Masterclass: Hummel Sonata op.5 no.3 for Piano and Viola


Violist Tabea Zimmermann offers her advice on how to practise this playful, virtuosic work

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This is one of the major Classical sonatas for the viola and I love it. It is demanding, unique and wonderful, filled with imaginative and rich thematic material that is virtuosic for both the piano and for the viola.

Of course, E flat major is a difficult key on any stringed instrument. In this sonata, just as in Mozart’s E flat major Sinfonia concertante and Divertimento for String Trio – which I suggest working on afterwards – we have to question how to tune our instrument. How can we find not just a well-tempered compromise, but good harmonic intonation in a key that does not produce strong harmonics on the viola? Open A is not a note in this key, so if we tune to an A, our G and C strings, as the 3rd and 6th of the scale, will sound too high. Instead, I tune to an E flat major chord to calibrate my strings to the key and bring out more harmonic overtones…

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