I need some help with my second movement for my viola sonata, a sarabande with quite a lot of double and triple stops. 

The problem is that though I have tried to make it as playable as I can, I still have no idea whether of not I succeded since I have no prior experience in writing for the instrument.

Perhaps you can help me by reading through the score and tell me what can and what can't be performed and give me suggestions to what might work better.

Score is available below. Midi can be heard here:


All help is greatfully accepted.

All the best


Viola sonata mvt. 2 (Sarabande).pdf

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  • Hi David.

    This piece looks interesting. I can see a few problematic areas. Is it possible to post an xml file so that I can re-load it in Sibelius and comment on the score?

    I don't have time to re-write it my self.


  • Here you go Socrates. I hope this is helpful. Now bring me the verdict!

    Saraband II (XML).xml

  • Thanks David. I will have a look at it tomorrow and I will give you some comments.

    Now is eight in the morning in London and I am without sleep and gigs lined up for the week end, so I'm going soon to bed.


  • Hi David,

    (see PDF attached)


    This is what I consider a practical fingering for the piece as you have posted it. I am not a viola player, I play the fiddle and the mandolin and whenever I play chords I tend to use a lot of open strings, I am not up to standard to play complicated compositions from the great baroque works for solo bowed instruments, so a violist may be able to give more professional and complete advise, but I can see where the difficulties are going to arise. Let me say, it is playable as written (almost) but quite hard in my opinion.

    I try to keep this in first position and use open strings for ease of play whenever the context allows it, but sometimes I have to use higher (3rd) position to make playable what you've written.

    Apart from left hand difficulties, I believe that you should consider the bowing that is required to make sense of the note values in some bars.


    I thought originally to write my observations on the score but that would croud the page, so I have marked them numerically  there in bold boxed text and I write them here. I also give another staff bellow your original to show how certain passages, note durations etc would change slightly to make it more playable:


    1. bars 1 & 3: I keep the low G as a minim to emphasize the Gm chord. It is easy as it involves an open string-Not possible to keep it for the whole bar as high D is not on an adjacent string


    1.  problem bar 5-6, due to the fact that  intervals in lower voices change: 5th-6th-5th-b5th. 1st chord in bar 6th better as a crotchet to let the hand free to re-adjust for playing upper voice-also change of bow direction better as the  2nd string comes into action later in this instance

    With triple stops it is essential that we realize that they cannot be played as simultaneous three-note chords as written but only spread by the bow (in this case 1+2 notes from lower to upper seems to be a good way for realizing what you have written).


    1.  bars 11-12: awkward left hand positioning-D cannot be taken  as open string-also consider that due to interrelationship of cross crotchets-minims the whole can be achieved only in one bow direction.


    1. bar 18: upper open A cannot be sustained as minim since the bow leaves the second string to play C & B on the third. (Bars 14 to 18 need special attention for bowing to achieve the two part writing and rhythmical crossing of crotchets and minims).


    1. bar 20: Necessary to use 3rd position here and also to bar with 1st finger across all four strings.


    1. bars 21-22 Again necessity of third position but much more awkward passage (and it's a pity as this is the climax of the piece and it has to be effective and smoothly achieved). Notice how fourth finger has to play the top note of the chord and change string for the next quaver to reach high G.


    1. bar 24: After the relatively easy crotchet chords of bar 23 the first chord in bar 24 is unnecessarily awkward as the two top notes are open strings but the bottom note is available only on the fourth string. It would be much easier in this case to include the 3rd string also without affecting the harmony.

    I therefore double the A an octave lower. I also change the note durations as the bass cannot be sustained in 4th and 3rd strings while the melody is playing in the 1st, see score). Also notice that the last quaver in this bar is fingered as "3 or 4". Using the forth finger facilitates the progression into the next chord when the 2nd time ending is to be approached.




    Have in mind that most double stops can be simultaneous and are relatively much easier but triple and quadruple stops can only be taken as spread chords due to the curvature of the instrument bridge, usualy 1+2 or 2+2 so the notated values are only notional and not real bow sustaining. This for example would not be the case with a strait bridge analogous instrument like the mandola and life would be much easier for chordal work there.

    What makes this piece feeling hard is mostly the unexpected changes of position which are necessary to bring it out. Also expect that continuous 3 note chord playing is bound to be realized with some slight delays due to changes of position, spreading of chords, bowing considerations etc.


    Last but not least, let me say that the music you wrote is well worth the effort as it rewards the player very much musically. I found it really enchanting and at the same time full of emotional charge and very Bachian in character. A true Sarabande of the soul and for the soul.

    Incidentally, I notice that up to bar 19 it can be played as written in the three lower strings of the violin and from bar 20 onwards the harmony could be indicated with two-note chords without much loss (not any in harmonic meaning) which would make it easier and completely playable on the violin also. (just a thought).

    I hope all this helps a little for getting into thinking about bowed instruments tuned in 5ths like the viola.


    Well done, thanks for sharing!

    II. Sarabande.pdf

  • Thank you very much for your response Socrates!

    It means a lot to me, to know that it can be played and it makes me very happy to hear you say it is worth the effort despite the troubles it brings to the player.

    Most of what you have included in your changes affect the composition in no way musically and I will follow your advice in making those changes to make it easier (the easier, the better in my opinion). I am well aware ot the demands for triple and quadruple stops, concerning that no more than two strings can sound simultaneously, and I see no problem within the style to play the triple stops that follow each other all by downstroke, none the less I shall look into what you have said and see if I can make additional adjustments to make it less awkward to play.

    The bars 21-22 (well the entire passage from m. 19 and onwards) were what I was most worried about to begin with, and I see the trouble with having to change strings with the same finger to eight notes following each other, and shall think a lot about how to change it without affecting the unity of the piece.

    Thank you for all your work on it, it has been most enlightening for me and I am very greatful for it!

    I shall let you know how it ends up, after getting time to really work on it Monday morning.

    'til later

    All the best


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