Difficulty of these pieces? (Help choosing.)

Edited: May 15, 2019, 10:43 AM · I'm an amateur violinist. The biggest thing I've tackled so far is Vivaldi's A Minor. And I've improved a bit since then, mostly focusing on Wohlfahrt etudes and small pieces.

I'm looking to take on a classical piece this summer. Given that I don't know the relative difficulty of most repertoire pieces, I was thinking you all might be able to help me out.

Here are three possibilities I have in mind. Any insight as to their levels of difficulty (and maybe how they compare to the Vivaldi) would be great!

-Handel Sonata in A Major Op1 No3 HWV361
-Bohm Sarabande in G Minor
-Riedling Concerto in A Minor in Hungarian Style

I can't tell if the Handel is much of a step up from Vivaldi aside from the double stops and trills.
I just discovered the Bohm, so I don't know much about it (aside from the fact that it's beautiful).
And the Riedling I absolutely love as well, it's so fun! However, maybe it's the hardest of these three?

Advice on which one to go for would be great! Thanks!

Replies (8)

Edited: May 15, 2019, 11:02 AM · Handel Sonatas! Yes! Do those. Just be aware that adding double stops to your plate makes for a much heavier meal. My teacher taught me how to practice scales in thirds in a way that is maybe a little less stressful than other ways. Let me know if that would interest you. Doing scales in thirds, even a little bit every day, will really raise your game. The way method books introduce double stops is to start with pieces that have a lot of "open string" double stops like the Seitz concertos. This teaches you how to hear what a third and a sixth should sound like before you go twisting your fingers into pretzel knots!

A good way to guide yourself along this path is to just look at books that are designed to be progressive in difficulty like Suzuki or "Solos for Young Violinists" by Barbara Barber. There are great pieces in both. Usually after the Vivaldi A Minor (presuming you do all three movements), Suzuki students would move along to the Bach Double Violin Concerto (First Movement, both parts). The Handel Sonatas are in that mix as well. In the Barbara Barber series, frankly I do not like Book 2 very much at all, but Books 1 and 3 are great. Your skill level would appear to be about in between those, so studying the tunes in Book 1 would really help shore up your existing skills.

The concertos of Oskar Rieding (note spelling) are fine as well. They are not what I would call "great pieces" though. Certainly not like Handel or Vivaldi or Bach. Another fine thing is the Schubert D Major Sonatina (look for the youtube with Zuckerman).

Edited: May 15, 2019, 11:07 AM · Frankly, at this level I would suggest the 2nd violin part of J.S. Bach's Double Concerto for 2 Violins. Then it's first violin part, that requires a bit of 2nd position.

The ornamentation in the Handel might be a challenge, but it is worth working on. The double stops are also worth working on. I also agree with Paul (who "sneaked in" 2 minutes ahead of me) about the Schubert Sonatinas. I am not familiar with the other pieces you named.

To my mind your sight-reading ability is an important factor in taking on new music, but developing it is also related to how much new music you take on. I believe developing sight-reading ability is related to how much of it you do and moving into more challenging music incrementally and slowly is important. While it is also possible to jump into new things that are way beyond you one measure or one note at a time, it does not develop the same skills and is probably best done under a teacher's direction - which will likely also involve specific etudes (or "exercises") to develop related techniques.

Edited: May 15, 2019, 11:31 AM · "Advice on which one to go for would be great!"

Why not all of them? Or others? Why just one of them? All educational programs have a significant amount of variety, depth and breadth to them, which includes numerous pieces in the so-called 'classical' vein, in order to build greater knowledge of the variety available as well as exposure to different technical challenges. Ideally your choices would be informed with expert advice and knowledge about the specifics of your learning from your teacher (who should on occasion have you play stuff you wouldn't be inclined to for your own good, and also because you wouldn't be inclined just because it's a challenge for you).

That said, there is some specific information we can use about the pieces you've mentioned. They're all in the RCM violin syllabus (search online), and so defined in the RCM's (whoever/whatever process produced that syllabus) view as appearing at specific RCM grade levels. What those grade levels means is an impossibly-difficult question to answer, because in the end it doesn't really mean a whole lot - one person could be scraping by at that bottom level of performance and be at say grade 8, and still be an inferior performer to someone performing at the top level of performance playing pieces in say grade 6. But there is something to it; just what I can't say. We could say that they reflect one view of where RCM expects players to be after a nominal x number of years (1 year per grade until the highest levels perhaps), or that RCM expects the pieces to be playable, played well, by an average to good player with that many years of experience. Whatever it is, it is often markedly different from Suzuki, which has the Vivaldi A minor concerto in book 4 (implying 4 years playing), but in RCM grade 6 (implying 6 years) (and also was at ABRSM grade 7, which implied 7 or 8 years).

The Bohm Sarabande is currently RCM grade 6, as is the Rieding A minor concertino. The Handel A Major sonata is RCM grade 8, and is in Suzuki book 7, and ABRSM grade 7 (probably roughly equivalent to RCM 8).

May 15, 2019, 11:29 AM · That would not be the Handel Sonata I would start with - The second movement is pretty uncomfortable with the double-stopping. I would start with the F major, which should be the 3rd in the set.

I find the Schubert to be sort of ungratefully written for the violin, in that it is kind of uncomfortable despite being a great piece of music. It's not a bad choice, but you may find it more difficult than you expected to play it well. I gave a recital a while ago with the Dvorak Sonatina and the Martinu Sonatina, and they are both very comfortably written works.

May 15, 2019, 11:33 AM · Thanks very much for everyone's replies so far. I appreciate both the guidance and the insight. Really, this is all helpful for me and I'm excited about picking up a new piece (or pieces, J Ray), so it's fun for me to learn more about the possible options.
May 15, 2019, 12:51 PM · I agree with the Dvorak Sonatina in place of the Handel.
May 15, 2019, 2:58 PM · The Dvorak Sonatina is in Book 2 of Barbara Barber. (The book I don't like -- but you can decide for yourself.)
Edited: May 16, 2019, 10:32 AM · Thank you all again for the replies.

At the moment I am leaning most toward either Bohm's Sarabande in G minor or the first movement of the Bach Double Violin Concerto (thanks to you all in this thread). They both seem to be a digestible length, an appropriate difficulty, and I find both to be beautiful pieces.

I took a look at the first page of the Sarabande yesterday and thought it had a lot to offer in the way of content that would help me progress. There are chords, trills, and some double stops.

On the other hand, I recall my teacher once saying to another student "Nothing will force you to work on your intonation like playing Bach."

As I type this I'm realizing, maybe it would be best to go for both! It seems like they could both help me progress in complementary ways.

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