The Fiocco challenge!

May 14, 2012 at 05:04 AM · I had to make a new topic of this.

In the 'how to play fast' topic by Bethany Daniels, I asked if there was any way to now whe you could play 'fast enough' for an average orchestra position.

Jean Dubuisson came back with a neat test: if you can play Fiocco's Allegro at 120 that was fast enough.

You can hear many, many versions on youtube as its a Suzuki book staple (and has been a teaching staple long before that) - in Book 6 if thats handy.

Even the greats have recorded it:


grumiau (#38 on this full DVD - which is fantastic by the way)

But noone plays it as easily asa menuhin

An interesting piece as its accessible to players form earlyintermediate to advanced - all depending on the speed/musicality that its played at.

Note however, that the annotations vary greatly - a lot have been added to the Suzui verson.

I found I could barely play it at 80 - there are some devilish decorative trills in the middle - so I have a ways to go.

Also, as raised on the prevoius topic, I wondered if advanced players could sight read this at 100 at least or, and this is the interesting part, whether they had to go through a similar learning process albeit much faster than those of us back in the pack...

Any takers???

Replies (40)

May 14, 2012 at 08:03 AM · grat idea. If i get some time, I will make a video of me scratchin it!

May 14, 2012 at 08:38 AM · thats a great idea Simon - anyone brave enough can upload on youtube - it doesn't have to be global, just limited to people who have the url and list it here.

I'll bet there are few brave souls that would do it though ;) :) (me included!)

May 14, 2012 at 08:45 AM · this is my nemesis piece. I will upload 2 versions - one from last year, and one from this week. Hopefully there will be imporvement. I don't see me being anywhere near 100 bpm.

May 14, 2012 at 10:16 AM · I think its a great piece to work on - leave for a while (a long while) and then come back to. For what its worth it used to be my nemesis piece too - but now after working on a lot of technique - its not quite so intimidating.

I think the worst part of the piece is that because its in suzuki you can find umpteen 10 yr olds on utube playing it fast and from memory...

May 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Mmmm... speed for speed's sake does nothing for me. There is a pleasing melody in there if played at a tempo that lets it be heard. And then there are all the kids who study this, play evrything but the transition at breakneck speed, but never master the interesting ornamented bit.

May 14, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Its not an end in itself Sue - its a simple fact that one needs a level of detache bowing speed to be effective in many environments. Think of it instead as an etude for speed development.

And the bonus is that the piece is really quite good - as long as you don't listen to it about 20 times in a row when it will start to put you over the Fiocco edge..

May 14, 2012 at 04:57 PM · Elise,

Perlman's tempo is about 132, which seems rather frantic for this particular piece. He even looks a little frantic playing it.

Is this a "bellweather" piece for an orchestra postion, as you ask in your original post? If you mean for a paying section position in a professional orchestra, then no.

The natural tempo for the fast last movements of Mozart's late symphonies (35, 39, 40, 41), for example, is about 144. The same for many Haydn and Beethoven symphonies. Don Juan is considerably faster, at least 152. The Bartered Bride is also fast. So I consider these works to be better tests of speed for an aspiring orchestral musician.

May 14, 2012 at 05:48 PM · scott - nope, we are not under the delusion that fiocco can get you into an orchestra! The idea was simply to have some sort of standard for 16th notes as to the minimum required speed ability.

I'm not familiar with the mozart pieces you mention at 142 - is that all 16th notes? Oh dear...

May 14, 2012 at 09:43 PM · Elise,

I was going by this:

"I asked if there was any way to now whe you could play 'fast enough' for an average orchestra position.

Jean Dubuisson came back with a neat test: if you can play Fiocco's Allegro at 120 that was fast enough."

The tempo I gave, 144, referred to 4 divisions. That varies, depending on the piece. For example, the last movement of Mozart 39 is mostly 16ths, so it would be quarter note=144. On the other hand, he notates the last movement of 35 in 8th notes instead, so it would now be half note=144. Different notation, but same character and approximate tempi. Also important is that the bow strokes in these works is mixed: both detaché and spicatto, with shades in between.


May 14, 2012 at 09:56 PM · well, it might be good enough for a starter-orchestra :D

but in any case you have to get that good first - which begs the question: can you sight read it at 100 or even 120?

May 15, 2012 at 03:02 AM · I know the passage that you mean with the trills. I suggest practicing that until you can play it at tempo WITHOUT the trills first. Then add them back as ornaments. My teacher recommended this to me (pity it wasn't obvious, but that is why we have teachers, I suppose) and it helped tremendously.

May 15, 2012 at 10:10 AM · Paul - but I find relearning much harder than learning the first time. Seems you have to do enless repetition to change something that is 'in the fingers'.

Perhaps its different for ornaments (maybe thats why they are separate?).

May 15, 2012 at 10:37 AM · the trills are not playable in seperate bowing, one has to make a slur to the note after the trill, like perlman does. But maybe you all know that already because you have a better edition of the piece.

May 15, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Yes my edition makes it clear - start the base note then trill a single higher note.

should it really be called a trill when there is only one? 'decoration' seems more descriptive...

May 15, 2012 at 11:43 AM · My summer goal is to get faster... I never played this piece but I guess it will be interesting to accept this challenge. At least I will suffer in good company!

May 15, 2012 at 02:52 PM · Is there a version you like John?

May 15, 2012 at 03:38 PM · Elise that was kind of my point, these "trills" are really more like mordents, aren't they? When I studied piano I was always taught to learn baroque stuff without the ornamentation first, so that you can install the overarching musical line and hopefully retain it when you add the ornaments back. Just a few 15-minute intervals practicing that passage and getting it smooth without the trills, I predict it will help.

And since it is lunch time here I should say that my mind very commonly runs to food and this piece is forever known to me as the Focaccia Allegro.

May 15, 2012 at 03:51 PM · The last music I'd look at for accurate ornamentation is a Suzuki edition.

May 15, 2012 at 03:59 PM · Paul's right, they are 'mordents' not trills :)

May 15, 2012 at 04:24 PM · To be fair to Suzuki, in Book 6 he tells the student that the ornaments in Fiocco are mordents, and the only speed indication is a vanilla "Allegro", which probably would have been in Fiocco's manuscript anyway. So, as music, should it be played presto/prestissimo? Just because there are high-level performers who play it cleanly at break-neck speed because they can, and because it is required of them, should that become the norm or aim for everyone else?

I do wonder about some of the bowing and fingering in Suzuki, especially in some of the baroque pieces (Vivaldi Op 3 No 6, for example). However, after some thought I've come to the conclusion that his bowings and fingerings (and even arrangements) are there for didactic purposes, and wouldn't necessarily be intended for mature performance.

May 15, 2012 at 05:04 PM · I think the issue is more than didactic! You have the next generation of violinists swearing by these markups....

From what (little) I've seen the Suzuki fingerings/slurs etc are intended to simplify playing and avoid extensive shifts etc. But perhaps a Suzuki program expert here might comment?

May 15, 2012 at 05:29 PM · "From what (little) I've seen the Suzuki fingerings/slurs etc are intended to simplify playing and avoid extensive shifts etc. But perhaps a Suzuki program expert here might comment?"

Unless the point of the piece pedagogically is work through shifting or crossing strings. In the middle of book 5 there is a short German Dance that, for the most part, can easily be played in first position, but it is written with shifts in nearly every bar because what is needed after all that Vivaldi is: 1) A piece that can be learned quickly - good for the psyche at this point. and 2) Reinforcement of shifts.

May 15, 2012 at 09:51 PM · Not only are the Suzuki markings different, they change. I've noticed significant differences between my new Suzuki books and my teacher's much older ones.

I'll have to dig out the Fiocco and take another run at it. Maybe I could manage 80, except for those devilish ornaments in the middle.

And don't worry about Perlman. He plays everything fast...

May 16, 2012 at 03:08 AM · what do you mean John? An insight into IP?

May 16, 2012 at 09:07 AM · I think as a tempo challenge one can take whatever piece he likes. I think this piece is easy enough to be able to be played by different level violinists and its hard enough to have some difficulties in high tempo. Plus on the other hand one can try to make something beautiful out of it regardless the tempo.

I will have some free days starting from tomorrow. My plan is to make videos of me playing it at different speed, I hope I can realize my plans, because I have to fix my printer before, to have the sheets not only at my monitor. I also hope, there will be a version 100+ bpm of me ;)

May 16, 2012 at 01:10 PM · I agree with Paul, my teacher also called the 'trills' mordants and she also told me to leave them out until up to speed and add them back later. But try as I might 80bpm is about as clean as I can get, otherwise the mordants become a sloppy 'blip' and my bow hand and left hand end up out of sync. I guess it'll be a long road with this one. But happy, I really love the Fiocco.

I did see the youtube of Perlman blitzing through it, ages ago, and it reminded me of my younger days with a school friend, trying to play small pieces at breakneck speed just for the hell of it. Sort of like a race. His cheeky grin at the end kind of seems like that's what he was up to, don't you agree?

May 17, 2012 at 08:15 PM · loose echo, gain doppler... brrrrmmmmm....

May 18, 2012 at 07:09 AM · In fact, Fiocco wrote several pieces. They are:

-Fiocco's Adagio

-Fiocco's Andante

-Fiocco's Allegretto

-Fiocco's Allegro

-Fiocco's Presto.

Edit: they are the same piece, played in different tempi. Don't let me fool you.

May 18, 2012 at 01:10 PM · Bart I thought those were different size coffees.

May 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM · And I thought they were the expletives offered when first trying paganinin...

May 18, 2012 at 03:26 PM · If some people here are evidently having problems with the Allegro, then what about the Presto (which I don't know)?

I understand that "presto" in the 18th century meant playing just about as quick as humanly possible (and "prestissimo" a little bit faster); whereas "allegro" didn't have those connotations, and, I suspect, was more related to the dance tempi of those times (indeed, a "cheerful" speed).

May 18, 2012 at 04:29 PM · Sounds like you need to change the challenge piece to the presto! :D

Has anyone played it?

May 18, 2012 at 06:23 PM · Does N.A. stand for Not Applicable? :D

Sorry, couldn't resist...

Before you can go onto the Presto, NA, you have to give us your speed test - and video - of the Allegro.

You know how it is, you have to jog before you sprint... :)

May 18, 2012 at 07:34 PM · Someone, somewhere, complained that the only version of Fiocco's Allegro in IMSLP was a MIDI arrangement for trumpet (ahem!). However, when searching for the Presto - unsuccessfully - I noticed that our Allegro pops up on the Fiocco page hidden away in two other publications:

1. Pieces de Clavecin Op 1 (published 1730), two keyboard suites dedicated to the Duke d'Arenberg, in which the Allegro is on pages 12 and 13 of the score (pp 16 and 17 of the PDF). The age of this edition, within Fiocco's lifetime (1703-1741), would establish the authenticity of the ornaments. These keyboard pieces could be entertaining for a modern pianist to sight-read: Fiocco hops almost indiscriminately in the left-hand part of the Allegro between the bass, tenor and alto clefs. These antics are to be found in several places in the 1730 edition!

Page 4 of the PDF, the contents page, gives instructions on how various ornaments should be played.

2. Suite No 1 (published 1910), which contains only one item, the Allegro, which I guess is a violin transcription of the original keyboard piece.

At the time of publication of his Opus 1 Fiocco was Master of Music at the Cathedral of Anvers, evidently established in his career.

May 18, 2012 at 07:48 PM · ...I'm good with "not applicable"...;)

...speed is something I'm working on (er, accurate speed)...and is not ready yet for public scrutiny...allegro or presto...

Something else I can't seem to find an entire copy of: Ceasar Cui's Kaleidoscope...

May 18, 2012 at 07:55 PM · thanks for the info Trevor - quite some nuggets that you've dug up!

May 19, 2012 at 03:10 AM · NA if you find that piece by Cui I'm real interested.

May 19, 2012 at 02:01 PM · I will keep looking...if I ever find it, you'll be the first to know! ;)

Actually it is available on line, if you want to download all the individual bits. I was looking for a 'real' copy though...

May 19, 2012 at 11:57 PM · Bart Meijer, a few posts back, listed a number of other pieces by Fiocco. I haven't heard or seen them, apart from the Allegro, but I would guess that they may be found in in Fiocco's Opus 1 for harpsichord. There are a number of likely suspects for Bart's list, but there doesn't appear to be a "Presto". Perhaps Fiocco didn't wish to alarm his illustrious patron and dedicatee, the Duke d'Arenberg! In which case, is it possible that "Presto" has been applied by a modern arranger to one of the Opus 1 pieces that appeared to be deserving of that title?

May 20, 2012 at 02:50 AM · In Italian the word "allegro" is best translated as "happy". The other common mis-translation is "assai" which is best translated as "enough".

Therefore "allegro assai" is not "very fast" but rather "happy enough"

Saluti Carlo

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