After Mozart...skipping Mendelssohn?

December 22, 2011 at 10:07 PM · I would like your opinions about my next piece. I have finished the Mozart 3 a few years ago while still a college student, and after that had a lapse in my playing until this past year. This past year I began playing again. I am 23 and started when I was 5, but during college played 'more for fun' in the 2nd violin section because I worked full time (in order to pay for my education) and had little practice time.

That being said, I spent this year brushing up on Mozart, and learning Meditation from Thais and the Theme from Schindlers' List. This year marked the start of me being self-taught, as I now live on a different continent than my father. We still talk via internet about violin related things, and my dad recommended the Mendelsohn, which he learned after he learned Mozart, back when he was a kid.

However, after listening to this piece, I realized that I DON'T LIKE IT AT ALL. In my opinion (not to offend anyone who likes this piece) it just sounds ugly and I don't want to devote time to practice a piece I don't like.

I would like your opinions regarding this, if it is okay to not learn the Mendelsohn and work on a different piece instead of similar difficulty? If so, which piece(s) would be a good alternative? Is there a value in learning a piece you don't like? As someone who takes the violin seriously, is it 'bad' if I don't learn such a well-known piece?

Thank you in advance for your replies.

Replies (22)

December 23, 2011 at 02:22 PM · It's ok not to learn any piece you don't like, so long as you are not a soloist trying to make a living. What concertos do you like? You might want to pick one of those, if your teacher thinks you are ready. HOwever, without knowing what you have already played, it is hard to advise, although Bruch might be a good choice. BEyond that, Mozart #5 is good, or any of the Bach concertos, if you have not played them. Have fun!

December 23, 2011 at 03:52 PM · "Is there a value in learning a piece you don't like? … As someone who takes the violin seriously, is it 'bad' if I don't learn such a well-known piece [as the Mendelssohn]?"

My answers to your questions, based on personal experience, are yes and yes. If you're "someone who takes the violin seriously," then, as one of my teachers said, "without this repertoire, you wouldn't be able to call yourself a violinist." Then, too, what would you tell a talented, ambitious pupil who was hooked on the piece and ready and willing to learn it?

But there's no set order for learning repertoire -- thank goodness. And learning and polishing a work doesn't mean you have to perform it in recital. I like the Mendelssohn. But, as a student, I grew weary of hearing so many other students play it for auditions and recitals that I declined to play it in auditions -- or recitals. I'd gladly do it informally in studio -- or out in the garage. Just don't put it on a program with my name on it.

If you haven't checked out Violin Masterclass already, be sure to do it. Mendelssohn e minor and Bruch g minor are listed at Level 8. Different students find different pieces more or less difficult, because we all have our weaker and stronger areas of technique and musicality; so I won't make any recommendations.

December 23, 2011 at 04:13 PM · The more I study a piece, the more I develop respect and appreciation for it.

December 23, 2011 at 04:24 PM · Much as I happen to like the Mendelssohn E minor, I can understand something of how Sarah feels: while I too don't mean any offence to other v.commers who think differently, I consider the Bruch G minor to be overrated. On the other hand, I agree with Jim about the importance of learning as much of the standard repertoire as possible by way of ensuring a rounded development as a violinist.

December 23, 2011 at 04:39 PM · I personally don't like Mendelssohn violin concerto as well! I'd rather play Mendelssohn trio for the sake of it... LOL

But since I'm not going professional on violin, so I did ask my teacher to skip Mendelssohn. There're tons of easier Romantic period concerto to work on... for example Bruch in G minor, Wienaiwski #2, Lalo, Vieuxtemps except #4/#5, Dvorak, etc... There're also a lot of Sarasate stuff and Paganini around this similar difficulties that you may be interested. You can wait until you like Mendelssohn somehow in the future, or you can learn it after you learn something like Tchaikovsky, Brahms, or Sibelius so you don't have to worry too much about technique on Mendelssohn and you can sweep them through just to learn the musicality or important stuff to teach a student in the future. There is really no set of rule what to learn first.

December 23, 2011 at 06:25 PM · Scott - I studied the Dvorak, and the more I played it, the less I liked it.

December 23, 2011 at 06:34 PM · I agree with Tom. I had loved Barber to death before I studied it but afterwards, well, I wouldn't say I don't like it any more but the passion has greatly reduced. I think part of the problem is that the music of a violin concerto often depends so much on the orchestra part and without which, the solo part can be too one-dimensional and less meaningful.

Back to Sarah's original question, personally, I think Mendelssohn requires a lot of musical and technical maturity and it would be less harmful to learn it if one can get good guidance from a good teacher. If you are self-teaching, why not play some Bach? Bruch is another possibility but I find sometimes this piece is too easy to hide problems that one should be working on.

December 23, 2011 at 07:05 PM · Listen to us! So many great works to choose from! Other instrumentalists don't have nearly the rich and wonderful repertoire to choose from as us violinists do!

My question is - why concertos? Why not pick from the endless supply of Sonatas, short pieces and solo Bach???

Smiles! Diane

December 23, 2011 at 08:02 PM · Thanks for your comments. I am listening to the Bruch G minor now and am thoroughly enjoying listening to it (however I am listening to Itzhak Perlman, which is a huge contrast from myself lol). I think what I like about this is the style is very different than other things I have played and for this reason I could learn a lot.

Shen-Han, I think maybe in the future my musical taste might change and maybe I could learn Mendelsohn if I happen to end up liking it. I'm not a professional musican by any means but I also understand about being a well-rounded musician.

Scott-Interesting thought. I am now partly curious to see if that is the case.

Yixi- What problems does the Bruch usually hide? If I know what NOT to do in this piece or common errors to avoid, I could minimize the chance of covering up any technical problems.

Thanks again everybody...now I have some new pieces to listen to and make a choice. I'm sure whichever one it is (I am thinking bruch gminor) I will post later as I am learning it.

December 23, 2011 at 08:14 PM · Diane:

I think sonata require much more extensive of music experiences. There are accompaniment and main theme all together, which unlike the concerto you just have to count for 30 bar of rest at tutti... Practicing the accompaniment part is boring if you don't have pianist, and sometimes when you see a scale you thought it's important so should be played ff but in fact it's accompaniment... It's also very difficult to imagine what kind of tone or colours as well. Sometimes you even have to fight with the sound of piano but you're just practicing so you don't have piano to listen to so the bow length and a lot of things maybe different... You have to count right and sometimes the accompany part in violin has weird metering or off beat. You have to listen to pianist as well. Plus I think the intonation with the piano is another killer...

So note-wise the technique difficulty, I consider Franck sonata a lot easier than Bruch or Mendelssohn even Mozart, but it's so hard to play well with a pianist. Especially the second and forth movement... Comparatively Bruch with a pianist as accompaniment is a lot easier to deal with.

December 24, 2011 at 04:51 AM · Tom Holzman wrote:

"Scott - I studied the Dvorak, and the more I played it, the less I liked it."

Ha ha! You must be my soul brotha.

December 24, 2011 at 10:44 AM · "skipping" the Mendelssohn. I don't like this terms. As if they were just educational pieces. if you work yourself like that through the repertoire maybe you better stop trying to be a musician, I am sorry.

On the other hand some advice Bach solo as alternative. But they are so different in technique and style that you really cannot compare them to working on romantic violin concertos.

I think it is up to everybody what repertoire he likes to play, but only play what you are burning for. Or if you are a little more professional, try to learn everything as if it is your most favorite piece.

A lot of this losing interest while practicing a piece has to do with bad practice habits. I am not saying that everyone has to like every music. But if you don't like some piece wich is obviously great art, like the dvorak, don't play it! or if you lose interest while you practice, think about the excitement performing this with an orchestra. Thats the source of violinconcertos in general. If you know every note of the score and every harmony. Then you can say you don't like it so much, because... everything else is ignorant to me.

I am sorry for being a little emotional, but in this thread people complaining about two of my favorite concertos Mendelssohn and Dvorak. I agree Bruch is somehow overplayed, but never overrated, it is still a very special piece.

December 24, 2011 at 03:09 PM · I'm sorry Simon... If it's Dvorak, then I agree that "skipping" will not be the term to use, but for Mendelssohn it is. You may claim yourself as a good violinist if you don't play or learn Schoenberg violin concerto, you're fine if you don't perform Paganini's God Save the King, too. But you just can't say "I'm a good violinist but I can't play Mendelssohn violin concerto because I never learn it." It's what one of my teacher told me when I refuse to learn Mendelssohn, and I agree with it. Even though I learn something else first, but eventually I'll have to go back to Mendelssohn at some point of my life. I just want to make this execution as less painful as possible so I'll learn it when I'm able to sight read it lol (But maybe I'll love this execution once I got executed who knows lol)

But for sure once in a violinist's life time he or she must learn this piece. If you love this piece then great! But if you don't like it, you still have to know it sometimes in the future as the educational piece. Very likely 95% of your student will want to play this piece so you must know it. Other thing is... great art is defined by oneself, not by others. The art you define great doesn't mean I have to agree with you, and vice versa. I love Dvorak but one of my teacher doesn't. It's personal taste, and I'm fine with it, so should you. You don't have to be emotional on this one. It's not like the music is written by you lol

December 24, 2011 at 07:25 PM · @Simon: I agree everything you said. You are quite right that we shouldn’t skip any major pieces in our program, especially if you are still as young as Sarah. I hope you’d agree though there is the right time for the right piece for learning to be rewarding and effective. In this sense, it may be quite appropriate for Sarah to skip Mendelssohn now, not just because she doesn’t like it at this point but also because she is probably technically and musically not ready for it. Yes? I also agree with you completely that one learns different things in Bach and Bruch. I was hesitating in suggesting Bruch to Sarah chiefly because she said she was teaching herself. In such case, I feel the most important concern is not to build bad habits. Of course one can build bad habits by playing Mozart or Bach alone, but the basic issues (intonation, rhythm, tone production, phrasing, etc) that every violin student must struggle with are relatively easier to be detected in Mozart and Bach than romantic concerti such as Bruch or Mendelssohn.

@Sarah: what I mean by saying Bruch hide one’s problem is that Bruch, being a gorgeous romantic piece, can shut off one’s critical capacity of detecting the basic problems such as intonation, rhythm, bow control and/or tone production, etc. Given that Bruch is so beautiful and full of technical stuff that are extremely rewarding to learn and be able to play, one can easily get sloppy without noticing it. With Bach and Mozart, you’ll more likely to notice your issues and try to correct them in time.

I hope we can all agree that correcting bad habits takes a lot more time than learning to play something properly the first place.

December 24, 2011 at 10:28 PM · @chen-han lin: Yes you are right, that one has to know the mendelssohn, but in my opinion you should not play it if you do it for "educational" purpose only. Same with Mozart and Bach Solo (doesn't mean you cannot learn a lot of them). I am an follower of the "technique and musical mastership comes first" method (from painful self-experience I must admit). Especially when it comes to this kind of well known great pieces of art and music history. You will never get the sence of the meaning this work had/s, if you cannot cover the technique quickly and set the music in the (for you) right relationship between the classic and romantic period (speaking of Mendelssohn VC). Obviously there are many ways to play a work like that, but you have to be aware of these "great" works, especially when it comes to "educational purpose" it can demage more than help.

If someone needs it for music theoretic education purpose, he probably better study music theory first and analyse the mendelssohn without the violin. If a player needs it for musical/technical aspects of playing (I include phrasing, tone production, intonation etc. to technique) its an ok approach, but why take this big one for it? And if you really lack in something, you need to fix it before you get into Mendelssohn (clean octaves, light shifting, fast legato, staccato etc.).

Of course you have to play it sometimes if you see yourself as a violinist. But to me mental education comes first. It is a quite difficult work, not only musically but technically. I heard many live recordings of the greats messing up in the beginning or at the first octave passages.

Second thing: To me great art is something I respect. I don't have to admire it in every aspect (or say that everyone has to) but I try to respect it, because it is something bigger than myself. When it comes to Dvorak I have also some points I don't like so much. I don't like the mood of the third movement personally (too light for me)and it has its lengths. But imagine there is just this one violin concerto on earth: I would love it!!

We are spoilt with great compositions on the violin so we can take the risk and sort out the in our eyes less good ones. But regardign this sorting and favoring thing someone asked a performer like Martha Argerich what composer she likes most: She can't say because she understands it is not about good and bad, it is about productivity of a composer and the historical and personal sence that a work makes. I think Bach is so great because he had both productivity and sence (and a lot more of course).

Third: I think being an violinist is more about being an artist than most people (even violinists) think. You can go through a lot of "educational pieces" like the mendelssohn is told from time to time, but you stay a weak musicician, because maybe you lack intonation, rhythm or sence of structure and style, if you don't develope them. mendelssohn gives us the music and so does Dvorak but what is behind it, is much more important and you can obviously play those pieces without even thinking about what it is. But then you are an machine and no artist.

And please, let people be emotional about music and make their move against ignorance. I am a fan of criticism, when it comes to myself and to great art too. But I discover many people actually thinking they can judge some thing like the Dvorak concerto without being able to even sing or articulate the first bars with the voice or the instrument... Not saying that you can't but I am not only talking about the first bars. If you played it and disliked it, thats bad, because that you should have find out before you actually try your best.

Anyways, fröhliche Weihnachten and may the force be with you!!

December 25, 2011 at 12:00 AM · Two years ago, I hated the Mendelssohn because I had been playing it for 6 months, but just today, I played through the concerto and found that I enjoyed playing it. I felt the same when I first heard the Tchaikovsky (<.< >.>), but I grew to love everything about it.

You definitely don't need to play the Mendelssohn if you don't want to. My friend played Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy, Dvorak, and freaking Glazunov before her teacher forced her to play the Mendelssohn. Hopefully, you will grow to love all of the classical music we have for the violin eventually.

Some suggestions:

If you want to die: Vieuxtemps 4 or 5, Paganini 1

If you want to die (less): Wieniawski 2

If you want something quirky: Ysaye Sonata 3, Ballade

And you should definitely do a lot of Bach. Bach is my teacher's God. I think. But for a good reason. She studied and lived with Galamian for 7 years :)

However, the Mendelssohn is a really good bridge to the pieces I've listed. Have you listened to the entire concerto? I think that when I did the Mendelssohn, I started with the 3rd movement, which I loved. It's fast and it's happy. The 1st movement is more of a passionate section of the concerto, but there's nothing too musically difficult about the 3rd movement.

December 27, 2011 at 08:08 PM · Thanks Yixi for your explanation. I can see how this could be true, especially if I don't have a teacher right now. Because of the style of the Mendelssohn and Bruch, you are saying I would be more likely to notice which mistakes I was making if I was playing the Mendelssohn?

I agree about taking longer to correct bad habits than learn something right the first time. I have seen this with many of my students, and remembering when I was a student.

Back to the mendelssohn. I think my problem with it is not actually the violin part, but rather the orchestra...at times the orchestration makes the whole piece sound gloomy and dismal, and at other times, too boomy. But if I am not playing this piece with an orchestra, maybe I won't dislike it so much. I'm not trying to criticize a great artist, but explain my feelings toward the piece. I don't mean to say that Mendelssohn was a bad composer...I respect the piece and all, but it just isn't my type. I didn't mean offense to anyone by saying I don't like this concerto.

I have found the music to Bruch G minor, and after studying the violin part and listening a bunch of times, I really do think that if I work hard on this piece, I could learn it. In the university I minored in music, and understand theory, analyzing a piece, and phrasing. I like how in the Bruch it seems to leave more room for personal interpretation.

I also checked out the Vieuxtemps and Wianiewski, both are beautiful. the Ysaye is indeed quirky...but I think it could also be kind of fun. Thanks for posting. You guys have a lot of good suggestions. Although most of you think I should at some point learn Mendelssohn (although it's not the answer I wanted to hear) I understand your reasons and think that I will not cross it off my list of future pieces.

December 27, 2011 at 08:56 PM · "Because of the style of the Mendelssohn and Bruch, you are saying I would be more likely to notice which mistakes I was making if I was playing the Mendelssohn?"

Not really, Sarah. I'm saying Bach and Mozart are more likely to tell you every little bit of problem you are facing.

December 27, 2011 at 09:49 PM · Years ago I was part of the audience in a master class led by my former teacher. He was a coaching a group rehearsing a Schubert chamber work. At one point the pianist said, "I don't like Schubert." The coach (a wonderful teacher, violinist, and conductor, with a great sense of humor) asked, "Do you like music?" The pianist answered, "Yes." And the teacher replied, "Then you like Schubert."

If you don't like the Mendelssohn Concerto, then you may be listening, but not with your heart.

Do you know anything about how it was written? Did you know that it took Mendelssohn 6 years of work on it, and that he consulted regularly with Ferdinand David (the first to play it)? Try listening to it through the composer's heart and mind, and see if that helps.

December 27, 2011 at 10:15 PM · Ask your dad what he recommends. I'm sure he wouldn't be offended that you don't like his first suggestion and he probably (!) knows you better than we do. Plus if it's something he recommends then you're more likely to get useful comments from him as you're learning the new piece.

December 28, 2011 at 03:47 PM · @Sarah: You minored music? So you play only minor-keys?

I think you are right with Bruch: it leaves you much room for personal interpretation, but that is also a danger somehow. Especially rhythmically there are some tricky places, wich are often "interpreted" out of tempo.

Thx. Sandor! Thats what I had in mind too with all my critizism of disliking art or music!

To the Mendelssohn: in fact it was my favorite concerto a long time (since I stopped favoring concertos ;) and I wanted to play it just because of the first couple of bars, because they are so beautiful.

But then I once started it in lesson with my very precise teacher and after two months I was still struggeling with the first movement a lot. So I decided to put it aside and come back to it later. Now, 3 years and a couple of etudes and scales later, I am working on Sibelius first movement and I feel alright with everything exept the last page. So I think in the near future there will be an Mendelssohn concerto coming out of my violin aswell. but i really don't think one has to do it early, its a major minor keyed work, wich has to be done seriously and carefully.

Sarah, enjoy whatever you decide to play, I didn't want to be rude.

December 30, 2011 at 03:36 AM · Learning them in a different order, that's one thing, but please do not bypass it entirely and do not leave it too long. First of all, everybody expects it and I mean everybody. Second, I think the techniques and colors you acquire playing it will be more useful if you plan on (or even if you don't plan on, but somehow end up) being in an orchestra for any length of time.

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