Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A String Orchestra Transcription of Beethoven's Charming Sonatine WoO 44a

Beethoven wrote this charming piece for mandolin and harpsichord in 1795 for Countess Josephine Clary, a mandolin-playing amateur singer (and a possible love interest). Two years later Clary married Kristian Krystof von Clam und Gallas, and she became the Countess of Clam-Gallas.

You can get the music for this most charming of pieces on this page of the IMSLP. You can also listen here.

This is from Beethoven's early years in Vienna, and for anyone wondering, WoO means "without opus." Here's a link to a list of the pieces that Beethoven wrote. All the pieces with WoO numbers are from before his Opus 1 or were not published during his lifetime.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Accidental Musical Detective Work

Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1762. The piece below (in the picture above) is from the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," which is the part of the opera that most people recognize. Haydn's Opus 9 Quartets were published in 1769. I'm not a betting woman, but I would bet that Haydn attended that 1762 production, and a lovely four-measure-long musical gesture from the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" followed him out of the theater and found a home in the Adagio of this lovely, little-known quartet.

Why do I know this piece? I have the honor and privilege of having a long-term project that involves reading through all the Haydn quartets (in order) with a willing set of amateurs (and one former professional) at a local elder care facility where the former professional lives. I get to step out of my comfort zone and play first violin, which, in the case of this quartet, number 14 (of 83 Haydn quartets), was a real challenge.

We played Opus 9, No. 2 this evening, and it was a wonderful experience. So far it's everyone's favorite.

Practicing Long Tones

I have been spending time with Allesandro Casorti's The Techniques of Bowing, and found myself amused and amazed by this page:

44 minutes is a long time to spend practicing long tones. I imagine that you could spend the time meditatively counting breaths, or reading, or thinking about just about anything besides your bow stroke. So I began experimenting, and recorded the results in this video. Don't worry. It's short. But I could easily imagine doing this for 44 minutes.

The Casorti book, from 1909, is full of excellent bowing exercises. They are sort of mindless, but then again the idea of bowing exercises is not to engage the mind but to train the muscles of the fingers and hands to become efficient.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Looking at My Mother's Art This Mother's Day

I'm remembering my mother this Mother's Day by looking at and sharing her art. This painting from 1988 is of our daughter Rachel playing in the sand in Chicago's Bixler Playlot. The Bixler Playlot, a hot-spot for tots on 57th Street, is in the same general neighborhood where my mother grew up.

You can see more of her work here and here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Violin and Viola Playing and the Crossed-Hand Illusion

In the process of learning to play our instruments, violinists and violists develop odd relationships between our visual and aural sensations. I remind my students that they are developing eyes that hear and ears that see. But it goes beyond that, because the mind's eye becomes intimately involved with the physical act of playing while our actual eyes are busy looking at music. When a violinist or violist looks at his or her left hand, the second finger is hard to see because it is physically obscured by the third finger. This obscuring of the more distant finger happens in our mind's eye as well, so we need to give a bit of extra thought to the act of moving the less-visible finger.

I was working on a double-stop passage with a student today, and she mentioned that she had a lot of trouble moving her second finger because it was so difficult to either see it or visualize it. This brought the "Crossed-Hand Illusion” to mind.

When the hands are crossed in this way, it is very difficult to move any given finger if someone points to it (without touching it). It certainly can be done, but it requires a great deal of additional thought. And it never becomes second nature. You can get better at it though, because with practice you get in the habit of thinking faster when it becomes necessary.

You can see a cute kid-made video demonstrating the crossed-hand illusion here.

After demonstrating the crossed-hand illusion to my student, I noticed that if I dropped my right hand and kept my left hand up in this crossed position, my left hand and arm were exactly in the position I use to hold my instrument.

When playing the violin or the viola the left arm crosses the midpoint of the body, creating the same possibility of finger confusion that happens when playing the cross-hand game. It is unique to violin and viola playing. It doesn't happen with other instrument!

I used to show this game to my beginning students all the time. I would use it as a way to explain that control of the fingers requires thought. I never once considered the direct physical connection with violin and viola position.

I found a bunch of articles about left and right brain stuff, and how crossing of the hands is cognitively beneficial. Here's a very technical one (that I don't pretend do understand). Here's an article about how important it is for brain integration to practice activities that cross the body's midline.

I played the crossed-hand game with my next student at the beginning of her lesson. I then asked her to drop her right hand, leaving her left hand "crossed." Her response was an immediate and decided "whoa!"

Sunday, May 06, 2018


I spend a lot of time playing consort music, so once in a while I like to express my (sometimes retro) musical ideas in the form of a viol consort. Through the magic of investable counterpoint, this pastiche has two viol-consort-like settings:

You can listen to the above version here.

You can listen to the five-viola version here.

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP.