Why Are Concerti So Prioritized in Violin Teaching?
As both a violinist and a pianist, I have always wondered about this disparity between violin repertoire vs. piano repertoire.
Obviously there are many piano concerti, but most students learn a lot more solo pieces in standard graded/conservatory curricula. Whereas for violin, it's almost a standard practice that a student should have at least a concerto on their to-do list.
If most violinists, even professional orchestra players, don't even get a chance to perform the solo part of concerti, why do we still emphasize them so much more than solo pieces?
Because concertos are an efficient vehicle for teaching technique. and they are also audition requirements for youth orchestras, schools, and professional orchestras.
Piano students do more sonata repertoire than concertos, at least through the intermediate levels. The reason this does not work for violinists is because the violin sonata repertoire is mostly with piano and the piano parts tend to be just as hard as the violin parts.
So, aside from the audition perspective... Are there any real benefits to prioritize concerti over Bach, Ysaye, Paganini, Wieniawski, and Ernst at an advance level?
A serious advanced student should be learning Bach, Paganini, and sonatas, alongside concertos.
Do you people not know that concertos are learned ALONGSIDE sonatas and showpieces? This is common knowledge.
"but to perform it even for an audition (let alone a recital) you need a very skilled pianist because that part is brutally hard. If you're doing a concerto movement, the pianist can just play a reduction and it can be a simplified reduction (to a point) and the judges will not care nearly as much as if liberties were taken with a sonata piano part."
I thought I was going to get rickrolled for a second...
Piano students learn more solo piano repertoire because:
I think it's actually a very good question. There is a huge emphasis on concertos over duo sonatas (piano), chamber music and music for violin alone. The points about them being good for technical development are very true and you can learn a lot from them, but in the real world most conservatoire graduates do not earn the majority of their money from playing concertos. I've been playing professionally for 8 years and have had three paid concerto engagements (two of them were Bach Double), but many more sonata and chamber music recital work. (Most of my performing work is chamber orchestra sized projects).
Like others have pointed out, the answer is quite simple, I think, namely, solo piano is something very normal. In a sense the piano was invented largely to be played solo. So there are many more solo pieces for piano. Not to mention sonatas, also think of all the "klavierstücke" by Schumann, Brahms, Liszt. An equivalent category of such pieces does not exist for the violin.
Apart from piano as a solo instrument, playing sonatas is a very different skill for violinists. It's less about the notes on the page (especially in the case of Mozart or Beethoven) and more about the partnership with the pianist. You can only practice sonatas on their own so much -- you really need to be working with the pianist. Most student violinists don't have that ready of access to a sonata partner on a regular basis. And student pianists must be at a high level to partner on a sonata. As such, the number of sonatas played by young violinists is usually small.
James's point is well made, but I think the argument for studying concertos is that if you can play the warhorse romantic concerto rep, then you can play the chamber rep.
At least up through the Classical era, concerti are a good solution for the relative lack of unaccompanied repertoire. Although they are written to be played with orchestra, there are defined "solo" and "tutti" passages, and the soloist is expected to lead, which makes them more suitable than sonatas for learning without accompaniment.
There is something very aspirational and inspirational about working on a concerto. Even more so if your teacher has selected it for you to work on.
"Mary Ellen said that serious advanced violin students should learn sonatas alongside concertos ... but do they?"
I think I should rephrase my question a bit since people are talking about nobody plays JUST concerto and Sonata/Paganini should be learned alongside concerto.
Even that claim is not always true. Mary Ellen’s first post answers that question.
Concertos have an important place in the development of historic improvements in violin technique. They were being written as pieces to show off the technique of the virtuoso-composers, like Viotti, Kreutzer, Rode, Paganini, Beriot, Vieuxtemps, Sarasate and Wieniawski. Their writing extended techniques on violin, but they often tried to balance this flash with some substance. Their accompaniments weren't usually especially detailed, so it's not like they were writing with a chamber music philosophy of equal partnership - They just didn't write sonatas, because they were trying to shine, and concertos were big pieces that they could play and show off with.
Mike, the OP is right: Concerti are strongly prioritized in violin teaching and I would suspect primarily for "historical" reasons: It has been this way for a long time. Everyone is used to it.
I NEVER SAID CONCERTOS WEREN'T PRIORITIZED IN TEACHING. I just said that they aren't learned exclusively (not alongside sonatas, etc), or that a student always has one going, as per the OP's claim (the a student always has one going part).
"Even though many of those techniques are not required for almost the entire orchestral and chamber repertoire."
That's not specifically because they didn't learn the Mendelssohn, though.
"Anyone who has the technical base to even start seriously working on the Mendelssohn is in the top 0.1% of violinists -- or if you exclude the ones who have quit, probably still top 1% of actively playing violinists."
"That's not specifically because they didn't learn the Mendelssohn, though."
I remember seeing statistics for ABRSM exams: fewer than 1% of those who took ABRSM exams ever attempted a Grade 8 exam. For that matter, only about 10% ever attempted Grade 5 or higher. The Mendelssohn E minor is definitely beyond Grade 8. (The current Grade 8 violin exam list includes the third movement of the Mendelssohn D minor.)
If only taking AP Literature can help one understand papers on algebraic geometry or functional analysis (which are scientific)... :)
I have changed it to Shakespeare. Are you happy Mavis? I did it just for you ;).
I don't know, Mavis. I bet most researchers writing papers could use some help in clarifying their writing, and the kind of training that a good literature course should help them do so - A scientific paper should at least be generally comprehensible, even if it's loaded with a lot of specific jargon. Bad writing meant to convey factual information shouldn't be seen as the reader's fault.
Mike it's pretty cool, haha. My research area is computational geometry.
Perhaps because violin audition committees are less imaginative than others.
"A few affluent suburban schools have plenty of skilled string players, but in most high schools, if there is an orchestra at all, the concertmaster is rarely beyond Suzuki Book 5 level."
I agree with Classical Violinist.
Like to know where the schools of the last couple comments are....
Those schools definitely do not reflect the vast majority of schools. There's a lot of selection bias here: if you're in an excellent school orchestra program you tend to meet only people from other excellent school orchestra programs. "Only 5th place in all-state" definitely isn't typical -- there are almost 27,000 high schools in the United States. I don't know what state you're in, but even Delaware, the state with the fewest high schools in the US, has 83 of them. The 5th best high school orchestra in Delaware is still top 6% of high schools. The 5th best high school orchestra in a state like Texas (3,240 high schools) is top 0.2%.
My observations align with those of Matthew and Andrew. In our
High school orchestras vary widely -- extremely widely. We live in Chicago, in the city, and the vast majority of high schools don't even have an orchestra. The ones that do are mostly selective enrollment schools (ie gifted high schools) or schools with special arts programs. At the selective enrollment schools, you will typically have a large number of students who far exceed the Book V level. For example, at my son's school, the entire top orchestra exceeds that level, ranging from Book V at the lowest to a couple of the top players in the state and beyond. All the special arts programs are audition only, and range from one that mostly has players in the Book 2-5 range, to one that has several of the top players in the state. But there are 148 high schools in Chicago, and by my count there are only about 15-20 with orchestras.
I always say I live in the Montana part of NY. My daughter went to a well known Chamber camp this summer, mostly kids from NYC and Boston. She told them she had a pond in the back yard- they said, "You must be rich!" She got good laugh out of that!
It never ceases to amaze me how little some people understand that learning the violin to a high level (even the Bruch level) is generally limited to upper-middle-class and above. There is no point trying to make a living teaching violin in a rural area because there will not be a critical mass of families who can afford your fees. So much of the country lacks the means to train even an eager and affluent student.
Fascinating to see if this changes b/c of increased bandwidth and better software. We've seen a lot of different modes of communication during the pandemic-- quite possibly there are kids in Idaho now able to get teachers from LA or London to help them out.
Matthew, the schools I speak of are in Texas. I hope that helps.
Paul, I wish our university orchestra is like what you described so that we'll have more opportunities to become the concertmaster. Unfortunately that's not the case - we have a Wieniawski competition prize winner/ex-Menuhin competitor as the concertmaster and a national competition prize winner as the section leader. I've learned around 20 Paganini caprices and almost all major violin concerti and I'm the 3rd seat.
Again, there are more than 3,000 high schools in Texas. The vast majority of them have never gotten a single person to All-State in their history.
Paul, I'm not surprised. Without getting too much on my socialist soapbox, I live in Denver, which is pretty racially segregated (now, actually, moreso than it used to be), but a real bit of segregation that overlaps a lot with that is that people of different economic classes just don't interact much, so living in a bubble like that, it can be very surprising that other people live vastly different lives with vastly different opportunities.
Again, Classical and Mavis, I think you might be in a bit of a bubble. Not saying you should feel bad about it, just be aware of your blessings.
Getting back to the original theme of this thread: The piano is a unique instrument in terms of repertoire*. Pianists have at their disposal an inexhaustible repertoire of solo music at all levels of difficulty; I would venture to guess that half of all concerts involving a piano are solo recitals. The violin solo repertoire on the other hand is very small and for the most part very difficult.
Completely agree with Andrew and Matthew.
My first instrument was piano and my second oboe.
Gordon wrote, "My first instrument was piano and my second oboe.
True: Piano is a very versatile ensemble instrument in addition to being a great solo instrument. The problem with this ensemble music is that the piano parts are almost always considerably harder than the other parts--at least in the classical repertoire.