Wanna Be Violist -- yep that's me.
So I recently bought myself a beginner's viola. It is properly setup, sounds good, and plays well and easy. And surprisingly, I am able to apply my violin techniques much more easier than I thought.
I never played viola in my life except just a few weeks ago. After I got my viola, I started playing by transposing the pieces I know in the violin. I was even able to play Bach Solo G minor (transposed of course) with it, along with other favorite repertoire that did not require me to go too high in the upper registers.
I even bought myself Suzuki Book 4 for Viola to help me in my sight-reading exercises on the alto/viola clef.
But what I found out is that the Viola Suzuki Book 4 pieces are pretty much a transposed version of the violin pieces.
Given that I have no delusion of becoming a true violist, I am beginning to wonder if it is even worth my time to learn pieces in viola that are in the correct keys and not just transposed from the violin?
I can pretty much play any piece on my viola that I want even without referring to any music sheet. Whether they are in the "correct or original" key for the piece, well, that's a different story altogether.
I am just curious how many "primary" violinist who plays viola as well in this forum play classical repertoire in the true intended key of the piece?
This is just for my own curiosity. I don't intend to open up a debate of any kind at all.
One day, I just decided to play the viola, and "voila"... here I am... lol.
Welcome to the dark side! I started as a violin maker, but Michael Tree converted me into a viola maker.
While it's great to play transcriptions from the violin literature, I'd also explore some of the viola repertoire too. I know I'm suggesting another trnascription here but violists play this all the time: Bach cello suites. They're the cello suites played an octave higher. Some of the other more approchable viola rep includes Glazunov Elegy and Casadeus Concertos. That's on the easier side of the spectrum but it's always good to start a bit simpler as you get fluent with the clef. Viola is a different entity and thus has its own literature, though it is yes indeed very similar to playing the violin.
Thank you Luis and Ella, for your insights. I truly appreciate it. Now I have some things to ponder.
Ben - I did what you did to firm up my transition from life-long violinist to "also a violist." I think it is a great way to do it, if you can.
Thanks, Andrew for your insight. I'll also look up the Zelter violin concerto :-).
Other relatively easy pieces that may be good for violinists switching to viola: the Telemann viola concerto and the the Schumann Adagio and Allegro. The latter is a transcription, but originally from horn, not violin.
My son plays both violin and viola and has found that the most interesting repertoire to play on viola is chamber music, especially quartets and the like! Obviously, this is hard during a pandemic, but it may ultimately be some of your most satisfying playing.
I would add that finding a good sounding viola is much harder... In general, violas are plagued with a dead C string, too slow response, too narrow dynamic range (you change your bowing and almost nothing happens in terms of volume and sound colour) and lack of clarity (notes will get mixed during quick passages).
Thanks, Andrew H. for repertoire suggestions. I will definitley look them up too.
Here is my blog post on my entry into the viola world. Perhaps you will experience some of the same things.
Thanks for the blog, Paul. Interesting read. :-)
For my regular semi-pro orchestra, I postulated on viola, but thye put me in the first violins!
Expect and welcome transposition.
@Adrian - no good deed goes unpunished.
I had a violin teacher who was a violist and demonstrated everything on the viola (except perhaps the highest notes). We would play the Bartok violin duets and he would play the lower line (as is) on the viola.
My violin teacher is a violist.
I even setup a viola as a violin for lessons, with 3 viola strings, and a violin E near breaking point. The viola A lost its harshness, which the E took over willingly! I retained the viola bow.
The Zelter concerto is a good shout. Its really nice. For another transcription, I'd recommend Fauré's elegie which, surprise surprise, was written for cello originally
Realistically - Most Violists spend most of their time in orchestras or chamber music. I would suggest the Viola part for the Beethoven Quartets.
There isn't any point playing transcriptions of violin concertos on the viola except maybe the Bach concertos. The viola is not designed for really high stuff like the violin -- remember that the violin's highest string is just a thin wire, its diameter is an outlier among the four strings of the violin. The viola doesn't have anything comparable.
Welcome to the best side of the string world, violas!
I call myself
Thank you all, once again for all your insights, recommendations, and tips. I truly appreciate it. I guess there's no turning back now.. lol.
Many years ago in my orchestral cello days, our principal violist didn't show at an important rehearsal. I wasn't aware of this until the conductor "asked" me to play, on the cello, the viola principal's part which contained an important solo passage. I'd never played the viola but was aware that the main viola clef (the alto) was almost but not quite unlike the cello tenor clef. Knowing this didn't prepare me for the reality of sight-reading a non-trivial solo in an unfamiliar clef in a live rehearsal. I managed somehow to scramble my way through it without disaster, but I would have been very grateful for the ministrations afterward of those kind folks in white coats had they been around!
Elgar's Cello Concerto has been arranged for the viola, and performed.
Welcome to the world of the Diesel Geige! I - as many others I think - started playing the viola because a group of friends wanted to play chamber music and no-one played the viola. I still play the violin and in different periods of my life one instruments has taken priority. As mentioned above the instruments are similar enough that knowing one will help you play the other, but you must embrace the differences. Learn to enjoy the slower response of the C string.
Thanks Trevor and Bo for your insights and advise. I'm now determined to learn alto clef. From what I've read from all the encouraging and wonderful comments I received, being able to read alto clef, would make playing viola more satisfying -- even for a wannabe like me .. lol.
Ben, your approach, reading viola parts in the earlier Suzuki books that are transposed from violin parts should get you reading alto clef in no time as it did for me.
Thanks, Andrew. I will continue doing that.
Yeah, eventually you need to be able to read stuff that you don't know by ear, though. That's why I suggested the Hofmann studies because they're on IMSLP and there's no violin transcription that I'm aware of. If there is a violin transcription, nobody uses it because there's too much other stuff that's better. The ironic advantage of the Hofmann studies is that they're so unmusical that you can't predict what jarring harmonic cadence will come next.
Thanks, Paul. I will check this out too. :-)
In fact I possess a copy of the Laubach Augener Méthode pour Alto, A Practical School for the Viola. I found it in a charity shop. I may never use it, but if I buy a viola, I'll show it to my teacher.
Alto Clef:- I have read that in the 16th century, right after the violin family was invented, the strings were used to double the choir parts; a small viola to double the Alto line, and a larger tenor Viola to double the tenors. C-clefs were used to notate the parts. Later the tenor Viola disappeared, and we are still using the Alto clef for the Viola. It would have been better to use the mezzo-soprano clef for the viola. That would put middle C on the second line from the bottom, and violinists could switch instruments easily, without learning a new system. It's too late to re-write 400 years of Viola parts.