The RSL Classical Violin syllabus is on its way! And to celebrate its September launch, we’re looking at our top 10 absolute favourite composers. Can you spot yours?
English group Clean Bandit are undoubtedly one of the most unique acts in the mainstream eye today. Combining electronic music with classical pieces by composers like Mozart and Shostakovich is no mean feat, especially if you can forge a hugely successful career from it too. Their hit song “Rather Be” charted at number one on the UK Singles Chart and was the third fastest-selling single of 2014, and it spent four weeks in that position!
Clean Bandit frequently feature stringed instruments in their songs, and “Rather Be” is no exception to that. The violin introduction to this song is instantly recognisable, and so we had to include it in the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. Don’t get complacent though. Being a chart tune certainly doesn’t make this easy!
Mozart is certainly a name that has surpassed the boundaries of the classical music world, and embedded itself into society. His clean, crisp, graceful and sophisticated melody lines and clear textures truly define the sound of the Classical era, more so than any other composer of his time. Despite his short life – he died at the age of 35 – Mozart composed more than 600 pieces (yes, you read that correctly!). He had shown an extreme ability and talent from a young age, and some of his compositions were written when he was only 5!
So it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Mozart has secured not one, but two spots in the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. Enjoy it!
Classically-trained and killing the game, the Black Violin duo are everything you’ve ever wanted from a strings-meets-hip-hop sound. They bring something really unique to the world of violin, and it’s something we are proud to have included in the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. They’re such a fantastic example of how a classical training can set you up to be a fantastic, technical player and performer so that you can get out there and succeed in any genre that inspires you.
Their hit track “Stereotypes” is in there for all of you Grade 1 beginners, and “Virtuoso” appears in Violin Grade 8 because we couldn’t leave out their insane technical ability. We can’t wait to hear these in the exam room!
Lili Boulanger made history when she became the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. It was actually another famous composer, Gabriel Fauré, who discovered that she had perfect pitch at the age of 2! By the age of 5 she was accompanying her older sister Nadia to her classes at the Paris Conservatoire, and not long later was taking music theory and organ classes. She also learned how to play the piano, violin, cello and harp!
Lili Boulanger’s compositions are truly works of art, and we’d love for you to channel this prodigy energy with the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. You’ll find her “Nocturne” in Grade 6, “Cortege” in Grade 7, and the fantastic “D’un Matin de Printemps” in Grade 8. Plenty to get your hands around!
Florence Price was the first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer and have her composition played by a major orchestra. This was certainly an important moment in western classical music, and one that we should all be aware of!
Incredibly, a huge collection of her manuscripts were discovered in an old abandoned home in St Anne, Illinois, in 2009. We’re talking dozens of never-seen-(or heard)-before scores that would otherwise have been lost forever, including her two stunning violin concertos! Sadly, we know that some of her works were never recovered.
Thankfully, we’ve still got so much Price to enjoy, and you’ll find some of these in the RSL Classical Violin syllabus.
Up next is one of Hungary’s greatest – Béla Bartok. Being the extraordinary folk music collector that he was, he’s the perfect fit for any violin syllabus. He was infinitely fascinated by how folk music from all over the world seemed to have no regard for the “laws” of harmony, and so he began quoting these folk melodies in his compositions frequently. And perhaps we could call him an early age tech junkie, as Bartok took a phonograph around with him to capture over 10,000 different folk tunes from all over Europe. What a guy. If you’d like to step into the world of Bartok for yourself, you can do that with RSL Classical Violin in grade 1 and in grade 2.
You may know him from the software so many musicians have used over the years to write compositions and arrangements, but Sibelius is a very successful composer in his own right. Not only are his pieces beautiful and enchanting in equal measure, he’s also something of a hero in his native Finland where his music is often viewed as giving Finland its own national identity during its struggle to separate from Russia.
Although famous for his symphonies and orchestral works, some of which you may well have heard on opening up the Sibelius software, he also wrote a number of tunes for solo instrument. We’re delighted to have secured an appearance from this Finnish wizard on our syllabus!
You may recognise Nikki’s name from our Classical Piano syllabus, where several of her compositions make an appearance. Nikki’s approaching legendary status (if she’s not there already!) amongst her peers, and it’s no wonder.
A stalwart of the British jazz scene who draws from a seemingly neverending reserve of imagination and creativity, you’ll be blown away by “Harvest Calypso”, which you can find on our grade 4 Violin syllabus. Full of inventive rhythms and infectious melodies, this one’s a real joy to learn.
A composer brimming with talent, Ignatius Sancho also has a remarkable back story. Born on a slave ship in the middle of the Atlantic, Sancho was later sold into slavery in the Spanish colony of New Grenada. After the death of both of his parents, he was brought to England where he eventually became a butler to the Duchess of Montagu, and it was his position here that would ultimately lead to his freedom from slavery.
He formed a relationship with the Duke of Montagu, who would lend him books of music, poetry and fiction. When the Duchess passed away, Ignatius Sancho was given a yearly payment of £30 (in today’s currency that would equal about £7000) and a full years’ salary. This allowed him to set off and start his own business as a shopkeeper, selling products like tobacco, sugar and tea to the people of Mayfair, Westminster. And since he owned a property, he was legally able to vote in a general election and did so twice! He is the first known black Briton to ever have voted.
Okay he’s maybe not a classical composer in the traditional sense, but no one can deny that Bill Withers is one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. What makes him all the more impressive is how relatively small his discography is: most of his songs are classic!
We’ve included “Lean On Me” as one of the pop tunes on our early grades to ease beginners into the violin tradition. And why not? It’s an accessible, satisfying piece for any musician starting out, and the piece is given its full chance to shine on the violin.