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Horrible Staccato

August 18, 2011 at 3:08 AM

 Greetings,

last night it just appeared like magic on the car radio: Heifetz playing the Hora Staccato with Bay when he was 18 or so.  I have to confess this piece no longer excites me as much as it did as a kid. As for Heifetz,  he was asked for it as an encore so often he developed a very slight antipathy towards it,  christening it the `Horrible Staccato.`

Nonetheless, having listened to thousands of brilliant and dazzling versions over the years I have to say that the old recording I heard last night remains the non plus ultra for me.  What shocked me anew was =how slow- (relatively speaking) the performance was compared to many others.  Every note was a wonder of beauty in exact proportion to the next one. Notice also that because the technique is actually quite lyrical the more ryhtmically violent shorter chunks are shown up in dramatic contrast.

I suddenly realized that the much maligned Heifetz played this work better because he thought of it not in terms of demonstrating a supposedly difficult virtuoso bowing technique ,  but in expressing some truly beautiful music.  That is why,  in my opinion, the faster,  more dazzling brilliant versions that followed him are essentially boring by comparison. the player,  even the greatest,  is still thinking in terms of technique and not beautiful musicianship.

I stand by my belief that for a specific genre of student Heifetz was a brilliant,  subtle,  inspired  and highly underrated teacher.  I think that for this reason he made his students work and work at this up and down bow staccato which at the end of the day is absolutely not necessary for a virtuoso career.  In his own subtle way I think he was trying to teach through the analogy of the staccato that violin playing which is dazzling and not completely under control (CF GalamIan`s discussion of virtuosity in his book) is not great art.  In the same way one does not have a staccato until one can play Hora Staccato stunningly beautifully -at any tempo-  with every note even and polished,   one cannot claim to play the Tchaikovsky concerto last movement ,  or the mendelssohn cadenza etc. unless one can do likewise.

Cheers,

Buri

 


From Albert Wrigglesworth
Posted on August 18, 2011 at 3:48 AM

I believe this true with all genre of music with this instrument.  I have found bluegrass fiddlers totally torture a listener because of their "technique" in double stops and drones, and the "lightning" speed they can play a tune, and loose the musicality of what the composer originally penned.  I'm not bashing bluegrass, I happen to find it an interesting genre of music and do play at a bluegrass jam session here at home.

I was at a competition where 2 flute players performed the Flight of the Bumble Bee with great enthusiasm.  The first player was fantastic with the "technical" playing and seemed a bit jittery, where as the second player had a more musical and pleasing to the listener approach.

Speed is not always the way to go.  I tell my students this very point.  If it is not pleasing to hear, why play it? Playing beyond your capabilities will just ruin it for the listener.

thanks for the post.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 18, 2011 at 4:12 PM

I have the Heifetz/Bay Hora from 1937.  I think there is a later recording from 1950, which I don't have.  It would be interesting to clock the tempos and see if he changed.  Probably not...

(Sending good thoughts your way.  The first person dispatches about your work are appreciated.)


From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on August 18, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Not just all genres of music with this instrument, but any instrument.  When I was a child we had a recording of Liszt's Concert Etude No. 2.  It was a beautiful, passionate rendition.  Claude Debussy once said, "Music is the space between the notes."   This pianist (whose name I unfortunately forget) paid attention to this, and built the piece up to an incredible climax - at which point he paused long enough to give you time to scream.  I've since heard other recordings of this piece; one was a nonstop string of notes played so fast that all emotion was squeezed out of it.  There was no time to reflect on the significance of the music before the pianist rushed on to the next phrase in his attempt to play as many notes per second as possible.  And the result was a total waste of time.


From Sander Marcus
Posted on August 19, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Buri: Bravo. First and foremost, the giants in the history of violin playing were transcendent communicative musicians and interpreters. That's what made them giants. And that includes not only Heifetz but also Paganini as well - who, in my humble opinion, is completely underrated as a composer. In fact, given his world-famous reputation as a technical wizard, I wouldn't be surprised if he was underrated as an interpretive artist in his day in terms of his violin playing. Maybe he was the Jascha Heifetz of his era. Too bad we don't have any recordings of Paganini playing Hora-Staccato. Anyway, love your comments.
Cheers,
Sandy
 


From Royce Faina
Posted on August 19, 2011 at 7:40 PM

I suddenly realized that the much maligned Heifetz played this work better because he thought of it not in terms of demonstrating a supposedly difficult virtuoso bowing technique ,  but in expressing some truly beautiful music.  That is why,  in my opinion, the faster,  more dazzling brilliant versions that followed him are essentially boring by comparison. the player,  even the greatest,  is still thinking in terms of technique and not beautiful musicianship.

My High School Choir Director taught this way! Yes we learned and honed our skills in technique, tone and voice quality, etc. But when it came to the Performances what it came down to was the making of beautiful music. Other Choir Directors just couldn't figure it out. He could (and still can) explain it so very, very well. But they still just don't get it. And its not just the violin (David Oistrach, Christian Ferras)... there are musicians/artists that get it as well. Jaco Pastorius, Carlos Santana, Jacqueline du Pre . So many great examples. None perfect... but all had their moments.


From Deborah McCann
Posted on August 22, 2011 at 3:52 PM

When I got my masters in conducting, we watched videos of Bernstein, Toscanni, Mazel, Tilton-Thomas and many no so top conductors.  The thing that always shocked us was that the metronome tempos from about 1950 were getting faster and faster with recordings and video performances.  My teacher said that there are many reasons for this, including the speed of society, the kind of music everyone is exposed to whether we want to be or not, and the mistaken concept that faster is better for a variety of false reasonings. 

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