Modeling a full Romantic concerto in the space of fifteen minutes, de Bériot's Concerto No. 9 is highly virtuosic yet approachable for intermediate students.
Here, we’ll dive deeper into Beriot’s Concerto No. 9 and take you through each aspect of performance, and show you how to refine your violin technique and expression.
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Charles Auguste de Bériot was a Belgian violinist and composer born in 1802. He performed around the same time as Paganini (and was often compared to him, despite being 20 years younger) and studied with Giovanni Battista Viotti and Rodolphe Kreutzer, among others.
In addition to teaching violinist Henri Vieuxtemps, de Bériot also helped found the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing while serving as chief instructor at the Brussels Conservatory. This concerto by de Bériot (his ninth out of ten) highlights both early Romantic violin playing and the pedagogy he pioneered. It’s written in three movements (fast-slow-fast), though most only perform the first movement.
de Bériot’s Concerto No. 9 is highly virtuosic, with double stops and quick runs, and very popular with advancing intermediate students.
Though averaging about fifteen minutes in length, this models a full-length Romantic concerto and serves as an excellent stepping stone to works by Vieuxtemps, Viotti, or Bruch.
The first movement (Allegro maestoso) has a strong Hungarian influence, with a bold character brought out by a dotted rhythm motif.
The opening gesture begins with a rest. Play the high E with a nice ring, and separate the sixteenth note from the following A. Grab the sixteenth note with the bow with a clear articulation. While the first upbeat is very vertical, the next full measure should be more horizontal. The opening gesture should be phrased with direction to the downbeat of m. 33.
How do we approach the grace notes in this movement? Don’t make the orchestra or pianist wait for you to resolve them; they should be in time.
You may have to start the grace notes a bit early and stop the trill on the half note a bit sooner. Feel the gravity to the next downbeat.
Indicate where the downbeat is going to be with your sound (using dynamics, vibrato, and color). The rest before the low A is crucial. Use this moment to return to the frog of the bow.
The A minor arpeggio isn’t foreign to us by this point, but in context, it’s very fast.
One way to practice is to stop your bow and pause just before each string crossing. Repeat this and pause a little bit less each time so that we teach our bow where our string crossings are. Even though you don't necessarily need to think about how many notes she’s playing per string, it’s important to work your bowings into your muscle memory when you’re first learning a piece.
Arpeggios are just broken chords, so we have to make sure we tune every note carefully. Each A should sound the same, as should each C and each E.
Whichever bowing you use in m. 34, practice timing between the two hands. Some, including violinist Rachel Lee Priday, prefer to begin with a downbow. Make sure that you don’t release the bow too much in the lower half and that you connect to the subsequent upbow.
We have a few options for shifting up to the high A. First is a “Russian slide,” where you lead into the second note directly with the fourth finger (see score below.) Another option is a “French shift/French slide,” where you travel to the destination with the first finger and then switch to the second finger. Since we have a full octave of space, we can combine these two shifts in lots of different ways for interesting sounds.
Take a listen to Priday in her complementary tonebase lesson and experiment on your own. Vary your performance each time this passage appears.
Stay strong when you arrive at the A! Don’t put all the stress on the pinky, but create support from the back of the hand.
The last note of measure 34 should be a harmonic (though it’s not labeled as such in most scores). The following E is a regular note; the discrepancy in pitch between the two should be considered. Priday places her finger slightly lower for the normal note than for the harmonic.
The last flourish (descending E major arpeggio in m. 39) should be very crisp. Try playing at the tip of the bow with articulation on each note, and keep your left hand slightly ahead. The second iteration of the theme is followed by a gentler, charming phrase from the pick-up to m. 44. Approach it with a lighter sound and more charm.
For the double stops beginning in m. 52, avoid stopping the bow in the middle of the phrase, especially when the notes are slurred.
Keep the bow speed as consistent in its speed as possible. They are all thirds and sixths, so practice them slowly. When playing double stops, your hands have to work harder to create vibrato with the left hand and sustain the strokes with the right hand.
Vibrate with the arm as a unit rather than in the individual fingers. This will help strengthen the pinky and the second finger to create a nicer vibrato.
Keep your fingers upright, not too flat, (pictured below) so you have more side-to-side room to play vibrato on double stops. The most important thing is that the sound stays flowing and ringing.
The double stops marked dolce (beginning in m. 55) pose a significant challenge to play in tune. The octaves are highly exposed, so it won't sound clean if they aren’t spot-on.
First, tune the octaves and then use them as an anchor to tune the other notes. Your goal should be to repeat those pitches accurately as many times as possible. Lift the bow during the sixteenth-note rests. Once the frame of the hand is established and the octaves in tune, fit the other double stops to the octave frame. The double stops in m. 61 don’t include octaves, but make sure the fourths are in tune.
Priday keeps the quick triplets starting in m. 62 in the middle of her bow, starting each group on a down bow. Remain very light and crisp. Don’t slow down too early before the rallentando in m. 66.
We should practice these octave shifts carefully. When octaves on the violin are in tune, the top octave is almost indistinguishable from the bottom one. (Some say that Heifetz would play his octaves deliberately out of tune so listeners would know he was playing octaves!)
For any pair of double stops where the interval is the same, focus on the bottom finger. Let the other finger simply hang and be attached to the hand, rather than tune both notes simultaneously. We must still keep the fingers very light.
Priday practices this passage by sliding slowly between double stops, pressing lightly. During the shift, lift the pressure while keeping the fingers on the string, as if playing a series of harmonics.
Build-up and waltz
The next passage, beginning in m. 75, starts at a low point and builds to an active, exciting high point.
We should find a way to mirror the motion of the lines with our bow speed. At first, the bow movement should be calm but with a bit of breath in it (moderately fast). Pay attention to the dots underneath the slurs. Each phrase adds a bit more bow speed so the phrases build.
After this, the remainder of the piece is a joyful, high-energy waltz.
Practice every technical passage as beautifully and lyrically as you can, even at a very slow tempo. In your own practice space, get comfortable moving your body in time to the waltz. While you might not want to be swinging your body excessively on stage, any way you can feel the groove will help!
Finally, notice where the accents are, and avoid creating accents where they aren’t written.
There is so much that goes into why Beriot’s Concerto No. 9 stands out in the romantic violin repertoire.
From technique refinement to phrasing, now you have a deeper understanding of how to make this masterpiece of the violin sing.
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