Scott Slapin

PAGANINI’S 24 CAPRICES


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"Violist Scott Slapin explores the caprices further for violistic depth in his latest CD, Paganini's 24 Caprices (Eroica Classical Recordings JDT3420). With the album, he etches his name into history as the violist to have recorded the full set of caprices after violist and artist Emanuel Vardi's groundbreaking 1965 recording for the Epic label."
 - Strings Magazine (Rory Williams, Dec. 2008)


"This is an excellent set of recordings of the Paganini Caprices, performed with great virtuosity and grace. They are inspiring to listen to, and inspire not a little envy within me. He makes it all sound so easy, although we all know otherwise.... There is educational value in these recordings as there are many violists who impose limits on what they can/cannot do...My recommendation is that they should be in every violist's library…... I am familiar with the Emanuel Vardi recordings, and I would go so far as to recommend Scott, over and above the former... Excuse me, but I have to now get back to practising!!!”
 - Julian Fisher, Journal of the Canadian Viola Society (2008)

"One thing is certain: all viola players will have to hear both: Vardi's because we have always heard our elders rave about it, and Slapin's to remind ourselves that not all great players belong to the distant past.”
 - Carlos Maria Solare, Journal of the American Viola Society (Vol. 25, No. 1)


Paganini, a violinist and occasional violist, wrote the Caprices as technical studies. Some of them happen also to be great concert pieces. Paganini himself only performed a few of them in public, and on violin.

Technically, they range from fairly difficult to extremely difficult. To pull all of them off on the violin is already pushing violin and violinist to the edge of what's possible. On the larger, less responsive viola, it is really stretching the limits. Yehudi Menuhin referred to the Bach Sonatas and Partitas and the Paganini Caprices as "the Old and New Testament...the foundation of the violinist's manual."

I studied with Emanuel Vardi, the first violist to have recorded all 24. What a stunt! Without his having 'opened the door', I can't imagine I would have attempted such a project. Made in the mid 1960's, Mr. Vardi's recording was still the only one available when I recorded them more than forty years later.

Many work well as concert pieces: Numbers 5, 10, 13, 16, 20, 24 are good examples. William Primrose performed and recorded a few of these (with some short-cuts and a couple with piano accompaniment), and they made a real splash. These caprices have musical appeal. They're hard, but with work, they can be tamed to be compatible with the viola and sound like music to just about anyone. You can hear me playing nos. 3 and 24 on the soundtrack of the controversial Bolivian film Sirwiñakuy, and the film is not about a viola player playing difficult etudes! They were chosen for their musical value.

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However, there needs to be context. An entire book of the most awkward etudes around isn't meant for a general audience. If each caprice is evaluated only as a concert piece, I don't believe no. 8 fares well. Wickedly difficult to keep in-tune, there aren’t any great melodic treasures to be discovered, just a lot of scales and double-stops in the most unresponsive parts of the instrument. No. 1 isn't much better, and there are other ones that have patches that are less of musical interest and more of deliberately awkward etude writing. Part of the fun is seeing whether the performer makes it to the end or not!

Rewriting sections in order to transform a difficult etude into a more pleasing showpiece is certainly a valid approach (and a common one when making transcriptions. There's a reason some caprices sound easier on guitar, cello or sometimes viola-- they've been rewritten! Though it is unfortunately often not pointed out that the material has been arranged.) For this CD of all 24 however, I chose to leave them as is: the most difficult set of etudes there is for viola. They are simply down a fifth from the violin edition, and within those parameters, I tried to make as much music out of them as possible.

After Mr. Vardi's death in 2011, the American Viola Society commissioned me to write Capricious, a viola trio which references 12 of the 24 Caprices. Capricious was premiered at the New York Viola Society by Shmuel Katz, Ann Roggen and Brenton Caldwell. In 2012 at the International Viola Congress in Rochester, NY, Tanya, Ila Rondeau and I performed it on the final concert of the congress. 

Now out of print, Scott can be heard playing several Caprices on the albums The Fingerboard Less Traveled and The Fingerboard Less Traveled, Volume 2. Feel free to listen to some at the links below:

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 3 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 6 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 10 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 11 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 13 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 16 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 17 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 20 on Youtube

Listen to Paganini Caprice No. 24 on Youtube