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Virtuosity and composer-performer collaboration in the viola works of Darius Milhaud and Paul Hindemith

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posted on 2021-11-22, 12:33 authored by Andreeva, Irina

This thesis considers the position of Darius Milhaud’s Viola Concerto No. 1, op. 108 (1929–30), and Viola Concerto No. 2, op. 340 (1955), in the modern viola repertoire. Milhaud’s understanding of the viola as a solo virtuoso instrument is displayed particularly clearly in his two Concertos, which were specifically inspired by his relationships with two influential virtuoso violists of the twentieth century – Paul Hindemith and William Primrose. A further, related issue that is explored, is the direct and indirect impact of Paganini’s compositions on these two works.  Milhaud’s virtuosic writing for the viola was strongly influenced by his friendships with these two musicians – Hindemith and Primrose – each of whom played a critical role in the emergence of a new breed of viola virtuosos during the course of the twentieth century. Milhaud’s friendship with the first of these men, Paul Hindemith, produced not one, but two important pieces of the virtuoso viola repertoire: Milhaud’s first Viola Concerto and Hindemith’s Konzertmusik. Aspects of the cross-­‐influence between composers and virtuoso performers are addressed here through a comparison of the technical and musical elements, as well as the structure of these two works. Another prominent violist of the twentieth century, William Primrose, who was nicknamed the ‘Paganini of the Viola’, commissioned Milhaud’s second Viola Concerto. Primrose’s desire for new concert repertoire for his instrument, together with his unequalled technical prowess, both impressed and inspired Milhaud, who wrote the Viola Concerto No. 2 with Primrose's technical virtuosity in mind. Strikingly, however, unlike the first Concerto, this work has been largely neglected for almost fifty years.  Significantly, both Milhaud’s viola concertos display very strong technical similarities with Paganini’s music written for the violin. Yet the position of Paganini’s music in the viola repertoire, and the value and importance of his compositions for this instrument, traditionally ignites arguments amongst performers, critics and listeners alike. This is a complex issue, which raises various questions such as the physical suitability of Paganini’s compositions for the original qualities of the viola, with its larger fingerboard, slower responding strings and heavier and shorter bow. In the present thesis this problem is addressed through a comparison of the technical elements used by Paganini in his writing for the viola (as exemplified in his Sonata per la Grand Viola) with techniques from his 24 Caprices, Milhaud’s viola concertos, a selection of Primrose’s transcriptions of Paganini’s works and Hindemith’s own compositions for viola.  By examining Milhaud’s Viola Concerto No. 2 in relation to the evolution of the composer’s writing for viola, from his encounters with Paganini’s compositions to his collaboration with Hindemith, and, finally, to his engagement with Primrose, this thesis attempts to demonstrate that this work should be reintroduced to the contemporary virtuoso viola repertoire.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Viola Performance

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Riseley, Martin; Owens, Samantha