Suzuki Viola Supplementary List: Canadian Contribution

By Pierre Yves Gagnon

During the fall of 2019, Betsy Stuen-Walker asked me to list repertoire suggestions for a supplementary list of pieces to complement the Viola Suzuki School, Books 4 to 9. It was an interesting and challenging project. My goal in this exercise was to find original works written for the viola, although transcriptions are inevitable as they make up the bulk of the viola repertoire. I also looked for works by Canadian composers to add a Canadian flavour to this list.

One of the criteria for my research was to find works that can be easily found since this supplementary list would be consulted internationally. Most of the pieces on my list are published by well-known publishers. Another criterion was to choose attractive compositions for each level.

Finding Canadian pieces written for young violists following these criteria was arduous. Most of the Canadian compositions I found were either too difficult to play or too hard to find. The viola is not often considered an instrument of choice for young students. My sources were the Royal Conservatory of Music Syllabus, the RCM graded Viola Repertoire books and the Canadian Music Center. I chose compositions from three composers:
Christine Donkin, Patricia Bloomfield Holt and Arthur Bachmann.

My list of pieces is divided into their corresponding Suzuki book level. Each piece listed includes, beside the name of the composer, the name of the publisher and a brief description. Since I have to keep my text within a certain parameter, I will publish it over several editions of the newsletter.

Suzuki Viola School, Volume 4
Piece: Catch Me if You Can
Composer: Christine Donkin
Publisher: Frederick Harris Music—Viola Series: Viola Level 6 Repertoire

Christine Donkin is a young Canadian composer and educator from British Columbia. She has made many arrangements and compositions for young string players, most commissioned by the Royal Conservatory of Music. Catch Me if You Can, originally written for the violin, was transposed to the viola by the composer. It presents new challenges to Book 4 students unaccustomed to playing so quickly or to shift so high. The high energy of this work, however, appeals to students and incites them to make the extra effort.

Piece: Andante Religioso
Composer: Georg Goltermann
Publisher: Viola Collection—Concert Pieces for Viola and Piano, Bärenreiter

The romantic period saw the emergence of the viola as a solo instrument. This piece is an excellent introduction to the romantic style, and perfectly suited to the expressive tone of the viola.

Piece: Une Larme
Composer : Modeste Moussorgsky
Publisher: Edition Henry Lemoine

This is a wonderful piece to study romantic phrasing, and the different bow control techniques necessary to play expressively on the viola. Vibrato control is essential to its interpretation. The editing is multilayered. Although the editor suggests advanced fingering, Une Larme can also be performed in first position. This means the teacher can choose which fingering is suited for the student. All the double stop passages have alternate notations.