Learning Vieuxtemps 5

July 6, 2021, 12:55 AM · I’m currently learning the Vieuxtemps Concerto no 5 in A minor. One of the main problems I’m having is figuring out what tempo to shoot for as my performance tempo as I’m learning the first movement. I’ve listened to a few recordings and no one plays it at a relatively steady tempo. Of course music should always be flowing but when one part of the concerto is at one tempo say the sostenuto and then a page later the soloist takes off 40 or 50 clicks faster, it’s hard to gauge what tempo to go for. All I have to go off of is the beginning tempo marking of allegro non troppo, but this tempo makes the sostenuto passage on the first page feel very rushed, especially when you get to the part with the 32nd notes.

I’m also not entirely sure if I’m learning this concerto in the best way, so practice tips for this concerto would be helpful. Especially for some of the unnecessarily hard passage work.

This is a pretty hard concerto. I’m confident in my ability to learn it, but it’s different from other concertos I’ve learned in the sense that it’s not consistently played by today’s soloists so it’s new to me both technically and aurally.

Replies (10)

July 6, 2021, 1:13 AM · You will likely read a snide comment about the work and its composer soon, and how it's not the Brahms or some sort of "concerto level" comment. That said, it is beautiful, and as worthy of public performance as it was during its first years when Vieuxtemps himself performed it. He was such a fine student! Almost "made it" to the more difficult works...

The tempo is not set in stone. It is very improvisatory in nature. The orchestra/piano basically has to follow what you are doing. Thus as you learn it, do not overthink it and learn it slowly, as you have all other concertos. Then add speed to the sections that most warrant it, and decelerate anything that is out of control at a too rapid speed.

Listen to slow and fast recordings (there are plenty!) Slow is not always best (IMHO), too fast neither. Make your own choices, that fit your current playing ability.

Hoping you are encouraged to finish studying this so beautiful and important violin work.

July 6, 2021, 4:22 AM · It's a beautiful work indeed. I fully intend to learn it in its entirety. I think I'm starting to understand that as you said "the tempo is not set in stone." I've always thought that there needs to be one set tempo, but if you do that then the music often becomes boring and stiff because it has no flow/movement to it. Perhaps my restraint of letting the music flow how it should is what has been keeping me from achieving what I want musically in the things that I play.

I'll go back and listen to the recordings that I've already listened to and some new ones to get a feel for the piece on its own and make my own conclusion about how I think it should go tempo-wise as well as musically.

July 6, 2021, 7:53 AM · I know a young woman who is a fine violinist and she auditioned for college with Vieuxtemps, but I'm not sure whether it was 4 or 5. I think the great thing about a piece that's kind of a roller-coaster as far as tempo goes is that you don't have to worry about whether you're within four clicks of the "industry standard" as is the case with stuff like Mozart. If the fiery parts sound fiery and the sonorous parts sound sonorous then you're doing it right. That's my take. Maybe someone who has experience listening to auditions can chime in about what they'd like to hear for tempos at key points in this piece. I think if you match those pretty well then the rest of the work is your oyster.
Edited: July 6, 2021, 9:05 AM · “I’ve always thought there needs to be one set tempo”

This is a huge and fundamental misunderstanding about music and I am shocked that anyone at Vieuxtemps level would think so. I apologize for not keeping track, but do you have a teacher or are you self-taught? If the latter, the misconception is more understandable but if the former, you really need to have a conversation with your teacher.

The marking of allegro non troppo well into the movement is a clue. It is an indication of a change. Sostenuto is not at all the same thing.

Romantic music in particular can have many tempo changes within a movement; just try listening to any Mahler symphony while looking at the score.

July 6, 2021, 2:22 PM · No I am not self-taught I had a teacher, but I just graduated with my Bachelors in violin performance at UNT this past spring. I’m starting my Master’s at SMU this fall studying with Alexander Sitkovetsky.

I didn’t think that way about all music, but when it came to concertos that’s how I was used to learning them. I listened to some recordings, got a range of tempos, and learned the concerto at tempo somewhere in that range. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered recordings of concertos with varying tempos, this is just the first time I’ve asked about it.

I guess the main reason I have problems with this concerto is because I’d never heard it before except for a very small portion of it in an Itzhak Perlman documentary (I know I Played Every Note on YouTube) in which he was giving a master class and the student playing it was a young Cho-Liang Lin. When I was learning other concertos like Mendelssohn it was already in my head so I knew how it should go and only needed to listen to recordings to aid with interpretation ideas.

July 6, 2021, 6:32 PM · Greetings,
it sounds like you are a very talented violinist so I gotta confess I am a little puzzled by your slight insecurity about tempos. I would be a little cautious about trying to decided tempos via recordings, especially if the process started to switch to a micro level as it were. That is, Heifetz speeds up here so I’ll do that. Grumiaux takes this bit slower and so on. I’m sure you don’t do that.
As a kind of generalized idea about this issue I would tentatively suggest you look at different works by the same composer which have the same kind of tempo directions and se if this helps you in a broad sense before you start following your own instincts, guided by what you think the story of the work is. What is the intention here? How can I express sthis idea? and so on.
Cheers,
Buri
July 6, 2021, 8:16 PM · I never really had a problem learning things this way until just recently because it always worked. But now that I'm getting more advanced from a musical standpoint I'm finding that I can't learn things the way I used to because it doesn't do anything for the music.

By the way, I never attempt Heifetz tempos. Way too fast! I remember listening to his recording of Wieniawski 2 when I was learning and thinking "Dear God that's fast how does he do that so cleanly." His 3rd movement is no joke. I found that my favorite recording of the Wieniawski was Bomsori Kim's. It's really beautiful.

July 7, 2021, 1:32 AM · Greetings,
yes, that’s pure Heifetz. The Sinding Suite and Moto Perpetuo demonstrate the same remarkable coordination and brilliance. Ida Haendel did a great version of the Wieniawski which doesn’t cross the radar screen so often. Grumiaux plays the Vieuxtemp beautifully and Kogan can out Heifetz Heifetz in terms of sheer technique.
Cheers,
buri
July 8, 2021, 12:26 AM · I don't have any professional insight as to why Vieuxtemps isn't performed professionally, but certainly the length has a lot to do with it (big money donors need to get their money's worth, after all), along with, IMO, a relatively non-innovative 3rd movement and quite an anemic orchestral score.

Due to the orchestral part, I view Vieuxtemps 5 kind of similar in nature to Paganini 1. There are virtuosic parts that should be very rigidly in meter, with the accompaniment keeping the soloist honest, and lyrical passages where you are free to play. Thankfully, the sections are quite a bit more obvious than they are in some of the more warhorse repertoire.

Practice tip is to pay close attention particularly to the frame of your hand when doing some of the bigger jumps to the big intervals, and how you're going to rotate your wrist for some of the really big broken intervals (top of page 5 and 5 in the Galamian IMC copy). Kind of like some of the Paganini caprices, as long as you have an execution plan for your left hand, and stick to your plan, you'll be in fairly good shape.

July 8, 2021, 10:40 AM · Buri - is there anything Grumiaux doesn't play elegantly with that added dash of country club savoir faire??? Gosh, he's fabulous. And Kogan's sizzling electricity (especially in that 4th finger).

Totally agree.


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