Campagnoli, Caprice no. 2

Reflections on practicing the second of Campagnoli’s Caprices

There’s no time like Summer to make headway on my Campagnoli project. Summer for classical musicians is often a mix of relaxation and opera playing at one of the many Summer opera festivals across the UK. When performing the same repertoire every evening it’s easy to fall into a rut with personal practice, so my Campagnoli work provides much-needed motivation. I’ve worked through 10 of the caprices so far but what I particularly enjoy is going back to review the older ones, since they can always be even better, before digging into the most current. With this method I’ve done caprice no. 2 on and off for several weeks now and am encouraged by the noticeable improvement every time.

Caprice no. 2 in G Major (ish)*

I say “ish” because, although we start in G Major, we don’t stay there long and we don’t return to it. This is one of the challenges of this highly segmented caprice, keeping our ear flexible to what ends up being a different key for each repeated section, and still more keys in the more fluid Piu Mosso.

Campagnoli’s caprices seem to employ a few favorite formats, and no. 2 is one of them: a chain of 8(or 4)-bar phrases in repeat brackets, followed or preceded by a more through-composed section. Here we have the chain of repeats first (Andante con moto), and the more fluid section second (Piu Mosso).

Since the Andante Con Moto is already broken into pieces for us, I’ll use that format to add my comments, labeling bars 1-8 as section 1, bars 2-16 as section 2, bars 17-20 as section 3 and bars 21-24 as section 4.

  • Section 1: G Major. A great example of how dynamics can affect intonation on certain parts of the viola. The fingering in bar 3 is challenging to play in tune regardless of dynamic, even more so when marked p (piano, quietly) as it is here. This is because on the D, G and C strings, it is difficult to get the fundamental to sound clearly when in high positions. High positions shorten the length of the string, and the thicker the string, the more easily it will choke. Smart bow use is essential to find the exact speed, contact point and pressure required to make such a short, thick string make a clear pitch.
  • Section 2: e minor. After such a tongue twister in the previous bars, it can be a challenge just to find a solid base in a new key, and in second position. String crossings are the featured technique here, first with a 2-2 bowing pattern and then with 3-1 and 1-3, both very lopsided physically to play. To make these sound even and cohesive, but also respect that it makes musical sense to bring out the bass note, is a delicate balance.
  • Section 3: C Major. With these caprices I try to adhere to the bowings, since I know they are there to be practiced in and of themselves. Here I have made a small exception. I start up bow as it suggests, but I split the first two beats of bar 18, down and up, so that the f (forte, loud) entry on beat 3 is down bow, then hook the entire fourth beat of bar 19 on an up bow . It feels natural and more like a bowing I’d use “in real life” if I were given a passage like this to prepare. The fourth finger extension is also noteworthy, not just for reaching far enough to get the F, but for trying only to move fourth finger, avoiding the temptation to shift the entire hand. If that does happen, then the thing to practice is coming back down far enough that the first position notes are well placed and not sharp.
  • Section 4: I could always use more practice with thirds. I appreciate that this also throws in an obligatory harmonic double stop on the G and C strings, requiring extra care with bow use and clarity as in section 1. There’s another fourth finger extension and again, the reaching up is challenging, but equally so is coming back down.

In the Piu Mosso section, the tempo is quicker and the mood is quite different. We have triplets instead of the marchlike rhythms we had previously, and that should indeed come across as a contrasting mood as we play. Expecially glitzy would be the suggested fingering in bar 29 (bar 5 of the Piu Mosso), to which I’ve had to add a reminder “4” to which helps remind myself that such an unusual fingering is indeed about to happen! I take some “virtuosic time” in that bar so that I can enjoy all the work that went into getting up to 7th position (extended!) so abruptly.

Musically this is a simple sequence of arpeggios that pass through a different key each bar, so it is a chance to get creative with where you feel inclined to take time or flow through. This could change every time you play it and that’s what makes it fun!

The final line suggests another display of glitz with a fingering that passes quickly through several positions in a key that is not particularly easy to play anyway (E Major) due to its “home base” in second position and not first. And, like octaves and fourths, I’ll always have room to improve with fifths, and the last couple of bars offer a valuable opportunity to practice them.

And so (never) ends my journey through caprice no. 2; I hope it was helpful to you. Next time with no. 3, prepare for moto perpetuo, meaning lots and lots of notes, going by very quickly. I’ll need a breather before that post!

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