How difficult are these pieces?

Edited: July 6, 2018, 3:27 AM · Hi. This is a merely orientative question, as a beginner. I'm playing now Kuchler "Vivaldi" concertino, and probably, my next piece will be Vivaldi concerto in A minor.

Which is the approximate level of the following pieces/sets of pieces? Which ones should I be aiming to play first?

1. Biber Rosary Sonatas (I love them, specially number 4 and passacaglia!)

2. Mozart sonatas in general (which ones are easier?).

3. Bach's solo violin works, like partitas (I know these ones are difficult).

4. Telemann violin solo Sinfonias.

5. Vivaldi works in general, other than the A minor concerto (again, which ones are easier and which ones are more difficult?).


As I said, I just want to orient myself with my current level in relation to the cited pieces, to know which of them can I reach with some work, which of them can I reach with more work and which of them are unreachable at the moment (but can be reached with a huge amount of work!).

Of course, I accept repertoire suggestions in my current level... and in a slightly higher level.

Thank you!

Replies (31)

July 6, 2018, 9:41 AM · Bach is hardest. I think Biber is probably difficult, and have some in my file cabinet somewhere. But I'd have to get up from my chair and carry my coffee to find out. A move fraught with danger.

Next is Teleman, then Mozart. There are many Mozart sonatas, so it depends which ones. But technically not that difficult.

If you're going to tackle the Vivaldi, a couple of suggestions:
If you have the Suzuki edition, have your teacher correct the stupid bowings. Also, copy the pages, especially if you have a page turn just before the shift to the high D. Otherwise, you'll learn to stop there to both turn the page and do the shift. You'll never unlearn stopping or hesitating. Happens to all my students except the ones that follow my suggestion to copy the page turn.

July 6, 2018, 10:33 AM · Scott, I agree about the Suzuki version of the Vivaldi. I think Suzuki picked up the edition by Nachez. Anyway, when my teacher started me on the Vivaldi Amin some years ago we both agreed that the bowings (and not only that) in the Suzuki were, shall we say, inappropriate, at least for the period, and it would be better to learn from an Urtext, which I downloaded from IMSLP.

Biber is difficult to play well in the style. The difficulty will likely be compounded by the scordatura tunings in all but the first and last movements.

July 6, 2018, 10:51 AM · Intending no disrespect, I find questions like this one difficult to fathom. The difficulty of a piece of music is relative to the seeker's level of ability.

It has always seemed to me that I could tell the difficulty of a piece of music (for me) by looking at the "score." If I could (or thought I could) play much of it at sight then it would not be difficult for me. If I could not play it all at sight, I could try to work up the tougher parts. I could also judge if it was so far beyond my current ability that I would not want to do the work required to possibly be able to hack my way through it eventually. I'm talking about having this attitude for at least the past 73 years - so I've been working my choices this way since I was 9 or 10.

July 6, 2018, 12:53 PM · Thank you everyone for answering.

Andrew, there's no disrespect at all in your answer. I agree with your point, as there's both an objective and a subjective element for determining the difficulty of a piece. I was searching for the general consensus regarding the objective parameters, which are technical. Musicality and interpretation are completely different things that can't be easily analysed, at least anonymously. Thank you for exposing your method, which must be effective as you sticked with it for so many years.

Edited: July 6, 2018, 2:25 PM · If you have a good teacher you'll find they're fixing / editing a lot of bowings in all the editions you buy, not just Suzuki editions. I once asked my teacher which edition I should buy of a new piece, and he said, "It doesn't matter because we're going to change everything anyway." I try to work out the bowings first, of course, and I'm getting better at it!

I thought the Suzuki edition of the Vivaldi A Minor Violin Concerto was fine, but I can see why some folks hate it. It does have kind of an overwrought, etude-like quality in certain passages such as the bottom of the first page. You'll run into the same thing in other editions of a certain vintage. There was a time when "Viotti Bowings" and such were de rigueur.

If you have a teacher I suggest you plot a course that will take you through Book 6 of Suzuki and then frost the cake with the Bach A Minor Violin Concerto and the Concerto in G Major by Haydn. At that point I would say then you could do Mozart K304 (the easiest Mozart sonata in my opinion) and the easiest movements of Solo Bach (E Major Gigue, D Minor Allemande). Meanwhile I strongly recommend Valerie Arsenault's edition of the Bach Cello Suites transcribed for violin. Those will help get you ready for the "true" violin pieces and they're beautiful in their own right.

It's great that you want to play really fine music, but there really are not any short cuts to getting there. Every time I've tried to skip a rung on the ladder I've stumbled.

Edited: July 6, 2018, 9:12 PM · Here are my severely-tarnished two cents. I'd go straight to the Bach solo literature. You seem hungry for it, and that is the single most important component to getting good at...anything... There are movements, and even parts of monster movements like the Chaconne (when it goes back into Dm, for ex), where it isn't that hard. And, I'm sorry folks, but Biber and Telemann are utility-grade composers compared to Bach. There ARE shortcuts--just play it and see what you can do. No one can stop you. Play the Allemande from the Second Partita. You can play that. I do have advanced degrees in music, but am a fiddler and just dove into the Bach four years ago. Absolutely worth it. And Corelli, Geminiani, Biber... they simply are not as engaging as a single line of Bach.
July 7, 2018, 10:15 AM · Thank you Paul Deck and Paul Smith.

I feel intrigued by that cello suites edition. Didn't know I could play them on the violin. I must confess Bach is my absolute favourite composer. His music is so complex yet tidy that it transmits a complete peaceful feeling. So I completely agree with that last Smith's sentence. But the problem is that, even if I can try to play some Bach movements, I think there's some minimum technique required if one wants to aim at it with s reasonable success probability. Hence my original question!

Edited: July 7, 2018, 8:52 PM · Well, that's why the transcribed Cello Suites provide a good starting point because they're much easier (especially No. 1 through No. 4 which are the ones most commonly played). Not as much super-fast stuff and hardly any double stops.

Starting your Bach journey with the Cello Suites is an old idea. It was suggested by Szigeti, for example.

July 9, 2018, 3:51 AM · If Szigeti and Paul Deck suggested it, I'm sure it is a great idea. I'll definitely have a look at them. Thank you!
July 9, 2018, 8:12 AM · By the way, about Mozart. If you look at sonata K304 you might say, "What? This looks easy." But the problem with Mozart is that the demands for subtlety and control in your bowing are very high. To get that you have to first study a lot of music that looks a lot harder. Mozart G Major (No. 3) Concerto looks easy too, but if you haven't developed good bowing through studies and other repertoire, it'll be hopeless. That doesn't mean you can't buy the music and read through it. Definitely do Bach A Minor and Haydn G Major and a few movements of solo Bach before you do Mozart 3.
Edited: July 9, 2018, 8:33 AM · Thank you again for your insight, Paul. I know Mozart tends to be way more difficult than what it seems at a first glance. I play the piano at a level in which I can tackle almost any of his sonatas, and reading through them is not difficult, but playing them perfectly is an extremely demanding task. Everything must be crystal clear, and there's no place where you can "hide". But once you can play them at an acceptable level, even if not perfectly every time you try, they are one of the most rewarding things you can do with a piano. I hope they are the same on a violin, and that I can enjoy them in a future.
July 9, 2018, 8:47 AM · The Purcell G minor Sonata remains one of my favourite works - I would never call it utility music. Note wise, it's about Grade V (I played the 2nd movement for Grade V, and I don't think the last movement is more difficult). I fell in love with the 3rd movement long ago, and have never been disillusioned. I'm not claiming, however, that Purcell is quite as great as Bach or, on average, Handel.
Handel's violin sonatas are worth playing, too, particularly the first movement of the D major. I'd guess Grade VI.
July 9, 2018, 10:38 AM · Miguel, I agree with you about the Mozart Sonatas. For the pianist, much the same can be said about Haydn and Scarlatti. I play the piano too, and in my earlier years I could play most of that stuff, although not perfectly. I guess on balance I would agree that the demands for the violinist and pianist are comparable as far as Mozart Sonatas are concerned (here I am talking not only about the Mozart Piano Sonatas but also the Piano parts of the Violin Sonatas).
July 9, 2018, 3:55 PM · I haven't played them all but many Mozart violin sonatas are more difficult to play well than the G major concerto (potentially excluding whatever cadence you use).

The last one I performed was the "little" B flat. It's a bear.

Edited: July 10, 2018, 2:22 AM · John: I know it's a shame, but Purcell is almost an unknown composer to me. I've just listened through the years to his drinking tavern songs. But that's all I know. I'll start fixing it with the G minor sonata...

Paul: Thanks again for giving me a reference of the difficulty levels. Scarlatti is really fun to play.

Isn't it great being able to play two of the most expressive and beautiful instruments ever made? I grew up learning a bit of piano out of any official grade, with a young teacher who just made me enjoy it and see it as a game as the child I was. The same happened when I was a teen. I saw it as a way of coping with the stress I could have, along with practising sports. I gave it up when I went to the university, and, after finishing it, and returning to my home city, I restarted classes with the exact same teacher, which I continue attending today, more than 20 years later.

Thanks to my parents and her, who never stressed me with music and practise, I love classical music today. And that finally led me to start playing the violin, which, of course, I'm also enjoying.

Ryan: Thank you for answering.

July 10, 2018, 2:40 AM · I would suggest you look at the D-minor partita minus the Chaconne - start with the Allemande. :)


Biber is fun but I wouldn't study it until after you have studied Bach. Bach is more on the mainstream of music, while Biber is not. In particular I wouldn't try scordatura until you are very happy with your intonation in regular pitch. The Passacaglia is more of a challenge than the 'easier' movements of the D-minor partita even though it doesn't look it....

Edited: July 28, 2018, 1:22 AM · "Meanwhile I strongly recommend Valerie Arsenault's edition of the Bach Cello Suites transcribed for violin."

Hi Paul, I'd really like to get Arsenault's book, but I cannot find it anywhere online. I only found this in Amazon, but it's currently unavailable:

https://www.amazon.com/Cello-Suites-1007-1010-transcribed-Violin/dp/B000RUAABM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532758669&sr=8-1&keywords=arsenault+valerie+bach+violin

Do you happen to know where to get them? I am based in Europe, so US physical stores are not a possibility for the time being. Thank you! :-)

July 28, 2018, 9:05 AM · Sue,
Send me a message and I'll put you in touch with Valerie. (We were in the same doctoral program.)
Maybe she knows where you can get her edition.
Scott
July 28, 2018, 1:40 PM · imslp.org has a very good, free transcription of the Bach Cello Suites for violin: http://conquest.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/d/d7/IMSLP121690-WIMA.e315-vl100712.pdf. I agree with most of what has already been said and won't repeat all the good advice. My particular $0.02 here is that the Mozart sonatas are wonderful but can be difficult to play really well. Deceptively simple seeming. Start with K.304 and see how it works for you.
July 28, 2018, 4:43 PM · Thank you very much, Tom. I’ll start with the k. 304 when I feel more confident with my playing.
Edited: July 28, 2018, 9:27 PM · Sue, you can order it from www.beethovenandcompany.com, which is a music store in Tallahasee. Just type "Arsenault" into the search box. Believe me, her edition is way better than anything you can print off of IMSLP. Best $20 you ever spent.
July 29, 2018, 1:42 AM · As to Vivaldi: I'd recommend his sonatas op. 2 rather than a concerto. They are approximately of the same difficulty as the a-minor concerto. But at least half of the 12 sonatas (IMO the sonatas in A, d, f, b, c, e, a, this last one a bit harder than the others) are masterpieces whereas the a-minor concerto was not composed in Vivaldi's finest hour. The second movement is very good but it does not seem to be taught to students (and to sound correctly it needs the orchestra: violins and violas only, no bass, no harpsichord.

Anyway I don't understand why so much emphasis is put on concertos in violin teaching; most people, even most professionals will end up playing orchestra or chamber music, not solo parts.

Edited: July 29, 2018, 7:54 AM · Thank you so much, Paul! I did get beethovenandcompany as I result whenever I searched for the book, but I kept getting this link where I could not see how to add it to a shopping cart: http://www.beethovenandcompany.com/product_brochure.php?products_id=85295

Now I have gone to their home page and typed Valerie's name on the search box as you suggested and indeed got to a page where I can order it! Aaaargh, how clumsy of me not to have thought of this!!!! Many thanks again!! :-)

Scott, thank you so much for offering to put me in touch with Valerie!! :-) I will try to get the book through Beethoven & Company and if for any reason it does not work, I will definitely send you a message.

Thanks for your suggestion, Tom! I will check those too! :-)

July 31, 2018, 10:27 AM · Albrecht: Thank you for your Vivaldi Op. 2 suggestion. I will definitely consider it, and will listen to all of them, as I didn't know this particular set of pieces.
August 1, 2018, 6:36 PM · ALL these are difficult to play properly.Schindler's List is one om my party pieces - but just listen to the first two notes played by Perlman and give up. I'll NEVER match that sound.
Edited: August 1, 2018, 8:30 PM · Sue maybe you could just call them on the phone.

Or try this

http://www.beethovenandcompany.com/products/Bach-Cello-Suites-1-4-transcribed-for-Violin-by-Valerie-Arsenault-225387.html

I had no trouble adding that to a cart.

Edited: August 3, 2018, 9:23 AM · Hi Paul,

Thanks again, I could add it to the cart too after typing Valerie's name on the search box, as you suggested, no problem! Thanks for your help again! :-)

I will order it in the next few days after checking if there is something else I would like to order on their site.

Editing to mention that even after completing the order with a European postal address, the shipping costs were apparently low ($6.95 if I remember well... they did seem strangely low), but staff e-mailed me later to let me know those shipping costs are only for the US and the actual ones for Europe are $33.96. Just in case someone else is thinking of purchasing, I think it's good to let them know this in advance.

August 2, 2018, 10:51 AM · I ordered it. They might be surprised what triggered the sudden European interest :-)
August 2, 2018, 11:13 AM · Eva, they probably just figure y'all are getting ahead of the next likely tariff.
August 2, 2018, 2:50 PM · For all of the Sonatas, after the baroque era, be sure that you have an enthusiastic pianist, that actually wants to do this genre. The piano parts are busier, and frequently more difficult, than the violin parts. That is especially true for the Mozart sonatas. For the famous set of Bach Unacccompanied S.& P, I see three levels of difficulty: the single note movements, the double-stop movements, and then the very difficult Fugues and Chaconne. The Telemann Fantasias are a good preparation for the Bach. Vivaldi solos have a wide range of difficulty; many were probably played by Vivaldi himself, while others, the 2-violin concertos, may have been intended for his students at the Venice orphanage school.
August 2, 2018, 5:18 PM · Andrew in one of the first replies: "It has always seemed to me that I could tell the difficulty of a piece of music (for me) by looking at the "score.""

Not to me. My teacher gives me pieces all the time that feel impossible on the first few attempts, yet after a couple of weeks I start to "get" them - sometimes putting it aside for a week when I get too frustrated about the slow progress. But for me it's hard to tell the difference between "learnable in a few weeks" and "should wait a year".

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