Beethoven: which is the relative difficulty of these pieces, and which one is the easiest?
Hi. I’m interested in knowing the relative difficulty of the following pieces by Beethoven, both to know how difficult they are, and to know which one would be the first I could grasp, maybe now, maybe in a year or two, even if it’s a single movement. When I say relative difficulty, I’m referring both to relative to other Beethoven pieces as to other famous pieces (as difficult as Vivaldi A minor/ Accolay / Mozart 5 / Paganini 24, etc). The pieces I’m interested are:
- All of the violin + piano sonatas (specially the “spring” one, since I know Kreutzer is very difficult, but spring seems easier)
- Violin concerto in D
- Romances op. 50 and 40 for violin and orchestra.
- Any other relevant piece I may have forgotten. I mentioned those since I like them.
Thank you very much!
The place to start would probably be the Romance Op.50. Out of the violin sonatas, perhaps the easiest is the Spring. The reason is probably because the violin often has the melody. Violin Sonata is a misnomer as they are actually sonatas for piano and violin (in that order), and this relationship between the two instruments is essential to the violinists understanding. This is probably why, for instance, Op.24 is much more popular than Op.23 as the Spring Sonata starts with a nice violin tune, but the equally wonderful Op.23 sonata the violin starts straightaway with an accompanying role. I wouldn't recommend starting with the concerto as your first piece of Beethoven - there are of course the quartets, trios, quintets, septet to play as well!
Spring is fairly approachable. If you can play Accolay then you have the technical ability to play it. Same with Romance no 2 though that goes a bit higher on the fingerboard.
IMO Spring is easier than the Romance in F, but I may be alone. Spring is straightforward and just takes time to figure out its tricky bits (wonderful learning piece). The Romance requires shifting jumps as high as 6th position that are very exposed and must be nailed perfectly and rather delicious but still challenging runs. I think its harder to get to a satisfactory performance level. It also has tempo issues that must be solved (the orchestral passages are boring at the tempo required for the violinists 1/32 passages. I note that most performances actually speed up the tutti.
If you're a reasonably competent pianist you could have a look at Beethoven's piano version of his violin concerto, a version that is still being performed and recorded.
If you have a good pianist friend this piece is a real 'hidden gem' to compliment the sonatas. Once again the piano here is much more important than the violin.
The question is half interested and half curiosity (how hard can Beethoven get?). I'm interested in learning something by Beethoven as soon as I can, although I think I'm still a bit below the "easy" Beethoven pieces (I've played Vivaldi A minor, and I'm comfortable with baroque pieces, but still haven't played Accolay and struggle with getting a vibrato that lasts for a couple of beats).
Your question to how hard Beethoven gets - you're looking at the late string quartets, which are (possibly with the exception of Op.127) technically and musically much harder than the violin concerto.
If you view Patricia Kopatchinskaja's & Fazil Say's video* of the Kreutzer you may think there's something in the theory that Beethoven was coming close to writing a double concerto. Both instruments are at concerto level.
Somebody needs to contradict the statement that "the piano is much more important than the violin". This is very much true for all but one or two of Mozart's violin sonatas.
A proper sonata for violin and piano gives balanced attention to both instruments. It often seems that the piano has the advantage because it's a polyphonic instrument that can handle both melody and accompaniment simultaneously. However, the Mozart sonatas are by no means drivel for the violin (the way the cello parts are in Haydn trios). Having played through the easiest of the Mozart (K 304) and Beethoven ("Spring") sonatas on both violin and piano, I can attest that both parts are also of comparable difficulty.
Responding to Albrecht’s challenge re the roles of the two instruments.
Thanks, Paul for giving the string trios a shout out! I love them too, should not have forgotten them. I do not believe that they are particularly easy to play; they are about equal with the rest of Beethoven's early chamber music (up to and including op. 18).
James, thank you for your scholarly explanation of the genre. I was mostly objecting to the word "much" in the wording "much more important". It seems to me rather over the top.
I like this forum. I asked a very simple question and it derived in a quite interesting discussion from which I’ve learnt many things I didn’t know, and have discovered some pieces of music I didn’t know.
There's also Fritz Kreisler's "Rondino" based on a theme by Beethoven. It has some position work on the D string that is probably a bit more difficult than Accolay. But the Kreisler is easier than any of the sonatas, I would imagine.
@Albrecht, the Peters edition (which I recommend) of the Beethoven string trios contains the other small-ensemble works such as the serenades and the flute trio. (My wife plays the flute but she has not ventured to try that one yet. Since we are all home now we might try some Mozart or Devienne.) I agree some of the string trio music gets hard, again mostly because of tempo. There is one movement that contains an "Alberti bass" figure for the viola that is just too fast for me to ever play, so I play those few bars in half time. That's my only real cheat, though. I think Beethoven was smoking something when he wrote that. Aside from that, I won't claim that anyone would have wanted to hear our rehearsals. Like all such classical-period music, it is much more demanding that it appears from the printed page, for intonation, ensemble, precise rhythm, and other more subtle aspects. This thread inspires me to want to get out some of my chamber music and practice. Trouble is that I have to practice three parts -- first, second,
Miguel - I trust that we answered your question in terms of the pieces you mention. The op. 50 Romance and the Spring are probably the easiest technically. The op. 40 Romance is somewhat more difficult. The Kreutzer and Concerto are probably the most difficult, with the rest of the sonatas somewhere in between. My favorite of the sonatas in #10; I agree with Elise on it. If you have a teacher, that person is probably in the best position to advise you on the order in which you might want to learn them and when to start. Good luck!
Miguel - Speaking of Bach, he wrote a wonderful set of six sonatas for violin and continuo. If you have not tried them, you are probably at a level where you would enjoy playing them.
I agree with Tom -- BWV 1014 is a lovely piece. I have the Peters edition and it's okay but I found myself changing a lot of the fingerings. Get a Henle or Bahrenreiter urtext if you can afford it.
I’ll listen to those sonatas, since I don’t know them very well. I’m a strong adherent of good books (and music editions). I have a weakness for Barenreiter (I find them aesthetically pleasing and easy to read). I’ll add these sonatas to my “soon-to get” ones, along with the piano partitas. I just got the Beethoven piano sonatas, so I’ll wait some months until I make my next purchase. It’s completely worth making a little effort to get good books. Thank you again.
The Barenreiter edition of the Bach sonatas is excellent.
About the Bach sonatas: Try to find an old fashioned recording with a piano (hard to find these days). I believe that in this case the piano is a superior choice to a harpsichord, against HIP purists. It is very hard to balance a duo with harpsichord, especially if you play on a modern fiddle that projects well. But even if you can balance the sound you are sadly restricted in your dynamic range and have to make sure that you don't cover the harpsichord--a problem you never have with a piano. Keep in mind that Bach's "Clavier" means any instrument with a keyboard.
@Albrecht - I have a recording of the Bach sonatas played by Oistrakh. He chose to record with a harpsichordist (Paul Pischner) rather than a pianist. Since he was not much interested in HIP, to me his choice speaks volumes. Also, when I studied them, my violin teacher could not play piano, but accompanied me by playing on her violin the right hand music of the keyboard. She commented that before doing that, she had not really understood how important the precision of the harpsichord's articulation was to the sonatas. So, I think there are some countervailing considerations.
I don’t understand much about historical performances, but I love baroque music played on piano, as long as it’s played without (or with very little) pedal, and without much legato, like Schiff does, or like Glenn Gould did (although he was slightly eccentric at times). Piano offers the option to establish a “hierarchy” of voices at any time, and that makes well played baroque music very beautiful. But I strongly dislike performers who take Bach and play his works in “romanticised” baroque style, full of pedal and rubato. You understand what I mean.
I gotta agree with Tom.
I love the Mullova / Danotone (harpsichord) recordings of the Bach accompanied sonatas (and find them well balanced).
I like very much the Monitor recording of Bach sonata #6 with Oistrakh and Vladimir Yampolsky on piano. Oistrakh's tone quality is the best, and Yampolsky is wonderful. On the other side David and Igor Oistrakh do the Bach double concerto.
Along with the slow movement of Piano Sonata Op 10 no 3, and the slow movement of the Purcell G-minor Violin and Keyboard Sonata, the slow movement of Op 12 no 2 (I've said this before - AND I'll say it again!!!) is one of the most emotionally intense slow movements ever written. And if you attempt it before you are ready, you won't spoil it for yourself later (I know - my dad exposed me to playing it before I was 10. On the other hand, I had no inkling of the jewel that immediately preceded the Pathetique [no, I Don't mean Tchaik 5!!!], until I sight read it for myself at Uni - no I still can't attempt the outer movements and I struggle with the trio).
Estimating your current level from what you described, the concerto and most sonatas are at this point out of reach.
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