleasant." After playing all the caprices, I'm guessing you can do a heck of a lot more with your Bach.

Ysaye, I don't think is as necessary to a violinist's development as either Paganini or Bach, and yet, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We have to learn to play when we play. They are high-level fun, if you ask me.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 7:09 PM
I have been working on Bach and Pag since High School, but have only hacked through the Ysaye Sonatas. They have been rotting away on my shelf for too long now. I was thinking about tackling "Obsession" this summer. That would probably keep me busy practicing for a *cough* day or too...

Great Question!

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 7:23 PM
Great poll, it had to be Bach for me - and thanks Laurie for posting that wonderful Vengerov clip as the Sarabande just so happens to be my Bach practice assignment for this week! I think I might try some of his bowings/fingerings... Does anyone know if that performance is taken from a particular DVD and if so, would they be kind enough to please post the details here!?
From Eitan Silkoff
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 7:34 PM
i would have to say ysaye, because Ysaye wasn't a born prodigy he spent years maticuously figuring out the violin and its meaning. I think his dedicatin of the 6 Sonatas (as well as Bach's) are a very important part of music that was changing

Ysaye is incredibly difficult but once you learn it, it totally feeds the ears musically.

From Rev. Edwin Perez
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 9:55 PM
This post is in response to Rosalind Porter's question. Yes, Maxim Vengerov's performance came off a DVD that features the Sibelius Violin Concerto. He plays J.S. Bach's Sarabande from the Partita in d minor and also Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 3 in d minor- "Ballade" as encores.
From Rosalind Porter
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 10:14 PM
Thanks so much Rev'd! I had that particular one on my long "wants" list so I think it is going to be ordered now...
From Erin Ross
Posted on December 9, 2007 at 1:01 AM
Yes! Bach wins, as he should!
From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 9, 2007 at 2:08 AM
In my opinion there is no winner here, pedagogically speaking. Bach is great if you want to spend the time really getting into the style and giving students lots of choices about interpretation. Paganini is great because you deal with higher levels of violin playing and techniques which go way beyond and can contradict "normal" violin teaching to make them work (See Ricci's new book). Ysaye is great because the techniques used to make the music demand legato connection between notes both in the left and right hand and also introduce forward looking concepts for the interpretation of 20th century music. I refuse to vote.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 9, 2007 at 6:41 AM
Laurie, you certainly think up interesting questions and write interesting background material about them. Thanks for this new aspect of
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 9, 2007 at 12:51 PM
I've only really studied the Bach. Like Al said, I'm still learning about Paganini. I don't feel like a mature enough violinist to do justice to his music or in fact get much out of learning it. To put in the effort to practice something that technically difficult, I feel like there has to be a spiritual reward at the end, and I can see and feel that with Bach. If I had the time available, I would be happy to practice Bach for days on end, hours a day, and feel better with each passing hour. But I've never been able to get to that place with Paganini.

Not that I disagree with Ricci, I think he's right about what you need to do to get to his level or a comparable level. In some ways I envy people for whom music like Paganini's nourishes their soul the way Bach does for me.

From Blake Newman
Posted on December 9, 2007 at 7:18 PM
Ahhhhhhhh. I don't like this i'm torn between Ysaye and Bach, but in the end I voted for the Ysaye
From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on December 10, 2007 at 3:54 AM
I think for where my playing is right now, I could probably grow most from doing all the Paganini really hardcore. So I picked Paganini. Actually, maybe I'll do a Pag project for a New Year's Resolution...
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on December 10, 2007 at 3:28 PM
Well, after reading the interview with Ricci - and watching some of the podcasts of last year's Indianapolis preliminaries - I started some Paganini. After about two weeks it's starting to sink in.

This is a difficult question, but it is valid - for some reason, however, it seems that it may be best for us to be able to play Bach, Paganini, AND Ysaye. No small task...

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