Advice on my next piece

January 12, 2022, 1:29 AM · I’m in my final year of high school right now, next year I’m going to stop taking violin lessons as I’m going into engineering and I will probably be too busy. I would like some advice on what I should play next, as it may be my last piece I learn with a teacher. I would love to play a famously great concerto or concert piece, but many are probably too difficult and time consuming. To give you an idea of my current level, I’m currently playing Paganini Caprice 16, Beethoven Sonata 7, Kabalevsky Violin Concerto. I would be okay with a step up in difficulty, but nothing crazy. Are either Mendelssohn, Dvorak, or Saint-Saëns concertos feasible? If not, do you have any recommendations?

Replies (20)

January 12, 2022, 3:40 AM · Greetings,
well, what do youl like? Bruch or Mendelsohn or Lalo Symphonies Espagnole are reasonable in this situation. You should just go with somethings like that is within reach.
Cheers,
Buri
January 12, 2022, 4:49 AM · Max, you may be too impecunious to afford another lesson, but you are unlikely to be too BUSY for a lesson or two during each holiday period. However, for your next piece, I'd say, if there's something that particularly grabs you emotionally, and it's not technically out of your reach, go for it, because you are likely to play it better. I'd say the Dvorak Concerto is too difficult technically, let alone things like Brahms concerto, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Elgar, 2nd half of Glazunov, and Paganini. Is there a composer whose symphonies have grabbed you? If so, you might like to learn a sanata of theirs.
I once met a beginner who seeemed to be made for Bach unaccompanied!!! (Probably that doesn't apply to you)
Edited: January 13, 2022, 9:46 AM · Another vote for Bruch.

Kudos to you for being realistic about your educational path and the likelihood of finding time to practice. But one thing to think about is your next audition. Seriously. You might discover you have some time and you might take a minor in music, or you might play in the university orchestra. And if you do, you might need an audition piece. Of course that depends on the program, but there might be yet more auditions in your future -- community orchestras and such. When that happens you want something that you've learned very solidly and to a high level of polish in the past so that you can dust it off quickly.

In view of that possibility, you would do well to have the first movement of a violin concerto. Kabalevsky is certainly worthy, but it is generally not afforded the same level of academic respect as Mozart or Bruch or even Lalo. (My daughter -- also an engineering student -- auditioned successfully into her university orchestra with Vivaldi.) Considering you asked about three decidedly romantic concertos, the Bruch first movement would be a good choice. Note that the third movement of the Bruch has a reputation for being a real beast. Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens are definitely a notch or two harder than Bruch, and as John said, Dvorak is generally considered up there with the heavyweights. There is also Vieuxtemps No. 4.

Another fine choice is Mozart 3 if you have not done that one yet. Definitely not a romantic-era piece, but the most popular cadenzas for the Mozart concertos (Franko, Flesch, Joachim, etc.) were all written with unabashedly romantic sensibilities. If you have done No. 3 than there is No. 5.

January 13, 2022, 10:10 AM · Have you considered Viotti 22? It is a fine piece, not that easy, but not that hard too. The melodies are present and are often rewarding to play. Also, it has many string crossing sections that, although not super hard, will impress. In general, this piece should not be regarded with that student concerto status that it has somehow gained. In my opinion, its first movement is technically harder than Bruch's first concerto's first movement. For cadenzas, I recommend the one by Ferdinand David. Writing your own is also rewarding!
Edited: January 13, 2022, 11:02 AM · I was in the same situation on piano when I was 17. My last piece was Beethoven's Pathétique. Then I went to university and spent 3 years hating computing theory, although I did continue oboe studies as well, but not sufficiently. My advice is don't give up the violin. Learn all 24 Pag caprices. Pag concerto #1 if you are just playing privately (the slow movement is more melodic than any of the caprices)? Just to keep your hand in. And Bach. That's what I'd do if I were good enough.
Edited: January 13, 2022, 11:19 AM · I think Mike might be on the right track.

The three pieces you mentioned are an odd throuple; it's counterproductive to be slaving away at Paganini if you haven't done the Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, and perhaps Wieniawski to precede it. Beethoven 7 is no slouch either, and it would certainly seem to be more of a challenge to pull off than Kabalevsky. So that leaves the mystery of the Kabalevsky - It's a fine concerto, but usually treated as a student work from a pedagogical standpoint (it's a fussy thought process to demote real pieces of music to being "student works", but there's a logic to it), so seeing these three leads me speculate:

-You may be playing at the Kabalevsky level, which means the Paganini and Beethoven are not the best choices for you to be working on. If this is the case, you should get very clear on what etudes you need to be working on and start systematically working your way through Kreutzer, Rode, Dont etc, and perhaps find some other chamber pieces that are a little more forgiving than the Beethoven.

-You may be playing at the Paganini and Beethoven level, which means the Kabalevsky is way too easy for you, and you would be better off picking much more challenging concertos. The particular ones you choose will depend on what you need to work on, and that would be hard to know without knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Quite curious...

But you've also written that you may not be playing much soon. I studied engineering and might have had time to keep up with violin if I had had a trusted teacher at the time. I really only started taking violin seriously after I graduated, when I've made the most progress. So read my post as giving advice to someone that really hopes to play all those big romantic concertos. It's really best to follow a logical progression to get there. However, if you just want to play what makes you happy, then don't sweat what I'm writing. In my case, I used to work on pieces above my abilities, and I found the practice ultimately very unsatisfying, but it did have the benefit of keeping my flame going.

Edited: January 13, 2022, 11:17 AM · I wouldn't have mentioned pag at all if max hadn't said he was doing #16.
Edited: January 13, 2022, 1:00 PM · I would say your choice depends on your musical goals for the rest of your life. During high school, in spite of being concertmaster of the school orchestra for 3 years and a cellist in the local community orchestra during the same time, I knew my career lay elsewhere. I was a realist about that.

During high school, after working on Mozart Concertos 3 and 5, I worked on the other violin music we had in the house, my father's music and the music I knew from our very limited 78rpm recordings of Heifetz (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and I tried the Brahms and Tchaikovsky). I made it through the first two of those in time to really appreciate seeing Heifetz play the Beethoven as my 16th birthday present with my father. Yes these were tough going at first - but they helped me become a really decent sightreader for much of the rest of my life - started to slip in my 80s. I did read through the Brahms and Tchaikovsky concertos (the pieces I remember my father practicing for years that I lived "at home") but quickly realized I was not going to do them any justice. We did have the sheet music for the Viotti No. 22 that Mike has recommended, although I never knew and never found it until my late 30s. 20 years after my father died. It is lovely music, very "violinistic." I concur with Mike's suggestion.

Although I majored in chemistry and physics, I played in my college orchestra and did more work on the Beethoven and on all of the Bach 2nd Partita in my limited spare time. I never brought my cello to college, only my violin.

Since finishing grad school I have never been without one or more regular ensembles to rehearse and perform with - until COVID, during which my ensembles have continued to exist only in the memories and spirits of all prior participants. We have hope!

It is a life-long activity I recommend to all so inclined.

January 13, 2022, 4:09 PM · Thanks everyone for the input! I think my teacher wanted me to play Kabalevsky as intro to Russian music, so I’m probably more at around the Beethoven/pag 16 level? Last year I played the full Bach Partita 3, Romanza Andaluza, and Bach Concerto 2 if that helps give an idea of my level. I also have played Mozart 3 so 5 could be an option. I’ll talk to my teacher about Bruch or Viotti, or maybe Lalo. Based on the pieces I’ve played is Mendelssohn out of the question? It’s one of my favourites. I think a romantic concerto is what appeals to me the most.
January 13, 2022, 4:41 PM · There are plenty of good Romantic concerti - let your teacher guide you since s/he knows you and your capabilities better than we do.

And keep in mind the point @Andrew and others have made. Don't think of college as some sort of end or hiatus in your career as a violinist. Try to take advantage of any opportunities at college to play in a group. Do not think that you have to devote yourself single-mindedly to engineering. You will do better in school if you have some sort of musical outlet for the parts of your personality and feelings that studying engineering does not address.

January 13, 2022, 4:57 PM · Might I suggest Wieniawski 2. It has some challenges, but it lays well under the fingers and will set you up very nicely for the Mendelssohn.

I'm curious what your teacher thinks - Has your teacher made suggestions?

January 13, 2022, 8:51 PM · I have no suggestion for a piece but I will say this: If you think the upcoming years of study will leave you with little time for music be aware that it will get worse. The time when people's calendars are full is in mid career when people work hard at their jobs plus have a family.

During your studies you will have time to practice and even take lessons--unless you decide to start a family already. You will also appreciate doing something different from your studies as they will become deeper and more and more specialized.

Edited: January 14, 2022, 8:12 AM · When I went to college I assumed I would not have time for violin lessons and that I would not be able to find a qualified teacher at the place I went. But then the guy down the hall from me in my dorm was a better violinist than I was, and he was taking lessons, so obviously there was a good teacher about, and somehow I had time to join the accompanying staff and play for lessons, master-classes, and recitals of six voice-education majors (the pay was about twice the minimum wage at the time). Finding time for lessons and practicing is really a matter of staying organized, establishing clear priorities, and -- especially now -- safeguarding your health. On the other hand I understand the OP's reluctance to make the commitment to practicing at a level that he thinks will make weekly lessons worthwhile, since at university just about the only way to get lessons it to register for the course credit.

In my sophomore year I realized I would have time for lessons, so I took a few semesters of piano lessons because the teachers there were full-time faculty members, not adjuncts, and the students all said they were very good, which turned out to be true. I studied with Joan Conway and she had me playing the Haydn F Minor Variations, which is an adorable piece, to this day among my favorites. That was 40 years ago. My true love was jazz, and through my studies with Miss Conway, I was able to meet and play for Marian McPartland and (separately) Joanne Brackeen.

I agree that Viotti 22 is a fine concerto. I didn't include it in my previous suggestions even though I think it would be a good choice, because I don't think it is considered as "impressive" as Bruch or Lalo as an audition piece. But I agree that it has nice themes, and three worthy movements.

Regarding Mendelssohn, you've resigned yourself to being busy next year ... but how busy will you be this year when you're actually doing all your applications and college site visits? That stuff is very time-consuming unless you already know where you're going and you're 99.44% sure you're getting in there. But if you think this is your "last chance" (for a while) to work on a concerto that you really adore, then by all means go for the Mendelssohn and don't look back.

January 15, 2022, 5:43 AM · yes, just go for the Mendelssohn, it's not like something bad will happen if you shred it! you seem to clearly have some violin chops, so dig in and enjoy!
Edited: January 15, 2022, 8:46 AM · With Jean, another voice for the Mendelssohn - if you are expecting to put the violin down for a few years (DON'T, at least not without periodic picking-ups) then the priority is not for technical development but for musical satisfaction. Work on whatever you love the most (as I think Buri said) so that you have that memory to carry you through and maybe back. You don't want your last piece to be a memory of 'thank goodness that's over' (er... my, admittedly limited, relationship with Vioti).

Another vote for play what you most love and damn the torpedoes!

January 15, 2022, 11:19 AM · What Elise said ("DON'T") rings true for me. The thing you're going to lose if you do not practice at least some every week is your ability to swing your left elbow across and under your violin. It's something you don't think about now but -- trust me -- in 25 years you will.
January 16, 2022, 12:06 PM · I'm going to put in a strong vote for Bruch here, unless you really like Mendelssohn a lot more. Assuming that you're not going to put down your violin and never touch it again (and even if you think that, that might not turn out to be true), sometime in your future you will need a piece that you can pick up and use for auditions. Bruch will do just fine for that. (Mendelssohn's first movement is a tough audition concerto because of those blasted octaves near the beginning.)

Bruch is a good line of delineation between the intermediate and advanced levels. You will earn a certain degree of respect just by being able to play that, that you won't get from playing Viotti 22, say. (I would consider Viotti 22 to be easier than the Kabalevsky, in any event.)

Mendelssohn is at a relatively close level to Bruch, so if you've always wanted to play it, certainly consider it. It's nice to cap off your high school years with your "dream piece".

Speaking as someone who did an engineering degree, I would agree that it's possible that you'll end up too busy to practice. But take your violin to college with you and look for opportunities to play with other people, that would keep your playing abilities in some kind of reasonable shape, but don't require a massive time commitment. If there's a campus orchestra with a once-a-week two-hour rehearsal, for instance, that might fit the bill. Meeting up with other folks once a month to sight-read quartets would probably be fun.

This is the time that you transition from the notion of playing the violin as a work-in-progress, focused on becoming ever more advanced. This is when you get to enjoy the fruit of your labors. In the future you might decide you want to take lessons to advance again, but for the moment, just enjoy what the instrument allows you to do.

Also note that your freshman-year engineering program probably won't be excessively difficult if you're well-prepared, so it might not be out of the question to take lessons and practice regularly. The really time-consuming classes start later on.

January 16, 2022, 12:06 PM · I'm going to put in a strong vote for Bruch here, unless you really like Mendelssohn a lot more. Assuming that you're not going to put down your violin and never touch it again (and even if you think that, that might not turn out to be true), sometime in your future you will need a piece that you can pick up and use for auditions. Bruch will do just fine for that. (Mendelssohn's first movement is a tough audition concerto because of those blasted octaves near the beginning.)

Bruch is a good line of delineation between the intermediate and advanced levels. You will earn a certain degree of respect just by being able to play that, that you won't get from playing Viotti 22, say. (I would consider Viotti 22 to be easier than the Kabalevsky, in any event.)

Mendelssohn is at a relatively close level to Bruch, so if you've always wanted to play it, certainly consider it. It's nice to cap off your high school years with your "dream piece".

Speaking as someone who did an engineering degree, I would agree that it's possible that you'll end up too busy to practice. But take your violin to college with you and look for opportunities to play with other people, that would keep your playing abilities in some kind of reasonable shape, but don't require a massive time commitment. If there's a campus orchestra with a once-a-week two-hour rehearsal, for instance, that might fit the bill. Meeting up with other folks once a month to sight-read quartets would probably be fun.

This is the time that you transition from the notion of playing the violin as a work-in-progress, focused on becoming ever more advanced. This is when you get to enjoy the fruit of your labors. In the future you might decide you want to take lessons to advance again, but for the moment, just enjoy what the instrument allows you to do.

Also note that your freshman-year engineering program probably won't be excessively difficult if you're well-prepared, so it might not be out of the question to take lessons and practice regularly. The really time-consuming classes start later on.

January 16, 2022, 5:13 PM · Greetings,
nice post Lydia. I can’t help wondering, just a little, if the Lydia of now would really have had trouble practicing with an engineering degree tracking up most of one’s time. Is it really that difficult to do 5 minutes practice everyday in such a situation?
I can7t help feeling that we sometimes get rather bogged down with the idea of practice being x number of hours a day instead of just making it an (atomic) habit that one can easily manage and in the long run pays huge dividends? The mental intensity required to improve daily on 3 minutes of practice is huge and might even give a little caffeine boost to the engineering although cross over effects don’t really occur that much between cerebral skills.
Cheers,
Buri
January 16, 2022, 8:30 PM · Max, if you can play the full Partita 3, I think you'll manage the Mendelssohn, if that's what you really want to do.


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