Masterclass: Barnabás Kelemen on the first movement of the 'Razumovsky' quartet, op.59 no.1

Kelemen Quartet

The leader of the Kelemen Quartet discusses spontaneity and scales in the first movement of this ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet. From the January 2018 issue

All four parts of this quartet are challenging. The writing is often pianistic and in places, without the other parts to harmonise the lines, the first violin could almost be playing a scale or etude. Once, when I was practising the first violin part of this quartet, around bar 156, László Fenyő, our cellist, walked in and laughed because he thought I was playing an etude. The same mistake could be made in bars 42–43, and 81–82; and bars 236–239, which are easy on the piano but terrible on the violin.

It’s amazing how often Beethoven uses scales for melodies: bars 9–19, for example, are almost completely in step. It’s the same with his ‘Spring’ Sonata: if you started three octaves higher, without register jumps, you could play most of the theme in descending steps.

If you learn your scales, arpeggios and etudes well, Beethoven will never be a problem – but you cannot expect Beethoven to teach you how to play scales! You should have been perfecting them for 15 years before you even attempt this sort of music, in every tonality. This will give you more flexibility when playing repertoire, as well as a more relaxed, free technique, with rounded fingers and thumbs, power and the ability to vibrate.

If you came to me and played Beethoven without rounded thumbs, I would tell you to go back to scales using a slow bow, then to build up the speed gradually and introduce etudes – usually the Twelve Etudes by Rode. After that, practise the same scales and etudes as fast as you can until you have complete control. Then you can come back to Beethoven.

Scales and etudes are also important…

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