Can I Tackle the Tchaikovsky?

November 11, 2011 at 06:14 PM · I am 16 and I am currently working on the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1 and

the Zigeunerweisen. I have already studied the Mendelssohn Concerto in E

minor,the Saints-Saens Concerto No 3 the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, and many of the Bach partitas. I am also working on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saints-Saens on

and off. I was wondering if I could tackle a very advanced concerto such

as the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D Major once I am finished with the pieces

I am currently working on. Would this be too difficult, or would it

do-able?

Replies (44)

November 11, 2011 at 07:57 PM · Hi,

seems like you have a lot of talent. Did you ask your teacher? If your basics, scales, etc. are solid, it shouldn't be a problem

November 11, 2011 at 08:55 PM · Hey, it's a good thing to start on. Maybe you won't be able to play it perfectly, but you'll get a lot of technique just from working on it.

I'm, from what you're describing, about at the skill level you are, and I'm working on Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy. It's a reach, but it's good for you to try stuff like that. It's healthy. Like spinach.

November 11, 2011 at 09:55 PM · I've not actually seen this approach on V.com before - that you could try pieces beyond your current skill level as learning tools specifically to stretch you. Its great to read. Mostly I read that you should not try a piece until your technique levels are up to its challenges. Perhaps this is a difference between etude-dominant and piece-dominant learning? I'm interested because I took on the Bruch 1st which is clearly beyond my technical level but I have learned so much from the effort so that even if I have to put it aside for a later date the benefit has been enormous.

Now I actually want to step back a bit and take on something more technically accessible to achieve a performance level and then try again. Is this unusual or common?

November 11, 2011 at 10:03 PM · I think I share your opinion Elise. It seems like it's good to take on stuff that's just a little bit beyond your skill level, but not too much that you have to perform undue histrionics to make it work. I'm working on Wieniawski Scherzo Tarentelle and it seems to be really helping me at my level.

Then it's fun to try stuff that's more accessible too.

November 11, 2011 at 10:18 PM · Get the Sevcik analysis of the Tchaikovsky. If you complete the entire thing carefully, you can probably do the concerto.

November 11, 2011 at 10:52 PM · I'd be curious to hear what others have to say about the Sevcik. I'm working on the one for the Wieniawski and it's been helpful, but only to a point. At some point, it's really important to just simply jump into the piece. I find that the Sevcik can be a bit mind numbing, it sort of breaks things down to all the little tiny bits and bludgeons them with repetition.

November 11, 2011 at 10:54 PM · my teacher was always against playing things beyond your level because one you can't handle it, two although you may learn a lot from it technically you may develop a lot of bad habits. One thing I noticed is that if I constantly make mistakes, stop and start, it might become a habit so it will affect your performance cause it will be difficult to finish it without stopping. But then it's just my experience.

November 12, 2011 at 06:51 AM · Thanks for the advice everyone! I will probably give it a shot and start working on the Tchaikovsky once I finish with my current program.

November 12, 2011 at 07:09 AM · Steven wrote: "my teacher was always against playing things beyond your level because one you can't handle it, two although you may learn a lot from it technically you may develop a lot of bad habits. One thing I noticed is that if I constantly make mistakes, stop and start, it might become a habit so it will affect your performance cause it will be difficult to finish it without stopping..."

Oh, yes I agree. I think there is a difference between pieces that are still a technical dream and a technical challenge. The former can be fun to read through for fun but are a mistake to try to master - and yes, you learn to stop and start so much that even if you come back to it later when your technique is good enough it may be hard to overcome these learned crashes.

Perhaps a rule-of-thumb is to not to attempt any piece that has passages that will prevent you from at least playing the notes at the correct rhythm (at a reduced tempo) without stopping?

November 12, 2011 at 01:43 PM · I think I agree with your rule of thumb Elise, although I'd be curious to hear what others say. I think it's probably also important to play some things within your level at the same time as you're playing things that are stretching your ability.

November 12, 2011 at 03:14 PM · It's a similar situation to being in an orchestra that provides you with new technical challenges nearly every week, the (happy) position I'm in.

November 12, 2011 at 06:15 PM · I don't see why not. Sounds like a good piece for a talented person such as yourself. The best thing to do is break it down with your private teacher and learn it little by little.

Good luck!

November 13, 2011 at 10:12 AM · Although it seems a bit odd to play Bruch after Mendelssohn...

It really depends on your bow technique and your thirds, in my opinion. I hate third scales, so I finished the Carl Flesch book long before I did Tchaik. Tchaik isn't that difficult, though, if you spend time on passages and build stamina (the latter being the major difficulty for me, I got exhausted right around the cadenza). You should also practise Paganini's caprices, they are really good hand warm-ups. No matter what level you are, ol' Schrady and Sevcik are must.

Tchaik, as far as I can remember, is just a series of high intermediate/low advanced level skills pieced together, and phrasing isn't that difficult. Oistrakh's version's slightly easier than Tchaik's.

Do keep in mind that hand size does play a role in ease; I can easily reach tenths in the 1st position but because of my hands high position fiddlies are always problematic for me; for smaller-handed people, high position fiddlies should be easier. As a violinist, though, one should be able to play all.

November 14, 2011 at 06:03 AM · Hi Vuong Nguyen,

A few thoughts:

- What does your teacher say about this?

- Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

- Music should be more than an obstacle course.

- Are you planning to become a professional musician? If so, you may need to be more cautious than when your goal is to be an amateur.

I did something similar long ago. In my case, the affliction was with Brahms. After a long deliberation my teacher agreed and gave me the Sevcik analysis to study. It was quite a trip. A long trip, too: it took over a year to learn the first two movements. I remember winning an audition for a Dutch national student orchestra with it, and a disastrous master class.

Looking back, I believe an important step should have come after the Sevcik approach: making the piece my own. Really to know what I was doing, instead of just relying on the reflexes built by studying the exercises.

And another thing: this approach from the technical side carries the risk that one forgets why one plays the piece in the first place. What is the music about? Why does it appeal to me, and how am I going to share this with the prospective audience?

Hope this helps,

Bart

November 14, 2011 at 06:39 AM · Greetings,

I would suggest their are two differnet approacvhes to piece allocation. The first is to rescribe at an appropriate level which may stretch the student but only adds to a mental model of playing that is already in place. This is pretty much the standard approach.

The other way is to give a styudent soemthing that contains so much new informatioon or technique in one go that the existing structure is blown away: IE it is basically sopmewhat beyiond the studnets capabilities at this point. By this I mean that the studnet will not really be able to securely perform it in public.

The latter approach is generally eschewed. As a consitnet approach I would suport this postion.

However, really great teachers often have the ability to give this kind of shock and awe treatment to studnets at justthe right moment and they make huge leaps in spite of the gaps and problems that may then emerge. The trick is to follow that work with fundametal remdial work that brings things under control again. Its very skilful teaching.

As far as the original poster is cocnerned, assuming that his repertoire is well within his capabilities and well leanred I think the Tchaikovsky is not unreasonable. What does, hopefully not rudely, wory me is that if you have to ask then the required knowledge may not be quite there.

Having said that, I would have no hesitation in recommending using difficult passages form the Tchaik at this stage for interesting and creative technical work. I do not belive this is detrimentla to learning the work a little later.

Cheers,

Buri

November 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM · Interesting as always Buri. Two things stand out for me - one is the teaching considerations between the professional and amateur goals. Which I assume is that the former has to reside on a much sounder technical base to ensure there are no learning gaps whereas the goal of latter is to just play the piece and the gaps be damned!

The other is the outcome of learning a piece or passage that is actually beyond your current technical ability to perform. As indicted thats clearly what I am doing with the Bruch. The outcome is almost funny: the learning took a quantal leap - I am now quite comfortable (though obviously have not mastered) shifting to positions up to 8 or 9 across the fingerboard - though I am well aware that the fast passages although gradually being learned are nowhere near the same level of achievement.

What this does - and I raise it because it is directly relevant to the outcome of learning the tchaikovsky for the OP - is that you don't know where to go next! I look at pieces that I are within my technical range - and should be able to get to performance level but find them lacking in the high position work that I've been introduced to (and truly enjoy), whereas the pieces that have the latter are mostly in the same league or beyond the Bruch. Its as if I had a day as a princess and now can't think of just being a humble subject again... [For me I think the answer is Mozart probably IV...]

November 15, 2011 at 01:25 AM · greetings,

try the Beethoven String Quartets ;)

Cheers,

Buri

November 15, 2011 at 03:10 AM · Funny you mention that - I'm working on the 18(3) our quartet!

But to get back (closer) to the OP - if the Tchaikovsky is a really big stretch what will you do after to fill in the holes? And if its not then its not really an issue. I think the only way to really find out is first to see if your teacher supports it and second to just try! A week of two of exploration will certainly not harm you (quite the opposite) and its hardly as if you have to committ for life...

November 16, 2011 at 06:06 AM · Thanks for all the great responses! I don't think it is out of range to learn. I was more worried because it is my junior year and I won't be having that time to practice, due to taking AP courses and applying for colleges and such. I will mostly likely try the Sevcik analysis and work at it slowly.

November 16, 2011 at 02:07 PM · I went from Haydn to Bruch and have not made such a "quantam leap" since then...I think your situation is more reasonable than mine was at that time. Give it a try, why not? If you find it too difficult, put it aside; you will eventually come back to it and find that the easier parts are familiar and the harder parts less daunting than they once looked. Try to be disciplined about it from the beginning, take it slow, and those bad habits will be less likely to creep in.

Momoko, I do think that will be different for different people. For me the Tchaikovsky was beastly difficult. I am finding Brahms easier.

August 16, 2015 at 04:25 PM · I started on the Tchaik last month. I am about 1/3 of the way through the 1st movement. So far, I would describe it as more awkward than difficult. The notes just don't fall under the fingers very naturally. But I don't think it is really that much more difficult than Saint Saens IRC, or Mendelssohn VC, or Zigeunerweisen. I'll probably change my tune when I get to the cadenza.

August 16, 2015 at 10:58 PM · You will. :-)

It is a lot more difficult. The first movement gets more and more difficult as it goes on, and you are still early on enough that you haven't hit the escalating difficulty curve.

August 17, 2015 at 04:03 AM · Greetings,

you might even consider working backwards as not only does the technique get harder but also the memory demands. i

cheers,

Burp

August 17, 2015 at 06:22 AM · ops.

August 17, 2015 at 01:41 PM · Interesting to look up and see what the OP is doing now. Rudimentary Google search of the name "Vuong Nguyen" turns up a college student (in Morgantown) who plays the violin and majors in music but is aiming for a medical career. Of course, I don't know if these are the same people.

August 17, 2015 at 09:27 PM · Ops didn't realize this was an old post.

August 17, 2015 at 10:05 PM · Yes it is an old thread, but thankfully the Tchaik is still in fashion.

October 5, 2015 at 03:33 AM · I'm half way through the cadenza which is just about half way through the first movement. The cadenza will surely require some work, but it is definitely doable. Actually, I think there are a few passages in the first half that are tougher than the cadenza.

At any rate, the Tchaik is an amazing piece of music. I am really having fun working my way through it. My advice to anyone who learns this piece -- lots of slow practice with a metronome. Start at half tempo or slower and gradually speed it up a few ticks at a time.

October 5, 2015 at 06:13 AM · Tchaikovsky is one of those concertos where you can't really pinpoint particular passages as being too fiendishly difficult, but the difficulty comes as a result of the length and sheer stamina that's needed to get through the entire thing in a performance. It takes so much training and conditioning to still have anything in the tank once the finale rolls in. I certainly can't pull that off.

Glad you're enjoying working on it, it's one of my favorite pieces too :). Btw is it just me or is the recap of the first few pages a lot more awkward the second time around?

November 16, 2015 at 02:08 PM · Austin wrote:

"Btw is it just me or is the recap of the first few pages a lot more awkward the second time around? "

It's not just you :-). I 100% agree.

November 17, 2015 at 10:41 PM · Yup, that's why there are so many performers and teachers who have ways of cutting it and snipping out bits of it.

November 18, 2015 at 03:07 AM · I don't think it's that. The Auer cuts are traditional, and it's only been relatively recently that there's been a vogue for playing the concerto as originally written.

December 9, 2015 at 02:55 PM · Still plugging away at the 1st movement. It is quite a beast. I am using Schirmer's edition which does not have any cuts. In total it is 15 pages for the first movement.

So far, the part that has taken longest to learn the notes is the recap after the cadenza. It took about 6 weeks to get two pages -- lots of really slow practice with a metronome starting at less than half tempo. The notes are really awkward and since I do not have perfect pitch, I sometimes had to practice with a tuner just to make sure I was hitting the right notes.

I am finding that my Ludwig Bausch bow, which set me back a pretty penny, is not the optimal bow for playing this piece. There are a few staccato double stop passages with lots of string crossings that would be easier with a stiffer bow, something with a little more backbone. I might hunt around to see if I can find a better bow for this piece.

I am hoping to get through the first movement by January, then I will go back to the beginning and polish and work on musicality.

December 9, 2015 at 03:11 PM · Smiley, DO THE CUTS. Holy smokes. Funny, I don't remember you as being a masochist.

December 9, 2015 at 05:08 PM · Jascha Heifetz told my teacher that Tchaikovsky actually approved of the Auer cuts, when Auer showed the revisions he made to Tchaikovsky. I personally think the last movement flows a lot better with the cuts. It might be interesting someday, if a violinist records both versions (original and Auer). Still it's a great piece either way.

December 9, 2015 at 05:16 PM · Hi Mary Ellen,

I would be a masochist if I had a deadline to get through the piece, or if I had to perform it at a certain level. But remember that I am an amateur violinist. I play violin because I enjoy learning new music and improving my technique and just taking my mind off the daily grind. I don't have a destination I need to get to.

I am just enjoying the ride and having fun with the learning process. If I do a scaled down version of Tchaik and finish quickly, then I have the problem of figuring out what to do next. For now, I love the piece and I love learning it. So thanks for the suggestion but I am going to continue smelling these sweet roses for the time being.

December 10, 2015 at 05:53 AM · I learned this with the Auer modifications, but I seem to recall that in some cases they make it more difficult, not less difficult. But I have to say that I think the concerto sounds better in its Auer form.

Smiley, you might benefit from a different edition nevertheless. The bowing/fingering suggestions in the Schirmer editions are often not very good. The International edition is edited by Oistrakh and the markings are good. If you can get ahold of Bronstein's "The Science of Violin Playing", the editing in its Tchaikovsky is also very good.

Anyway, for the OP: It depends how solid your technique is. If you're playing that list of repertoire you cited without a technical struggle, you may have the chops to tackle the Tchaikovsky.

December 10, 2015 at 03:04 PM · Thanks for the reply Lydia. I will check out the other editions. I just realized that the Schirmer edition has a note on it "Revised and Fingered by Philipp Mittell." So maybe it has cuts in it. I have found some of the fingerings useful, but I have changed many of them, with the help of my teacher of course.

And by the way, just because I am working on Tchaik doesn't mean I have the chops. No one in their right mind would ever want to hear me perform it. I just enjoy the music and I like the challenge.

December 10, 2015 at 04:27 PM ·

December 10, 2015 at 05:49 PM · Here's an interesting paper. THE TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO: VIOLINISTIC INFLUENCE ON PERFORMANCE TRADITION, by Elizabeth Haight.

Smiley, when you enter the Tchaik competition (you could pass for 32 right?) you'll have to play the original anyways, so it's a good thing you're learning the complete version. The Oistrakh/Mostras edition shows the original alongside Auer's alterations and marks possible cuts. Speaking of which, cuts (done for whatever reason) are one thing, but I've always found Auer's rewritten passage-work out of character, like he cut and pasted from Vieuxtemps. The Rostal edition (Schott) also shows original/Auer and looks prettier than International.

Until you find your dream Sartory, you might try practicing all the double/triple stop spiccato, string crossing stuff over the fingerboard (as with Bach chordal stuff) in p to train your bow-fingers to catch the strings and your elbow to cross to the perfect level to do so, and to avoid 'muscling' through such passages. A good collé motion will help to pinch and release (pluck the strings with the bow.)

December 10, 2015 at 06:27 PM · My opinion, the Auer cuts and modifications were improvements.

December 10, 2015 at 08:03 PM · I've heard beautiful performances of both versions. My friend's dad, who won the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition, performs the original version. There are some players like Eugene Fodor or Nathan Milstein, who use the urtext for the 1st movement and the Auer cuts in the last movement.

December 10, 2015 at 08:03 PM · Jeewon, regarding tips for practicing the double/triple stop spiccato, I was working on that this morning with my teacher. She had very similar comments to yours.

December 11, 2015 at 02:20 PM · Cool! You might end up preferring some flexibility in a bow for such passages, though you may still want a stronger stick for the rest of the concerto. It's so individual, but I think I'd go for a very articulate stick, one with good bite (which suggests vertical flexibility) but quite stiff laterally for pouring it on. And of course it would have to be very fast, but with a controlled bounce for the last movement. So it should kick when you want it to, and sit and sink in when you want. Warm, fat, bottom end and shimmery upper partials would be nice too. Not too much to ask :)

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