graded repertoire list - violin chamber music?

August 14, 2013 at 02:54 PM · I'm currently at Interlochen adult arts camp. It really has two main 'playing' components (amongst a lot of other stuff of course): organized ensembles where you are assigned a role and 'spontaneous' (participant organized) get-together pieces. The latter are interesting because out of the fast chamber music repertoire you see the same pieces come up repeatedly (you can sample by just walking past the playing rooms). I don't think this has much to do with simplicity as there are some fabulous musicians here who really can play just about anything except the very extreme professional fare. Thus, there are pieces that everyone seems to treasure.

Which made me wonder if there was a graded list of the 'must play' chamber music out there? The truly amazing (and labour of love) book by Harold Haynes (Chamber Music Reprtoire for Amateur Players) does this in part but really is more a encyclopedic resource than a 'learning list'.

The idea is to create a quasi-sequential list of muisic you need to learn in order to be a 'rounded' violin chamber musician. It would include all the generally-regarded top (violin including) chamber music listed in order of difficulty. IMO it should be graded as a complete work (that is all movements) not just by the first (often the case for solo rep).

Anyone want to take on the challenge? ee

Replies (17)

August 14, 2013 at 07:18 PM · I hope someone knowledgeable responds to this, because I've been curious about this for some time, and I'd love to hear others' thoughts on the subject.

August 14, 2013 at 10:37 PM · Maybe we could make some suggestions?

A start would be to list favorite chamber pieces to play (I stress the latter) with a difficulty grading.

I think its probably true that, just like concertos, one can not really approach the standard chamber repertoire until the player has reached an 'advanced intermediate' stage - rhythmic independence and appreciation, a reasonable command of the instrument through the first three positions, and a fairly good intonation. At that stage you can already enjoy playing (though you may not find anyone that wants to listen :) ).

I suggest four levels:

entry: Mozart K157, early Haydn

entry, hard: Mozart K458 (Hunt)

intermediate: Haydn Sunrise Op 76;4

intermediate, hard: Late Mozart, Beethoven 18(3)

advanced: (most of the rep!)

advanced, hard: Schubert Death and the maiden

Or maybe someone has a better system..

August 15, 2013 at 12:18 AM · Part of the challenge is that for many pieces, the first violin part can be much more demanding technically than the second violin part, making assigning an overall difficulty level, well, difficult. Importance should be placed on pieces that are popular choices among the spontaneous readings so that you're more apt to be prepared. So with that in mind this is totally arbitrary (using very broad strokes) and just off the top of my head:

New to chamber music:

-play second violin on Haydn, Mozart quartets, Mozart viola quintets

-Beethoven piano trios op 1

-start listening to lots of recordings and follow along with sheet music when you can :D


-second violin on Mendelssohn quartets, viola quintets, beethoven op 18 2nd violin

-pick a Haydn and Mozart quartet and learn the first violin part. This will come in handy during those spontaneous readings when the group wants to play a Haydn or Mozart quartet, which can be often.

-Brahms sextets - 2nd violin

-mendelssohn, brahms, Schumann, Beethoven piano trios (eg ghost, archduke)

-Dvorak Op 96 (american), Op 51, etc - 2nd violin

-Dvorak Piano quintet, 2nd violin

-Brahms and Mozart clarinet quintet 2nd violin (the brahms can be a popular choice for spontaneous gatherings. it pays to study the part beforehand, esp for 2nd mvt ;)

-Beethoven middle and late quartets - 2nd vln.

-Shostakovich eg #6


-Beethoven middle and late quartets 1st violin

-Mendelssohn string quartets 1st violin part

-Brahms string quartets, piano quintet, 2nd and 1st violin

-Dvorak string quartets, piano quintet 1st violin

August 15, 2013 at 01:01 AM · Tomo - thanks for pointing out the importance of starting out with violin 2 parts for the more difficult chamber music. I do not really have enough background in chamber music to speak. I have played some of the BEethoven and Mozart piano trios and Mozart's clarinet quintet, but few quartets recently. I hope to change that when I retire.

August 15, 2013 at 02:21 AM · Tomo - great suggestions, in particular entry through second violin; its a luxury the violin has over its cousins. On the other hand, its needed because the 1st part is usually so hard (but also far more rewarding).

I'm in the intermediate stage - I've learned 3 or four haydn/Mozart mid-level 1st parts and also piano trios (which I love). Perhaps whats missing from your list is what I guess I was really thinking of: a graded rep for 1st violin.

August 15, 2013 at 04:44 AM · I'm going to disagree and say that the second violin is often more important for keeping the group intact and often has "filler" passages that are more difficult than the melody. Even in the Beethoven Op. 18 quartets. Also, placing the pitches of the middle harmonies can be more difficult. Rather than make lump assessments, you would have to look at each individual quartet and each part.

In general, the viola part is definitely easier, though. ;)

August 15, 2013 at 07:53 AM · I start my chamber music students on lots of Haydn and Mozart, and there's a wealth of material there. From time to time I get complaints about limiting them to those composers at the initial stages, but it's usually from people who haven't experienced more than one or two works and have no idea just how richly populated the material is, and how much range there is in technical difficulty.

One might be tempted to launch students into Beethoven Op. 18 from there, but there are times I feel that the six quartets of Op. 18 are actually more challenging to play well than the three of Op. 59. I like to send them to Mendelssohn Op. 12 and Op. 13 first, as well as some of the earlier Schubert quartets.

Dvorak Op. 51 and 96 are wonderful, and 105 is really beautiful if not very challenging from an intonation standpoint (and those key signatures can be brutal for the uninitiated).

From there, there's staggering amounts of repertoire, and work enough for a lifetime. Great stuff from Beethoven (the late quartets especially), Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Shostakovich, Bartok, etc.

I'd agree the viola part is not as technical nutty as most first violin parts, but then there are works like Brahms' string quintets or clarinet quintet that really level the playing field technically...

August 15, 2013 at 08:12 AM · Great stuff Gene - that's just the info I was looking for. I went from Mozart to Beethoven 18(3) (I'm playing it, or rather 'hacking through' :) here on Friday) but it was quite a leap. Wish I knew of those alternatives.

Please correct me if I got some of this wrong (I'm trying to interpret your post, in particular the placing of Beethoven) but Gene's recommended list would go something like:

Mozart/Haydn - lots

Mendelssohn Op. 12 and Op. 13 first

Early Schubert quartets.

Beethoven of Op. 59

Beethoven Op. 18

Dvorak Op. 51, 96 105

The Rep - Beethoven (late quartets), Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Shostakovich, Bartok…

August 16, 2013 at 01:59 AM · You might want to have a look at Harold Haynes’ Chamber Music Repertoire for Amateur Players.


It is not quite the list you describe, but it has several different lists (including lists according to the level of different players) and the pieces are all graded according to difficulty and merits of the works. Naturally one can argue about both sets of grades, and my personal gripe is that the most difficult grade on a scale of 1 to 20 is described as ‘pro’. Why does the author have to be patronizing rather than just write ‘20’ and leave it at that? Amateurs WILL play works generally regarded as too difficult for them, it’s part of the fun.

As for the advice to stick to Violin 2, I could not disagree more. Don’t believe people who tell you that if you are a good girl and play Mozart and Haydn Vl2 parts you will eventually graduate to Vl1 heaven! What is more likely to happen is this:

You play your part (which if you truly are a good girl you will have prepared, even if it looked easy-peasy at first sight), but somehow it doesn’t work as well as when you played it alone at home. Maybe the intonation sounds off, because playing the part in a group requires ‘vertical’ thinking about intonation. Or Vl1 doesn’t play quite as rhythmically as your metronome. Or maybe you are just overwhelmed by the novelty of the situation. Or you are thrown by Haydn’s nice little surprises, like a sudden exposed Vl2 flourish after many bars of seemingly harmless accompanying figures, or even a solo variation with 5 or 6 flats in a slow movement (I forget which one). Of course you want to shine and show your Vl1 heaven potential – a dangerous attitude and the best recipe for an embarrassing mess-up. You then lose what confidence you had, thinking you are a failure, because you can’t even manage an ‘easy’ middle part, and play more and more defensively. You may well be labelled ‘Vl2’ forever, unless you move to another town and reinvent yourself.

Moral of the story: Vl2 is not necessarily the easy part.

Yes, Vl 1 parts tend to have more technical difficulties, but they are the kind of difficulties most of us have studied in their violin lessons, when we played etudes and concertos. Unless things have changed drastically in recent times, I doubt there are many teachers who study Vl2 parts with their students. Middle parts have their own challenges, especially for the chamber music novice.

I never got anywhere with chamber music until I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was expected to play Vl1 in several difficult works. I won’t say I did well, but I survived, some of my fellow-players said nice things to me, and I gained the confidence to play both Vl1 and Vl2 parts.

Even some long-term professional quartets these days have Vl1 and Vl2 switch parts. All the more important for the rest of us not to let ourselves be labelled ‘Vl1’ or ‘Vl2’. And to play the repertoire we want to play (within reason; starting with Bartok might not be a great idea), rather than that deemed ‘suitable’.

Tomorrow I’m off to play Vl1 in Beethoven’s 59.1 (classified as too difficult for the likes of me by the venerable Mr Haynes) and Vl2 in Haydn 76.4. Better sign off and do some more practice on the Haydn!

Best wishes,


August 17, 2013 at 07:53 AM · I was looking for parts for a string sextet by the danish composer Niels W Gade and found this site:

In addition to providing reprints (of music which is often available on IMSLP also) the rank the difficulty of each part.

Not all of the "standard repertoire" is there, but at least I found some of the early Haydn and Mozart quartets in their list. And a lot of this less known music is also worth playing......

August 17, 2013 at 09:55 PM · Hi Margaret - I mentioned the Hayes book in the OP - but its nice to have a link to it. It truly is amazing.

Thanks Bo for that link I'll check it out too.

Meanwhile I may have made someone really qualified interested in doing this thoroughly... ;)

October 15, 2016 at 10:06 PM · Reviving an old thread as I look through possible repertoire to suggest for my quartet:

October 15, 2016 at 10:23 PM · Not sure why I can't edit my previous post, but I wanted to add another link:

Maggini Quartet list of editions -- recommendations for critical editions.

October 16, 2016 at 10:01 AM · Thanks a lot Lydia! Very helpful.

November 8, 2016 at 12:33 PM ·

November 8, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Excellent! Thank you for that, Michael.

November 8, 2016 at 09:32 PM · No kidding -- wow -- what a resource. Hopefully I will not feel too badly if I struggle with any Haydn that is graded "1/1"

I thought that it might be fun to try playing along with some recordings and now I know where to start.

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