bowing in the third movement of the sibelius

May 10, 2018, 6:00 PM · in the third movement of the sibelius concerto there is a series of slurred double stop thirds that's supposed to be played in one bow. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it.
I've watched a lot of performances of this piece and have seen professionals do these all separated, or with four in a bow, or with the upbow staccato that's written in the music.
so I have two questions, but the first one is broad and I'm more interested in the latter:

1. how do you effectively do upbow staccato in this passage?
2. which bowing do you think is best for this passage? do you think anything other than an upbow staccato is blasphemous or do you think the difficulty of the bowing gets in the way of the music and performers should be able to decide for themselves?

Replies (12)

May 10, 2018, 7:01 PM · I performed this piece 30+ years ago and did them all separate upon the advice of my teacher, a well-known concertmaster. If I ever perform this piece again, I will do them all separate again. Upbow staccato is not my strong suit.
May 10, 2018, 8:38 PM · Ah, up bow staccato. That's a tough one.

I got so many exercises from teachers when I was young and none of them really helped. One of my teachers had me practice Hora Staccato. It was comically slow lol. Listening to Heifetz and Rabin made me want to smash my bow.

It's one of those things that can come to you pretty suddenly. Almost overnight, after years of banging your head against the wall.

I have a pretty good up bow staccato. This is what works for me:

1) I hold my elbow quite high when I do it. One of my teachers actually told me to lower my elbow, which was the worst advice I could have gotten. The contact cannot be too heavy.

2) I feel force and energy in my right arm but the main point of tension is my hand. It's focused in the bottom of my hand, not throughout.

3) I squeeze my forearm

4) I tilt my hand forward. Sometimes my pinky even comes off the bow.

5) I pulse the motions throughout the arm, being careful to lightly articulate only the absolute beginning of each note.

6) My shoulder stays fairly relaxed compared to the rest of my arm

The up bow staccato etude in BK 1 of Wohlfahrt op 45 is a marvel for getting a student's head around what will work. Its short and repeatable. Many of my students get from around 60 bpm to over 100 in two or thee weeks.

Have you ever played the D major Wieniawski Polonaise? The up bow staccato passage in that piece is almost exactly the same speed as the one in the last movement of Sibelius. You can almost transfer the technique directly over.

Edited: May 11, 2018, 5:18 AM · At this stage of my life I am not interested in drilling upbow staccato, a bowing technique that is never required in the orchestral repertoire.

If I were teaching the Sibelius to a student, I would give them upbow staccato exercises such as those suggested above, and work with them to develop a usable stroke. But at the end of the day, the point of performing a piece of music is to say something through sound, and whatever will make the sound the best, the most beautiful, and/or the closest to the composer's clear intent, is what should be done.

May 11, 2018, 6:33 AM · It may depends on the context in which the piece will be performed, doesn't it?

For example, if you're playing Sibelius at the Queen E of B competition, you'll want to play the up-bow as marked because you're trying to prove to the world that you're a virtuoso and can handle anything. If you're using the piece to gain admission to a good state university, then just get the job done.

Another couple of examples: Paganini's 5th Caprice is marked with a 3+1 ricochet. Sure, lots of people can actually do it. But is there value in the typical student to bang their head against a wall to master this? Or is the time better spend mastering a good sautille? What about Caprice 10? When I studied it, my problem was that a good tempo falls right in between what my arm muscles wanted to do. I could do it slowly, or fast, but fast was too fast to just get the notes. My muscle fibers just wouldn't cooperate, like a bench grinder that only has 2 speeds and nothing in between.

I've performed Paganini 21, and did the runs in the Presto separate. Could I have put in another 100 hours mastering a perfect up-bow staccato? I suppose. In that case, I just wanted to "git er done."

In the end, you have to decide: is the bow technique INTEGRAL to the piece in some way? Can you make a musical phrase as written? Who are you trying to impress (there are times in life where we have to impress someone)? How much time do you have?

May 11, 2018, 8:15 AM · It is not true that one either has or does not have the ability to do this bow stroke. It is merely a complicated balancing act.
In performing upbow staccato pressure must be applied throughout the up bow. This means that at the tip of the bow there must be a great deal of pressure on the string. This leverage is provided by the opposition of the thumb against the first finger through the forearm movement that is termed pronation. This is the same motion used for turning a doorknob, counterclockwise. Further along in the bow stroke the weight of the tip of the bow adds more pressure to the string so that less is needed from pronation.
1. The bow stroke is performed mostly in the upper ½ of the bow. Accent the first note forcefully, thereby putting pressure on the bow. Do not release the pressure as you play the passage. Use as little bow as possible. Your arm should feel stiff.
2. It helps to play with flat hair which provides more resistance from the string, and with the stick of the bow tilted towards the player. This makes the sounding point (contact point) closer to the bridge
3. As you travel towards to frog, the balance of the hand must change slightly. Depending on your specific bow setup, the method of this will differ. The basic idea is that the hand goes from pronation (the position your fingers naturally take if you move the bow hold up to the very tip of the bow: much weight pushing upward on the first and second fingers; fingers almost straight), to supination (the position your fingers naturally take if you hold the bow in the air, parallel to the floor (fingers curved, balancing the weight of the bow). I do the gradual curving of the fingers as an active motion.
4. All the up bow staccato passages in the Paganini caprices (as well as most other virtuoso pieces) also incorporate string changes. This complicates the balance of the bow. If you play a staccato G major scale in 1st position you lose the weight of the tip of the bow so it is not necessary to gradually remove pressure. However, if you play the scale going from higher to lower strings you gain weight on the string so you curve the fingers slightly more.
5. The transition from string to string should be done gradually in a circular fashion and without a jerk. Think of following the curve of the bridge with your entire arm.
6. Another complication is that when playing the upbow staccato going from lower notes to higher you “lose” bow so you must use less. When doing the opposite you “gain” bow so must use more bow.
7. In order to control the staccato add little accents depending on the tempo on every 4, 6, or 8 notes. If you can devise a fingering that has the string changes on a beat then you will gain even better control.
8. The speed of the staccato is influenced by the bow speed. A faster bow speed produces a faster staccato and a slower bow speed produces a slower staccato.

Exercise : Play a down bow on an open string.. Upon reaching the tip, stop the bow, Then “pizzicato” the string with the point of the bow (like the beginning of a martele bow stroke). This forces the student to play in a curved manner, not straight back and forth. It has to feel like the bow doesn't exist, that you're just touching the string with the finger and your balance is comfortably changing from one part of the bow to the other. Bowing becomes a balancing act, instead of an issue of strength. Then apply this concept to the up bow staccato, but don’t lift the bow.

It is useful to practice the staccato passages playing only the first note with a powerful accent then add notes one at a time in tempo, until you get to the end of the run. Concentrate on keeping a great deal of pressure on the string.

May 11, 2018, 9:47 AM · "It is not true that one either has or does not have the ability to do this bow stroke"

So you're saying that everyone is equally able to do the stroke?

May 11, 2018, 11:35 AM · I was thinking about this today, and another thing to consider outside of technique itself:

Do not let the pianist/conductor impose their rhythmic will on you in these kinds of passages. The rapid arpeggios that precede the up bow staccato thirds are a big part of the difficulty imo. Don't let your accompanist rush you through the transition. If you need a nanosecond to set yourself before the passage begins it's absolutely your prerogative as the soloist.

I've never had the guts to perform the last movement of Sibelius on a concert but I did play Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with orchestra once. I tried in vain to argue for Havanaise but the conductor wasn't having it.

So I told him up front: I'll do it if you promise not to screw me on the up bow staccato passage. I play the arpeggios immediately following the up bow staccato in a slightly slower tempo than the up bow staccato itself and then go right back into tempo. He agreed and it worked out fine after a little experimentation. There's nothing worse than being forced through that passage by an overzealous accompanist.

lol I also told him that if he rushed me on the last page I'd kill him right after the concert.

Edited: May 23, 2018, 1:04 PM · As an original pupil of Jascha Heifetz, who championed and 'owned' and Still Owns the Sibelius Violin Concerto, I'm astonished by some comments about 'How' to propell an Up bow staccato in the fabled Third Movement, "Allegro ma non tanto", in the Sibelius, and what I perceive to be a few
suggestions to, quite frankly, 'alter' Sibelius' Composition, folks!!!

The First Day of our Jascha Heifetz International Violin Master Classes at USC, Mr. Heifetz made 2 powerful statements which I will quote, verbatim, to lend authentic clarity ~

Number 1.) "Pupils, There are No Shortcuts!" (Quote of Jascha Heifetz)

Number 2.) "No one should try playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto!" - then the Great Heifetz, w/his right hand, turned in pointing to himself, indicating w/ silent lips synced (except himself ~)

Please enjoy his last recording of this Mount Everest Violin Concerto of Jean Sibelius, recorded, Live, here in Chicago, in the Medinah Temple, in 1960 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Walter Hendl, Conductor, and I will share the reason Mr. Hendl conducted this Historic recording just days prior to recording dates scheduled with RCA Red Seal & JH's trusted A/R man, Jack Phifpher. The able CSO Music Director/Conductor, Fritz Reiner, was suddenly taken very ill. Associate Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Walter Hendl, was asked to step in with Mr. Heifetz's approval ~ There were obstacles en route to the greatest recording of JH's Sibelius Violin Concerto, owing to unusual circumstances ... After 2 solid days +, Mr. Heifetz called for "an Hour Break", which was granted ~ A very wonderful colleague-member of the CSO 1st Violin section, told me every 'unth detail of the full 3 days of Heifetz's recording of the Sibelius. Choosing to leave some verbiage out, let it be stated that even Jascha Heifetz needed a One Hour Break, returning to then Express deliver his non-stop Sibelius Violin
Concerto with Hendl & the mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra, capturing & turning the most informed critic's and famed Violin Soloist colleagues' (including my mentor, Nathan Milstein) heads upside down and sideways with astonished disbelief!!!! And, good people, Heifetz 'Rocket fired' 'Those
Thirds' w/Up (V) Bow Perfected Staccato on One Bow, the likes of which have Never Been Heard since the LP was issued (JH didn't even need to hear the Play Back & this is The Truth!) which has made history in the Annals of any Soloist Recording to date!!! And, (IMO ) will never be matched much less surpassed!! Only an as yet to be invented/ specially designed music computer could try to 'digitally play' the Sibelius nearing the level of Jascha Heifetz!!!

Because some of you have most probably read this, I can comment that a few in my generation have received a "Thumbs Up!" from Jascha Heifetz, himself, (this contributor included) & several younger Violin Soloist's would certainly receive a "Heifetz Blessing" including Hilary Hahn, + possibly late Leonid Kogan, and I will think more of others having recorded & performed Sibelius' Violin Concerto, since Mr. Heifetz's passing (December 10, 1987) before posting other more than deserving artists ~

*A Word ~ Mr. Milstein deliberately did not publicly perform nor record the Sibelius, & when studying privately with him for 3 & 1/2 years at his Chester Square home in London, told me Why, which was an extraordinary display of great respect for his good friend & Leopold Auer St. Petersburg Music Conservatory class-mate, Jascha Heifetz, plus 'holy' integrity of the great Nathan Milstein ~

If any alter the deliberately composed 3rd's into Sibelius' fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto using reasons of it feels best to change tempi of passages or taking the bouncing bow 'route' to navigate the fiendish Thirds staccato'd passages which occur twice in the "Allegro ma non tanto" 3rd Mov't, please realise it is almost tantamount to Violinistic 'Treason' in the wide panoramic perspective of the Giant Finnish Composer, Jean Sibelius' view ~ (How do I know this?)

Invited to participate in the First Sibelius International Violin Competition in Helsinki, FI, I was blessed being given a Special Award for Best Solo Bach which included a personal invitation of All Five Daughter's of the Composer, Sibelius, to play their father's 'Adagio di molto' movement of his Violin Concerto for the Finnish Government's Inaugural Concert - Ceremony in the birth-house of Jean Sibelius, with Finnish Minister of Culture, officially proclaiming it the 'Sibelius National Memorial Museum' on the actual 100th Centenery of Sibelius' Birth, in his growing up Living Room, before all living members of the Jean Sibelius Family, with all Five of Sibelius' Daughter's sitting in 2 front rows of a packed living room with Television companies from around the World telecasting our (playing w/Sibelius Int'l Competition pianist, Mary Lakos), Live performance across Finland, rest of Scndinavia, continental Europe (Eurovision) & the UK, after which I met all Five Sibelius Daughter's, presenting me with their then-ailing Mother, Madame Sibelius' homegrown-in-her-garden Bouquet of Flowers saying, 'Ms. Matesky, our Mother wanted us to give you this present for playing our father's Violin Concerto slow movement on his 100th Birthday, today, December 8th!! We loved your performance ~' More than touched, I had the rare moments to actually speak with all 5 daughter's re the Violin Concerto's composition process their father employed, & all expressed their & their father's great admiration for my violin mentor, Jascha Heifetz, asking me to 'convey our warm greetings to Jascha Heifetz w/our Family's deepest respect and happiness for you, his American pupil, playing so well on this Centenery of our Father's Birthday!'

At some point, to be continued, Thanks to Anna Cats, for posing her most intriguing Sibelius Violin Concerto third movement bowing discussion here on Violinist.com for all to revisit the topic of Jean Sibelius' Violin Concerto!!!

Respectfully submitted with gratitude to all ~

Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago & parts Further *

**Ryan Smith ~ Please do not smash your violin bow! If you love it, it will
love you right back! Get to a piano bench & start making staccato on top
of a wood(shined) bench minus bow.You're sure to 'feel' pure staccato in
your right arm. Wishing I could show you, Live, keep on this route, okay!

May 23, 2018, 2:30 PM · Thanks for the encouragement, Elisabeth. Thankfully I haven't felt that need in quite some time now.

It came to me like a gift from God. Or a reward. One of the two.

May 23, 2018, 3:30 PM · I finally got upbow staccato figured out three years ago. What Bruce said is right on. It is complex but not hard. Downbow staccato, however, remains elusive.
May 23, 2018, 3:51 PM · Practice Hora Staccato wit the original printed bowing. Don't replace the down bow staccato with up bow. Use the metronome (obviously).

It's tedious but it can open things up.

May 24, 2018, 9:14 AM · @Scott the answer is yes, given that the player has normal intelligence.

D.C. Dounis op. 21 is a good method for developing the staccato

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