Violin Dreams

I’m in the middle of reading Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt, the First violinist with the Guarneri String Quartet. It’s a really interesting book, and is looking like a great source of inspiration for me. But there are some really great quotes in here that I want to share.

G.B. Doni, talking about the instrument’s power, from 1640

In the hand of a skillful player, the violin represents the sweetness of the lute, the suavity of the viol, the majesty of the harp, the force of the trumpet, the vivacity of the fife, the sadness of the flute, the pathetic quality of the cornet; as if every variety, as in the great edifice of the organ, is heard with marvelous artifice.

A verse supposedly found in one of Gaspard Tieffenbrucker’s instruments (one of the possible first makers of the violin)

I lived in the woods, until I was slain by the relentless axe. Whilst I was alive I was silent, but in death my melody is exquisite.

Myra Jagendorf, in a school yearbook message to Arnold Steinhardt.

In a way, it will be your duty to mankind to contribute your music to as many people as possible and to enrich their lives as well as your own.

I really like that last one, I think it sums up a lot of my goals. Music is something that is to be shared, what we do is deep and often rather odd to many people. It is our goal to invite them into our world and share our life and our music with them. It is the arts that will save humanity and keep it going.

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Applause, please

Crowd applause taken at the Liverpool Arabic A...
Image via Wikipedia

Henry Fogel recently wrote a piece exploring whether denying people the opportunity to applaud between movements of a piece was causing people to be scared of attending a classical music concert. He quotes various sources from the past pointing out examples of where the audience have applauded during the work, and makes it seem natural.

Now, I am a “traditionalist” – though Mr Fogel would have me believe otherwise – because I do not want to applaud after movements – only after the work. There are a number of reasons that I do this. First of all, I have been a performer. I know the concentration that is required for an entire work. Just because you’ve completed one movement, doesn’t mean that you can let down your guard. If someone chooses to clap, and the whole audience then joins in, your concentration is broken, and it can take a little while for you to get back into it. Second – despite what Mr Fogel says – I believe that works are intended to be conceived as a whole. Even a work such as Scheherazade, which Mr Fogel claims to be four separate tone poems, is in itself one tone poem that is split up into four different sections. But there is a common story line that runs through the whole work. Disrupting this through applause is like standing up and cheering during an ad break on the telly. There’s still more to go, and it’s just going to get better. In Scheherazade, the whole work is building up towards the last movement.

And it’s not just tone poems either. Concerti are the ones most often interrupted by Applause, generally after the first movement, which more than likely has the most fantastic cadenza that even I want to applaud their work. However, any multi-movement work – including concerti – must be conceived in a wholistic manner. If you separate each movement then the connection is lost. There is then no reason for the second movement to be slower. There is then no reason for the works to be in related keys.

Now, I don’t scorn the people who do applaud – and perhaps that is the real change that needs to be made. Ensure that we as musicians do not scorn those that want to applaud, but in a like manner – allow those who wish to remain silent and take in the work as a whole to do so. The change is then not so much of a forced one – one of encouraging people to applaud, thus taking away from those who wish to take in as a whole – but is a welcoming one that welcomes people into classical music, no matter whether they want to applaud at every movements end, or whether they – like myself – wish to take in the work as a whole.