Memorize or not to memorize...that is the question

May 23, 2005 at 11:18 PM · When you perform a Sonata, Do you memorize or do you play it with music?

Replies (22)

May 23, 2005 at 11:19 PM · It depends, but in general, a sonata is considered chamber music, so it is quite acceptable to play with the music.

May 23, 2005 at 11:28 PM · With memorization in general, I think it depends on the individual. It is always beneficial to memorize the piece, or do your best to, because you learn certain things about it that otherwise you would not have. However, with performance, some people play way below their ability without the music. It isn't a crutch necesarily. I believe that since there are all sorts of different learning and thinking and expressive styles utilizing different parts of the brain, that we should be open to that and not force one method of performance upon someone who might just not be able to do it well. Or at all. Anyway. But, yes, for a sonata, I think that music is definately acceptable.



May 23, 2005 at 11:44 PM · unless the pianist is also performing from memory, i don't think it's appropriate for the violinist to perform from memory. it's chamber music! and our parts are supposed to be equal.. although most of us call them 'violin sonatas,' and the piano is playing two voices -left hand and right hand- while we only have the one line. how odd would it look if only the 2nd violin in a quartet was playing with no music stand in front of her?

May 24, 2005 at 12:22 AM · I agree with Sharon. It is acceptable to have a sonata memorized, if the pianist also has it memorized.

I'm going to be performing Dvorak's Sonatina in a few days with the music in front of me. I won't use it much though, because I personally play better without looking at music. If you also play better with the music memorized, you can have the music in front of you, but you don't have to necessarily use it.

May 24, 2005 at 12:35 AM · The music should be memorized, but having the music in front of you is a good idea...

May 24, 2005 at 04:15 AM · This is off topic,

Sharon, you aren't the Sharon Lee of the Rydonk Quartet are you?

May 24, 2005 at 12:17 PM · I think you should try and memorise to the best of your abilities. I know i dont but do as i say not as i do!

Then again some people just have the gift of a musical memory and others dont. I always try to memorise any solo stuff. It also depends on the period to me. Like i seem to be able to memorise baroque easily but romantic not easily.

May 25, 2005 at 12:37 AM · The only reason I'm asking is because I'm playing a recital, one of epic poportions!

I changed up my Programme

Sonata in B flat major (Mozart)

Passcagalia Duo (Handel-Halovorsen)*

Fantasia Appassionata (Vieuxtemps)


Sarabande and Gigue in D minor (Bach)

Romance in D flat Chant d'Amour (Vieuxtemps)

Russian Carnival (Wieniawski)

Romance (Dvorak)

Non Piu Mesta (Paganini)

*I'm playing viola

As you can see that's alot to relearn, and memorize!

May 25, 2005 at 01:01 AM · Goodness me! That's a lot. Hmmm well you also have to think about messing around with the music stand. It might look a bit funny if you have some memorised here and others not there and you're fiddiling around with your music. I think it might be just best to have all the music there ready on the stand or whatever and use it when you need it.

May 25, 2005 at 08:17 PM · I believe that *whenever possible* music should be memorized. I think you can attain a fuller immersion in the music making if the music is "in your head" from beginning to end. Depending upon the details of your musical life, it may be possible/necessary to memorize everything you play (e.g. if you're a concert soloist), or some things (if you're a chamber player or conductor) or pretty much nothing (for most orchestral players). You have to be practical. But I really think that having the music (primarily your part, but also the other parts, if any, to a lesser degree of detail) memorized is the ideal for which to strive.

May 27, 2005 at 10:34 AM · Mark.Good luck with your recital!I feel that once the notes have been learned the music should and can be expressed far better without the distraction of reams(in your case)of music.That's what I was told by one of the profs. here who was a pupil of the Russian conservetory in St.Petersburg.They tend to do everything from memory.Just for a laugh and to save money I used to practise in a darkened room!If you really need to,a couple of places can be written out in short-hand to give a wee bit of security.But at the end of the day if you know the music well enough you won't need it.Dougie Lawrence.

May 28, 2005 at 12:18 AM · I usually remember what's in the middle of the page, but toward the end I forget the phrase...sad huh? I like your ideal for short hand, I'll probably do a tid bit of last few measures of the last page and the first few measures of the next page.

May 28, 2005 at 02:41 AM · I think that you should do whatever the pianist does. If they have it memorized, then you should do it without music too. However, I think most of the time you'll find that playing with music is acceptable and good. However, having it memorized and having the music in front of you as well is highly advised- it will help you get your head out of the music, keep good contact with the pianist, and engage the audience.

Now, for an unaccompanied piece, it's highly recommended to memorize. You'll play more brilliantly and with more flair if you don't have to look at the music the whole time.

May 28, 2005 at 05:29 AM · I find memorizing music tremendously helpful. Memorization in general allows you to focus more on the technique and tonal quality of what you are playing rather than trying to determine what note you are to play next. The sheet music becomes more of a "reminder" of what notes to play and how to play them.

May 28, 2005 at 07:55 AM · The best thing is to memorise it, it helps you concentrate on the violin/musicality/techicality if you know what i mean, instead of concentrating on the music(sheet of music). I find that it helps in any sort of piece!

May 28, 2005 at 11:11 AM · I think that this convention of playing chamber music with paper in front of you is quite nonsensical. I do understand that it's a time-honoured tradition, but the truth is that it mostly comes from an age when amateurs, who probably wouldn't have had time to memorise, played for and with their friends in their houses (classical music for fun, as entertainment - who'da thunk it?).

I also think that "if the pianist has music, you should too" is kind of silly. If you know the sonata inside out, why bother with a stand? Is it really going to be detrimental to the audience's musical enjoyment if the pianist looks at their pages and you don't? ... I don't quite understand the logic.

Personally my playing from memory is always light-years ahead of any performances I do from the music (and I have done it a few times, due to time constraints, but would now rather sacrifice meals and sleep than the musical edge). And funnily enough, of the five or so memory slip-type mess-ups I've ever had to endure on stage, four were with the dots in front of me; not because I hadn't played the stuff for long enough, but because I closed my eyes and performed, then got uneasy and looked at the page, and looked at the wrong part and got confused.

Playing in groups of three or more is quite another story, though; I'm so not suggesting we all go off and start performing Janacek quartets from memory....

May 28, 2005 at 11:52 AM · "unless the pianist is also performing from memory, i don't think it's appropriate for the violinist to perform from memory."


I've heard many people tell me that. I personally do use music for sonatas, but probably out of laziness. I recall DeLay insisted that all music be memorized, including sonatas, contemporary works; so I wouldn't dare walk into her lesson if I hadn't done so.

Do you know any famous artists who do memorize chamber music? I saw Hilary Hahn perform in Taipei recently and she memorized the whole program. In the 3rd movt of the Faure sonata though, she did make a memory lapse, and could not get back in, so for about 20+ bars she was scrambling to find the notes. It was a tense moment, but at the end of the concert, I was amazed and inspired. Her pristine sound, continuous vibrato, amazing bow control, musical sense, etc, lifted my mood, so I completely forgot about her memory lapse afterwards.

I also have the Anne Sophie Mutter DVD playing the Beethoven sonatas; and I believe she also memorized all the music.

I find if I play with the music, I end up looking like I'm playing to the music stand instead of the audience. Visually it can look like a crutch, unless the stand is very low and a distance away. But I've tried that, and without realizing it, my violin scroll is pointed very low, towards the music stand.

May 28, 2005 at 03:19 PM · I agree that the "time-honored" tradition may have been caused partially due to the fact that it was amateurs that were playing them. However, it's not just that. Chamber music, up until the boom of violin and piano recitals in the late 19th century, was played in the home, not neccessarily all the time by amateurs. Just look at the long history of salons in France.

However, all that being said, I still think it's a good idea. If you were first violin of a quartet and you had your music memorized (as most of us often end up realizing is true)- would you play it without music while the others played with music? Absolutely not. And while I see why some people would say that it's different for a pianist and a violinist, I don't believe that's true. In a sonata, a pianist doesn't accompany a violinist- the pianist is a collaborator in chamber music, just as a second violinist, cellist, and violist would be. This is why most people don't play memorized unless the pianist does. Think about the titles of the great sonatas of Beethoven- they are both referred to as "Sonatas For Piano and Violin". Mozar went so far to call them "Sonatas For Piano with Violin accompaniment" (loose translation). While I don't have any problem with a violinist who wishes to perform it memorized, I would not do it without doing it with the pianist.

May 28, 2005 at 03:26 PM · I forgot to mention something in my last response. I would never perform a sonata without memorization- you don't need to look at the music all the time. However, seeing as the pianist is not just an accompanist, I feel it's important to have a part up there for safety. You never know what might happen- lines skipped, falling apart, etc. It's rare and you could do it without it, but I think that the violinist should be on the same level as the pianist. The only reason we get to stand in front is because our sound would be drowned out if we sat across from or behind the pianist! However, I agree that memorization is important. This is what my teacher says- it may be wrong for some people, but I don't think it should be seen as inferior to memorization. It works quite well I assure you.

May 30, 2005 at 08:05 PM · My teacher always insisted on memorization for all solo performances. That was a big part of my training. In a music contest once, I had a memory lapse. I was probably fourteen or so. I stopped, turned and asked the pianist to start again, and played the piece again to the end. I still got a first rating because I didn't fall apart. You do what you have to do and then fall apart later; at least, that's how I seem to function. (Don't know if I'd be able to pull that off now, tho!!)

June 6, 2005 at 03:32 PM · Although it is acceptable to play a sonata with the music, I believe it it always best to memorize. You learn the piece better when you have it memorized, and you learn more about it as well. You're able to go into greater detail in some of the passages, you never realized before. Also, as an audience member, it is really annoying to watch a performer who constantly has their nose in the music. If you're nervous about it, the best is to memorize it, and have the music up on the stage with you as a comfort thing. Glance at it OCCASIONALLY, or just leave it unopened on the stand so that you know it's there. Subconciously, it will make you much less nervous. But always remember, if you're going to memorize it, do it way in advance. If you memorize to close to the performance you'll almost definately mess up. It's always best to memorize while you're learning the piece.

June 6, 2005 at 03:43 PM · thank you, christina

you said it much better than i did.

even if you have your sonata memorized, you should still have your music up on the stand (open, not closed. definately not closed). It's not so much for security as it is a sign of respect for your pianist. so many violinists refer to their collaborative pianists as their 'accompanists'- which i think is completely backwards.

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