Virtuoso Music

Virtuoso Music

Many songs and pieces of music have been written for the piano and violin over the years, some featuring beautiful slow sounds, while others display some of the technique the instrument can perform. Todays blog will focus on some of the amazing, fast and technically demanding songs written for violin, piano and also orchestra. 

Niccolo Paganini

Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840), was one of the most influential composers for violin ever. His music is not only wonderful and well written, but also incredibly difficult, and requires an excellent technique to play and perform. As a young child, we was forced to play and practice for 12 to 14 hours a day by his father, who saw an amazing talent in his boy. Niccolò’s father was so bent on his son becoming amazing, that when he was 11 years old, he deceived him into thinking he was only 9, trying to make him sound even more amazing to the public! Regardless of all this, Niccolò did become an amazing player, and composed hundreds of songs for the violin and orchestra.

One of the pieces he wrote was a study for the violin, titled Caprice no. 24 in A minor, composed around 1807. This is perhaps one of the best pieces for showing just how brilliant the violin can play, and is commonly known as the most difficult piece for violin. The performance below was by violinist Augustin Hadelich, who, although still young, is one of the great violin performers of our day.

Take a look!

  • How many variations can you count?
  • Can you find the place where he is playing two notes at once?
  • Listen for the bow playing and finger plucking the string section.
  • Did you notice any reactions from the orchestra members behind him?

Watching a musician like this gives me one of two reactions: either, Wow, I want to try and play like this! Or, let me throw my instrument out now! Hopefully it gave you the former.

Paganini has influenced many music writers, especially violinists and pianists. Franz Liszt was amongst those influenced, who went on to write a version of this piece for the piano

Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt, one of the most technically brilliant pianists of the 17th century, was born in Hungary in 1811. He is known for writing some of the most difficult and demanding music for piano ever. Those who have attempted to learn one of Liszts compositions are quick to state that they are some of the most difficult ever learned. 

Franz began composing music at the young age of 8, and made his first appearances in concert at 9. Unlike many other composers, Liszt lived in good health, and spent much of his time composing, performing and teaching, which he did free of charge.

Much of Liszts music was very improvisatory in nature (played by ear, or without music). This was how he composed, and it can be heard in the many pieces written for piano over his lifetime.

Liszt was so impressed with violinist Paganinis Caprice no. 24 (video above), that he decided to write his own set of variations on this tune. He wrote the piece with the simple title of Etude no. 6, featuring a set of variations of different feel and style, as well as displaying a wide range of technical challenges. It was written originally in 1838, but was revised by Liszt in 1851 to what it is today.

Josh Wright gives this amazing studio performance. The camera work gives a great opportunity to see some of the playing and all of the scale runs up and down the piano. You’ll notice the similarity between this piece and the original written for violin by Paganini.

Take a look!

  • Notice how relaxed Josh is during this piece. His body, arms and wrists are tension free, allowing him to play with clarity and evenness.
  • How many variations can you count?
  • Notice some of the different challenges in the different variations. Some are faster, some are slower, and all require different things from the pianist.
  • Can you hear the Theme (main tune) in all of the variations?

And just as a little bit of fun, here is an orchestral piece of music, called Dance of the Comedians, which was written by Bedrich Smetana. This is a terrific song, displaying all of the instruments in the orchestra playing quite difficult music together. How good is the sound of an orchestra!

Take a look!

  • How many of the instruments can you name?
  • Can you imagine comedians dancing around to this music?
  • Notice how the tune gets passed around to different instruments, from the violin to the trumpet to the clarinet!

We’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this! If you enjoyed this blog, please feel free to comment below!

Until next time,

Jacob Evans
Evans Music School

3 thoughts on “Virtuoso Music

  1. Catherine says:

    Fabulous to watch and listen to. How many hours they must have practice – I am in awe!

    1. Jacob Evans says:

      Definitely! I find it very inspirational to see playing of this level – it usually makes me head back to my instrument for more practice!

      1. Louise Evans says:

        Absolutely fabulous, it’d be a HUGE honour and experience to hear this in person, be in the audience. Thanks for posting Jacob.


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