Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bach's Unaccompanied Violin Partitas and Sonatas


     There are pieces that every violinist wants to master and play passionately, I know do. Which ones are at the top of my list? Bach's incredible Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas. Here is Nathan Milstein giving a masterful performance.

Bach's Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001–1006) are a set of six works rich with emotional variety and depth, complex harmonies, advanced technique and timeless melodies. Bach known as a prodigious organist and harpsichordist was also a violinist from a young age, which if these pieces are any indication, must have been quite the violinist. Some would say that this collection is the peak of polyphonic writing for a non-keyboard instrument and has taken violin technique to new heights as well. Though there were other solo pieces for the violin, Bach's collection was at a whole new level of technique. Those that were first to work on them were said to believe the pieces almost impossible to perform.

Bach started composing this collection in 1703 and finished them around 1720 when he was Kapellmeister in Köthen. Aside from his geographical area, the Western world was only really exposed to them in 1802 when Nikolaus Simrock published them in Bonn. The sonatas follow a four-movement pattern: slow-fast-slow-fast, which was not unusual for the Baroque period. The Partitas on the other hand are unorthodox dance-form movements in their structure, which works well with their improvisatory feel.

For violin students that are interested to start on the Sonatas, make sure that you are in Suzuki Book 6 or something comparable. Most of the pieces will still be very difficult, but some of them will be available to you to work on. Remember that these pieces are not meant to be worked on just once, but throughout your life. Don't give up and the rewards will be great!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos



     The Münchener Bach-Orchester directed by Karl Richter in J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. J.S. Bach is known as a great composer and an organist virtuoso, who was a music leader (composer, conductor and accompanist) for the Lutheran church, an orchestra conductor and composer for the Duke of Weimer and for Prince Leopold. In 1721, during his employment for Prince Leopold, Bach wrote six string orchestra concertos called The Brandenburg Concertos dedicated to "His Royal Highness Monseigneur Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg."

It all started back in December of 1717 at the age of 32 when Bach was offered the job of Kapellmeister at the Court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt in Cöthen after a month of confinement by his previous employer, the Duke of Weimer. Bach left the Duke for Prince Leopold who loved music and was himself a violinist, harpsichordist and viola da gamba player. After four wonderful years, the prince got married to his cousin, the Princess of Anhalt-Bernburg. Bach and the princess did not like each other, so felt the urgency to seek employment with Christian Lugwig, whom met earlier. So Bach wrote the Margrave Ludwig a letter and sent these six concerti to display his abilities. As far we know, no answer ever came from the Margrave and the pieces were never performed at the Margrave's court.

The six Concerti are three movements each, except for the first concerto which is four movements. The instrumentation is based on the small orchestra that Bach led for Prince Leopold, which why there are some brass, some woodwinds, harpsichord and string orchestra. Each of the concertos has solos from the different sections along with the orchestral style, especially in the First, Third and Sixth Concerto.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Practice Tips for Chorus from Judas Macabeus, Suzuki Book 2



     Welcome to Book 2! This book will continue to help us develop a beautiful tone and also explore playing at the tip, frog and even whole bow.  Speaking about using whole bow, the very first piece is a theme from George Friedrich Handel's opera, Judas Maccabeus, which is the first opportunity to play everything whole bow. Here are some things to keep in mind along the way.

Structure.
This piece is comprised of two main parts. Part 1 (section A) is lines 1 and 2. Part 2 (section B) is lines 3 and 4. Part 1 (section A) is lines 5-6.


Skills/Terms.
Whole Bow.
As we progressed through book 1, the pieces called for more and more bow. Now in Book 2, we are going to focus on playing notes, slurs, and hook bows with the whole bow. One of our goals with this piece is to play all the way to the end with the whole bow. This will take time so do not get discouraged if it does not happen in the first month of working on book 2.

Hook Bow.
We have played hook bow with staccato dots on top or underneath the notes in Minuet No. 1, Minuet No. 2, Minuet No. 3, Happy Farmer, and Gavotte in Book 1. Now we have the tenuto dashes, which indicate to sustain each note. This means that as you play these hook bows use half of the bow for each note.

Dotted-Quarter-Eighth-Note Slur.
In Book 1 we encountered this combination of notes in Happy Farmer but with a hook bow. It is easy to rush the dotted-quarter note, so we need to count carefully that it is held for 1.5 beats. And since the notes are slurred it is the left hand that will execute the rhythm, so we need to be firm and exact with our fingers.


Rallentando. 
This word, rallentando (rall.) pops up at the end of the song. Rall. conveys the same idea as ritardando, slow down. We can start slowing and broadening the note where the rall. is placed or even earlier in the line, it is a matter of artistic expression.

Strategies.
1. Practice the bow exercises with whole bow. 
2. Clap and say the note names to work on the rhythm. Make sure to take your time so that you can really become comfortable with the notes and rhythms.
3. Play all the slurs as hook bow, stopping between each note. This will help you make sure that each note gets enough bow. It's all about bow distribution here, we do not want to give too much of the bow to the first 2 notes.
4. Practice each line 3-4 times stopping between each note, slur or hook bow making sure you used the whole bow.
5. Practice the D2 (F#) at the end of the 3rd line getting to the A4 (E) and High 3 (D#) by stopping to prepare each note.
6. Play the last line and slow down in different spots at the end to learn flexibility to the rallentando. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bach's St. Matthew Passion


        Here is Bach's St. Matthew Passion with Philipp Herreweghe directing the Kölner Philharmonie and Coro y Orquesta del Collegium Vocale Gent.

If Bach is known as first, it would be that he dedicated most of his music to the Lutheran Church. Bach was born after the Protestant Reformation, but he felt the influence of Martin Luther throughout his life, since Bach was at Luther's church for part of his life. Martin Luther had a profound influence on Bach's views of music, since Luther composed songs for the church in the German language and it was Luther that translated the Bible in the German language.

The St. Matthew Passion, based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. This is not unusual as the church universal has celebrated the death of Jesus since its inception. The reason the church celebrates the death of Jesus is, of course, because it is through Jesus' personal and volitional sacrifice on the cross that the justice of God is satisfied. Thus, when a person puts their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it is His death that saves them from their sins to eternal life.

Bach undertook to compose this massive work in his time as the choirmaster to churches in Leipzig. The St. Matthew Passion was first heard in 1727 at the Good Friday afternoon service. The piece calls for two separate orchestras and choirs, which perform separately and together throughout the piece. One of the interesting aspects of the piece is that at certain points in the piece, Bach has moments of contemplation that is sung by soloists and the choirs.

Here is how David Gordon describes Bach's St. Matthew Passion: "The massive yet delicate work, with its multiple levels of theological and mystical symbolism, its powerful and dramatic biblical teachings, and its psychological insight, is one of the most challenging and ambitious musical compositions in the entire Western tradition."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Johann Sebastian Bach: A Passionate Life





     Every month, I talk with my private students about a composer in our lessons. One composer that I have put off until now has been J.S. Bach. He is such a great composer and has influenced my musical life. But this month I am going to introduce my students to Bach, especially since his music is all over the Suzuki books.

As part of my research on a composer I have started looking on Youtube for good biographies and I came upon this one. John Eliot Gardiner has already published a biography on Bach, "Bach-Music in the Castle of Heaven," so this documentary is very interesting.


I have enjoyed the background information on Bach and his family, the pictures of the countryside and all the great music along with it. Check out this great video!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rossini's Barber of Seville




I love outdoor performances. Here is the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada at the Sommernachtsgala Grafenegg in 2012. This is another piece that I am performing with the Louisville Philharmonia at our next concert. It is nice to see the up-close shots of the instrumentalists and the beautiful scenery of the countryside.

On the day after Christmas, December 26, 1813 Gioachino Rossini's opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) had its opening night and it was a fiasco. The opera is based on Beaumarchais’s play with the same title, which was already set as an opera a few times with a favorite already reigning for over 30 years. So, Rossini had originally titled the opera the title Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione, but everyone knew what he was doing and many were outraged that Rossini would directly compete with the favorite Paisiello version. But by it's second performance Rossini's version was already winning out; it is said that the crowd was coming after the performance to congratulate Rossini. It is said that it only took Rossini 13 days to compose the entire opera with the overture copied from two previous operas.