In a 2007 interview with Laurie Niles of Violinist.com (whom I had the great pleasure of meeting during the 2010 Sphinx Competition weekend), violinist Ruggiero Ricci reflects on his career and the work he undertook to successfully make the transition from "prodigy" to artist. A great part of this work, in Ricci's own words, was "to play more than the other guy...To get a lot of technique, it's rather unpleasant. You don't get technique practicing the pleasant. You get it from practicing the unpleasant. So I forced myself to play the most difficult music." His first stop - the Twenty-Four Caprices of Nicolo Paganini.
Yes, we all know that Paganini's Caprices are fiendishly difficult, each one encompassing so many facets of both left and right-hand technique. Furthermore, we all know the absolutely amazement that comes with hearing any of the caprices performed live. How interesting it is, though, that while there are SO many complete recordings of the Caprices today, the first complete recording was made in 1947 - by Ruggiero Ricci himself.
This spirit of "continuous improvement" ("To improve your technique, you have to try for the impossible, in order to make the possible possible," Ricci says at the end of his time with Ms. Niles), is of course echoed by so many, including Nigel Kennedy. Very recently, a photo of Nigel floated around The Violin Channel and Facebook, and the caption read If you're playing within your capability, what's the point? If you're not pushing your own technique to its own limits with the risk that it might just crumble at any moment, then you're not doing your job."
SO...with all of this in mind, what does one do?
In 1997, at the end of my second year of graduate school, my teacher suggested that I go through the Paganini Caprices during the summer. The routine was to be one a week, simply to get through them and glean some understanding of "higher technique". Again - as I have said before - I tried, but have to very humbly admit that I did not have the patience to continue for the entire summer. This year, however, I decided to take this challenge on once again, with the goal being to study one caprice for two weeks...this has been no small task, and definitely not an easy one. However, if I may, it has been quite fulfilling so far. I started in February and somehow, even with having traveled a LOT this year, I have stayed on schedule and have reached the fifth of the twenty-four.
Now - let's say this simply: my purpose in having undertaken this task is not (as of this moment in time) to become able to perform the entire volume in one standing, let alone to record them. The goals are not only to improve my violin playing by increasing my technical facility, but also to ensure a feeling of overall physical comfort. What I have found is that one of course cannot have an increase in facility without finding that place of physical comfort - this means many things, of course, and while I am not yet in a place to post any video of myself playing a caprice, perhaps I shall share some insights about "comfort" and "less effort" in the coming entries.... =)
...and off we go.