Archive for the ‘Monday’ Category

My First Beethoven Quartet by Bailey Firszt

If you study with Ivo, he’ll tell you at least once (but probably about ten times) that playing the Beethoven quartets was what he lived for as a quartet violist. After hearing him praise these quartets for the last four and a half years, I knew I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. My quartet-mates and I decided to study Beethoven’s opus 74 quartet, nicknamed the “Harp.” From the very beginning of the piece, Beethoven draws the listener in with the most organic music imaginable:


The beginning is especially scary, because the quartet has to strive for a perfectly blended, sotto voce sound, but not be too scared to start playing! Another challenge that we encountered in this opening was bringing out the rhetoric in the musical lines. Beethoven writes two statements of the same motive but resolves them with different harmonies underneath the first violin part. How do we make the first iteration sound like a question, but without giving away the mystery or darkness of the second? The entire Adagio is like a speech, filled with dramatic pauses and questions left hanging in the air. I love that it doesn’t gain any momentum until the very last measure, when Beethoven finally writes a crescendo, and the piece can really start!


 At last!

The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo, is really just a set of variations on a beautiful melody. My favorite “variation” starts in measure 87, the most intimate music of the movement. The viola part is made up of several measures of slurred thirty-second notes, which have to be completely smooth without sacrificing expression.


After very tastefully lengthening the beginning of every single beat (oops), I eventually settled on playing it basically straight while vibrating the important notes.

In the third movement, Presto, you have to be careful not to blink, or the music might pass you by. I really had to concentrate when we performed this movement, otherwise I would forget to come in! We found it beneficial to drill large sections several times to make sure it never fell apart. Since the movement goes by so quickly, it’s important to play it enough that you can take a step back and see the bigger musical picture as you’re performing, rather than simply trying to keep up with the tempo.


 Are we in 2? Or 3? What’s going on?

The end of the agitated Presto transforms into a lovely Allegretto con Variazioni.




This movement is especially tricky, because it’s in 2/4, but beat 2 sounds like the downbeat rather than the pickup. We struggled with whether to bring out this ambiguity or to just play it emphasizing the “wrong” beat. I don’t think we ever reached a consensus . . . nor did we ever figure out why in the world Beethoven did that! One of the movement’s variations is a viola solo made up of flowing, winding triplets. The biggest challenge I had to overcome with that variation was phrasing the melody without making it sound “seasick,” as one of my quartet-mates lovingly called it. (That, and my fear of the spotlight!)


The movement’s coda is a thrilling sixteenth-note passage that ends, instead of forte as you expect, with two piano chords. After leading us through four joyous movements, Beethoven ends the piece with a clever joke. I think I heard my dad laugh out loud at the end of our performance!


My first encounter with a Beethoven quartet was both thrilling and unsatisfying. One semester and one performance were not enough for this brilliant piece of music, but hopefully I’ll continue to play Beethoven’s quartets for the rest of my life.

Camden Shaw

Introducing Camden Shaw

0414a Camden Shaw

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I was at the Shepherd School for two years in the string quartet program with the Dover Quartet.

Why did you choose to play cello?

I started playing cello when I was six, because my parents wanted to play string quartets as a family—being born last, I had no choice which instrument to play. My first cello had to be re-varnished, because I cried on it so much while practicing—but once I grew to love the cello, I never looked back!

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

Some of my major teachers were Peter Wiley at the Curtis Institute, Steven Isserlis at IMS Prussia Cove, and Norman Fischer at Rice University’s Shepherd School.

What or who are your most important musical influences?

The quartet studied with Norman Fischer, James Dunham, and Kenneth Goldsmith, and they shaped the way that we rehearse and experience music tremendously. More than that, they had so much insight into the life of a quartet musician in ways that we’re just now discovering, and their mentorship was absolutely invaluable.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

What I especially loved about the Shepherd School was the attitude of the students; so many music students in the world end up being resentful of the opportunities afforded them—orchestra, coachings, lessons—out of a desire to stay alone and practice their concertos. Not at Shepherd. Everyone was excited about everything!  Orchestra was something to look forward to. People attended each other’s recitals—and not out of obligation, but out of support. The practice rooms were always full with people getting better, and loving the process. It’s a wonderful place!

What was one of your best musical experiences?

My most powerful musical experience was performing Beethoven’s string quartet opus 131—the only page turn that was impossible was the last page of the piece, so for the whole performance I saw the very last page waiting there on the stand.  Something about that really stuck with me—about being somehow aware of the end, through our whole journey—it seemed to match so perfectly with the piece and with Beethoven grappling with the idea of the ultimate end. By the time we were playing the last page, I was almost in tears onstage. What great music!

Lillian Fuchs

Lillian Fuchs, 1902–1995

0407a Lillian_Fuchs

Where was she educated?

She studied with Louis Svecenski and Franz Kneisel at the New York Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School)

How did she come to the viola?

She began playing viola to join the Perole String Quartet

Where did she work as a professional musician?

She played with the Perole String Quartet until the mid-1940s, and later she was a viola soloist and performed in Europe and the United states. She also performed regularly with her two brothers, Harry Fuchs (cello) and Joseph Fuchs (violin). In 1962 she started teaching at the Manhattan School of Music; in 1971, at the Juilliard School; and in the 1980s, at Mannes College of Music.

Notable compositions?

Works for unaccompanied viola: Fifteen Characteristic Studies (1965), Twelve Caprices (1950), Sixteen Fantasy Études (1961), and Sonata Pastorale (1956)

Interesting facts:

Lillian Fuchs began her musical studies as a pianist before switching to violin.

Geraldine Walther, Lawrence Dutton, Yizhak Schotten, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zuckerman, and Dorothy DeLay are a few of her many students.

She played on a Gasparo da Salò (1540–1609) and always used a gut “A” string because she considered it sacrilege to use anything else on such an old instrument.

First violist to record all six Bach suites on viola.

Links to recordings  

Prelude to the sixth Bach suite, performed by Lillian Fuchs


Sarabande to Bach’s 3rd suite, performed by Lillian Fuchs


Mozart Duo No. 2, KV 424, performed by Joseph and Lillian Fuchs


Martinu Madrigals, (composed for the siblings), Joseph and Lillian Fuchs






Frank Bridge

Frank Bridge (1879–1941)

0331a Bridge to use

What was the focus of his career?

He was a violinist but also a gifted violist. He played in multiple string quartets, notably the Joachim Quartet and English String Quartet. He was also a conductor before he started composing. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, an American pianist, was one of his important patrons.

What were the highlights of his career?

Aside from his string-quartet career, he was also appointed assistant to Sir Thomas Beecham at the New Symphony Orchestra, and he occasionally substituted for Sir Henry Wood as a conductor at Queen’s Hall.

What were his influences/where did he go to school?

He went to the Royal College of Music, studying violin and composition. He was later awarded a scholarship to study composition with Charles Villiers Stanford.

Being a pacifist, he was traumatized by WWI. His composition style changed at that point—having more dissonance and darkness.

Works written for him?

Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937) by Benjamin Britten, based on Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet (1906)

Did he have any notable students?

Benjamin Britten was his most well known student. Britten was eleven when he studied with him, and had much affection for his teacher.

What was his family life like?

When Bridge was six, his father started teaching him violin. Later he played in and arranged music for his father’s theater orchestra.

Three Idylls for String Quartet was dedicated to Ethel Elmore Sinclair, an Australian violinist who sat next to Bridge in the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra. Later he and Ethel got married.

Fun fact

Bridge’s father, William Henry Bridge, had three wives and twelve children. Frank Bridge was the first born of the third wife, ranked tenth in the family.

Casimir Ney (Louis-Casimir Escoffier)

Birth: 1801
Death: 1877


Where was he born?

Arras, Northern France

Where did he work as a professional musician?

Casimir Ney mostly played in string quartets, including the Quatour Alard-Chevillardand Société Alard et Franchomme.

He was known as a performer, and the small amount of records available indicate that he was a very prominent musician in the musical cultural scene of Paris in the nineteenth century

Notable compositions?

24 Préludes pour l’alto viola dans les 24 tons de la gamme, composés et dédiés aux artistes (24 Preludes in All Keys for Viola, Composed for and Dedicated to Artists), Op. 22 (published c.1849–1853)

These 24 “preludes” were the most difficult viola works ever published up to the time and considered by many to be nearly impossible to play

Interesting facts:

He was known by his pseudonym Casimir Ney or L. Casimir-Ney

Casimir Ney was an exceptional violist during this era, because he devoted most of his time to viola, whereas his contemporaries spent their time evenly between both violin and viola

Very little was known about Casimir Ney until his 1877 obituary resurfaced, and it is as follows:

“An artist who has held a most honorable place in the music world of Paris, Louis-Casimir Escoffier, known as Casimir Ney, died at Arras, February 3, in his seventy-sixth year. Casimir Ney was known for his remarkable talent on the viola; for many years he was a member of some of our best quartets, and even presented periodic chamber music concerts in his home, which were always excellent”

Sheet music




Prelude No. 1 in C Major


Prelude No. 20



Rebecca Clarke

0317.2a Rebecca Clarke photo 

Rebecca Clarke was an Anglo-American violist and composer who lived from August 27, 1886 to October 13, 1979.

What was the focus of her career?

Rebecca Clarke had a career as a composer and also had an extensive solo, chamber, and orchestral career as a violist.

What were the highlights of her career?

In 1912 Rebecca Clarke became one of the first female professional orchestral musicians when she was selected to play in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

In 1919 Rebecca Clarke’ Viola Sonata tied for first place with Ernest Bloch (out of 72 composers), in a competition sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. During the competition, many judges had thought that Ravel was the composer behind her sonata. With six judges deadlocked, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge later broke the tie and declared Ernest Bloch the winner of the competition.

What were her influences/where did she go to school?

Rebecca Clarke studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music (1903–1905) but withdrew after her harmony teacher, Percy Miles, proposed to her. Her father objected to her composing music but eventually still submitted some of her works to composer Charles Villiers Stanford. She became one of Stanford’s first female students when he accepted her to study with him at the Royal College of Music (1907–1910). During that time, she also switched from violin to viola and studied with Lionel Tertis.

What viola did she play on?

Rebecca Clarke was the owner of a Stradivarius violin that she received from Percy Miles (her old harmony teacher that proposed to her) from his will. She later played a Grancino viola, made c. 1675.

What was her family life like?

Rebecca Clarke met James Friskin (a composer and pianist) when they were students at the Royal College of Music. They were reacquainted by chance in Manhattan in 1944 and got married that September when both were in their late fifties.

Did she have any hobbies outside of music?

She enjoyed spending time with her family.

Fun facts

•Rebecca Clarke’s father used to make her copy scores out by hand when she was a child.

•Apart from composing and performing, Rebecca Clarke also worked as a nanny when she was in the US.

•She founded the English Ensemble—an all female chamber group.

Paul Hindemith

0317.1a photo Paul Hindemith

Paul Hindemith (November 16, 1895–December 28, 1963) was a German composer, violinist, violist, teacher, and conductor. He was born in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main, and was later moved to Switzerland during the Nazi period partly because his wife was part Jewish. He later moved to the US in 1940 and taught at Yale University. He became an American citizen in 1946, but moved back to Zurich in 1953.

What was the focus of his career?

He was an active composer, violinist, violist, teacher, and a conductor.

What were the highlights of his career?

Hindemith was the leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1914, founded the Amar Quartet in 1921, was appointed professor at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. He was also a viola soloist; he played the solo part in the premiere of William Walton‘s Viola Concerto in 1929 after Lionel Tertis rejected it, as well as performing many of his own works. During the 1930s, he reorganized Turkish music education and established the Turkish State Opera and Ballet.

What were his influences/where did he go to school?

Hindemith’s compositions were heavily influenced by his close friend, Erich Katz.

Hindemith started taking violin lessons with Eugen Reinhardt in 1902 and continued under Anna Hegner in 1907. It was Hegner who made it possible for Hindemith to study violin with Adolf Rebner. He also studied conducting and composition with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernhard Sekles at Frankfurt’s Hoch’sche Konservatorium,

Works written for him?

Milhaud composed his first viola concerto for Hindemith.

Did he have any notable students?

When he taught at Yale University, his notable students included Lukas FossGraham GeorgeNorman Dello JoioMel Powell,Yehudi WynerHarold ShaperoHans OtteRuth Schonthal, and the Oscar-winning film director George Roy Hill.

What was his family life like?

Paul Hindemith married Gertrud Rottenberg (1900–1967) on May 15, 1924, who was the daughter of Ludwig Rottenberg, the first Kapellmeister of the opera-house orchestra in Frankfurt.

Paul Hindemith had a younger sister named Toni and a younger brother named Rudolf, and they performed together as the “Frankfurt Children’s Trio” in 1910.

Fun fact

The Nazi party did not like Hindemith as a composer, because he was associated with Jewish musicians.

Introducing Stephanie Mientka

Stephanie Mientka

Where are you from?

It’s actually a difficult question for me! I was born in Germany, but my parents are U.S. citizens, and we moved back to the states when I was three years old. The place I call home is Colorado, because that’s where I spent the majority of my life, in several different cities, from age five to twenty-one.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

Yes, I’m currently finishing up my final semester of my master’s in Music Performance.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Well, if you think I’m going to say it’s because I really loved the deep, beautiful sound quality of the viola, unfortunately you will be disappointed. It was much simpler than that. Since I grew up in small towns, there really weren’t that many private string teachers. I tried violin for a while, but it just wasn’t working for me. (I really wanted to play the harp, but sadly the nearest harp teacher was 250 miles away) So oddly enough, the teacher I felt the best with in town was a violist, so I switched in order to study with her. Of course since then I’ve come to realize viola was probably the only instrument for me after all, as much as I wished I could have been a harpist.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

In high school I studied with Michelle Berry in my hometown: Grand Junction, Colorado. For undergrad I studied at CU Boulder with Erika Eckert and Geraldine Walther. I currently study with Prof. Ivo-Jan van der Werff at the Shepherd School of Music.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

There is so much good viola repertoire that it’s very difficult for me to pick only a few, but what comes to mind are shorter viola works, such as the Vaughn Williams Romance, Stravinsky Elegy, and the Penderecki Cadenza. I recently had the opportunity to perform the Martinu Three Madrigals for Viola and Violin, which I also really enjoyed learning.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

A difficult question in a way, because I believe that in the current job market for classical musicians the most important thing is to be flexible and willing to do just about anything related to music. However, ideally I would like to be playing in some sort of ensemble or orchestra, and hopefully teaching some as well. I have always loved chamber music, and since coming to Rice have also developed a great love for orchestra. I see one or both of these in my future plans.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

I came to Rice as a master’s student, and after two years at the Shepherd School I do not regret at all my decision to come here. It has been a wonderful environment as a master’s student. I have really enjoyed working with my teacher, Ivo van der Werff, in particular. His technique book was really perfect for me, and I would recommend it for anyone who is looking to expand on his or her technique, at any level.

Also, it’s impossible not to mention the wonderful orchestral program at Rice. The Shepherd School orchestras have an amazingly high standard of playing, and the atmosphere within the orchestra is very positive and committed. I can only hope that I will have the same experience again in the future! Also I’ve had a wonderful experience with the weekly orchestral repertoire class, taught by Houston Symphony’s Associate Principal violist, Joan DerHovsepian.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

I was at a summer festival, and we were rehearsing for our first concert, on which we were playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. There were many international students who had traveled far to attend the festival, and that first week was rough for them because of the jet-lag. There was one violist who was particularly sleepy, and this violist was falling asleep not only during the rehearsal, but while we were playing . . . an incredible feat in itself, but during Rite of Spring? Incredible.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

As stated earlier, the harp! How sad that my dreams were never fulfilled, but viola is okay, I guess;-)

Introduction to Lionel Tertis (1876 – 1975)

tertis cropped

What was the focus of his career?

Tertis was a soloist and chamber musician, and then he devoted his life to teaching. He was considered the first great viola virtuoso and was committed to raising the standard of playing for violists.

What were the highlights of his career?

Tertis began his career as a violinist, but he was convinced to switch to viola when studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He toured the United States and Europe as a soloist and founded the Chamber Music Players. Tertis also created his own viola, an instrument with the acoustical advantages of a larger instrument in a smaller size.

What were his influences/where did he go to school?

Oskar Nedbal mentored Tertis when he chose to take up the viola at the Royal Academy of Music, but Tertis was largely self-taught on the instrument.

Works written for him:

Vaughan Williams’s Flos Campi, Benjamin Dale’s Suite, Gustav Holst’s Lyric Movement, Arnold Bax’s Sonata and Legend, York Bowen’s sonatas, and William Walton’s Concerto, among others.

Did he have any notable students? 

Rebecca Clarke

What viola did he play on?

1717 Montagnana (17 1/8”) before he made his own model

What hobbies did he have outside of music?

Well, outside of performing and teaching, Tertis wrote and arranged several pieces of music for viola, such as the Elgar Cello Concerto.

Fun facts:

Tertis was born on the same day as his friend and renowned cellist Pablo Casals. In 1950, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Alessandro Rolla

(April 22, 1757–September 15, 1841)


Alessandro Rolla by Luigi Rados

Where was he born?

Pavia, Italy

Where was he educated?

In Milan at the Milan Cathedral


Who was his primary teacher?

Giovanni Andrea Fioroni, Maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral

How did he come to the viola?

Rolla made his debut viola performance in 1772 at the age of 15 playing one of his own concerti, and it was said that this performance was “the first viola concerto ever heard.” Of course, this is not entirely true, but viola concerti were rarely, if ever, played during this period. So Rolla may have been one of the first to introduce the viola as a solo instrument.

Where did he work as a professional musician?

In 1782 he was appointed principal viola of the Ducale Orchestra in Parma, where he played both violin and viola. Rolla was then in 1802 appointed orchestra director or “Primo violino, Capo d’orchestra” of La Scala Orchestra in Milan, where he remained for over 30 years. In 1808 he joined the faculty of the Conservatoire of Music in Milan as the violin/viola professor.

Rolla was considered one of the great virtuoso violinists of his time, but he obviously also had a great love for the viola due to the immense amount of music that he wrote for the instrument.

Interesting facts:

Rolla is most famous for being the teacher of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, however his contributions to the viola repertoire and development of technique enormously helped to promote the viola as a prominent solo instrument.

Rolla died at the ripe old age of 84, at which time he was still an active performer and composer. During his lifetime Rolla published around 500 compositions, many of which were for the viola. He wrote at least 13 concerti for the viola alone!!

Rolla was born only 15 months after Mozart but died 14 years after Beethoven’s death, which means his lifetime spanned many important changes in classical music, although Rolla’s compositions remained in the classical style throughout his long life.

Links to recordings

Rolla Viola Sonata:


Links to sheet music

IMSLP complete works:


Complete works for solo viola:


All information retrieved from the following websites:



A note from Prof. Ivo-Jan van der Werff:

Alessandro Rolla wrote many wonderful pieces for the viola, including a number of études and étude duos. My personal feeling is that Rolla should be a greater part of the violist’s repertoire. His études are supremely well written for the viola by a player who was primarily a violist, so the required techniques do work. They can be very difficult, often utilizing double stops and advanced bow techniques, but the nice thing about his études is that they are always musical and melodic. It is nice to have the variety of études—from the purely technical, such as Ševčík and Schradieck, moving through Kreutzer to the more “musical” Campagnoli and finally, Rolla. His music offers an excellent training in late classical techniques that lend themselves so well to the Romantic music that was really emerging in his final years. Also, any violist wanting to tackle Paganini might be advised to try Rolla first!