William Primrose

February 12, 2004 at 06:03 PM · I know this is a violin website, but if I may, what is your opinion of this great virtuoso of the viola? When my teacher studied viola at Curtis he taught her. She said he was a great guy. I believe it too, for some of his notes on the music she studied with him, and that I am now working on, indicate a warm and encouraging teacher, not one who gave cold demands.

Replies (36)

February 12, 2004 at 07:00 PM · Absolutely the greatest violist. His Brahms sonatas are very special.

February 12, 2004 at 07:23 PM · Primrose is a really great violist!!

My other favorite violist at the moment is Rivka Golani.

February 12, 2004 at 07:43 PM · the paganini on viola shocked me, I didnt know that was possible

February 12, 2004 at 08:43 PM · If you go to altavista.com and type in "Primrose" on the video search you can see him playing Paganini. The website says it's the 6th caprice, but as anyone who knows violin knows, it's the 24th. Fine playing indeed!

February 12, 2004 at 09:39 PM · As almost always happen, he began as a violinist, and what a fine violinist!. I have 2 recordings of him on violin and there are excelent

February 12, 2004 at 10:23 PM · im a violist and he is absoltuely my role model. love primrose. and yeah you can play paganini on viola. ive only done the 9th caprice though.

February 13, 2004 at 04:30 AM · there's a funny story about him somewhere online...i dont really remeber it that well though you guys....:(...but i think it goes like this... he was said to be talking with some fellow musicians inside curtis and the topic of warming up and how it was and absolutely essential came up. he proceeded then to go outside in the middle of winter in philly ( and you know how cold it gets there in the winter:):)) he wasnt even wearing a jacket and he stood out there for quite some time in the cold with his viola case, then unpacked it, raised his viola, and proceeded to play paganini's #24 caprice perfectly....

February 13, 2004 at 04:51 AM · He's like Heifetz of the viola. Plays too much like a violinist though, a little choppy and not enough smooth and luscious sound. Still, an amazing player.

February 13, 2004 at 04:53 AM · He had such good tone.

February 13, 2004 at 04:57 AM · It was Ysaye who encouraged Primrose to play viola - before that he was trying to make it on violin. And here's a cool story - he first developed his love for the viola when he secretly played his father's viola, and discovered he preferred it's tone to that of the violin.

February 14, 2004 at 06:49 AM · Yeah, he's amazing.

As a sidenote, he felt very strongly that violinists and violists shouldn't be both, they should focus on one. He had a real issue with violinists who also played viola. Apparently he made disapproving comments about Zukerman playing viola; he wasn't critical of Zukerman's playing, just didn't want him to play viola on the side.

Primrose is great, but Zukerman and Tree (Guarneri) are my favorite violists, they have a much deeper, warmer sound.

February 14, 2004 at 05:01 PM · Yes Michael Tree is phenomenal - and although he plays viola in the Guarneri Quartet, he plays violin too.

February 14, 2004 at 05:45 PM · I think violists get a little antsy with such a small repertoire (correct me if I'm wrong, Chris.) That could be why they switch off between instuments so much.

February 14, 2004 at 06:03 PM · It's kind of a shame.

February 14, 2004 at 08:12 PM · My favorite violist is Bashmet (I think he has a bow arm every and any violinist should study, examine, and emulate). The viola repertoire is actually getting significantly larger.

February 15, 2004 at 03:36 PM · the rep. for viola is getting larger, but its not getting better, in terms of quality of pieces. yesterday i started to look for pieces for viola solo that in a reasonable technical standpoint that i could learn in a couple of weeks on my own. all i found were modern works that were either incredibly diffiult, or modern works that were uhhh, lets just say, not very good. ive never really heard zuckerman on the viola. buti heard hes awesome. so if u know of any viola solo works that are not played a lot(or somewhat a lot doesnt matter) but are cool and not as diffciult as the Bartok Concerto,(excluding reger, hindemith and bach)let me know. thanks.

February 15, 2004 at 03:40 PM · and to add, i actually started on viola. i learned violin b/c its kind of requiered(various concertos like bach, mozart, bruch, lalo and vieuxtemps) but really didnt start on violin.

February 16, 2004 at 02:42 PM · Forgive me if this is a stupid question:

Why can't you try the violin repertoire on a viola?

February 16, 2004 at 02:57 PM · thats a very gfood question. usually, b/c :

1) it sounds bad on the viola


2.) violists would play it badly.

I take one example with the Bach Partitas and Sonatas. They sound really bad on viola, so usually no one plays them on viola even though there is a transcription of them for the instrument.

February 16, 2004 at 03:47 PM · Yes, the violin works sounds bad on viola, but the cello suites instead...

February 16, 2004 at 05:24 PM · Sorry to be in difference of opinion on this...but I saw the Bach Chaconne performed on the viola last summer in a masterclass. It blew me away. I thought it sounded really good on viola.

February 18, 2004 at 11:10 AM · Chris:¿do you want works for viola not too difficult?:

Mendelssohn Son.C.minor


Milhaud:sons.1 and 2


Stamitz:Son.b flat major

Hummel:Son.op.5 No.3

von Dittersdorf:Son.e flat major



Paul Juon:sonata op.15

There you are, to start.

February 18, 2004 at 01:59 PM · thanks. ill check out the milhaud. maybe ill learn it over the summer.

February 18, 2004 at 02:33 PM · Again violist should play more of the violin encores. Music can mostly be played on any instrument. Emmanuel Vardi plays all 24 Paganini Caprices on the viola, Fisk plays all 24 Paganini Caprices on Guitar and I have recordings of cellist playing violin pieces. Wasn't Clair De Lune originally written for piano, but violinist and harpist also play the piece. And Bell just recorded a piece of music written by Puccini from one of his Opera's.

February 18, 2004 at 08:20 PM · Hello all! I agree, the viola repertoire is steadily increasing. But for what it is, there are quite a number of great pieces (The violin repertoire is of course grand, but filled with a ton of filigree--fanciful, yet unsubstantial). It is also necessary to listen closely to certain "newer" composers that are recorded by "worthy" violists. These pieces will become stalwarts in the viola repertory.

Hands down, I think, one of the best string concertos written, violin and cello included, is the Alfred Schnittke Viola Concerto!!! The Schnittke is SO amazing--it is modern, but not discordant, a mixture of the romantic repertoire, baroque, and 20th century-modern. It's compositional structure (no violins!) and technical demands also destroy any notion that the viola should play violin stuff. And, it is recorded by one of my favorite violists who wasn't mentioned above--Kim Kashkashian! Hello??!! Her sound, technique and virtuosity are impeccable. :)

The Schnittke was composed for Yuri Bashmet, who was also the first to record it. Nabuko Imai also has a great recording, but Kashkashian has it down! She and Bashmet are really leading the way nowadays in expanding the viola repertoire. Sorry Chris, although this may be too difficult (yet, a much more "accessible" composition, overall, than the Bartok and other famous warhorses), I always feel the need to drop this concerto into a discussion, because it highlights the full range of the viola and virtuosity of any performer. Unfortunately, Primrose was not around to record it, and many famous violists have agreed that it's vast technical demands are so great as to be "breathing new possibilities into viola composition," so there are really only three or so good recordings. But, it is a must-hear for violists and violinists alike!

February 18, 2004 at 11:06 PM · My favourite violist is Charles Pikler, the successor to Primrose in the Chicago Symphony. Beautiful sound, great technique, and a genius in music if I ever saw one.

February 18, 2004 at 11:07 PM · I LOVE THE SCHNITTKE VIOLA CONCERTO! i want to play it soooo bad. ill learn it next year sometime. hopefully.

February 18, 2004 at 11:09 PM · but im not touching the bartok concerto anytime soon. woahhhhh.

February 19, 2004 at 05:07 PM · Hey! And, by the way Chris, I am not sure which school you attend, but THE best recording I have ever heard of the Schnittke was actually by Elizabeth Freivogel. She performed it live as a winner of the Oberlin Concerto Competition in 2000. It was her performance of the piece that bowled me over, searing the piece into my mind! I mentioned "which school" because maybe you can interlibrary loan the recording or something. She also won 3rd Prize at the 1999 International William Primrose Viola Competition (a difficult competition, to say the least), under the likes of two other notable young violists: Lawrence Power (1) and Roland Glassl (2).


February 19, 2004 at 06:11 PM · thanks. i go to Juilliard, but thanks for the recording. i think i might find a copy of the concerto and take a listen.

March 25, 2004 at 03:48 AM · Chris

I am playing the Enesco Concertpiece for viola. Ever played it? It's kind of impressionistic, kind of flashy, and very beautiful. I thought I would just mention it in case you were interested

Mr favorite violists are lilian Fuchs and Roberto Diaz at the moment. I have a lost recording of Lilian Fuchs playing the Bach Suites on viola, and they are the most brilliant recordings I've ever heard for the instrument. I also have recordings of Zukerman playing the Stamitz (He takes the first movement sooo fast) and the Handal/casadeseus concertos. He was awsome on the viola. Recently I purchased a recording (for 6 dollars) of the complete Veiuxtemps viola repetoire by Roberto Diaz. May I also suggest the Veiztemps Elegie for viola and piano? That ones great!!


March 25, 2004 at 04:11 AM · Greetings,

Norman Caroll, (ex Philadelphia concertmaster) studied with him at Curtis. He said the Primrose was one of the most down to earth and well balanced people he had ever met.

Milstein talks about hearing him ripping the violin apart in the Paginin Caprices even though the playing was damn near perfect, thus causing him to advise Primrose to play the viola.

Enesu has become something as a projetc for me know. I have decided to leanr all his violin works (good job he didn`t write many) and play them in public a lot.

The chamber music has been recorde on Naxos. It is dreamy beautiful stuff.

Also I like Enesco`s Bach the best but don`t tell the guys on this list..



May 5, 2004 at 11:56 AM · Primrose was great but his brahms/bach are the worst thing in the world.

Zukerman is now the master (he has the most incredible bow technique I´ve ever seen)

you can listen his Bartok concerto. I want to study with him.

May 8, 2004 at 12:50 AM · Listen to Primrose play Bach's unbearably melancholy "Come Sweet Death", and every sorrow you've felt in your whole life will return to visit you during those sweet two minutes.

May 8, 2004 at 03:20 AM · Greetings,

darn it. I"v e always been happy,



PS A cd of Primrose playing violin and early viola stuff ? has just been released, I think by Biddulph.

May 8, 2004 at 04:20 AM · I never cared for his edition/interpretation of Bach's five suites though; Lilian Fuchs (without a doubt my favorite old school violist) said that he just didn't spend enough time with those suites (although she worked diligantly on those suites for twelve (or thirteen..I forget) years before her first public performance of them, so to expect Primrose to interpret them on her level might have been a bit unreasonable;).

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