Standard Viola Concerto?

August 13, 2013 at 10:30 PM · I teach violin privately, and occasionally have a viola student. I currently have a student who is going to be a senior in high school this year. He is looking to audition for viola performance at the college level. He is currently working on the Marchenbilder by Schumann, and the first Bach suite. I don't have as thorough of knowledge about the standard viola concerti as I do violin, so what would be considered an appropriate standard concerto to audition with at this level?

Replies (21)

August 14, 2013 at 01:35 AM · Standards are:


Walton - neo romantic with some hard shifts.


Rozsa is getting there.

Hindemeth "der shwanendrheherhehr"


If say go for stamitz or Walton.

More obscure ones are:




Although schnittke and Penderecki are on the edge of insanity in terms if technique.

Marchenbilder is my favorite piece, good choice! And good luck to your student! Where will he/she be applying?

August 14, 2013 at 01:00 PM · Have you considered suggesting to the student that they might want to take some lessons with a friend or colleague who is a violist? That way the student would possibly get good fingerings and bowings and some idea about what a viola college teacher would expect concerning an audition.

August 14, 2013 at 02:12 PM · Check out some cello concertos. You can get ones like Elgar on Virtual Sheet Music. My favorite is the Forsyth viola concerto. It is not quite as difficult as Walton, but will take some work.

August 15, 2013 at 01:26 AM · Walton at College Level????? Fine, if he can play it at speed, but there is nothing worse than turning up with the last movement of the Walton at half-speed. He needs something he can play with some degree of musicianship. The Bartok is almost as difficult.

I studied Tertis's arrangement of the Elgar 'Cello Concerto while at high school, but there's playing it and PLAYING it! I also performed the last movement of the Stamitz with the junior orchestra while at high school.

One request, re Marchenbilder: Please check out the speeds in the Wikipedia article. Schumann wrote some things about Marchenbilder that haven't made it into either English translation or books on Schumann published in English.

Ryan didn't mention the Telemann, which is technically not as difficult as the ones he did mention, but is an important part of the viola soloist's repertoire (Bruno Giurianna listed it, but not the Stamitz, amongst the works he would consider handling at his Prussia Cove masterclasses).

Bach Suites: Why don't people go for the E-flat? The Prelude seems to me, with its climax on bottom C-sharp, to be almost written for the viola. I've performed it successfully on two occasions.

August 20, 2013 at 08:17 PM · Thank you all for your suggestions! I have tried to pass this student on to a viola professor or professional player, but I'm afraid there's just not a good match in our vicinity. I studied viola at the college level for a semester or two, though, so I feel like he's at least not getting wrong info.

I will probably lean towards the Stamitz--thanks everyone!

August 20, 2013 at 08:54 PM · Henri Casadesus Viola Concerto in C minor.

I don't know if it "standard", but I like it.

Not too difficult with lots of music for interpretation.

August 22, 2013 at 04:13 PM · It was in B minor when I studied it. Its reputation has suffered as a result of Casadesus's long-accepted claim that it was by Handel, and its rehabilitation as a concerto simply by Casadesus has been slow - Unfortunately Handel wasn't the near-nonenity that Pugnani, etc. (I don't think I've even heard a Joseph Lanner waltz up to the standard of Liebeslied and liebesfreud) were, so the forgery seems that bit more heinous.

August 23, 2013 at 04:11 AM · John, yes, the "Handel" is in B minor. But he also wrote another one in C minor, often attributed to J.C. Bach.

August 23, 2013 at 02:42 PM · Jay, the easiest movement of the Walton is the last movement, unless you have extreme difficulty reaching top A. The most difficult sections of the Walton are that between figures 7 and 8, followed by the second movement.

My teacher thought the Walton was slightly MORE difficult than the Bartok, but she did have small hands.

August 23, 2013 at 02:50 PM · And nobody's mentioned the Brahms Sonatas (Brahms had originally designed them for the clarinet, but during composition decided that they were equally meant for the viola - note double stoppings in the viola part).

I never played any of the Walton for an orchestral audition, partly because the conductor, who doubled as accompanist at auditions, said he'd kill me if I put the Walton in front of him - He was happy with Brahms F minor though.

August 30, 2013 at 04:28 PM · First, make sure there isn't a list of acceptable concerti for the schools. Many have one. It would be a shame to prepare a piece that wasn't accepted for all the schools under consideration.

The "Big Three" for viola are the Bartok, the Walton and the Hindemith Schwanendreher. Schnittke would be an acceptable alternative, and is gaining popularity. Many schools won't require these for admission, though. Just make sure they don't!

Some others:

Lower level:

Telemann G major

Casadesus "Handel" b minor

Casadesus "JC Bach" c minor




Elgar Cello Concerto transcription






Piston (if you can find it)

August 31, 2013 at 01:24 AM · Jay, you don't write that you've actually tried to PLAY the Walton. My experience is that that passage in the first movement I referred to is the most difficult thing in the whole work, followed, perhaps, by the second movement as a whole. I would agree that much of the rest of the first movement is easier than the last movement.

No one has mentioned Harold. When going up to university, I took my transcription of the solo viola part (having failed to locate a viola and piano arrangement) to an audition for the university's first orchestra. The panel were nonplussed, but they had me in second desk for the whole of my career at that university, so it would seem that their initial assessment was not far off the mark. I found out a number of years later that an arrangement for viola and piano had become available, but have only just now found out that the piano part is by Liszt, and is as difficult as you'd expect - Had I been able to obtain that arrangement, I don't think anyone would have thanked me for turning up with it (and if Ian Reid threatened to kill me over the Walton, what would he have said about a part by Liszt?). Actually, there's one circumstance in which it MIGHT be suitable for a college audition; that is, if the violist has an absolutely brilliant pianist friend who's also trying to get in - the violist would get the pianist in, even if self were rejected! In terms of difficulty, I would say it was what Julie calls Intermediate.

When I took my transcription of Dowland's Melancholy Galliard to a orchestral audition, the comment was "You've made it very difficult for yourself, haven't you?". It's at , if anyone wants to have a go.

My father gave me a copy of the Shostakovich Sonata Op 147 for a birthday, because a former pupil of his was performing it with great success. There look to be some very difficult things, in the second movement particularly.

August 31, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Nobody mentioned my favorite sonatas, Schubert Arpeggione and Glinka Sonata. They are as meaty as a concerto movement, but probably check if acceptable at schools you want to audition for. I, too, am a violinist teaching advanced viola students. If any of mine decided to head to music school, I'd get them to a "name" violist. I'm near a couple major universities, conservatories.

September 1, 2013 at 03:22 PM · If a school's catalog does not state a specific list of works from which to choose your audition program, then it may specify eras and types of pieces. Many schools request solo Bach plus a romantic era sonata and a concerto. If it is not required that the concerto be from the classical era, then there are several 20th century possibilities less difficult than Bartok, Walton and Der Schwanendreher, but challenging enough to offer material in which a violist can make a strong artistic and technical impression in a typical audition of 10-15 minutes:

Lars Erik Larsson - Concertino (tonal with modal and chromatic harmonies; 1st mvt has rhythmic variety, melodies & fast passage work but no double stops, is playable by a student with good command of 2nd, 3rd, 4th positions, and is least difficult of this list)

Vaughan Williams - Suite, Group I or III

Bloch - Suite Hebraique

Cecil Forsyth - Concerto

Gyula David - Concerto, especially 3rd mvt

Slightly more difficult than works above:

Martinu - Rhapsody

York Bowen - Concerto

Approaching the difficulty of Bartok, Walton, Der Schwanendreher, but perhaps more readily playable for lying better on the instrument:



Tibor Serly

In choosing audition repertoire, it is important to keep in mind that you want to display your intonation, facility, tone and musicianship to best advantage. For example, if you have trouble with long distance shifting, sophisticated bow distribution, facility with fast passage work in non-traditional scale patterns, or double stops, then Walton is not a good choice, but Martinu might sound very impressive. My best advice is to make sure that your current etudes and daily warmup exercises match the level of difficulty of the repertoire selected.

If a classical era concerto is required, there are attractive alternatives to Stamitz and Hoffmeister. A thematic catalog of many examples is among the Articles (Let's Play Something Else!) at my website, Ashmont Music

Patricia McCarty

September 2, 2013 at 11:30 AM · I've never seen the music of or heard Edmund Rubbra's viola concerto, though it was well spoken of by my teacher. Has anyone on this panel?

April 9, 2014 at 05:40 PM · I'm a little bit alarmed that people are suggesting the Telemann, seeing as how I would consider that a middle school level piece. I would suggest MAYBE Stamitz, possibly hoffmeister, definitely Walton or Bartok!

April 10, 2014 at 01:50 PM · I don't suppose there's a Music Minus One, as opposed to Music Minus Two version of Brandenberg 6 or Sinfonia Concertante? The latter could be particularly suitable audition material. Even better would be a really go ahead auditioning college or orchestra that's prepared to provide a trusted "tame" violinist to go along with the pianist. Mozart is so much more revelatory of a player's control and musicianship than anything else - See other Discussions on this website.

Or they could supply a trusted "tame" 'cellist to play Don Quixote.

Vaughan Williams's fried langoustine tail meat from Firenze is probably NOT adaptable for the purpose.

April 10, 2014 at 08:46 PM · There are plenty of school programs that would happily hear a well-played Telemann over a hacked together Walton or Bartok. Just because a player isn't at that level yet doesn't mean that they don't have the potential to reach it in college.

To dismiss a work as "middle school music" implies a hugely flawed understanding of the intrinsic value of a musical work beyond its technical merits.

April 12, 2014 at 09:25 AM · John, thanks for the Galliard!

I often transcribe Couperin, Marin Marais etc. for violin+viola, viola+cello etc. I always transpose bass viol music, e.g. up a 4th for viola, up an 8ve for violin, to make best use of the strings, (avoiding ugly octave leaps and grumbling semi-quavers on the viola C, or a shrieking A). Sometimes up a major 9th (D minor to C minor) sound best on viola.

All inspired by Jordi Savall's arrangements in the exquisite film "Tous les matins du monde".

Probably quite unsuitable for auditions, though...

April 12, 2014 at 01:23 PM · Great, you've looked at it. I'd LOVE to hear it in the hands of a much better viola player than myself!

April 12, 2014 at 04:51 PM · I've printed it out to have a try..

I found recordings on Qobuz by Lawrence Power of the viola concertos of Forsyth, Bowen, Rubbra, Rosza, as well as Walton and Bartok (the usual Serly version).

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