Thursday, July 03, 2008


Breval's Sonata in C Major

Yeah! Another milestone: "Sonata in C Major", by Jean Baptiste Breval.

When I started learning the cello, I bought the first four volumes of the Suzuki method books and the accompanying CDs. I only glanced briefly at the music in Book 4 (not really believing that one day I would actually begin to play any of it) before putting it away, while I slowly progressed through the first three books. Finally, I pulled it out a few weeks ago and added it to my stack of books that I carried to my lessons. We opened it briefly to look at the E major scale, then set it aside while I worked on polishing the final three or four pieces in Book 3.

What followed was a chaotic month of missed practices, frequent interruptions during the few practice sessions I managed to get in, generally sloppy playing, memory lapses where I completely forgot long-studied fingerings and bowings, and days where I just had to put the cello away in frustration. I was beginning to believe that I would never get these darn pieces. I started to think I had topped out and would never be able to move on.

Then, earlier this week things seemed to settle down. I got back into my normal practice routine (with an early start each morning and shutting off the phone). At one point on Tuesday I realized I had played through several of my once-difficult sections for the first time without even thinking about the troublesome shift or unexpected bow change. I realized I was doing certain shifts with a relaxed accuracy for the first time - again, without even thinking about them.

Yesterday's lesson, #53, was a welcome return to "normalcy". I felt relaxed and quite a bit more confident than the last few times, and I was able to play through the Book 3 pieces with general ease. Of course there is always room for improvement, and we discussed various refinements after each piece. Finally, my teacher asked if I was ready to move onto Book 4. I wasn't sure I was ready, as I still had a lot of doubts about my abilities with the latest pieces in Book 3. But, she assured me I was doing just fine with them, although I should not even consider setting them aside; instead I should continue working on them every day. I've learned the appropriate shifts and bowings and am doing them relatively trouble-free, and my overall sound continues to get better.

So, she said she thought I was ready to begin Book 4. OK. We opened it up to the Breval "Sonata"and talked about the overall format, the technique challenges, (the opening chords, the triplets, and the eighth-note string crossings). I am to work on each issue by itself - and avoid putting them all together until I have "reasonably" mastered each one. Oh, also I should spend a lot more time listening to the recordings...

I picked up a copy of "The Soloist" by Steve Lopez. He tells about coming across a homeless vagrant, Nathaniel Ayers, playing a ragged violin on a street corner in downtown L.A., and begins to write about him in his newspaper column at the L.A. Times. It turns out he studied the double-bass at Julliard in the early 1970s before losing himself and eventually winding up in the streets with all his possessions in a shopping cart. Lopez obtains some new violins and a cello for him to use. The cello seems to be the key to gradually drawing Nathaniel into a safer more stable environment. He even begins studying with the principal cellist at the L.A. Philharmonic. I'm about 2/3 the way through and hope to finish it tomorrow.

An engrossing story that is well-told. I strongly recommend it to anyone, especially musicians and especially cellists. I understand a movie is in the works with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

I'm working on the Breval sonata too! It's a lovely piece. I'm looking forward to reading about your progress with it. I've been working hard on making the eighth notes and the triplets even, and holding vibrato through the longer notes. oh, and those trills...
Congrats on getting to Book 4! I love the Breval Sonata, it's such a great piece to play (and teach.) I need to start practicing again, I've gotten out of a regular habit after I kind of burned out in April, but I miss it.

And thanks for the book recommendation. I need some more musician books for my 888 list and this one sounds fascinating.
I love the Breval sonata; it's such a cheerful little piece. It's the first full-length piece I worked on and presented in a recital, too. Before that everything was an extract or a Suzuki-type arrangement. I still bring it out now and then. Enjoy!
Ah the Bréval, I'm working on it too. Those string crossings on the quavers aren't fun are they? It's a rewarding piece to learn though.
Breval Sonata was my first sonata, delightful music to play. I still do it sometimes just for fun.

That book looks interesting. I don't know if I can find it in the bookstores here.
I remember how excited I was to learn the Breval. Having started at an earlier age than you, I think I was in 7th grade, and it was my first "big" piece. A real sonata!

For what it's worth, I find it very helpful to raise my upper arm to the A-string level while playing the G-string notes in the string crossing passage. And young students, anyway, often find the switch to triplets tricky at first. Just walking around saying "1-2, 1-2, -2, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc., using each step to feel the underlying pulse, is very helpful.

All best,

hi! I really wish i can get a copy of "The Soloist" too!!! I've heard of that piece of news on the paper. hmmm. Wish you can send the book over to Singapore! Enjoy the book (:


I'm from turkey,a 20 year old girl who is both a university student and a amateur cello student since 8 months.I see your blog when i'm searching the C major Sonata,Breval's. Yesterday my cello teacher shows it to me and she asked that 'would you want to start to work on Breval' I feel that i'm not ready because its too early for fact,im still feel like that.but of course it will take many days and i have time:) So,what i just want to say is,I dont know who you are,who old you are,do you still continue to practicing cello etc. but say hello from turkey as a one of the cellomaniac in the world!
take care!

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