Todd Ehle - violin expert

How to play the Mendelssohn violin Concerto

Useful tips from Todd Ehle for approaching the most famous violin concerto

In this video, Todd Ehle gives you thoughtful insights and study tips to approach and play the most difficult passages of Mendelssohn's violin concerto in E minor.

Released on April 30, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Michael on February 11, 2015 @5:06 am PST
Hi Todd, at the beginning of the clip it looks like you stay on the strings, instead of bouncing, is it just my wrong impression because it's a fast passage? I mean are you really bouncing a little bit, or you just stay on the strings? Thanks so so much, and God bless you for all your generosity!
Todd Ehle - host, on February 11, 2015 @11:21 am PST
Hi Michael, you are right, I do it on the string at the end of the passage. In my edition it actually says Legato at the FF to indicate on the string (I used the Auer edition). It's not marked that way in the urtext. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for your kind words!
Nate Phillips on June 29, 2014 @3:19 pm PST
hey todd, would you be able to also do a video on approaching the brahms violin concerto?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 30, 2014 @8:34 am PST
Dear Nate, thank you for your comment. Unfortunately Todd won't be able to answer you on this forum since he doesn't participate in our music experts program anymore.

Please, ask any advanced violin related question to our current violin expert Prof. William Fitzpatrick:

Thank you again.
Juan Pieresko * VSM MEMBER * on July 17, 2013 @8:10 am PST
Dear Todd Ehle, thanks for showing the play of Violin. Can you tell me what are the more difficulties pieces to play in Violin. I no will go to any Competition; but my understand is if I traied to play these dificulties, then is ease to play comun partitures. I have some pieces , but may be you can suggest anhotherThanks a lat, Juan Pieresko. For you wnoledge, I no play like you, but I close to you, so you can figurate what I looking for.I play in Church orchestra..
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 30, 2014 @8:34 am PST
Dear Juan, thank you for your comment. Unfortunately Todd won't be able to answer you on this forum since he doesn't participate in our music experts program anymore.

Please, ask any advanced violin related question to our current violin expert Prof. William Fitzpatrick:

Thank you again.
Rat on June 5, 2013 @8:32 am PST
Thank you very much for wonderful how to approach the concerto

Do you mind showing how to approach the 3rd movement

Thank you
Todd Ehle - host, on June 6, 2013 @8:55 am PST
Hi Rat, thanks for the request. I will definitely take it under consideration. I believe the 3rd movement is easier, and know a teacher that starts with it when she assigns the concerto to a student. The sautille' technique is the main hurdle, plus learning to play fast. Best Regards.
Val * VSM MEMBER * on May 15, 2013 @5:58 am PST
Thank you very much for the high standard of these great video lessons Todd. Viewing the score edition is very helpful, and matching the bowing styles to the dynamics and tension is very interesting. Alternative fingering is helpful also. In older age when arthritis bends fingers, I find I use the longer 3rd finger for higher notes, rather than the short 4th. Is this a sin?

I'm particularly interested in your comments re Violin/Piano pitch adjustments for equal temperament tuning. Playing my violin or viola with piano accompaniment is my least enjoyable musical experience. I struggle with the intervals. When a cappella singingm the group pitch often flattens. I want closer intervals of sharpened 7th or flat 4th where my violin ear tells me they should be. I wish more singers knew about this. Do you agree?
Todd - host, on May 17, 2013 @9:51 pm PST
Hi Val, Nice to hear from you, thanks. With issues like arthritis, I say you do what you have to do. No sense making your condition worse! As for the intervals; I will probably give you much more than you actually want. The way I understand it, when using "Just" intonation (how we naturally tune double-stops to be 'beat' free), you create a lower 3rd scale-degree and a higher leading tone, then when using Equal Temperament. This actually creates a condition called the 'greater and lesser' half step, meaning the 3rd to the 4th step is a larger half-step than the 7th to the root. Make sense? People tend to dislike the low 3rd scale-degree in a melody or scale, but played as a double-stop with the root, it is smooth, and very acceptable, while the ET third creates 'beats.' A high leading tone (7th degree) is acceptable to most ears, and helps create 'tension-release' when resolved to the root. As for the 4th degree, I tend to match the piano here unless playing it as a double-stop with the root (P4 tuned in 'Just' is beat-free). It's all really complicated and even most professionals tend to get confused, or ignore it and just follow their ears.
Matthew on May 11, 2013 @9:19 pm PST
I'm learning the Fiocco Allegro and am not able to play the middle section fast enough. The ornaments starting at measure 37 really slow me down. Any tips to help with this? Thank you in advance!
Todd - host, on May 12, 2013 @8:18 pm PST
Hi Matthew, that is a common problem for students. I do have a couple of tricks I teach my students for this. Perhaps it would make a good video lesson - it might be easier for me to show than write it out. I'll think about it some and get back to you. Thanks.
suecarole volovsek on May 3, 2013 @6:31 am PST
Love your "stuff" Todd! Have even more fun with your "Let's get started." You can 'play' with this til 'your phrase' emerges. I hope 'make music' will make it into your phrase. Let's make music; time to play; ready for this?; vibrations commence; but thinking of Amy, now, "My turn/your turn" certainly comes to mind. This is just me teasing you and your family as I enjoy recalling all the joy and excitement you (plural) brought to us while here!
Todd - host, on May 3, 2013 @1:46 pm PST
Nice to hear from you, Sue! I miss those days, and think of everyone from the Conservatory very fondly. best!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2013 @9:02 am PST
There's a seemingly similar passage in Saint Saens Rondo Capriccioso at bars 279 to 293...I've seen concert violinists play these arpeggios two different ways: in one bow to each arpeggio as in the Mendelssohn, or with separate bows to each of the notes...this latter obviously being the more difficult mode. What are you views on this? The music as written would seem to require a separate bow stroke on each note.
Todd Ehle - host, on May 2, 2013 @1:14 pm PST
I believe Heifetz starts separately, then goes into saltando. I don't have anything against separate or saltando, assuming one has the reflex speed to play it separately at tempo (which I'm sure I do not). The thing that you'll notice in the music is that Saint-Saens doesn't repeat the high and low notes, or add the staccato indication, so he was probably writing arpeggios and not thinking about a specific bow technique.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 1, 2013 @4:18 pm PST
re the staccato passage in the cadenza, I found the easiest way to learn to do this was just to begin practising it in legato, then increasing the speed of the bow until the staccato or bouncing notes appeared automatically.
Todd - host, on May 2, 2013 @6:16 am PST
Whatever works best for you, Tosh. I just watched a current virtuoso play this last week and she didn't appear to ever leave the string. She seemed more interested in listening to what the orchestra was doing at this moment, and even turned to each section of the orchestra. I liked the fact that it was all about the music, and not just technique and show.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 1, 2013 @4:15 pm PST
Have a question about relative and tempered pitch...the piano has tempered pitch, while the violin is capable of relative pitch...When a violinist plays with piano accompaniment, must the violinist then have to also play tempered pitch?
Todd - host, on May 2, 2013 @6:35 am PST
Tosh, It is a very complicated subject. The answer is yes, we have to match, but then I would say that playing with a piano doesn't really force equal-temperament, simply because the piano is very forgiving. This is due to the multiple strings in a piano playing the same note. I find playing with a harpsichord, guitar, or wind ensemble to be harder. Did you ever notice that it's easier to tune to an oboe or electronic tuner than a piano? Intonation is tricky business, from a scientific perspective, however Equal-temperament is fast becoming the standard, and people are afraid to use interpretive intonation for fear of being called "out of tune." There is a famous book; How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care). It's an interesting read.
suecarole volovsek on May 3, 2013 @6:35 am PST
Thanks for your perspective on this, Todd, and for the suggested reading. You dah best!
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