The Unaccompanied Violin

Edited: February 28, 2019, 8:12 PM ·

Fellow Violinists--

I thought we might discuss our favorite unaccompanied violin pieces. I have always enjoyed the solo violin, as I do not share the opinion that it must be shackled to the piano for a base. There are a great many such works composed by a great many violinist composers, e.g., Biber, Bach, Telemann, Tartini, Rode, Beriot, Vieuxtemps, David, Ernst, Paganini, Sivori, Lipinski, Sauret, Wieniawski, Ysaye.

To get things started, omitting the obvious Bach, here are a few of my favorites:

(1) Biber, Mystery Sonata XVI

(2) Telemann, Twelve Fantasies

(3) Tartini, 30 Piccole Sonate

(4) Rode, 24 Caprices

(5) Beriot, 12 Scenes or Caprices Op. 109

(6) Vieuxtemps, 36 Etudes Op. 48 and 6 Morceaux Op. 55

(7) Wieniawski, L'ecole moderne and Etudes-Caprices

(8) Ysaye, 6 Sonatas

Thoughts on your own favorites?

Replies (25)

Edited: February 28, 2019, 8:17 PM · I wanted to add the 24 Jakob Dont caprices. While super difficult, some of them (such as No. 7 and No. 12) are so beautiful and unique.

The Johann Paul von Westhoff Suites for solo violin are very beautiful in their polyphony, especially No. 6 in D major.

Telemann Solo Fantasias are also top notch.

February 28, 2019, 9:12 PM · Max Reger has some amazing unaccompanied stuff.
Hindemith, which is more accessible.
Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté
February 28, 2019, 11:16 PM · Yes, the Reger sonatas are fantastic, especially No 5 in E minor.
February 28, 2019, 11:44 PM · Sticking to the level I'm personally capable of, I really do love some of the Mazas etudes (and not exclusively these). Anyways, for me there isn't anything much that could be more beautiful and eventually calming and meditative like solo violin in a large hall, be it a church, concert hall or the patio of any historic building. (Might have something to do with the instrument I play...?)

Bartok, sonata for solo violin.

Edited: March 1, 2019, 12:31 AM · Reger is great. Op. 117 No. 2 and the Chaconne are my favorites. Sometimes performed, but largely unknown to many.

All Paganini Caprices. Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento, etc.

Milstein's Paganiniana

Agree all Vieuxtemps solo stuff. I am his fan for life. Great violin genius.

Solo Bach is perhaps obvious, yes, but should be mentioned.

Ernst polyphonic etudes.

Wieniawski-all

Kreisler-Recitativo and Scherzo

Hindemith-forgot the opus numbers (thinking two of the violin solo sonatas).

March 1, 2019, 6:44 AM · Okay everything has been mentioned but Kreutzer Etudes. My teacher told me that Heifetz occasionally played the E Major (No. 8 or 10?) as an encore. I'll bet every violin student in the audience loved that!
March 1, 2019, 8:32 AM · There are two pieces by Carl Nielsen. One used to be on Youtube, played by Hilary Hahn.
There's also the Prokofiev Sonata - one of the more playable solo pieces.
I'm aware of the Reger works but I have not heard them - I'll add them to my Youtube exploration list.
March 1, 2019, 8:35 AM · Love the 6 sonatas by Ysaye, and of course Bach's Sonatas and Partitas.
I also really like The Last Rose of Summer by Ernst. I like the melody a lot, though some would say it's merely a showpiece.
Edited: March 1, 2019, 9:57 AM · There is a wonderful (if trivial) fantasia on the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFFTswXPjQY. What better use for an instrument with four strings?

Also, Milstein did a Lisztian version of the Mephisto Waltz, which has scared off more than one of his peers.

Both have been in print, although will require a little sleuthing to find online.

Others include pieces by Bloch, Harbison, Boulez. Geminiani did his own solo sonata in the Baroque period: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgclBqN_YEs

March 1, 2019, 9:54 AM · Just care about what you enjoy, Ms. Roco-letting others choose what music you should play/listen to based on their standards for "musical greatness" would ensure your repertoire/music to listen to is *very* small. Some people do not listen to Tchaikovsky because he is "too shallow" for them. So just enjoy your Ernst, and always play what you love (which is not to say one should ignore the better known masterpieces.)

It's almost as we have this business-like standard of "efficiency at all costs", just choosing to enjoy a few works because "life's too short" to enjoy anything else. Well no, my life's my own, and it's been long enough to enjoy the classics and well beyond that.

March 1, 2019, 10:51 AM · I second the Dont etudes -- maybe I am just a fan of modulating a lot, but op. 35 is way more pleasant to listen to than most etudes. And I find myself humming them periodically.
March 1, 2019, 12:43 PM · There are plenty etudes that are underestimated in their musicality, because they're "only etudes".
Edited: March 1, 2019, 3:18 PM · Well, it would be Paganiniana if I actually had a hope of playing in my lifetime.

I've been considering learning something that I can rip out when a friend says "James, play us something".

Which one of the aforementioned is easy to learn and sounds way harder than it is?

I feel like I'm always internally screaming when this happens. Like, "buddy you've got two choices here, I can play the violin part to Beethoven Spring, which sounds good for like maybe 4 bars unaccompanied, or I can shred the arpeggios in Intro and Rondo or Vieuxtemps 5 with no baseline at half tempo"

March 1, 2019, 3:36 PM · People who don't play violin are always impressed by stuff like Csardas or the presto from the G minor sonata. 'Cause both of those pieces have a very high cool factor.
March 1, 2019, 7:03 PM · Campagnoli's 6 Fugues should be added to the pile.
March 1, 2019, 7:43 PM · I would like to suggest my recent favourite books for unaccompanied violin, and viola.

Aleksey Igudesman has written many amazing works. There is his violin album Fasten Seat Belts, 10 solo violin pieces: https://www.universaledition.com/aleksey-igudesman-3848/works/fasten-seat-belts-15842

as well as his new publication for unaccompanied viola, Violamania: https://www.universaledition.com/aleksey-igudesman-3848/works/violamania-25366

performance of some of the pieces can be found on YouTube.

Edited: March 4, 2019, 10:53 AM · This is a tidier and more informative version of my previous post of March 1st, which I have deleted.

Locatelli's 24 caprices - actually the cadenzas from his 12 concerti Op 3. These are believed to have been Paganini's inspiration for his own "24", but without P's stopped harmonics and l-h pizz.

Augusta MacKay Lodge's album "Beyond Bach and Vivaldi" for unaccompanied violin. A fine example of high musicianship combined with virtuosity. Well worth listening to. Here are the tracks in order:
Matteis (jnr) Alia fantasia
Nogueira Prelude and Fantazia in F
Locatelli Vln Conc Cmin Op3,2,iii
Baltzar Division Vln No 13 Prelude in G
Baltzar Allemande in G
Baltzar Sarabande Gmin
Baltzar Division Vln No 34 Prelude in G
Noguiera Prelude & Fantazia in G
Matteis (jnr) Fantasia Cmin
Biber Prelude in D
Gasparini Prelude in D
Bononcini Prelude in Dmin
Matteis (snr) Prelude in A
Corbett Prelude in A
Corelli Vln Son Op5no6,iii, Prelude
Pisendel Vln Son Amin
Biber Mystery Son XVI Gmin

At least some of the pieces may be found on IMSLP.

Moving forward a few hundred years, there is Benjamin Frankel's Violin Sonata No 1 op 13 (it has been recorded by Michael Davis). Composed in the early 1940s, arising out of Frankel's association with Max Rostal, it is within the grasp of a grade 8, I'd say.

A problem with nos. 2-15 of the Biber Mystery Sonatas is that they ring the changes on scordatura. This means that one or more violins have to be set aside for serious work on those sonatas.

[Edit added 4 March 2019] I have browsed in IMSLP to see which of the above pieces it has, as follows:

Matteis (jnr) both Fantasias are in one autograph copy (so best of luck in deciphering it!)

Matteis, Nicola (snr) The Prelude may be amongst the numerous "Ayres for the Violin" listed under his name. Amandine Beyer has recorded many of them

Baltzar There are 2 Preludes in G for division violin

Pisendel Violin sonata in A minor

Corelli and Locatelli are in IMSLP, as you would expect, but the Locatelli we want isn't immediately obvious, so look in Locatelli/collections/L'Arte del violino, Op.3

Biber's "Mystery" Sonatas are in IMSLP, but I could not find his Prelude in D

Unfortunately, I could not find the pieces by Nogueira, Gasparini, Bononcinin, and Corbett.

March 2, 2019, 8:08 AM · Recuerdos de l’Alhambra. Https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i-10F3fNEEg
March 2, 2019, 2:51 PM · There are also some really nice transcriptions, arrangements, and other solo works in Rachel Barton Pine's collection, though most are quite hard!
March 3, 2019, 12:14 AM · Here is another 19th century example: the two sonatas by Benjamin Godard. Godard was a French violinist and composer. The two sonatas are on IMSLP so everybody can have a look at them.

Most of the movements are dances as in baroque examples and the sonatas are another example of fake-baroque music like Grieg's Holbein Suite or Respighi's Antiche Danze ed Arie. I like especially the two adagios. They need to be played with a 19th century sensibility IMHO. If one plays them like a baroque violinist they sound dry and are not much fun.

Unlike a lot of solo violin music the writing is not deliberately difficult, rather the opposite. I have been practicing them and made quite some progress on them which means they are accessible to reasonably skilled amateurs (maybe about on a par with the most difficult of the Telemann Fantasias).

March 3, 2019, 6:13 AM · "not deliberately difficult"
I like that: All difficulties are accidental....
March 3, 2019, 7:50 PM · Some more modern unaccompanied violin pieces word checking out include Reger's Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, Hindemith's unaccompanied violin sonatas, and Khachaturian's Sonata-Monologue for solo violin.
March 3, 2019, 9:15 PM · I forgot— the Prokofiev!
March 4, 2019, 8:22 AM · Solo - Joss Holden Rea. It is an intermediate level piece. The youtube video is under Death of a violin. (warning violin abuse occurs in the video.) I have been enjoying teaching it and my students have been enjoying learning it.

Michael Kimber has some wonderful solo pieces. I am not sure how many of them are for violin though. There are several for viola.

Edited: March 4, 2019, 3:23 PM · I've posted a substantive Edit to my post of March 2.

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