Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Arpeggione

Yesterday I started work on the 1st movement of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata. It's the top-level audition piece in the Suzuki viola teacher training system. For a few years I've been thinking I ought to document and formalize my Suzuki teacher training, and I got it into my head that I ought to do a video audition of the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto. I did a few trial video runs on my own over the past year or two and was fairly happy, but kept thinking I'd like to polish the last few glitches out and do a better job. It never really crystallized. Timing was the issue. I don't actually play violin a whole lot any more; in ensembles I'm usually a violist. So I kept trying to find a month or two where I could really focus on violin and notch the Mozart up that last little bit to the standard I was aspiring to. It didn't happen.

So then, a month or two ago, I thought to myself "I should do the audition on viola." This made perfect sense except for a few little details. First, I've never formally studied viola. It's similar to violin, so I just kind of learned the alto clef and picked the instrument up on my own -- I've never had a lesson. Second, I don't know the repertoire. The Arpeggione Sonata is a case in point. I'd heard this in its cello arrangement, but I'd never even heard it on viola, let alone played it. Thirdly, I've played almost no solo repertoire on viola. It's very different playing the middle harmonies in a string quartet or orchestra than playing a concerto or sonata solo line. I'm honestly not sure I'm up to the challenge. I know I could pass the violin audition, but I'm a little, er, untested in the viola solo department.

But I ordered the music, and found myself an iTunes recording. And yesterday I set to work. I puzzled over some of the octave leaps in my edition of the sheet music. They didn't match what was in the recording. I checked the cello score -- and that didn't match either version. So then I went onto the internet to try to figure out what was happening with these various edits.

That was when I got reminded of what I had once known but long forgotten. "Arpeggione" is not the name or description of the sonata. The arpeggione was an instrument -- fretted and tuned like a guitar, but played much like a cello. It was invented during Schubert's time, but just didn't quite make the grade. It was essentially extinct within about 10 years. Schubert's gorgeous sonata was one of the few works of any importance written for it. So the strange edits and odd octave leaps are the result of transcribing the work from an instrument with a wide range and six strings onto one with a smaller range and only four strings.

I love this piece. I've made some decisions about where to jump octaves, and where to head up up up into the rafters of 10th position, and I love how it's starting to sound. I've spoken to my pianist friend about playing the accompaniment. Erin could easily handle the accompaniment, but I think J. would be more eager to undertake this as a project; Erin has copious ensemble and performance opportunities and would likely take it on as an obligation, rather than an opportunity.

This feels like the first time in a long time that I've set aside significant time to do something that's just for me. I love practicing this piece, and I am enjoying working towards the goal of performing it (probably on recital next season, as well as for the Suzuki teacher training video audition). Just for me. Ha!

Maybe that was what triggered my rant last night ... that while the rest of my family had done pretty much exactly what they wanted all day, I had been unable to carve out the little bit of time I wanted to practice my beloved Arpeggione Sonata. I got a good couple of hours in today, by way of payback. I've almost got it memorized, at which point I can start really polishing.


  1. Anonymous11:11 am

    Great summer project! We love Yuri Bashmet's recording of the Arpeggione. BTW, a couple of weeks ago I played Brahms 6tets with a B.C. violinist/violist who's had Suzuki teacher training from your mom.


  2. Deborah, thanks for the recommendation. I'll order a copy of that disc for sure.


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.