By Scott Flavin | From the May-June 2020 issue of Strings magazine
A major work for any advancing student of the violin, Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani is a joy to play, replete with soaring melodies and brilliant virtuoso passages. Though full of challenges, it rewards the player and audience alike with freshness, richness, and variety, which accounts for its enduring place at the heart of the aspiring and advanced violinist’s repertoire. By closely monitoring intonation, working on left-hand fingering, and diving into the musical choices Kreisler leaves to the performer, a string player can add some dazzle to his or her repertoire list with this virtuoso work.
The opening Praeludium takes shape primarily in perfect intervals that cover much of the instrument’s range, making tuning a challenge. In fact, the first six bars of the piece consist solely of the pitches E and B, in different octaves (see Ex. 1, mm. 1–6, below). There are several ways to tune these opening bars. First, notice that the bass line of the piano is an octave E; either on a keyboard or on your smartphone or tuner, play the pitch E as a drone and tune these bars to that reference pitch. Another strategy is to play double-stops whenever possible (for example in bar one, beats one and two, and beats three and four can be played as double-stops; see Ex. 2, m. 1). Also be sure to listen to the reference pitches (in this case E and B) throughout the octaves to make sure they are in tune with each other.
Another challenge in this section is phrasing; very few dynamic indications are given by Kreisler, so it is up to the performer to tell his or her own story. First, take a look at the piano part, play the harmonies, and note where the musical tension builds and releases. Experimentation can also help you here—don’t be afraid to take some chances! I feel that Kreisler purposely left out dynamic indications to allow the performer to be more free.
The accented quarter notes that occur throughout the opening should sound like bell tones. You can achieve this on each note by giving a vibrato impulse, a burst of bow speed, and/or bow weight at the beginning of each note. This accentuation should vary according to the music. For example, when there is more stepwise motion (Ex. 3, mm. 15–16), the quarters can be more legato. In addition, you can use rubato, just as a singer would do—larger intervals and leaps require more time. Of course, you must always be aware of the shapes and lengths of phrases as well.
Certainly, the character of the opening is majestic and monumental, contrasted with the almost improvisatory middle section (again, the phrasing here is dependent upon the color and tension of the harmonies). Should the following return of the opening material be the same dynamic as the opening, or perhaps an echo? There is no one “correct” answer, as is borne out by comparing any two performances of this work.
First of all, you must truly take to heart the tempo marking of this section: Allegro molto moderato—in other words, don’t play too fast! This wonderfully exuberant section, harkening back to the spirit of the Baroque era, is filled with varied textures and articulations. Be careful to follow Kreisler’s bowings, dynamics, and articulation markings here, as they are very specific (see Ex. 4, mm. 65–66). As you can see, there is a huge variety in bowstrokes (detaché, spiccato, bariolage, three-note chords), as well as difficulties for the left hand.
The famous bariolage section from mm. 121 to 143 (Ex. 5) contains several different challenges. The first is musical: from 121 to 126 you play the same two bars almost three times. Kreisler provides no marking other than forte—should musicians play each statement the same? As the great cellist Casals said, “Consider the leaves on a tree; in a certain sense, they are all alike, but if we look closely, each is unique.” Experiment to find how you feel each statement could be made unique and let your ear and heart guide you.
The other difficulty in this passage occurs when you start ascending (m. 126) and continues to the end of the passage. A great way to work on left-hand intonation is to practice this passage in double-stops without the open E, like in Ex. 6a, then adding the open E to get accustomed to lifting your fingers (Ex. 6b). The pattern for string crossings can be difficult as well, so practice the entire passage with open strings, making sure your arm and shoulder movement is fluid during the string crossings as you build to tempo.