Suggestions for pieces for 2 violins and cello

Edited: November 12, 2021, 3:49 AM · Hello everybody, I'm looking for suggestions for pieces for a trio of two violins and a cello. We are all adult intermediate players (say, Suzuki book 6 and up) and we play for fun. We're open to anything from baroque to modern, even arrangements of pop tunes. There is quite a bit of material on IMSLP, for example, and I'd appreciate some help in narrowing it down.

Replies (24)

Edited: November 12, 2021, 7:16 AM · Thank you for mentioning IMSLP in your post and thereby liberating us from the solemn obligation of reminding you (at least twice) that it's there.

A vote here for the Haydn Divertimenti.

November 12, 2021, 8:30 AM · Thanks Paul. I suppose you are talking about the Haydn trios for baryton, viola, and cello, and I see there are about 100 of them. Did you have any one in mind in particular? There are 8 of them arranged for two violins and cello (or viola) on IMSLP, edited by Walter Hockner(I don't think I can post the link), alas only the parts and not the score.
Edited: November 12, 2021, 8:46 AM · Check out the ensemble albums available from LAST RESORT MUSIC.
They are especially useful for public performances of classical music "arrangements." I played in an ensemble of a cello and 2 violins for a number of years using their books. They are not "original music," they are not challenging,they are not up to your level, but they are the sort of thing you can probably perform at first reading and many types of audiences will appreciate them.

Alternatively, one of your violinists could spend a weekend learning to play VIOLA and then the entire world of "string trios" could begin to open for you. Using the SUZUKI VIOLA books from book 4 on up is a good and fast way to build viola-reading chops.

Edited: November 12, 2021, 9:36 AM · Here are some examples. Personally I find YouTube more useful for finding stuff that I might like to play. Then, and only then, do I look on IMSLP for the notes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhKDPfGWlKo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Juvpr84K5c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyfyjF24r20

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDE9v8uHxqY

Andrew wrote, "Alternatively, one of your violinists could spend a weekend learning to play VIOLA and then the entire world of "string trios" could begin to open for you."

Well, there's that, but as someone who "bought an instrument and learned the clef" to realize more opportunities in both chamber and orchestral playing, I must offer these counter-balancing caveats:
1. I wasn't comfortable in alto clef for at least a year. I could learn parts, but I made a lot of mistakes sight-reading. It could be that I'm just not very bright.
2. You need a decent instrument. I spent $3500 on my Chinese viola and I'm glad I did, but not everyone can do that.
3. The viola is MUCH MORE physically demanding so you need to experiment quite a bit with CR/SR and probably get a lesson or two on the adjustments to hand positions and posture so that you are not going to end up hurting yourself. I have put myself out of commission twice, once for a couple of months, by overdoing it on the viola. The "weekend" that Andrew is suggesting you spend learning your new instrument could put you in physical therapy for a year. Especially at the beginning you need to take it slow. And if you are playing seated, you need to be extra vigilant about sitting on the edge of your seat and keeping your posture straight.
4. The viola is, quite simply, harder to play. Yes, Beethoven Op. 3 is a lovely thing, but it's harder than it looks.

Edited: November 12, 2021, 9:56 AM · I will admit to Paul that switching from violin to viola takes total concentration - for a long time. But you can "fake it 'til you make it" by reading alto clef on viola 1st position like 3rd position on violin and viola 3rd position like 1st position on violin (one string over) - until "voila" one day you find yourself actually reading viola like violist - this time and every time in the future. But still, you can actually play viola all that time (and no one else will know you are "faking it!").

You have to be sure to have a lower chinrest for viola to compensate for the thicker instrument. And get one that fits your arm length well. Almost all the other violists I have played with the past 10 years are women who play smaller violas (15-1/2 inches) but one definitely played a 16", as I do, but she is bigger than I am - about as tall as I was in my prime (before I shrank 4 inches in height - but my arms did not get any shorter). I think a 16-inch viola is ideal for a violinist (who can handle it) because the finger spread in viola 3rd position is the same as violin in 1st position and the elbow angle is the same. (I have not played a smaller viola, so I don't know how that relates.)

If you have absorbed into your unconscious the relationship over many positions between elbow angle and finger spread on violin, it just extends to viola - but the finger spread in 1st position can be painful. Bowing is different because the bridge is further from your chin, so the right arm mechanics are a bit different and you may want to point the scroll less far to the left. But, yes it does get painful, numbing left hand - the 2nd hour is worse than the first.

Thankfully, many viola ensemble parts have a lot of rests!

PAUL, finally it's not that you "are not very bright," you are obviously very bright!

November 12, 2021, 10:25 AM · This is a standard gig configuration and I second the suggestion of Last Resort music.

Try googling string gig sheet music two violins cello.

Edited: November 12, 2021, 10:26 AM · When I took up the viola it only took a weekend or two to eclipse the "dedicated" violists in my orbit (they all played like mice). The only trouble was my brain kept flipping out of viola mode and I'd play rubbish for a few bars until it flipped back in again. Nobody seemed to notice.
November 12, 2021, 10:41 AM · I started Viola at age 19, and I thought that learning the clef was the easiest part. Less than a year later I was put into the principal Viola chair at a summer music camp, and the first piece the first day was Firebird. I played a lot of wrong notes. It was like being pushed into the deep end of a swimming pool.
November 12, 2021, 12:36 PM · Why is everyone talking about violas when this topic is about two violins and a cello?

Perhaps the obvious - and wonderful - one is Bach's concerto for two violins. There is an arrangement with cello instead of orchestra or piano - I played it once because the cellist wanted to perform it. [Because of the circumstances, I introduced it as: 'Bach's concerto for cello accompanied by two violins'.]

November 12, 2021, 2:16 PM · There are quite a few trios by Boccherini for this combination. I own (or owned once; I can't find it just now...) the sheet music for the 6 trios opus 6 and I think they are really good, especially no. 6 where the two violins start out with a canon rising over nearly two octaves and then back down again while the cello plays a pedal point. I think they are just about right for your playing level.

The number of pieces for this combination is very large, especially from the early classical period. And there are plenty of arrangements in addition to the original works. I am sure there is more good music around but this set is one I especially enjoyed and I feel I should recommend it.

November 13, 2021, 2:40 AM · I like that idea of playing the Bach Double with cello.
November 13, 2021, 4:02 AM · Thanks all for the very interesting replies. I will definitely check out the Boccherini trios and LastResort music. Elise, I just looked at the arrangement of the Bach double for two violins and cello, it may be a bit tough for the cello but I will propose it! Bonus for me I already know the first movement by memory. Victor, unfortunately I don't see any of us picking up the viola anytime soon. I have a hard enough time finding time to practice the violin at all, and almost stopped playing guitar (my first instrument) completely.
Edited: November 24, 2021, 6:07 AM · Elise, it's because most of what's available for two violins plus cello is going to be an arrangement (probably designed for easy sight-reading on a gig), whereas there's a rich and abundant body of string trio repertoire for violin-viola-cello.
November 13, 2021, 9:03 PM · I don't understand Lydia - how do either of them relate to two violins and cello? Where did the violas come from?
Edited: November 13, 2021, 9:21 PM · Lydia, compared to genres like string quartet, piano trio or violin sonata I would not call the repertoire for violin, viola and cello abundant. I'd still call it rich based solely on the "divertimento" K. 563, Mozart's most neglected chamber music masterpiece. Apart from this work (and Mozart's three adagios for Bach's fugues) we have op. 3, 8 and 9 by Beethoven (highly recommended), two trios by Schubert (more difficult than they look) and to the best of my knowledge no trios by any other of the major 19th century composers. There are two by Max Reger and a "serenade" by Dohnany. Other than that you have to look at composers like Ferdinand Hiller or Julius Röntgen to find more examples.

Compared to this the repertoire for 2 violins and cello is abundant if not very rich.

November 13, 2021, 9:20 PM · Elise, somebody introduced the alternative (or "standard") genre of vln, viola, cello. Threads go off topic quite a bit and often farer off than here.
November 14, 2021, 4:06 AM · In response to Paul Deck: thanks for the links. I did a little search and I must say I'm quite bewildered by the sheer number of Haydn trios and their catalog numbering. The links you posted are not what I was thinking (baryton trios, which seem to be overall easier).

If I'm not mistaken, the first two links are trios for flute, violin, cello Hob IV n.2 and 4 (apparently also known as Op.100), and I found the parts on IMSLP. They seem doable for two violins and cello although the proper violin part is more of an accompaniment and most of the melody is in the "flute" part.

The third is a trio for two violins and cello Hob.V in D major and I could only find the violin parts.

The last one is the Borodin (a chemist!) G major trio, and I think it's a bit too hard for us.

November 14, 2021, 8:14 AM · Of the violin/viola/cello trios, I found the Beethoven Op 8 to be the most fun. It is a 'Serenade' with a lot of separate and short movements - each of which is lots of fun. However, the cellist needs to beware the Allegretto alla Polacca as it has a very high treble clef section that just comes out of nowhere (often it is played an octave lower). These movements could easily be used as separate short performance pieces.
November 20, 2021, 8:16 AM · I second the fake it to you make it if you want to transform to a violist. I did that for one summer as a teenager to get a scholarship to a music camp! I did love the sound but never really learned the clef and was always uncomfortable.
Edited: November 23, 2021, 2:26 PM · Hi everybody, we played two movements from two triosonatas, one by Corelli and one by Bach for violin, oboe and cello. Later we may look into one of the Haydn trios.

We'd like to play some romantic trio, and I'd appreciate suggestions for pieces that are not too long (say, less than 6 minutes or so) or challenging? (remembering that we are around Suzuki book 6 level). Individual movements are ok too. We might even consider string quartets, doing away with the viola part (bad, I know, but as I said we're playing for fun, no performances foreseen).

November 23, 2021, 4:52 PM · A romantic piece for this combination that is not too hard? This seems a tall order to me. However, I did a quick search for "romantic" pieces for this combination on IMSLP. This yielded 42 original compositions. Quite a few are by violin pedagogues like Rodolphe Kreutzer, Dancla, Dont, Baillot. These and many others among the composers are not all that romantic, rather late classical.

Only two are by a composer known to broader audiences: Borodin has an unfinished one in G-Major (two rather long movements, seems playable for you guys at first glance) and one in g-minor (considerably harder to play but likely the better of the two).

Here is the link to this list if you want to look at more examples.
https://imslp.org/index.php?title=Category:For_2_violins%2C_cello&intersect=Romantic&transclude=Template:Catintro

In addition there are the three trios for 2 violins and viola by Mazas which also exist for 2 violins and cello--also rather late classical I am afraid but charming and well written. They may be playable for you. Unlike in his duos there is a dominant first violin part, not 2 equal parts (and the cello is also mostly accompaniment). This may work well for you. Here are the parts:
https://s9.imslp.org/files/imglnks/usimg/c/c7/IMSLP14176-Mazas_3_Trii_Op.18_per_2_vl_va_o_vc.pdf

November 24, 2021, 10:03 AM · There's at least one by Handel, and then there's the Golden Sonata by Purcell, both for 2 violins and continuo.
There are two Bach Doubles, of course.
November 24, 2021, 6:20 PM · Albrecht, thank you very much for the suggestions. That IMSLP list will keep me busy for a while. The Borodin G major was mentioned earlier: the movements are indeed quite long but don't seem super hard so we could try it. From a quick glance the G minor has some passages that are way over my head. I like the Mazas duos but these trios are not really what we are looking for, too classical.

John, do you mean the C minor concerto for oboe and violin? I heard it played with two violins indeed. The adagio has pizzicato accompaniment and may work as a trio.

Edited: November 24, 2021, 7:47 PM · Matteo, the parts I've played that violin and oboe concerto from (most recently, with my late father) are in D-minor, but I think we're writing about the same work. Bach also wrote a version for harpsichord.


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