Progressive Etudes for the Viola

By Carolyn Broe

In the past violists have relied primarily on violin etudes to gain technique. Most violin etudes are high and fast. Now violists have new publications of etudes specifically designed for our instrument to enhance their viola technique.

There are three etude volumes by Lillian Fuchs. These studies are progressive in difficulty and designed for the lower viola range. These works also concentrate on double stops and bowing technique. The Fuchs works can be considered "concert etudes" as they are also musically rewarding to play, like short concert pieces.

  1. Lillian Fuchs Twelve Caprices for Viola (Schirmer, NY): includes string crossing exercises, extensions, second position work, double stops, bowing exercises, an exercise for strengthening up bows, an exercise concentrating on work at the frog, extended bowing of large slurs, etudes in both five flats or five sharps, and extensive accidental work. There is some treble clef work.
  2. Lillian Fuchs Fifteen Characteristic Studies for Viola (Oxford University Press, NY): string crossings in second position, descending chromatics, broken third passages, diminished fifths as string crossings and chords, half position chords, sequential passages in ascending and descending positions, arpeggios between alto clef and treble clef, long slurred staccato passages, syncopations with accents and staccato, chord studies with alternating thirds, irregular sixteenth note patterns, shifts from 2nd position to 4th position, higher position string crossings, thirds with two note staccato, multiple shifts on the A string, large string crossings, higher postion C string work, and second position work in multiple flats.
  3. Lillian Fuchs Sixteen Fantasy Etudes for Viola Solo (Ricordi, NY): Finger independence with chromatics, high passage work, chord studies in 3rds, arpeggios in 2nd position, double and triple stops, double stops with syncopations, broken 3rds with chromatics, arpeggios and chromatics, rapid 16th note passages with fourth finger workout, alternating 3rds with staccato bowing, 2nd and 4th position work, rare keys (i.e. F# major), high position work with arpeggios, shifting and string crossings, and spiccato.
  4. Das Studium der Viola, Vol. I (Barenreiter 6613): Thirty etudes at intermediate level of difficulty represented by the violin etudes of Mazas. These progressive studies are by various composers. Includes: half postion, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th positions, diminished 5ths, chromatics scale-work, arpeggios, double and triple stop studies in sixths, etc., turns and trill studies, appegiated chords, large string crossings, chords with measured trills, turns, and bowing exercises.
  5. Das Studium der Viola , Vol. II (Barenreiter 6614): Forty etudes at the level of difficulty represented by the violin etudes of Kreutzer. These progressive studies are by various composers. Includes: C string work, rapid 16ths with bowing variations, up-bow staccato, martele, large string crossings, arpeggio studies, alternating finger patterns, alternating legato and spiccato, trill studies, some high passage work, keys in many sharps or flats, double and triple stops, half position, and chromatic scale work.
  6. Das Studium der Viola , Vol. III (Barenreiter 6615): Thirty concert etudes at a concert or virtuoso level of playing complete the collection of 100 progressive studies of the 19th century style. Includes: theme and variations, double and triple stops, some high position work, keys with multiple sharps and flats, rapid left hand work, up-bow staccato, rapid string crossings, rapid arpeggios, diminished fifths in arpeggios, half, 2nd ,3rd, 4th and 5th positions, extended bowings, harmonics, high positions on lower strings, dynamics, and chromatic scale work.
  7. Campagnoli Forty-one Caprices for Viola, Op. 22 (Peters edition, Nr. 2548): A summation of classic 18th century bowing similar to the works of Beethoven. This work embodies the true approach to viola playing. These concert etudes include:
  8. dynamic expression, rapid left hand work, double and triple stops, half position, arpeggios, up-bow staccato, large string crossings, theme and variations, 2nd and 4th positions, major and minor scales, arpeggios in 1st-7th positions, double stops with trills, keys with multiple flats and sharps, high positions on lower strings, advanced bowing, large leaps across strings, and chromatic scales.

  9. Marie-Therese Chailley Forty Practical Exercises for the Viola (Leduc, Paris): An encyclopedic work with emphasis on the left hand and exact rhythm. Includes: Left hand lifting and finger independence, chord studies in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths and octaves, harmonics, chords and chromatics, arpeggiated 6ths, rapid left hand articulation, turns, articulation in string changes, appogiature, 2nd finger shifts, extensions, unusual fingerings, and finger substitutions.
  10. Leon Pascal Twenty-five Divertissments For Viola (Menestrel, Paris): Encyclopedic approach for both right and left hands. Includes: Son file, irregular 16th note patterns with shifting and 4th finger concentration, step-wise shifting, martele, trill exercises, 3rd relationship shifting, chord studies in thirds, fourths, sixths and octaves, spiccato, rebounds, harmonics, extensions, flautato, chromaticisms, sautille, arpeggios, rapid left hand passages, up bow staccato, finger independance, left hand pizzicato, and precision on large leaps across strings.
  11. Michael Kimber Twelve Caprices for Solo Viola (Kimber, USA): Each of the twelve caprice concentrates on one of the minor keys and its parallel major (ie. c minor/C major). They are musical miniatures in a 19th century bravura style. They are useful concert etudes for the development of technical brilliance, tonal beauty, and musical expression. Includes exercises in: shifts by half step across strings, diminished fifths across strings, chords with shifting, harmonics, half position, complex bowings, 2nd and 4th position work, irregular shifting on arpeggios, up bow staccato, shifting in 3rds, double sharps, exercises in rare keys (i.e. F # major, Ab minor), rapid left hand work, some high position work, but mostly idiomatic for the viola range.
  12. Louis Kievman Practicing the Viola Mentally and Physically (Kelton Press, USA): These exercises may seem simple, however, Kievman was very specific about how they were to be performed. Special attention should be paid to the instructions and the spring action of the fingers. These exercises emphasis basic technique in both the right and left hands. Bow proportion, left hand finger independence and finger action are improved.


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