Seven Tips for Cadenzas

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A long orchestral tutti builds and builds, leading towards an inevitable resolution and long fermata. The conductor signals a cut-off and after a few seconds, there is nothing but silence in the hall.

All eyes are focused on you, the soloist.

This is the moment — the cadenza. What are you going to do?

Here are a few suggestions:

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1.) Borrow ideas from a master.
Last January, my colleague John Ericson pointed out the SoyTrompatista site, where a number of cadenzas from the 3rd and 4th concertos are online.

Another source would be listening to various recordings and transcribing the cadenzas. Give your aural dictation skills a test and see if you can listen to, then write down the notes. This is an excellent ear-training exercise that crosses over into other skill sets.

For a written hard-copy resource, consult the Hans Pizka book mentioned previously in this series, Das Horn bei Mozart. It has a nice collection of Mozart cadenzas to peruse.

2.) Use a theme from the opening orchestral tutti.
This is technique that many horn soloists use. It is a nice way to aurally tie in the opening of the movement to the end of the movement.

3.) Strut your stuff, but avoid the kitchen sink.
It is better to leave the audience wanting for more rather than wanting less. Too much of a good thing can be too much.

4.) Quote an outside piece or add a quick gimmick for fun.
Inject a small dose of humor if you feel so motivated. Quote a popular tune or another Mozart piece. Try some multi-phonics.

Why not? It is your moment.

5.) Pace yourself.
Don’t be in a hurry — allow for some breathing space. A captivating cadenza, like a skillfully improvised jazz solo, has peaks and valleys.

6.) Improvise on the spot.
The violin soloist Nigel Kennedy is widely known for doing this. While you may not be the next Miles Davis, adding a grace note, an extra trill or even improvising an extra phrase might be fun to try.

7.) Play the main themes in a relative major or minor, or as an altered variation.
Sometimes coloring outside the lines can be interesting. That being said, try not to stray out too far into the woods.

Additional opportunities

One final thought worth mentioning is that there are a few small spots beyond the more obvious cadenza points where little extra ditty might be an option as a “mini-cadenza.”

From K. 495 the final rondo movement for example, a quick “mini-cadenza” that is a few bars long can work nicely here.


From K. 417:


In the Romanza of K. 447, I have seen a version (possibly the Chambers edition?) where an ascending and descending written C major arpeggio replaces what is printed here.


As mentioned yesterday, I like to add an ornamental turn in the 14th measure of this excerpt from K. 495:



This kind of personalized performance was not unheard of in the Classical era and perhaps may have been expected from a soloist. Why not have a little fun and take a chance?

Other thoughts from John Ericson:

Next week, the final chapter of this series – trills.


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