Brahms Violin Concerto

December 13, 2011 at 04:10 PM · After waiting many years, I have finally begun to work on Brahms, any tips from the experts?

Replies (34)

December 13, 2011 at 08:58 PM · You'd have to be very specific. Even just the opening is so difficult, with so many musical and technical dimensions (especially the question of where you must maintain tempo and where you can be freer), that it's impossible to give some kind of general advice.

December 14, 2011 at 12:39 AM · If you do not have a teacher, get one. If you have one, listen to him or her. You have chosen a difficult piece. It is difficult to give meaningful tips.

December 14, 2011 at 02:37 AM · Play in tune.

December 14, 2011 at 01:57 PM · Here's a tip from Aaron Rosand: in the very solo opening entrance, with the 2 groups of 5 notes, many people play a bit broader at first, then accelarando a bit. That's fine.

But Rosand said that he had discussed it with his friend Henryk Szerying, and they both came to the conclusion that the way to best bring that off is to think of the 1st four notes as a group of 4 1/16ths, followed by 2 groups of triplets.

It's a bit easier to demonstrate than to verbalize, but hope this makes sense.

December 14, 2011 at 07:09 PM · Combining what Tom and Marty have said: you've picked a difficult piece (perhaps one of the least violinistic of the big concerti), you need a teacher, and you should start by playing it in tune. Every single bar of this piece is a huge intonation challenge, from the octaves in the beginning, to the 10ths in the second theme and the ensuing fast triple-stops, to the final double-stops leading up to the final cadence. Basically, you shouldn't be doing it unless you've covered most of the other standard concerti in the repertoire, including Dvorak. However, if you think you may study this with a teacher at some point, I'd prepare the groundwork by working out all the intonation very, very slowly. If you present this to a teacher and slop through it, they'll just tell you they don't want to hear it for 10 years anyway.

There is no end to people (including me) who furiously scratch through the first page, out of control and out of tune.

December 14, 2011 at 07:33 PM · Amen Scott. Tacking a big challenge is part of our human nature but mastery requires huge discipline. When my teacher went to Eastman to study piano with Cecile Genhart he was playing the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. She quickly had him playing Bach two part inventions and Mozart sonatinas. He had to undo so much but he wouldn't have made it to Eastman had he not had the talent to play the Emperor.

December 14, 2011 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

when you finally get to that soaring (sawing) melody on the first page elongate the final quarter notes o the bar s that have them as muc as you can without destroing the pulse

All of the above.

Not to say one might for example, pick out things like the octave passgaes and write ones own etudes based on them. This is one way of preparing for major works much further down the road .

Cheers,

Buri

Or take up the oboe and learn the second movement...;)

December 15, 2011 at 03:23 AM · Thank you everyone, and to clarify I do have a teacher, I am blessed to have a teacher who has learned under Ivan Galamian and other noted teachers. My teacher has been helping me and guiding me tremendously but I always love to listen to other viewpoints :). I just started the first 2 lines, so still in the birth of the piece.

December 15, 2011 at 05:17 AM · I don't understand why your teacher is letting you do the "learn 2 lines at a time" method on one of the hardest works after 4 years of study. This to me is a waste of time--there are so many other ways to be utilizing practice time, and so many other great pieces to be learned. I know some teachers will humor a student this way, but I will not let a student start a work unless I feel they can learn the whole thing, and make reasonable progress. Certainly not 2 lines.

I believe (though I can't prove) that there is a sound psychological reason for not attempting a difficult piece before one is ready: it's likely the mental discomfort with the work will be retained for a long time, and difficult to shed even when one is ready.

December 15, 2011 at 05:54 AM · Greetings,

I agreee with Scott. Since a staff has five lines it`s going to take an awful long time to do the first page....

Cheers,

Buri

December 15, 2011 at 10:54 PM · STephen,

Now you're really going out on a ledger. Try to stave off the temptation. Unless you're trying to even the score...

Scott

December 16, 2011 at 02:26 AM · Sevcik has an analysis on Brahms violin concerto. Maybe you can take a look.

December 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM · Scott wrote: "I believe (though I can't prove) that there is a sound psychological reason for not attempting a difficult piece before one is ready: it's likely the mental discomfort with the work will be retained for a long time, and difficult to shed even when one is ready."

I think this depends on the intent and the stage. Since returning I have made by far the biggest advances by attempting pieces that I would readily admit are beyond my technical abilities at that time. Is this bad? I think only if your intent is to perform the piece - or rather you should not do this unless you are also working on something that is within your capabilities to reach a reasonable peformance. Though I do see the point that if you fall by the wayside with a piece there seems to be a residual learning 'scar' associated with it. OTOH you can also get a great thrill when you return later and find passages that were impossible are now at least doable.

I'd qualify that further that it also depends on what developmental stage you are at. I think there is often not enough diversity for beginners - they can learn a lot from pieces that are in large part beyond their technical capacity - the reason its relatively harmless is that these pieces are short and are easily replaced. However, at the stage the OP is at to study a piece that is technically too far ahead would seem to be a route to frustration not growth. Would it be reasonable to say that the more advanced you become the greater you should resist rep that is outside your capacity to perform?

December 16, 2011 at 07:42 PM · Greetings,

`Would it be reasonable to say that the more advanced you become the greater you should resist rep that is outside your capacity to perform? [Flag?]`

In general it is not such a good idea whatever the level, but of anything the opposite is true.

As an advanced player one should be planning ahead for the next repertioire thta one wants/needs to play. This can be done in two ways.

1) As recommended by Auer: take passages from difficult works and use them to further your technique. When it comes ot playing them life can be so much easier.

Paginini is very useful in this respect.

2) Playng though a work just a few times once a week, not @pracitcing ` it but paying attention , slowing down fro the diiffficult bits and just getting the feel of playing the whole thing is very beneficia when a few months later one begigins tackling the work.

Cheers,

Buri

December 17, 2011 at 01:39 AM · Sorry for the ambiguity, by two lines i mean the first two lines not the first two ledger lines. My teacher gives me 2-3 lines everytime I see him and he takes the piece in sections and makes me perfect(or near perfect it). He makes me practice it with the tuner and metronome and get it really good then he goes on helping me with fingerings etc.

December 17, 2011 at 07:49 AM · Brahms is notably one of the toughest concertos; it looks like Caucasians consider Sibelius to be the most difficult, while for Asians it's Brahms. I blame this on hand size (the tenths on the 3rd page really hurt if you practise them for more than an hour at a time).

My suggestion is to make the dynamics very profound. For me, Brahms tends to sink (that is, blend in too well with the orchestra) and loses vibrancy unless I make the dynamics very marked. Also, open up your bow arm! One of my teachers always said that the difference between a pro and a non-pro is the bow arm; if you look at Oistrakh, for instance, he uses almost the entire bow almost ALL THE TIME, to the point his bow looks extremely short.

Third movement is a double stop toughie. Practise your Sevcik! Bowing is everything.

December 17, 2011 at 10:23 PM · Others have been right to comment on this piece being particularly difficult for intonation. I find it best to work through the piece while practicing scales on a single string, double stops (at least scales in thirds and octaves), and the standard three/four octave scale patterns extensively. Within this scale work, learning how to hear intonation precisely relative to the tonic will train your mind to quickly and accurately grasp on to harmonic reference points and your fingers to play accordingly (i.e. Mvmt 1 m 90-94 should all tune relative to the opening D). Also, give special attention to Mvmt 1 opening bars 90-112 or so. These are particularly difficult especially in performance situations. Knowing exactly how you are executing these bars in terms of intonation, bow stroke, phrasing, timing between phrases and which notes receive emphasis will give you consistency in performance. Since the piece is difficult, it is littered with such sections. Best of luck!

December 18, 2011 at 02:34 AM · Monoko:

I agree with you. I went to one of the concert featuring Brahms violin concerto. I cannot hear the soloist in a lot of parts! It blends into the orchestra...

December 18, 2011 at 02:39 AM · "He makes me practice it with the tuner and metronome and get it really good then he goes on helping me with fingerings etc."

That's a really weird way to learn Brahms, just saying.

December 18, 2011 at 04:57 AM · "I went to one of the concert featuring Brahms violin concerto. I cannot hear the soloist in a lot of parts! It blends into the orchestra..."

That, to a large extent, was the conductor's problem. Growing up in Cleveland, I was always amazed at how softly that orchestra could accompany.

December 18, 2011 at 05:23 AM · "He makes me practice it with the tuner and metronome and get it really good then he goes on helping me with fingerings etc."

Well, I usually try to get some fingerings first, but that's just me.

Anyone who needs a tuner should definitely NOT be playing Brahms.

December 18, 2011 at 09:44 AM · "Anyone who needs a tuner should definitely NOT be playing Brahms."

Oh, yes. (sigh)

December 18, 2011 at 09:05 PM · Greetings,

all the above is true of course.

But if I didn`t want to be a pro, my only interest in life was playing the first page of the Brahms and I wa s willing to spend twenty years just on that because it gave me infinte pleasure. What`s the harm?

Even Sisyphallius enjoyed himself secretly....

Cheers,

Buri

December 18, 2011 at 09:39 PM · "Even Sisyphallius enjoyed himself secretly"

Please review your classical learnin'.

The name was Sisyphlatulus, who was forced to eat the same chili cheese dog over and over, while the elephant ears and cotton candy remained always just out of reach.

December 18, 2011 at 10:16 PM · One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

December 18, 2011 at 10:43 PM · I thought he was just a big sissy.

We all get our rocks off in different ways, as the original post has indicated.....

December 21, 2011 at 03:49 AM · By fingerings, I mean he gives me the fingerings for a part. Then I go home practice it, get it close to perfection, and he makes me play it points out issues, and gives me fingerings for the next excercpt. But if it is really good he makes me do it again for that week. And I sometimes rarely need a tuner, for the higher pitches, because my ear is not that fully developed at the higher pitches yet, ie. 8th position e string

December 21, 2011 at 11:45 AM · Greetings,

rather than use a tuner I would suggest you play the passage in quesiton over and over at a lower octave until you have the correct sound in your head.

Cheers,

Buri

December 22, 2011 at 03:15 AM · Oh okay, thank you Buri that sounds like a very good suggestion will try it, Only thing how do you get the octaves EXACTLY in tune, I get them in tune sometimes then sometimes out of tune, its frustrating.

December 22, 2011 at 06:26 PM · The octaves, I believe, are an example of a technique best studied in advance. There aren't many in the first movement, but some of them are totally exposed. If you come to them with a mindset of "how am I ever going to get those in tune?" that is an extra burden. Therefore I think it is best to practice a lot of octave studies (Kreutzer, Sevcik, Flesch, whatever your teacher selects for you) away from the concerto, and to study the octaves in the concerto once you are thoroughly familiar with octaves in general.

It took me nearly two years.

Good luck ;)

Bart

December 22, 2011 at 07:03 PM · Scott:

I don't know about it. Same orchestra, same seat, similar volume, but a very good female violinist blent into the orchestra while a couple months later Zukerman was totally fine.

December 22, 2011 at 07:27 PM · "Kreutzer, Sevcik, Flesch, whatever your teacher selects for you) "

I'd say select a new teacher. Although after 2 lines of Brahms concerto each lesson, the present teacher will be eventually led away to a padded cell, twitching and mumbling.

December 22, 2011 at 07:40 PM · Shen-Han,

Isn't it reasonable to assume that different soloists have different abilities to project? It not only takes strength and technique, but a great violin as well. So an orchestra shouldn't just play the same volume for every soloist, and it's the conductor's job to recognize this. He could have either had the orchestra play softer, or even cut the sections. But to simply have a "one-size-fits-all-we-only-play-X volume-regardless-of-the soloist" approach? It's not realistic, professional, or musical.

Scott

December 22, 2011 at 11:09 PM · I'm really good at octaves, because my wise teacher had me finish Polo, I found out the problem, my strings were too old. Off to replace them :) Thinking of trying something other than Dominant

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