It is well known that children are easily motivated by someone doing what they want to do, and doing it very well. When I was a young violin student, my parents bought a record (you know, those big black vinyl discs) of Itzhak Perlman encores. While many young students today look up to Joshua Bell and Rachel Barton Pine, Perlman was my hero as a youngster, and that record would motivate me for years because I wanted to play those flashy showpieces just like he did.
We’ll start with my favorite from my youth, the Vieuxtemps, Souvenir d’Amerique, or variations on Yankee Doodle. The piece is wickedly difficult but great fun to play. I used to make up my own variations when I was a kid (since I couldn’t play the real thing yet) to try to show off.
Here is another favorite of mine from the Perlman encores. This one is even more difficult than the Vieuxtemps and features some of the most difficult “tricks” on the violin, including ricochet bowing and left hand pizzicato. When I got to music school, I finally got a good look at the actual sheet music and it was more difficult than I even thought. I never really learned this one well, but I gave it a shot. I was never very good at false harmonics anyways.
OK, that brings us to a rather famous tune turned into a nearly unplayable set of variations for solo violin. This is the Last Rose of Summer for violin by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. Of the violin showpieces here, this is probably the most difficult. I mean, at one point you have to (or get to depending on how you look at it) play 3-octave arpeggios while also playing the melody via left-hand pizzicato. I never tried to learn this one, but watching it will always motivate me to practice more.
Henryk Wieniawski was not only the finest violinist of his day, but also a pretty decent composer. He wrote two violin concertos, one of which is really good. He also wrote tons of great showpieces, including this Polonaise Brilliante in D Major which is one of two in the series. Another horrifically difficult piece, this one I actually performed a lot as a younger fella. Watching or listening to someone play anything by Wieniawski is a great motivational tool.
My Country ‘Tis of Thee
When I need a way to motivate either myself or a youngster, I always look to a melody they already know. The Yankee Doodle Variations are a perfect example of that. The Variations on God Save the King by Paganini is another. No list of violin showpieces is complete without Paganini. This is my favorite showpiece of this set and is almost as tough as the Last Rose shown above. Anyone who can play this is, in my humble opinion, an expert at the violin. I performed this a couple of times in music school but never at a high enough level to call myself an expert.
So there you have it. Parents, use these to help motivate your youngster to practice more. Students, get some practicing energy from watching these. Professionals, well, you can still always learn and do more! Also, you can buy CDs (yes some people still buy CDs) or go to iTunes or Amazon and get entire collections of encores from any violinist like this one – Joshua Bell. Kreisler, Brahms, Paganini, Sarasate, Wieniawski. Music students especially love to watch and listen to someone do what they can’t yet. You should help make that happen.