Comparative Viola Milestones

Edited: November 22, 2017, 7:56 PM · So there is always a lot of chatter about the big violin milestones:

Vivaldi A, Bach Double, Accolay, Lalo, Bruch, etc.

What would be 'equivalent' viola pieces that would lead to a similar projection, ending in a piece of similar difficulty to the Bruch concerto.

It's easy enough to find graded lists, but I haven't successfully found a comparison between the two, which I think would be helpful for the violists on this site since everything is measured in violin milestones. It's great for those who gained their technical chops going up the violin ladder, but in this day and age some people actually start as violists (gasp!)!

Replies (38)

Edited: November 23, 2017, 6:57 AM · I do not know about concertos, but "The Study of the Viola" , a collection of 100 original etudes from the 19th Century, selected and edited by Ulrich Druner (3 books) seems to be a very solid comparative study. The editor himself compared each book
1. at the intermediate level of difficulty represented by the violin etudes of Mazas
2 at the level of difficulty represented by the violin etudes of Rodolphe Kreutzer
3. at the level of difficulty represented by the violin etudes of Paganini (?)

An excellent sample and a lot of fun to play!

an update (2017/11/23) the 3rd book is out of print... if someone finds the seller (for new or used), please let us know.

November 22, 2017, 8:24 PM · Thanks for that Rocky, I'd not heard of it. That seems like something that would be nice to add to my 'big binder of things'.
November 22, 2017, 9:20 PM · Here:
Edited: November 22, 2017, 9:59 PM · Thanks Gene,

That's an excellent resource. I love that they are listed in alphabetical order and broken into 4 broad categories to allow you to get an idea of difficulty.

I am looking for something that is more X = Y though.

An example would be comparing the Telemann G Major concerto on Viola to the Vivaldi A Minor concerto on the Violin. Under RCM they are both listed as Grade 6, so it is an easy place to start for comparison, but I was hoping the collective experience of might be able to pair more works of violin/viola rep together in a similar manner.

November 22, 2017, 10:24 PM · @Michael, thanks for the post. There is so little for viola on this site and I was starting to get lonely.

@Gene, thanks for your reference. It really excites me. When I can't play quartets due to lack of partners, I play viola violin duos and we're always looking for new music to play. This a gold mine!

November 22, 2017, 10:28 PM · Don't worry Francesca, we're here, just hiding in plain sight ;)
November 23, 2017, 6:45 AM · I wonder how many violinists have named one of their children "Rodolphe" after the author of the Kruetzer studies. Two daughters here, so I didn't have the opportunity ...

And remember .. a lot of violinists are actually "viola-curious."

November 23, 2017, 7:09 AM · My best stab at this:
Vivaldi a-minor/Bach double= Telemann G Major
Accolay/ Bach A-minor = J.C. Bach/Handel Cassadeus Concertos
Mozart Concertos = Stamitz/Hoffmeister
Bruch/Mendelssoh (major Concertos) = Walton, Hindemith Der Schwanendreher
Tchaikovsky, etc.. = Bartok, Schnittke, Bowen, etc..

Somewhere in between J.C. Bach and Walton, you could also have:
Bloch Sute Hebraique, (I would say maybe almost the equivalent of the Buch/Lalo (musically, at least) with Walton maybe more along the lines of Mendelssohn as the first major concerto).
Bruch Romanze, Hummel Fantasy (Perhaps equivalent to the Beethoven Romances)
Forsyth Concerto, Martinu Rhapsody Concerto (Possibly equivalent to the Kabalevsky/DeBeriot Concertos).

The list is not necessarily exactly technically equivalent, but similar repertoire milestones that are likely to be reached by viola students playing alongside the equivalent violin students in orchestras and chamber music.

November 23, 2017, 8:35 AM · Okay now that someone has take a stab at it, maybe we can spend the next couple of days ripping that to shreds for extremely small reasons.
November 23, 2017, 7:52 PM · Thank you very much for your input Ingrid, that is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for.

I understand there is no exact technical comparison, so similar repertoire milestones are exactly what I was after.

I think that in a community where things are measured in one set of repertoire it's important to be able to contextualize it across instruments that have a following in the community.

Edited: November 24, 2017, 2:18 AM · I view of the great variety of instruments and physiques, I doubt if violists have "extremely small reasons"!
I find we have to be more inventive..

I have even strung a spare viola as a violin to help my slender-handed young ladies. And to keep my intonation stable between (intermediate) lessons and orchestra.

Edited: November 24, 2017, 6:45 AM · It's a pity we are missing out on 19th century blockbusters, but the Forsyth and Ewen concertos are decent sustitutes.
November 25, 2017, 4:58 PM · Did you mean Bowen rather than Ewen, Adrian?


November 25, 2017, 7:05 PM · Is the advanced solo viola literature really performed that much outside of conservatories? My knowledge of the viola literature is pretty poor but I've heard of the Walton Concerto, so that must be a pretty famous one. That's performed at the BBC Proms maybe once every five years or so? At this year's Proms there were performances of violin concertos by Sibelius, Lalo (SE), Shostakovich (1), Mendelssohn, Prokofiev (1), Stravinsky, Brahms, Dvorák, and Berg. As far as I can see, no viola concertos whatsoever.
November 25, 2017, 7:17 PM · Stravinsky? Really? Interesting.
November 25, 2017, 7:51 PM · Yeah apparently Leila Josefowicz played it. I'd have liked to see that.
November 26, 2017, 8:10 PM · According to my teacher (who read this thread) there is a good edition of the Accolay for viola available, also.

I wonder if the lack of viola concerto performance is directly linked to the public conception that the viola is a second class instrument with less prestige, which leads to less viola virtuoso, and thus less billing of viola concertos.

Even after Tertis, Primrose, etc, it seems it still needs a little kick to get out there to where it should be. Much like the guitar still suffers even after Segovia put it back on the concert stage.

November 27, 2017, 3:00 AM · The Stravinsky concerto is a late Stravinsky piece. But it has much energy, and the 3rd movement is quite beautiful, even though the musical language is pretty hard to understand.

Could someone make a list of the major violin milestones after Bruch?
I’m curious to know, since I’ve never really thought in terms of ‘milestones’, I just play the pieces that interest me musically, and with enough practice, they are all playable.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 4:21 AM · Neil, Forsyth, Ewen, and Bowen!
November 27, 2017, 5:05 AM · Roman, this is a thread about viola milestones, so perhaps we should keep the topic focused on that. If you google "violin graded repertoire list" into Google you will find what you need at credible sources.
November 27, 2017, 6:59 AM · Michael, There are Viola transcriptions of Accolay, Vivaldi a-minor (in d-minor), Mozart 3, and Mendelssohn, and probably others. As a teacher I wouldn't assign any of these to a viola player unless the student requested them (I do occasionally teach the Vivaldi because it is in Suzuki Viola book 4). There are enough concertos written for viola to keep anyone busy for quite a few years of study (including many I didn't include in my initial list: Rozsa, Larsson Concertino, J.A. Benda, Zelter, etc...) For shorter pieces transcriptions are fine, but for a whole concerto?
November 27, 2017, 10:03 AM · Ingrid, Thanks for adding the Zelter concerto - I have found it absolutely delightful.
Edited: November 27, 2017, 7:32 PM · Ingrid, I think it was mentioned because the thread and not an intention to teach.

I agree, there is lots of viola repertoire out there. It's just a matter of getting to a level where it's mostly accessible - at least for me. No rush, though, my instrument isn't going to walk away on me. :)

I didn't know about the other transpositions. I'm not sure I would request to learn a transcribed violin piece unless there was no viola piece at the level I found interesting. As it is, there is plenty I find interesting!

I also enjoy the Zelter.

November 27, 2017, 7:59 PM · Hey great resource you started Michael!

I think the only thing missing is concertos by Rolla, similar to Stamitz, harder than Hoffmeister, bit less stodgy than the two Germans:,_Alessandro

McInnes' list has other Rolla pieces on it but not his concertos, don't know why.

November 28, 2017, 12:23 AM · I'm not familiar with Alessandro Rolla. You've given me something to listen to at the gym today, thanks!

Really it just started as me wanting to know what the equivalent milestones are. I'm glad a discussion has started from it.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 12:40 AM · His main claim to fame is being Paganini's first teacher after his father, but he was a well known performer and composer in his time. He was so impressed with the boy Paganini's abilities he encouraged the young prodigy to study composition... or something like that. Enjoy!
November 29, 2017, 10:21 AM · It's interesting that the viola is so often compared to the violin rather than say the cello . I think this is where the problem lies . So many viola concerti seem to be violin concerti knocked down a fifth wonderful though it is I would say that the Walton falls into this category.The wonderful thing is that viola repertoire still represents an amazing challenge for composers who need vast stores of ability and imagination to do the viola justice . I know that Harold in Italy is not strictly speaking a concerti , but Hector was going in the right direction !
November 29, 2017, 10:31 AM · I think the main reason why the viola is compared to the violin more than anything else in the world is due to its similarity in appearance and playing technique.
November 29, 2017, 10:51 AM · I'll go along with appearance !
Edited: November 29, 2017, 3:00 PM · Adrian Heath: "Neil, Forsyth, Ewen, and Bowen!"

Adrian, I'm having trouble finding any reference or links to any viola concerto (or any viola repertoire at all) to a composer named "Ewen".

I have eventually tracked down this "McEwen, Sir John Blackwood Concerto for vla and orch 1901" though. And I see Lawrence Power recorded it with Vaughn Williams "Flos Campi" back in 2011. Other than that, it doesn't seem to be a mainstay of viola repertoire. In fact, I can only find that recording.

So my question this time becomes, do you mean "McEwen" rather than "Ewen"? :D

And I must check out Power's recording - love his playing.

I'd also be tempted to add Edward Rubbra's viola concerto to the list - another recorded by Power. It was also another that is missing from McInnes' list.


November 29, 2017, 6:28 PM · My vote for major milestones- The Reger Viola Suites and or Bach cello suite #6 and bach violin sonatas and partitas on viola
November 30, 2017, 5:10 PM · Also Telemann violin fantasies on viola. I'm on a polyphonic kick lately. Painfull, but good intonation and bowing workouts.
December 15, 2017, 11:40 PM · Somewhere in my library I have some music which I purchased from a (then) new Czech publishing house in the mid-1970s of 12 Fantasias for Solo Viola (unaccompanied) by Grazyna Bacewicz. (I don't know if they may have been originally for violin and transcribed). I just checked wiki, but I did NOT find them listed among her compositions. They were fairly difficult!
December 16, 2017, 2:57 AM · Sorry about depriving McEwen of his Scots heritage!
I'm such a Sasanach!
December 16, 2017, 5:41 AM · Primrose didn't include Bach suites No. 5 or 6 in his viola transcription. He said in the foreward that especially the No. 6 would never sound good on the viola and that he only knew one or two musicians who could make it sound good on the modern cello. Or words o that effect.
December 16, 2017, 9:39 AM · There are a couple of transcriptions that are transposed to varying degrees that ARE playable and sound ok.
December 20, 2017, 1:05 PM · Thanks for the list. Since this concerto is not on it, I'd like to add the Anton Stamitz concerto in D. It is higher and maybe more difficult than his brother Karl's concerto in D, which is played all the time. I'm not sure why it's not played more often, because I think it's quite lively and fun. I played the first movement several years ago for a church talent show. I blogged about that here (with video):

I also worked on the 3rd movement some, but never performed it:

Having also played the Mozart #3,4,5 violin concertos, I would agree with putting it at approximately that level for a violist; perhaps a little harder because it does go up relatively higher on the viola and there's lots of treble clef (as a violinist first, that doesn't bother me, and I prefer it to ledger lines!)

December 22, 2017, 10:10 AM · Vaughan Williams' Suite is by turns tender and entertaining.
I would call it high intermediate.

He also wrote Flos Campi: lovely if you have an orchestra and choir dying to play with you..

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