Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sarasate - Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) For Violin And Orchestra

A few years ago I purchased an inexpensive violin with the intent of learning to play it. Not expecting any kind of virtuosity, I thought I could learn enough to perhaps play in an amateur string quartet or something like that. I knew it would take time and be a lot of work, but I've been playing the piano for a long time and figured a different instrument would be a good change of pace.  The sounds that I produced would be accompanied by caterwauling from the stray cats in the neighborhood,  my fingers ached from pushing on the strings, my arm just didn't work very well as I tried to play on one string at a time.  While I'm not a quitter by any means, common sense told me I was not cut out to play the violin. But all was not lost. The violin hangs above my piano, next to a copy of a Renoir painting. It looks very nice there, and except taking it down for an occasional dusting, there it shall stay.

But there was also an added bonus from my attempts to play the fiddle. I can really appreciate how difficult it is to play the instrument after trying (in vain) to coax out more than a squawk from it myself. When I hear a piece like the Sarasate Gypsy Airs played by a virtuoso (and no one other than a virtuoso could come close to doing it justice) I marvel at the agility, reflexes, musical ear, talent and hard work that is required.

Sarasate was one of the top violin virtuosos of his time, and composed his Gypsy Airs in 1878 and premiered the piece the same year.   It is based on the music of the Roma, or Gypsy people. Many composers wrote pieces based on this type of music including Liszt, Brahms and Dvořák.

Zigeunerweisen is in one movement, and consists of two dance melodies preceded by an introduction. There are four tempo changes in the piece:
I.  Moderato - A dramatic, slow introduction begins with the orchestra with the violin entering. The violin restates the opening, with virtuosic flourishes.
II. Lento - The first theme is a sad, highly decorated tune played while the orchestra gently accompanies.
III. Un poco più lento - The muted violin continues to play the same sad melody.
IV. Allegro molto vivace - The tempo suddenly increases dramatically along with the volume with the beginning of the second theme  The violin crackles with energy as Sarasate has the violin play a manic friss, the rapid section of the traditional Csárdás dance.

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