I’m sure others have done it, but Pablo de Sarasate and Niccolo Paganini are two legends (see yesterday’s greats list) who specialized in writing breathtaking compositions for the violin that highlighted their own immense capabilities with the instrument. Many of the pieces they wrote have become well-known showpieces for violinists; these pieces, when played as their creators intended them to be played, separate the good from the great.
Being a beginner has a different flavor depending on the pursuit in question. When you are a beginner runner, for example, it seems like you’re still sort of doing the same thing that the best runners are doing. One foot in front of the other. Breathe. Speed is the only real measure that differentiates. Sure, some people flail around while running; some have absolutely no physical aptitude for it whatsoever, but most of us can get into a basic stride that works, and if you snap a photo of us running our running will be similar enough to that of the pros. Now, I will confess to being a pretty good runner- I’ve been doing it for close to 15 years now, but I believe my perspective on this to be sound.
Contrast that with the perspective of a beginner violinist listening to something like Mischa Elman’s Gavotte while trying to play the same piece! It really seems as though we’re not playing the same instrument. Perhaps the difference is that almost all humans can run. Very few take up the violin, by comparison. The violin is not a natural bodily activity that natural selection decided would work out well for humans over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Playing the violin does very little to increase the likelihood our genes will survive in the grand scheme of the universe!
But some of us hit the jackpot – like Midori Goto. Her mature Tchaikovsky (I saw a 2011 performance on YouTube) is one of the most brilliant I’ve seen. Here she is in 1990 at her Carnegie Hall debut, age 19, playing one of those pieces that separates the good from the magnificent – de Sarasate’s showstopper Zapateado:
Thanks for reading.