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Cradlesong - Fidelis Zitterbart, Jr.

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J, Mazas Violin Duet No. 4 - Full Piece Recording 

J. Mazas Violin Duet No. 4 - Andantino (Excerpt)

Composer: Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831)

 

Kreutzer is actually a name I'd heard before.  He has a pretty well known book of etudes for the violin that I use to play in my lessons.  I didn't realize he wrote other things, and was actually rather surprised that I couldn't find any recordings as he's not a completely obscured figure.  

 

He's probably best known for having a sonata written for him (sort of) by Beethoven.  Beethoven's sonata was originally written for another violinist named George Bridgetower, but the two had a drunken falling out after the premiere and Beethoven rededicated it to Kreutzer. Kreutzer never played it, allegedly because he hated it.

Kreutzer was born in France and became a pretty successful virtuoso soloist.  He taught at the Paris Conservatory and co-authored the conservatory's violin method.  Wikipedia tells me he conducted at the Paris Opera as well.  He wrote violin concertos, operas, etudes, and apparently some quartets.

Date: ?  Sometime between 1766 and 1831

 

Why this one:

.

I stumbled on this piece after recognizing Kreutzer's name while going through a list of imslp's string quartets. I was curious what Kreutzer's ouvre was like as I had only known of him through his teaching etudes.  This quartet, the first in a group of six, mainly piqued my interest because the second movement was a theme and variations movement which had a featured solo for all four instruments.  I hadn't played a theme and variations for this project and I was looking forward to the challenge of the cello and viola solos.  I was a little anxious about the cello solo in particular, as this was going to be more involved than cello parts I'd done previously.

And also I was (naively, it turns out) optimistic about the first movement, as Allegro Moderato isn't super fast in the grand scheme of things.

Description:  

 

Key:  D

Time: 4/4  BPM=100

The opening theme, in the key of D, is played in unison on all four instruments, and then the key modulates to A shortly afterwards. While in A for a good chunk of time, the piece flirts with E a little but to my ear doesn't quite stay there long enough to feel like a real key change. About halfway though the opening figure comes back, this time in A.

From 3:35-4:22 there's a cool section that modulates to a new key center before drifting back to A.  I cannot quite get my head wrapped around what the key actually switches to.  The underlying chords that sound right over this part are A, Bm, and F#, so maybe a VII-I-V progression in B minor?  (I wish I were better at this).  It's the most harmonically interesting section of the movement.  

The opening theme returns again towards the end, now back in D where the movement pretty much stays until the end.

Except for the recurring opening theme, the melodic material is primarily in the first violin with the second violin taking over occasionally. The viola and cello are mostly support here.

Performance:

The original score has a repeat just about halfway through and another at the end, so both halves of the piece were intended to be played twice.  I opted not to do this.

I definitely underestimated the difficulty of this movement when I was skimming the score during my prep work. On my first pass through, I (correctly) identified three sections of sixteenth note runs in the violin 1 part that I thought were going to be trouble. Two of those sections were also in the violin 2 part with slight variations. I started drilling those parts immediately and kept at it for more than two months, but still had to reduce the tempo. The left hand fingerings of two of the passages weren't too hard, but the string crossings with my picking hand were brutal. The third trouble spot had both tricky fingering and ugly cross-picking. You can probably tell which spots they are even on a cursory listen, but the passages with difficult picking are at 1:48 and 5:22 in violin 1 (left speaker) and 2:15 and 5:48 in violin 2 (right speaker). The passage with both difficult fretting and picking is at 4:24 in violin 1.

 

(For a deeper dive into what goes into learning one of these passages, check out this blog post)

Originally my plan was to record at 110 BPM, but I didn't think I was going to be able to get there, so I reduced to 105, then 103, and finally after plateauing and getting frustrated I dropped down to 100. That's probably a bit slow for this movement, but it was either that or scrap months of work. I suppose that's the hazard of playing pieces written by virtuosos: the parts for their primary instrument are really difficult.

 

I was barely hanging on when recording parts of this movement; hopefully it's not too blazingly obvious.

I recorded the second violin part first, followed by the viola, then the cello, then the first violin. 

 

I was overconfident to start with the second violin and if I had to do it over I definitely would not have. This was mostly a logistical decision; to try to be time efficient I recorded both violin 2 movements in the same session.  I had a good handle on the second movement  and I really wanted it recorded so I could practice the more difficult cello and viola parts.  The decision to record the entire piece one session forced me to play the much more difficult first movement earlier than was wise but I was eager to get started.

I should have just split the violin 2 in to two sessions and started with the Romance, and then I would have had more time to drill the Allegro Moderato. I also kind of had a poor playing day in general when I went in to do this part which was a killer when it was so close to my skill ceiling. 

After a rather difficult session on the violin 2 part, the next two sessions (viola then cello) went pretty smoothly.  There were only really two parts in the viola and cello that had tricky fingering, but both parts were mercifully brief.

 

The first violin session for this movement was absolutely brutal.  I didn't even bother trying to record both movements in the same session, wish was the right choice.  I had trouble with all the parts I thought I would.  It was frustrating, as I'd had a really good practice week.  But as I like to say, you get immediately 10% worse once the record button gets pressed.

I did learn from my experience with the Fodor quartet and paid really close attention to the timing of the drone sixteenth notes in the violin 2 and viola as I was laying them down.  I didn't have to go back and re-record anything.

Getting good dynamic contrast between loud and soft parts is still a struggle, but I'm starting to think that issue is baked into the way I have to record these and the limitations of both the instruments and the player.

 

Errata

 

I think I found two small errors in the score in the second violin part in variation 1 and variation 4 where an accidental at the beginning of a measure was not undone at the end.  (e.g. an E that was made into an E# at the start was not notated back to E natural later in the measure).   They definitely sounded off when I played them as written.

There's also a section in the second violin variation 4 that doesn't match the score because I didn't really understand how it was supposed to be played.   It's two measures where eighth notes on every beat are tied to a sixteenth note on the same beat with a sixteenth rest underneath the sixteenth note. 

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