Suzuki Violin Pieces in their Original Forms

(original source material for the Suzuki Violin School)

Introduction

The majority of the pieces collected in the ten volumes of the Suzuki Violin School are not originally composed for violin and piano.

If you count the sonata and concerto movements individually, there are 91 ‘pieces’ in total; and of these, only 10 were originally written for violin with piano accompaniment — and this includes the 5 Suzuki compositions from Volume 1. (The others, by the way, are the Becker Gavotte in Volume 3, the 3 Seitz concerto movements, and the Perpetual Motion by Carl Bohm in Volume 4.)

By this measure then, almost 90% of the series consists of transcriptions and arrangements — and I assume that most Suzuki students have only heard a few (if any) of these pieces in their original form, and also that many students may have never seen an original score.

This is unfortunate. A typical Book 2 student who dutifully listens to the violin and piano recordings (provided by the company), might still never experience the boisterous humor of the original Hunters’ Chorus from Der Freischütz, or the inspiring virtuosity of Paganini’s Le Streghe (the source of Witches’ Dance).

It may also come as a surprise to many students that 11 of the pieces were originally intended to be sung — and how many of us can even say what the Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus is really about? Unfortunately, the texts for many of these songs will be beyond the comprehension of most of the youngsters playing them (particularly The Two Grenadiers), but a good teacher could convey the gist of most of them.

Another advantage of listening to the originals is the exposure to baroque performance practice. And students who see the original manuscripts and early editions can learn to read the modern interpretive editions with a more critical eye. Perceptive students may be drawn to ask valuable questions:

Why is the soloist playing something different from what’s in the score? Can I add embellishments too? When and how?
Why is everything tuned flat?
Where is the harpsichordist getting all those notes from?
Why are there so few dynamics, articulations, etc. in the original score? Do I have to play it the way it’s written in my score?
Anyone wishing to know more about these issues might start with some of the following basic articles:


It should be mentioned at some point that many of the pieces in the Suzuki series are labeled too simply, with singular names such as Gavotte or Largo. Anyone who wishes to research the original sources is faced with a particular challenge. For example, how many of Rameau’s 30 or so operas must one sift through before finding the Book 6 Gavotte buried in Act III of the obscure 1745 opera Le temple de la gloire? Hopefully in future editions, the publishers will include better identification of the sources.

Also, several of the names that are listed as composers are simply incorrect. For example, most scholars now agree that at least two of the Minuets attributed to J. S. Bach in Volume 1 were not written by him. And the Lully Gavotte in Book 2 is actually a Rondeau by Marin Marais.

So, among other things, this resource is an attempt to rectify the above issues. The intent is to gather in one place enough information on the source material to be an effective research aid — a point of departure for further exploration.

With this in mind, I have tried to find scores for as many of these pieces as I could find, including early manuscripts and first editions. In the case of the Bach manuscripts, note that most of them were penned by Bach’s wife, Anna Magdalena, though of course they are still invaluable resources. The two manuscripts in the present collection that are known to be in Bach’s own hand are the A minor Concerto in Book 7 and the Largo in Book 8.

Naturally, some scores are harder to acquire than others, and there are a few that I have yet to obtain; so at least in this one area, this is still a work in progress.




For each piece, I have also tried to suggest a recording that represents as authentic an interpretation as possible. Obviously, whatever constitutes an authentic interpretation is (at least in part) a subjective matter, especially since most of this music is more than 200 years old. However, as a rule, I have favored recordings using period instruments (and period sensibilities) wherever possible, so... you will not find any Isaac Stern or Hilary Hahn here.

What you will find, however, is some marvellous baroque violin playing, complete with improvisatory flourishes and a lot less vibrato, played on instruments using plain gut strings, tuned a half-step or whole-step below what you may be used to. You will also hear harpsichords in the baroque keyboard pieces, and fortepianos in most of the pre-Brahms piano pieces (Schumann’s The Happy Farmer, Beethoven’s Minuet in G, and Schubert’s Lullaby).

In cases where multiple period-instrument recordings exist (as with the Handel sonatas, the Vivaldi concertos, and the Bach cello suites), I have tried to avoid recommending any one player too much, but I too have my favorites.

Lastly, in a few instances (the Gossec and Grétry operas, the Dittersdorf German Dance, and the Pugnani Largo espressivo), I was unable to find a single suitable recording, and so I left those entries blank.




I hope you find this resource helpful and informative.

Please send any questions or comments to:
research@markpolesky.com

You can enter the database here.