Spicing Dvorak Humoresque for violin and orchestra

Edited: December 1, 2019, 11:05 AM · Hello everybody,
in an earlier post I asked for suggestions for a piece for violin and orchestra for my seven year old daughter, who is currently finishing Suzuki book 4.

The conductor felt the pieces of book 4 (Seitz, Vivaldi) were not suitable for the orchestra, and chose Dvorak's Humoresque from Book 3, and has already written a nice orchestral arrangement from the piano part.

I find the Suzuki transcription in the key of D a bit bland and repetitive (especially in the hands of my seven year old) but the good thing is that it lends itself to rearranging, which is what I'm trying to do now. I listened to several interpretations on Youtube (Kreisler, Heifetz, Barton-Pine, Perlman, Hassid, Vengerov, Elman, Stern, Garret,...), all in G flat or G, and looked at the transcriptions of IMSLP.

Below are our ideas, I'd love to receive some comments and/or more ideas:

- Go up one octave in the repetition of the first 8 measures, and in the last 8 measures of the piece. This is not only to add variety, but also to make the violin stand out more above the orchestra, as the register is quite low in the key of D.

- Portamento: F# to F# in measure 13, and A to D in the last measure are obvious places. Any other good places?

- Ornamentations: measure 54 as Kreisler does (A# B C before the B), what else?

- Double stops (fourths) in measures 28, 32, and 40. Thirds are out of the question, my daughter can't play them yet.

- Change tempo in different parts (to be discussed with conductor)

I thought too late of raising everything a fifth, very easy to do for the violin...


Replies (17)

December 1, 2019, 8:48 PM · Your daughter is seven?

Regardless of her technical advancement, playing with an orchestra requires a new skill set. May I respectfully suggest that if this is her first experience as a soloist with orchestra, that you keep it simple. Maybe do one or at most two of your suggested enhancements if you really must, but don't go wild.

December 1, 2019, 11:00 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. The only thing I'd consider changing, for a kid who is comfortable shifting, is making more artistic fingering choices rather than strictly pedagogical/convenience fingerings. And maybe the occasional ornament.

Definitely don't try changing keys. The flats of the Kreisler arrangement achieve a specific tonal effect and the key is brutal for intonation. The Suzuki D major maximizes the ring of the violin, which is very important for kids playing teensy instruments which don't have much resonance. Little violins are going to sound better on the D and A strings in the lower positions, than on the E string, which can be tinny and screechy, or in upper positions where clarity and resonance is often lost.

Do not change tempo, other than maybe slightly for the B section (the contrasting middle in the A-B-A form). Tempo choices should be made for musical reasons, not out of a misguided desire to impress the audience.

If it sounds bland, it's actually an indicator that there's significant musical work to be done. This is an excellent opportunity to learn to play more musically so it doesn't sound bland. You don't need a fancier arrangement. There's plenty that can be done with just the simple Suzuki arrangement (which transposes the original tune faithfully, if I recall correctly).

December 2, 2019, 12:07 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen and Lydia, especially Lydia's comment: This is an excellent opportunity to learn to play more musically so it doesn't sound bland. I doubt that being currently working on book 4 that she can play the Humoresque musically, and it may not be wise to make it even harder on her. She will far more impress the audience with a beautiful tone and mastery control than (potentially) poorly executed complexity.
December 2, 2019, 3:01 PM · I will add my support for what Mary Ellen, Lydia and Roger have said -- be kind to your daughter and don't fancy it up just because you can. Your daughter should feel so confident when she walks out on stage in front of the orchestra that no matter what happens (in the audience or to her nerves) she will be able to ace.

It's far better to do a perfect job on an easier piece than to try to play a version that's fancier but which she is less familiar with and have more potential for failure.

December 3, 2019, 4:42 PM · Thank you all for your replies. Let me add a bit of context:

- My daughter has played in public this piece many times in the last year and a half, both in violin groups and alone with piano accompaniment. She’s a bit bored with it and thinks “it’s easy” (she wanted to play Vivaldi Am...). The performance is several months from now.

- The piece has a lot of repetitions, that obviously should not be played in exactly the same way. In some interpretations I listened to, some variety is achieved just with subtle rubato, dynamics, and color, but these things are harder on a tiny violin with an orchestra behind. This is why I was considering more obvious effects such ornaments, slides, and double stops *in a few bars*, and maybe an octave change in one of the repetitions (with the added benefit of making the violin more audible).

- Indeed she wouldn't use all of those ideas (she did try them out and she can handle them well) but to select a few and polish them until.

So to go back to my initial question: which of the ideas in my original post do you think would work best musically? Do you have better ones? (apart from leaving the piece as is).

I’m not considering a change of key, it's too late to change anyway the orchestra arrangement. The D major Suzuki transcription is faithful. I mentioned A major since she played it once in this key spontaneously - it’s mostly the same fingerings as D major one string below).

Edited: December 3, 2019, 5:10 PM · All the posters above are spot on: what you want to do at this point to keep the piece from sliding into negligence is to find ways to make it not necessarily "fancier" but always better, musically and technically. I'm sure you've talked with the teacher about this, but there are probably specific things such as dynamics, bow strokes, projection, and rhythmic articulations to tighten up for effectiveness. At the same time though--if she can add a portamento, or an octave, or an ornamentation, *as a natural extension* of her musical concept, I think there's no reason why not! *as long as* she is not pushing for the techniques to the detriment of the piece. The teacher will be a good judge of what makes sense for her.

I personally would not do the double stops, as I don't think adding just the 4ths is musically logical. And, as above posters have said, I would really not mess with tempos. Even if she can handle it, the orchestra likely cannot. :)

December 3, 2019, 6:44 PM · Exactly what Kathryn said. It's also not that repetitive. It's an A-B-A form.
December 4, 2019, 10:08 AM · Ditto the above. Regarding tempo, Suzuki has ritards marked in musically appropriate spots, but even then I would limit it. The orchestra might have enough to do in terms of being coached to accompany in general. It would not be surprising for a mixed level student group to rush, not watch, play too loud, not watch, play through rests, cut off sustained notes, play out of style, not watch, etc. Prior performance experience is definitely useful but this isn't like playing with a proficient pianist who adjusts to you on the fly.

Regarding "leaving the piece as is", it basically depends on what "is" currently. Is she playing the piece "like a book 4 player"? Like a book 5 player? (Working with a private teacher who would advise you on what would raise the piece to the next level, probably using things from Kathryn's list? Make the music "tell a story"? The ABA form, with balanced pairs of phrases, is just asking for a setup, conflict, and resolution.)

I personally would not do more 8va because the minor section already has that as an effect. Shifting around a lot on the E string to get notes past 3rd position or playing it high on the A string could be problematic. If it's a matter of hearing the violin, I would first try: making sure the orchestration isn't too heavy, reducing number of players in the ensemble, and working with teacher on getting the best tone and projection that the violin can offer. Some of my 1/4 and 1/2 size students have violins that are made to be heard well easily and others don't. If yours is truly holding you back for your level (another good question for the teacher), it may be time to research options.

It's pretty common for young students to consider a book 3 piece easy and want to perform the new book 4 piece, but it can be a learning opportunity to find new dimensions in the old piece. Plus, you are supporting the orchestra members' learning. Maybe there will be a chance to play Vivaldi with them after they've grown more or with another group. You can also tell her that soloists play to share the music's story with the audience, regardless that the piece might be old/familiar/"easy".

December 4, 2019, 11:29 AM · If you have a recording of your daughter playing the humoresque, it would help situate the discussion perhaps.
December 6, 2019, 11:19 AM · I can’t post recordings, sorry. I’d say she plays it like a Book 4 student. She has good intonation and she’s very good at fast pieces requiring dexterity, and less so at slow, expressive romantic pieces requiring wide, lush vibrato. So we will be definitely be working to improve the vibrato.

Indeed she's now excited to learn the Bach double and thinks she's past Humoresque, but I'm trying to make her see the possibilities of the pieces. If all the greats played it, there must be something to it.

The structure is actually AABA'CA'B' where each letter is 8 bars, except for C which is 16 bars. A’ differs from A just in the ending, and the same for B’ and B.

There is also repetition within each letter: A and B are made of two parts that only differ in the ending (so the first two bars of A are played 8 times, and the first two bars of B are played 4 times), and C is made of 4 very similar 4-bar segments.

Most transcriptions I listened to use portamento, ornamentations, double stops, and octaves to add variety to all these repetitions.

The idea is to prepare an arrangement to propose to her teacher.

Edited: December 6, 2019, 12:50 PM · I don't think key or form or the arrangement has anything to do with the
musicality . It's all interpretation, and actually this piece requires a certain amount of sophistication to make it...not poopy. There are many opportunities to make it interesting. It is only boring if played in a boring, straight manner.

Here's the contradiction: If the soloist does do all those nuances and rubato that bring it to life, it will be difficult for a student orchestra to follow.

Most students have a hard time combining the double-dotted figures with the just the right amount of hesitando at the opening, something which can make or break the piece. Maybe you daughter can.

December 6, 2019, 1:09 PM · "less so at slow, expressive romantic pieces requiring wide, lush vibrato"
Her and most book 4 and/or age 7 students! I'm sure Shinichi Suzuki was well aware children tend to like fast stuff. Unless you have the habit of reworking old pieces or are doing a sequence outside Suzuki, you don't get a proper "slow piece" until the 2nd movements show up in book 5. Of course both hands are important but I consider the expressive potential for a student of book 3 Humoresque to be more bow than fingers and would be inclined to get everything we can out of bow control first, leaving left hand tricks for another time and place.

"Most transcriptions" are played by "the greats". It's certainly easier to delete things than add things, so one way is to throw everything at it and let the teacher make the cuts. Then, the conductor has to go over it in terms of what is realistic for the orchestra.

ABA is, shall we say, the big form. You can of course go further with analysis of smaller chunks, the various endings of A, even call C 2 or 4 different things. The first written repeat makes it so there are in total four groups of 16. It's not uncommon to hear a first theme twice, to solidify it as the opening statement, and to re-hear it after another theme. Perhaps another way to put it is it's not "more repetitive" than typical. The entire book 3 is stuff like this to teach students predictability of music structure.

Edited: December 6, 2019, 2:54 PM · I would be somewhere beyond annoyed if the parent of a young student came to me with proposed "enhancements" of an upcoming performance piece, with the not-so-subtly implied subtext that the piece was too easy for their child.

I urge you to take all of the above comments to heart and before you start "spicing" your daughter's solo up on your own, please please please just share your concerns with your daughter's teacher. A good teacher is very likely to respond with exactly the concerns and comments you have already received to your OP. And even if your daughter's teacher is receptive to the idea of ornamenting a standard piece, please let them take the lead on this.

Edited: December 6, 2019, 3:07 PM · You are making a lot of assumptions. As it turns out, the teacher agrees with my general idea and I'm trying to work out the specifics. Thanks to all that helped me that without jumping on me!
December 6, 2019, 5:33 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. (I also realize you're not a musician, Matteo, but ABA is the *form* of the work. The phrase structure is different, but musicians normally talk about the form and not a phrase-by-phrase thing, except to the extent that we talk about mirroring phrases and the like.)

I think that if the teacher thinks that some ornamentation is warranted, they should be able to essentially do it off the top of their head in five minutes, followed by a minute or two marking them into the music. Depending on a nonmusician parent for this seems unnecessary at best.

Edited: December 8, 2019, 3:48 AM · It really is a rather common phase for little kids, I think. My daughter did not want to perform anything "easy" from age 5 to 8. When she was finishing up Book 4, she wanted to perform Kreisler and Bartok and she did. She sounded pretty horrible but that didn't exactly stop her.

Now that she is slightly older and wiser, she is willing to perform whatever the occasion calls for. She actually loves playing "easy" pieces that she can almost sightread through so she can sound good, period, rather than "sound good for her age." She still does stretch pieces for in-house recitals but she no longer insists on playing challenging pieces all the time. What she cares more is (aside from getting paid or at least getting fed) connecting with the audience and as she puts it, making people happy with her music. She says it is much like gift-giving. You don't give people what you want for yourself, you give people something that will bring them joy.

I have a feeling though, in a couple of years, it'd all change and she'd either quite playing or decide she's ready for Paganini. Parenting...

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