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The Lark Ascending

A type of Lark that has ascended up a tree.

Today is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day – the day the guns fell silent in World War 1. And I thought it fitting to look at this incredible piece of music by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending.

Temmick's Lark - a small brown bird with a light white belly and black patches across its face.
skřivan růžkatý (Eremophila bilopha, Temminck’s Lark), Jordánsko

The Lark Ascending was first composed in 1914 for violin and piano. However, due to the outbreak of the war, it was first performed in 1920. During this time, at the age of 42, Vaughan Williams volunteered for military service. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private, where he drove ambulance wagons in France and Greece. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1917, Vaughan Williams saw action in France from March 1918. Vaughan Williams brought home an emotional toll from the war. He lost many friends and comrades, including composer George Butterworth. Butterworth was shot by a sniper at the Battle of the Somme, buried on the battlefield, and his remains never recovered.

The Lark Ascending reworked

Vaughan Williams stopped writing music during the war years, and after the war took some time before he felt he was ready to write new works. It was in this time that he reworked some of his previously composed works, and the reworking of this piece for violin and orchestra is the result of this time. First performed in 1921, it is this version that is the more famous version.

First Performances

Marie Hall gave the first performance of The Lark Ascending. Vaughan Williams had written and dedicated the piece to Hall. She gave the premiere of the violin and piano version in December 1920, and again with the orchestral version on 14 June 1921 at Queen’s Hall, London with the British Symphony Orchestra. An early performance Holst’s The Planets dominated the program. Holst started writing the Planets in 1914, and its completion seemed to be affected by the war. Marilyn Cooley writing of the first movement, Mars, said “there’s a truly visceral sense of horror; what must have seemed like the end of the world to those who experienced The Great War.” At the time a music critic for The Times newspaper wrote that this performance

“stood apart from the rest as the only work in the programme which showed serene disregard of the fashions of to-day or of yesterday. It dreams its way along in “many links without a break, and though it never rises to the energy of the lines “He is the dance of children, thanks Of sowers, shout for primrose banks,” the music is that of the clean countryside, not of the sophisticated concert-room.”

Music Critic in The Times, 15 June 1921 (likely H.C. Colles).

The Planets contrasts the spectacle and the visceral horror with quiet introspection. In contrast, The Lark Ascending is tranquil, and promotes the hope of peace that was longed for after the war.

Sheet Music Editions: Oxford (preface by Michael Kennedy), Oxford Full Score, Oxford 1926 edition, Eulenburg Study Score.

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Wirrangintungiyil – Eric Avery

It’s NAIDOC week in Australia. During this week we celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as a vital and important part of Australian culture. There is a strong culture of music in Aboriginal culture. In their beliefs, they talk about songlines. These are the paths across the sky and sometimes the land that mark the route followed by creator-beings during the Dreaming. As such, it is unsurprising that there is a group of musicians who are breaching the gap between traditional Aboriginal music and Western Art Music. These artists use this new medium to share their stories and culture. Today, we are going to look at one of these such artists, Eric Avery.

Eric Avery – Indigenous Multi-disciplinary artist

people woman street motion
Photo by Travel Sourced on Pexels.com

Eric Avery is a Ngiyampaa, Yuin, Bandjalang and Gumbangirr artist. Firstly, in his formal training, he trained in Dance as the NASIDA Dance Academy. Then, he had a mentorship at The Australian Ballet. Finally, to round out his formal training he studied a Bachelor of Music at the Australian Institute of Music. As a result, He combines his skills on the violin to perform classical music and create new contemporary music. For example, His compositions express his Koori (NSW Aboriginal) heritage. He also works with his family’s custodial songs, reviving them and continuing the age-old legacy of singing in his tribe.

Today, I want to showcase two of Avery’s compositions. Firstly, there is a work entitled Galinga (water song). Galinga is an incredibly emotive piece. It incorporates Avery’s native tongue with traditional violin playing and looping textures. The resulting piece creates a rich tapestry that evokes a babbling brook.

Finally, In Wirrangintungiyil, Avery performs with his father on Didgeridoo. In it, Avery utilises a healing lullaby that he learned from recordings of the King Family. Avery talks about how utilising native languages has been transformative and healing for him in reclaiming his culture.

ABC Classic FM has a fantastic page highlighting a number of stories and performances around Indigenous performers and composers for NAIDOC week that is well worth checking out.

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Top Five Modern Violinists

Following up from yesterday’s post about the top five historical violinists, today we have the top five modern violinists. These are the violinists that if they come to do a concert in your town, you should do everything you can to get to see them. These are the ones that you should be watching and listening to for the best quality recordings of today. And these are the ones that I just prefer to listen to. Let’s get into it.

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Top Five Historical Violinists

There are many brilliant violinists around today, and tomorrow I will share with you my five favourite modern day violinists. But all of these violinists are built on the shoulders of the greats who came before them. The Romantic Period of Western art music (1830-1900) produced the greatest violin compositions. However, it is in the 20th Century that the best violin performances dominated. These giants still influence modern thought and stylistic interpretation. Today I want to share with you my five favourite Historical Violinists. And thanks to the wonderful world that is YouTube, we have live recordings and performances of all of them.

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Holy Song of Thanksgiving – Beethoven’s String Quartet number 15

In the spring of 1825, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, an Austrian violinist, was engaged to perform the premiere of Beethoven’s latest string quartet, written some 15 years after his last quartet which premiered in 1810. Schuppanzigh, with his quartet consisting of Karl Holz on second violin, Franz Weiss on viola and Nikolaus Kraft on cello, gave the first performance of this piece on 6 November 1825, and whilst reports said Beethoven was not pleased with the performance and blamed Schuppanzigh, the quartet would go on to perform the two other quartets that were commissioned by the Russian Count Nikolay Galitzin.

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The Last Night of the Proms

A number of years ago, I was planning the trip of a lifetime. I was going to fly to England, find a backpackers or something near Paddington. The goal would be to go to as many Proms concerts as I could. The Proms are something so uniquely Brittish, but even more so is the traditional Last Night of the Proms.

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Kuchler Concertino in G, Op. 11

German composer Ferdinand Küchler wrote this piece in 1934 and it became a staple in the beginner violin repertoire. Küchler was a renowned violin pedagogue, and his writings on teaching went on to shape violin pedagogy into the 1960s. Today we’re looking at the Kuchler Concertino in G, Op. 11.

The Kuchler Concertino is written in three movements. It was written to be performed in the first position. The first movement, Allegro Moderato, is written in sonata form, features an arpeggiated main theme, a tranqillo second theme, with some scalic passages and a repeated quaver development of the first theme. The second movement, Andante, in 3/4, is in an extended Ternary form (AABA). The final movement, entitled Rondo with a tempo marking of Allegro, is written in rondo form, and includes a number of beautifully crafted melodies.

Piece Details – Kuchler Concertino Op. 11

Graded repertoire

ABRSMTrinityAMEBSassmanshaus (ViolinMasterClass.com)SuzukiRCMLCM
Grade 1 (First movement)Grade 3 (First Movement)

Technical requirements

Keys: G major, C major

Time Signatures: C,3/4, 2/4

Notes used: A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
Range: G3-B5
Standard open strings are G3, D4, A4, E5.

Double stops: Simple (use at least one open string)Duple (no open strings)

Rhythmic range: Quavers to Dotted Minums

Key strokes

DetacheMarteleStaccatoLegatoSpiccato
SautilleRicochetString CrossingArtificial HarmonicsChords

Positions

FirstSecondThirdFourth
FifthSixthSeventhEighth
NinethTenthEleventhTwelfth and above

Sheet Music

Link to IMSLPBuy from AmazonEdition edited by Ben Clapton (includes optional fingering including third position).

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Rieding Concerto in B Minor

Rieding Concerto in B Minor, available at Amazon.

Composed by German Composer Oskar Rieding (1840-1918) and first published in 1909, this concertino which stays completely in first position has become a staple of the beginner violin repertoire. While it isn’t performed regularly, it is often the first concerto a student will learn. The Rieding Concerto in B Minor is an ideal piece for students to learn, and is included in a number of exam repertoire lists.

(Want something different? Something less common? Why not try Kuchler’s Concertino)

Piece Details – Rieding Concerto in B Minor

Graded repertoire

ABRSMTrinityAMEBSassmanshaus (ViolinMasterClass.com)SuzukiRCMLCM
Grade 3 (second movement)Grade 2 (First movement)Level 2Grade 4 (first or third movement)

Technical requirements

Keys: D major, G Major

Time Signatures: C, 6/8

The Notational and Rhythmic Range used in the Rieding Concerto in B Minor.
The notational and rhythmic range used in the Rieding Concerto in B Minor.

Notes used: A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
Range: G3-B5
Standard open strings are G3, D4, A4, E5.

Double stops: Simple (use at least one open string) Duple (no open strings)

Rhythmic range: Semiquavers to Minums.

Key strokes

DetacheMarteleStaccatoLegatoSpiccato
SautilleRicochetString CrossingArtificial HarmonicsChords

Positions

FirstSecondThirdFourth
FifthSixthSeventhEighth
NinethTenthEleventhTwelfth and above

Sheet Music

Link to IMSLPHenle Verlag Urtext edition (Amazon) – Link to edited copy (Coming soon!).

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Why shouldn’t I buy my violin from gumtree?

So your child is starting to learn the violin, and you need to get a violin. You look at the music shop prices, and balk – surely it doesn’t cost that much for a violin! So you look to get a violin from Gumtree, or Craigslist. Ahh, much better. How can there be such a big difference – does it really matter?

Is this a well crafted violin, or a violin shaped object. How can you tell a violin from Gumtree is good quality?
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

There’s lots of different things that go into a beginner violin, and when you buy a violin from Gumtree or Craigslist, there’s no guarantee that you’re getting all of them, and no guarantee that you’re getting a violin that is in playable condition. So let me, an experienced violinist and music teacher, run you through the various parts, and why you shouldn’t buy a second-hand violin from gumtree or an unknown source.

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