Difficulty of Lark Ascending

Edited: June 21, 2018, 6:25 AM · Techinically the piece does not sound very demanding besides the other musical aspects, but what are some hidden technical difficulties in the piece that are not obvious upon listening?

Replies (11)

June 21, 2018, 6:33 AM · It's roughly equivalent to one of the less-difficult Romantic concertos in the standard repertoire. If you can play Bruch, you can probably play Lark Ascending.

However, you need fast, articulate fingers, or the entire thing will become a blur. Good control over the speed of your left hand, in an even way, is important, because the rhythms are full of weirdness -- groups of 7, 9, 11, etc. and a lot of switches of how many notes there are within a beat during a passage. So you need a precise notion in your head of exactly how many notes go into a beat, and then accurate execution.

Right-hand challenges in the work are mostly legato, coordination (smooth string crossings etc.), and producing a variety of tone colors within a kind of pastel range.

June 21, 2018, 7:45 AM · Intonation in general is tricky. There is an especially nasty double stop passage which is very exposed.
June 21, 2018, 2:56 PM · Intonation is indeed tricky: the modal writing, with much pentatonic content, requires very pure intervals, even in melodic passages.
June 21, 2018, 3:50 PM · The double-stop passage Bruce is talking about is made extra-nasty by the fact that it's built around an intervals such that when you place a double-stop, if you hold down a finger in a logical fashion, it might actually result in the next double-stop being out of tune because you need a slightly different placement for it to sound in tune.

Also, if you want to avoid things like vibrated long notes being played on 4th finger, or passages that just lie awkwardly in the hand, you'll be doing a lot of reaching / retraction. It's useful to be comfortable with extensions and have a secure sense of a "positionless" approach to shifting. It makes the long melodic passages harder than they look.

June 21, 2018, 9:01 PM · It's one of those pieces that sounds easier than it actually is.

The last time I heard this at an audition, it was more like "The Lark, DESCENDING."

June 22, 2018, 9:39 AM · Many years ago we performed the Lark Ascending and got in a local pro to play the solo. The rehearsal was ok but the performance was a dog's breakfast. The fellow apologised to the orchestra afterwards and, I understand, waived his fee.

I've heard other pros say that it is one of the trickiest pieces in the repertoire, for the reasons outlined in previous posts.

June 22, 2018, 10:47 AM · Note that the above-mentioned difficulties are more closely related to how well you want to play the work artistically and with a high degree of technical perfection, versus whether or not you can get through it.

It appears to be a popular work for graduation recitals, whether at the high school, undergrad, or master's level. You can find plenty of YouTube videos of people giving decidedly mediocre performances, in which they make highly questionable artistic choices (like fingerings that are convenient but not good interpretive decisions), but get through it okay.

I performed this with orchestra last year, and found that the notes took me almost no time to learn... and then I spent the next year questioning every decision I'd made, finding endless necessary refinements that required careful control, and finding there were always a few places (like the aforementioned nasty double-stop passage) that felt precarious.

June 22, 2018, 11:50 AM · The one performance I did of the piece was with the Waco symphony. On the same program Emmanuel Axe played the Beethoven Choral Fantasy. Mr. Axe was paid $50,000. I was paid $500.Nevertheless I was happy to have the opportunity.
June 23, 2018, 7:24 PM · Easily done if you are a lark.
June 24, 2018, 5:40 AM · Rocky I think the overall point is that this is not the kind of piece that one plays on a lark...
July 16, 2018, 9:47 AM · Does anyone know of any videos of masterclasses on Lark Ascending? Am just starting to play it but haven't been able to find anything like a masterclass, just performances.

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