How should I approach learning the Walton Viola Concerto?

March 21, 2018, 9:42 PM · After I finish up learning the Glinka Viola Sonata for a competition this May, I will be working on the Walton Viola Concerto with my Private Instructor, at the age of 13. To anybody who has learned the Walton Viola Concerto - any tips for practicing it? What were some methods of practicing you used?

I previously learned the Forsyth Viola Concerto, if that will help in determining any good tips for practicing the Walton.

Replies (13)

Edited: March 22, 2018, 1:17 PM · I'm learning it now. Self-teaching as I always have with repertoire.

One thought: once you have the fingerings you plan to use for the double-stop passages, I would suggest practicing for intonation, one line at a time, using those same fingerings, before putting them back together as double-stops.

March 22, 2018, 9:06 AM · Would practice techniques differ from other major repertoire?

Yes, practicing one line at a time as suggested is a good start, but there are many other techniques for practicing, and I'm wondering if your teacher has taught them to you. Otherwise I'm wondering (since you asked the question) whether you are ready for this concerto. Generally at this level students know the various practice techniques. I generally wouldn't let someone learn the Tchaikovsky concerto if I had to teach them how to practice each passage and technique. They would have to wait.

March 22, 2018, 12:01 PM · Hi Scott, I was just wondering about techniques that are specific to this piece, not the general practice techniques that apply to most, if not all pieces. Thanks!
March 22, 2018, 1:21 PM · Other than the bit about double-stops, I really can't think of anything that would be specific to this piece.
March 24, 2018, 12:04 AM · Walton second movement: decide whether you want to do those slurs in the new edition or hooked in old edition to practice...
March 24, 2018, 3:21 AM · ..or practice both bowings!
Edited: March 24, 2018, 5:24 AM · @ Brook Roberts ~

Just a word ... Familiarize yourself at the Piano with the full score of this involved Viola Concerto & it won't hurt to search for one or two wonderful recordings by Viola Great's, possibly William Primrose,
(although I'm not sure Mr. Primrose recorded the Walton?) or Luigi Alberto Bianchi, the Italian Viola Great who did specialise in works of Alessandro Rolla, but might have recorded the Walton? Or you might find a Zukerman recording?? Again, I'm not sure whom, but all three were/ are fabulous musicians as is known ~

Always in navigating unusual double stops, go super slowly in the early stages to listen carefully to intonation and give the mind/body nervous system time to absorb 'new' configurations of the left hand and concurrent bow navigation throughout ... If you love the Walton, it loves you back!

Sending you all the best on your journey of the Walton, I'm in your corner!

Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago *

*original pupil of Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class, USC (now on
YouTube) Khachaturian, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky (Russian version,
Library of Congress Master Performers) and, later on, private pupil of
Nathan Milstein (London, 3 & 1/2 years) + p.t. Teaching Assistant for NM
Master Violin Course, in Zurich (3 Summers, 1970 - 1972) ~

Edited: March 24, 2018, 5:09 AM · There are lots of wonderful violists besides Primrose and Zuckerman that you can listen to for inspiration. And a modern violist may be even better if there is clear video you can watch.
Edited: March 24, 2018, 5:19 AM · @Paul Deck ~ I'm sure you are correct, however Primrose and Luigi Alberto Bianchi were vintage
Violist's, as is Pinchus Zukerman ... I take the "Fifth" on the grounds of being a Violinist!!

Best Wishes to you, Paul ~

Elisabeth Matesky

March 24, 2018, 7:18 AM · Primrose (with Walton), Frederick Riddle (with Walton, 78rpm on U-Toob), Paul Doktor (my favorite), Yehudi Menuhin (with Walton, but not his best viola playing, unlike the Bartok..), Peter Schidlof (BBC live), Nigel Kennedy, Helen Callus, Lawrence Power, Maxim Vengerov, but alas no Pinchas Zukerman!
Edited: March 24, 2018, 12:28 PM · Practice it the same way as any other piece of repertoire. For me, there are 4 stages in learning; 1) sight-read it; to find out if it is within your technical skill level, do you like it enough to spend the time? 2) "choreography"; design your personal bowings and fingerings. At this stage you also listen and watch recordings to see what the major league players do with it. Also look at the original score so that you are not overly influenced by performance tradition or the editors' opinions. 3) turn those decisions into habits, with repetitions. 4) memorization, start with small chunks, gradually increasing in length. You may combine stage 3 and 4. For me, sometimes the clever bowings and fingerings that I invent don't work so well when memorized, up to tempo, so I will go back to something more traditional. Don't always start at the beginning, sometimes work backwards in large sections, or start with the most difficult spots.
March 24, 2018, 1:50 PM · The material in Walton falls into three categories - melodies, fast passagework, double stops. You could decide to focus on any one of these in a practice session. I have recently posted a blog about the Walton sixths:

Experience with a consistent daily warm-up which addresses various double-stops is essential for developing the left hand’s accuracy, balance, strength and suppleness required for our 20th century viola repertoire. In addition to Flesch or Galamian scales and arpeggios of all types, other valuable resources are Sevcik Op. 8 (especially larger distance shifts in second half of book) and Dounis Artist’s Technique of Violin Playing, Op. 12 (the section with double stops shifting various distances, as well as the section using grace-note shifting technique for scales.)
A strong technical foundation built from study of etudes by Rode, Gavinies and Dont facilitates learning Walton, Bartok, Hindemith concerti. Ideally, your etudes should be as difficult or more so than your repertoire.

Walton’s material makes demands of the player different from Forsyth and Glinka, such as:

-Accuracy and expressive finesse in the timing of frequent shifts in all registers
-Extended left hand positions in 3rd position and above – straddling more than one textbook position & “walking” this span with ease while connecting vibrato between fingers
-Facility to execute fast passagework traveling from low to high register in runs with frequent shifts
-Clear, strong tone and vibrato in highest register of A string
-Personal, visceral response to complex harmony of the accompaniment, which inspires you to design tone color & nuanced phrases with variations of vibrato and bow speed - sometimes on the same bow stroke

Since you are so young and Walton is such an important masterpiece, I would like to say that all of the above skills can be honed in 20th century repertoire less well known and perhaps less crucial to your future auditions than Walton, but still quite satisfying to perform: Bloch Suite Hebraique and Gyula David Concerto, then moving on to Piston Concerto, Tibor Serly Concerto and Rozsa Concerto. The Bloch and David are building blocks; Piston, Serly and Rozsa are of comparable difficulty to Walton (Serly perhaps more difficult), feature post-romantic era double stops (4ths, 5ths, or 7ths), and offer a similar experience with the issues above. If you study at least three of these works first, you will bring a wealth of experience, technique and musicianship to Walton, Hindemith, Bartok, as well as to 19th and 20th century sonatas.

Patricia McCarty
Meadowmount School of Music
Viola articles, CDs, videos & blog:

March 24, 2018, 1:52 PM · For the double stops in sixths in the first movement, find the difference tone in all of them.

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