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VC WEB BLOG | Violist Garth Knox - 'Viola Spaces - Viola Technique Books' [BLOG]

In a VC-exclusive blog, violist Garth Knox discusses the inspiration behind his viola technique books, 'Viola Spaces - Contemporary Viola Studies'

The Violin Channel recently caught up with British violist and technique book author, Mr Garth Knox.

In a VC-exclusive blog, Garth discusses the inspiration behind his viola technique books, 'Viola Spaces - Contemporary Viola Studies' - and what he hopes students will take from their use.

"As a member of the Arditti Quartet back in the 1990’s, I had the challenging and rewarding experience of playing a great number of newly composed pieces, many of which used unorthodox or extended techniques to get the most amazing sounds from our instruments. When I left the quartet, I had the thought that a lot of the things I had learned about how strings work could be useful for others string players, even for playing standard repertoire. And when you think about it, the most basic ways of playing which could be called “extended” techniques for example pizzicato, sul tasto or sul ponticello are familiar by name, but do you know anyone who teaches them? No-one ever showed me how to do them when I was a student or encouraged me to experiment with them, yet we can learn so much about “normal” playing by mastering these sounds. As well as which, some of these sounds are just too cool to be left for the selective few in the ghetto of contemporary music!

It seemed to me that what we needed was not so much a methodical textbook which described these techniques, but compositions which used them practically to make music which was fun to play (as a teacher, I’ve always preferred the carrot to the stick).  So when Nobuko Imai asked me to write something for her “Viola Space” festival in Tokyo, I seized the chance to write a set of eight concert studies for viola, each one based on an extended technique which was more or less familiar (glissando, harmonics, tremolo, quartertones as well as the three mentioned above). Each piece is entirely written around the technique in question, so the player has a real chance to discover it’s possibilities, and the style of the piece is decided by the sound of the technique: 

I purposely wrote in the simplest way possible, easy rhymths, basic harmonies and fun tunes so that the only challenge involved in each piece was the technique being examined. I wanted them to be useful concert pieces, not just theoretical studies, so I test-drove them myself in concerts in many proto versions before I was satisfied with the results: 

The Viola Spaces were published by Schott in 2009, and they have since had a certain measure of success. Many student violists now play them in their exams (especially when they have to play something contemporary, and want to have fun instead of suffering!)

Several violinists asked me if I could transcribe them for violin, but my feeling was that they were real viola pieces, made to measure. So I decided to write new pieces using similar ideas, but specifically made for violin this time. These are called Violin Spaces and will be published in mid 2018. Although I do have a violin (my father’s) I’m not a violinist myself so writing the pieces was a very different experience this time, perhaps more objective. I was lucky to meet a wonderfully talented young Dutch violinist, Diamanda Dramm, who was very interested in the project and was immensely helpful in it’s development, and the studies are dedicated to her. Violin and viola are of course very close and share many of the techniques and sounds involved, but there are differences, most obviously in range and response. In the respective pizzicato studies, for example, I use the excellent “walking bass” or “guitar-strum” possibilities of the viola, whereas for the violin I’m draw to the christaline E string sounds, the mandolin-like chords and the stunning rapidity of execution. 

I made duo versions of the Viola Spaces, even some trio versions (always having thought that playing a study with someone else was sure to be more fun than solitary practise!) and plan to make duo versions of the Violin Spaces - this time duos for violin and viola. I had the opportunity to work out some of these ideas for string quartet when the Kronos Quartet asked me to write a piece for their “Fifty for the Future” project.

I am planning to write some Cello Spaces next, and hopefully I’ll get round to the double bass too, then I can make some ensemble pieces to include everyone and create a network of extended technique string pieces.
All the Viola Spaces videos can be seen here and the Violin Spaces page on this same site is under construction - watch this Space(s)! 


A student of Frederic Riddle at London's Royal College of Music, Garth Knox has performed regularly as a longtime member of the Ensemble InterContemporain in Paris and the Arditti String Quartet | He is the author of the 'Viola Spaces: Contemporary Viola Studies' technique books


Viola Spaces: Contemporary Viola Studies Volume 1 |BOOK|

Garth Knox

Publishing Date: November 1, 2009

Publisher: Schott Music

Viola Spaces for Two: Contemporary Viola Studies |BOOK|

Garth Knox

Publishing Date: November 1, 2009

Publisher: Schott Music

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