Modern violin playing

September 23, 2016 at 01:50 PM · Today my teacher said that modern violin playing and playing 60 years ago is different, he told me that I shouldn't listen to recordings of violinists that are 50 years or older , like Heifetz and ostrakh for example. Do you think there is validity to this statement?

Replies (39)

September 23, 2016 at 02:13 PM · I'm appalled by that suggestion. You should listen to recordings from as broad a spectrum of time (and interpretive styles) as possible -- not only because such recordings are magnificent artistry, but also for historical context and understanding. Not to mention that closing ourselves off from an earlier period of artistry is raw idiocy, a recipe for tragic ignorance, and a betrayal of what it means to be human.

Interpretively, we do not do things the same way that we did them in earlier eras. Most still-concertizing violinists care about historically-informed performance. An earlier era of violinists would take greater liberties. Moreover, today globalization has brought about a great deal of standardization in physical approaches to the violin, and abundant recordings have resulted in a certain convergence towards particular interpretations. Earlier players were more personal.

Even if you are going to play historically-informed solo Bach, for instance, you should still listen to previous violinists like Szeryng, Milstein, and Grumiaux, whose Bach interpretations have greatly influenced today's violinists (and Szeryng's edition of the sonatas and partitas are what most young players learn from today).

I'm so shocked by this statement that I would suggest you find some other teacher.

September 23, 2016 at 02:14 PM · I don't agree with your teacher. If I extrapolate your teacher's logic, then one wonders why anybody should be bothered by a 19th century work?

Please listen to all the greats' wonderful recordings and enrich your experience and train your ears.

September 23, 2016 at 02:39 PM · Milstein's Bach is still (in my opinion) unequalled. The great players of that era were really great and unique. Modern playing in some cases can be close to that quality, but not very often, in my opinion.

Perhaps you should look for a more experienced and open minded teacher?

September 23, 2016 at 02:58 PM · I wonder how your teacher could have learned anything about violin playing without the contributions of the players she disdains, as well as others of their era...

September 23, 2016 at 04:10 PM · I agree that playing styles are generally different in some ways from what they were 60 years ago, but telling you that you shouldn't listen to the old recordings seems a little extreme.

September 23, 2016 at 04:49 PM · There are soloists today that I can't listen to, and there are soloists from decades ago that I don't listen to for pleasure. I don't find Heifetz, Ricci or Menuhin particularly gratifying in most of their recordings I have heard. That doesn't mean that I should never listen to them, because I can find parts of their playing that I like or are interesting or are different than what I'm used to.

You are supposed to be developing into an individual as a player, and you should decide what you like. Some of my favorite violinists are ones that my teacher doesn't particularly like, but I wouldn't trust someone who told me to not listen to certain people. If you have the time, listen to a lot of different people, which will give you a chance to really understand what you like and don't like. Before the internet and easy travel, violinists had a little bit more individual approaches, and while not everyone sounds the same today, a lot of violinists these days seem to have a similar approach.

September 23, 2016 at 04:50 PM · Everywhere I go, there are people who are more than happy to bash on everyone from Heifetz and Stern, to Galamian and DeLay, and for some reason cannot acknowledge their significant contributions to our craft.

I can understand not liking a specific performer's artistic decisions, or perhaps not agreeing on the teaching philosophy of a particular instructor, but the amount of vitriol expelled at some of these folks in public borders on ridiculous.

September 23, 2016 at 05:55 PM · I agree with Lydia. For a teacher to say that to a student is shocking, and indefensible.

September 24, 2016 at 06:10 AM · This is not a reply to the discussion, though I am as appalled by this teacher's comments as are many other respondents. This is the only way I can think of to access a site which may lead to an answer to the following question.

I'm a retired music teacher and a newcomer to this site. I as merely a fan of violin plsying: I play French horn in our 70-piece community orchestra. I recall hearing a few years ago that it requires about 1000 beginning violinists so that (say) 40 of them will rise to the level required of members of the violin section of a good professional orchestra. Is this at all accurate?

September 24, 2016 at 06:11 AM · Oops! "Plsying" should of course be "playing".

September 24, 2016 at 07:09 AM · I'm so used to some of the comments on this and other boards that initially I read OP as "should [only] listen to recordings... that are 50 years or older." That, at least would be worth having an argument about. The idea that there is no value in Heifetz or Oistrakh (or Kreisler, or Szigeti, or Ysaye) recordings is beyond stupid. And that is true no matter how much you like Hilary Hahn or Gil Shaham.

September 24, 2016 at 08:29 AM · If it had been my teacher to utter such nonsense I'd have a hard time continuing with him, I'm speechless. But what do I know? Clearly our modern virtuosos who admit they listen to the old masters when preparing a new work must be delusional fools.

One would think that in the era of the internet, where even original recordings of Sarasate and Ysaye are only a few mouse clicks away, the advice would have been to make use of these resources as much as possible. What if we had recordings of Paganini? "Don't listen to the old geezer, today's playing is what counts"?? And why not throw out all the old method books and etudes as well? After all, Kreutzer has been dead for centuries, and we are modern players after all.

The art of violin playing has had such a long tradition and so many towering figures contributed to it that it would be foolish to dismiss the earlier greats as outdated. In this context "modern" is not a synonym for "better", just for "different", and it's great and valuable not only to discover these differences by listening to the old recordings (which in itself is sheer pleasure),

September 24, 2016 at 10:45 AM ·

September 24, 2016 at 03:05 PM · If I had followed this teacher’s advice, I might not have taken to violin as a kid as readily as I did.

David Oistrakh, one of the great past artists OP mentioned, was one of my musical role models, albeit through his vintage recordings. Ditto for Isaac Stern and Arthur Grumiaux. Their interpretations helped to spark my ambition.

But that wasn’t all. Thanks to modern recording technology, which had developed before my time, I was delighted with the big, dark sounds Stern could pull from low notes and the ringing, yet refined, tones Oistrakh got in the top notes. These sounds made a strong early impression on me -- even without my hearing these artists in person.

September 24, 2016 at 03:08 PM · @Brock Lupton: Not sure about 1,000 beginning violinists needed to reach the 40 of professional caliber -- would need to research. 40/1000 = 4%. Plenty of outstanding players don’t make the cut. They weren’t necessarily rejected -- they just weren’t chosen. There’s a difference. When there’s one open chair and 100 players auditioning for it, 99 are going to end up disappointed. And, possibly, even # 100 won’t get the job, either -- the auditioners may decide not to pick anyone.

P. S. I know you’re new on the site -- your bio says you joined yesterday; but if you need to fix something in what you’ve already posted, you can click [EDIT]. I’ve used this feature a number of times -- it shows on screen right after the last word of your posted message -- provided that you’re logged in. In my versions of IE and Google Chrome, spell-check flags words that need attention; but sometimes, in my pre-post manual proofreading, I fail to catch things that spell-check can’t catch: missing word, wrong word, wrong name, redundancy.

September 24, 2016 at 04:06 PM · Your violin teacher would give his first-born child for the ability to play like the violinists he told you not to listen to.

September 24, 2016 at 06:54 PM · Notionally applying that violin teacher's "advice" to other creative arts we would be faced with the bizarre spectacle of young artists being forbidden to study or even view paintings by the great artists of yesteryear, and young poets being told not to have their creativity stunted by the dangerous practice of reading poems written before WW2.

September 25, 2016 at 06:46 AM · My teacher told me once, that consciousness emerges from elecricity (electrons) running through a living tissue, like a nerve. But how does that happen?

I think violin teachers should keep their mind on the technique, and not philosophise about life in general :)

September 25, 2016 at 07:50 AM · Thank you all for the input. Violinists from the past have certainly paved the way for violinsts in the present. The famous quote"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." is not only applicable to science but to violin artistry also.

September 25, 2016 at 09:32 AM · Interesting statement from the teacher! I think on some point he is right, because you can't really compare recordings made with gut strings to a modern recording. But to listen to the old masters is one of the most important tasks as a violinist and can give you so much inspiration. But you should keep in mind, that recording technique and the violin setup was different at that time.

Regarding Oistrakh he is to my ears timeless in his interpretations. As so are others like Kreisler, Menuhin, Ferras, Francescatti, Milstein and so on in their own ways. They all influenced the violin playing like it is today. I wouldn't totally recommend to listen to them, but with an awareness to the difference in social and temporal backgreound, recording technique and violin setup.

Back then violin playing was much more individual than it is today, because the world wasn't so connected yet and there were very different schools and traditions or one could say, styles... Today there seems to be only two styles of playing. One of them is the social acceptable upright style and the other one is the more eccentric and could also be called blatant. Everything in between seems possible, but very unique sounds are rare!

September 25, 2016 at 12:14 PM · Trevor makes a very valid point a few posts back.

September 25, 2016 at 03:35 PM · Is it possible you may have misunderstood your teacher, or perhaps the advice was given in a different context? I find this advice frankly unbelievable.

September 25, 2016 at 03:42 PM · I can imagine, for example, the following scenario:

Student plays something crazy; teacher inquires. Student says "that's how I heard Heifetz play it!" Teacher silently knows better but rather than argue with the student, suggests listening to a different recording to hear another interpretation. Student leaves thinking the teacher said not to listen to Heifetz anymore.

I'm not saying that's necessarily what happened, OP; just that I've taught enough lessons in my life to know that what the teacher says and what the student hears are often very different things. :)

September 25, 2016 at 05:23 PM · My teacher says listen to them all, but I do have favorites. I think your teacher might be talking about the quality but thats not a huge difference honestly.

September 25, 2016 at 07:46 PM · If playing style in general - to the extent one can generalize - has changed that much from 60 years ago it is all the more reason TO listen to it! The warmth and depth of Oistrakh, the humanity of Menuhin, the richness of Francescati, the great individuality, brilliance, flair and sizzling intensity of Heifetz, the supple and elegant sculpture of Grumiaux are irreplaceable treasures! But some of this tradition still continues in such living artists as Rosand and Perlman. In my own tiny way I have never hesitated for a moment to align myself with this golden tradition.

But while I'm at it I'll toss this grenade into the living room: I find it interesting at the least and hypocritical at the worst, to observe that some people who don't like the 'old-fashioned' aspects of music making in the the fairly recent past will go to great lengths to try to reproduce or admire others' reproduction of Baroque music in what they think is a so-called historically-informed style, whereas they will eschew the way say Kreisler played his own music.

September 25, 2016 at 07:49 PM · That's a marvelous observation. Indeed, why don't we play Kreisler the way that he played it? Or Sarasate, for that matter, given that we also have recordings of him?

September 25, 2016 at 09:08 PM · Rachmaninov is another good example of that, although of course for piano. His music is kind of considered the ultimate schmalz these days, but if you listen to him play it himself, he's very straight ahead about it.

September 25, 2016 at 09:30 PM · I find both extremes extremely distasteful, close-minded, and inappropriate. To be fair, we don't know the whole story (might have been a comment regarding portamento, rubato... though still I feel these musical effects are quite valid today). But there IS a tendency to reject old playing styles as "mannered" or "schmaltzy."

On the other hand, we have people who emphasize technical perfection above anything else, and that "musicality will come". While it's true that one has to have a very reliable technical equipment in order to better express musical ideas without hindrance, sometimes it's taken to the extreme where pieces sound incredibly "square" for lack of better term-it's not that they are "boring", but a bit "sterile" on the music making approach.

Good news is that, as far as I have observed in some recordings and live performances over the past 15 years (or so) many of today's younger soloists are actually often granting us beautiful performances, even with a few "mannerisms" of the old era. I feel there area many great musicians out there today, not mere technicians (a few of them, as usual, not well known in "the West.")

I feel the more "sterile" performances usually come from gifted and talented players who get used to play "safe" (it *seems* the teacher in question *may* be in this camp), and never get to let themselves feel looser/freer to be more musically adventurous, much less try the supposed "mannerisms" of the older era. They can otherwise be amazing players with extreme command of their instrument, but are sometimes afraid of putting their own stamp into the music under the well-meant excuse of "the composer's intentions."

(To be clear, I myself BELIEVE in staying true to the composer's intentions, but never at the expense of the musical message-too many "authentic" performances out there often make me wonder whether the composer would think they actually are.)

There are pros and cons for each era. I feel we should learn FROM BOTH, rather than limit oneself to a non-existing "modern way to play the violin." Violin playing is not modern, but also doesn't need to reject new approaches as long as great music is still performed.

(Plus, to be honest, names like Maestro Oistrakh puzzle me in this regard, as many of his recordings could be considered quite "modern", in many ways. Whatever.)

I think the teacher should be aware of the differences between eras, but not prohibit one or the other. The student learns better by enjoying different approaches to music making, even if they are not "so hot" nowadays.

It really doesn't make sense to me to state: "don't play Kreisler like he himself did!" His fingerings are fun, even if you don't choose to use all of them. Plenty of the music comes alive by playing them even a bit similar like the Master used to.

(Don't mean any disrepect to any of you. I have my "forever favorites" from both eras, as well as something in-between.)

September 25, 2016 at 09:37 PM · We have a pretty good idea of what Brahms would have been used to hearing, as well, from recordings of Joachim and from singers he worked with. In his time, Joachim was considered quite conservative and academic, but to modern ears it's an almost obscene amount of rubato. In general, performers go with the current trends rather than imitating older eras (and HPP for baroque/classical is in fact a current trend) in the same way that period dramas often have anachronistic makeup - our eyes and ears are accustomed to a certain way of being, and what we consider beautiful changes from generation to generation.

September 25, 2016 at 09:39 PM · On the gut string issue-there are modern players who use Passione/Oliv/Eudoxa, et al (admittedly, not THAT many.) They can sound plenty powerful even compared to the usual synthetic suspects. And of course, they still have a beautiful, nuanced sound and playability almost impossible to replicate even with the best synthetics. So in that small respect, I disagree a bit with a few of you (though I myself am not an advocate of gut-string-only zealotry.)

September 26, 2016 at 03:48 AM · I think no matter what you listen to, you have to decide what you like about it and what you don't like. Certainly you can be guided in this process by your teacher who has more experience and presumably great depth in his or her knowledge.

If you live in a place where you have the opportunity to hear and see young, up-and-coming violinists perform live recitals, you should do that. You learn a lot about artistry that way. If a violinist is not yet fully established, very often you can see them in a smaller venue where you can really watch and listen carefully, and the ticket prices will be low enough that you can do it often.

September 26, 2016 at 03:57 AM · I was shocked the first time I heard student recordings of works I had only previously heard by those of the likes of Heifetz, Hahn, Vengerov, etc. Not that they were bad, they were students probably 13-16 years old, which is incredible, but I was immediately shocked at how different it sounded. Took me back down to earth a bit to what is attainable.

September 26, 2016 at 04:54 AM · There are many stunning YouTube videos made by kids in that 13-16 age range. They do not sound like mature world-class virtuosos, but some of them are exceptional.

And if you have not heard them, the teenage Menuhin and the teenage Hassid are wonders, and they play with a sound that you won't hear these days.

September 26, 2016 at 06:34 AM · Yes, but Hassid's story is a complete shipwreck. When I think about it, I just check, well..... I have a five string, a broken bow (which might straighten up), plus the 200 euro effect. I just have to go on.

September 26, 2016 at 06:57 AM · If playing style in general - to the extent one can generalize - has changed that much from 60 years ago it is all the more reason TO listen to it! The warmth and depth of Oistrakh, the humanity of Menuhin, the richness of Francescati, the great individuality, brilliance, flair and sizzling intensity of Heifetz, the supple and elegant sculpture of Grumiaux are irreplaceable treasures! But some of this tradition still continues in such living artists as Rosand and Perlman. In my own tiny way I have never hesitated for a moment to align myself with this golden tradition.

But while I'm at it I'll toss this grenade into the living room: I find it interesting at the least and hypocritical at the worst, to observe that some people who don't like the 'old-fashioned' aspects of music making in the the fairly recent past will go to great lengths to try to reproduce or admire others' reproduction of Baroque music in what they think is a so-called historically-informed style, whereas they will eschew the way say Kreisler played his own music.

A really excellent post by Raphael which I personally think sums up this whole debate.

September 26, 2016 at 07:38 AM · well, I think Youtube (vimeo, google videos, inda, etc) policies are an important issue in this regard.

How do you know how youtube "recommends" a video to you? Is it sheer number of views, or malware, and spying policies (marketing preferences) are also involved? (I do not mean internet preference mining is necessariliy bad)

Is it possible some guy spends a few days 24/7 creating false emails, and liking his own videos, so it reaches a popularity threshold?

Could not some intervention (like in economics, I mean Keynes) at least in the classical violin field, like opinion from a jury somehow weight what youtube is throwing up as classsical music??

September 26, 2016 at 12:59 PM · Thanks, Lydia and Peter!

September 26, 2016 at 01:49 PM · When I listen to recordings of Jansen, Hahn, Vengerov, Batiashvili, Ehnes, Gluzman, Josefowicz, etc., I'm riveted. They play so beautifully, and I hear a lot of differences among their various performances. I don't hear them as clones of one another or as attempting to sound like their legendary predecessors. All of these violinists were born in the 1970s. And there are still more who were born in the 1980s who are well worth listening to. I'd much rather hear one of them playing a live recital than I would staying home and watching YouTube vidoes of Rosand or Heifetz, as much as I adore their playing and recognize their profound contributions to violin artistry. So that's the advantage of the fine violinists that have been born since 1960. Many of them are still alive and concertizing so you can actually go and watch them live. Which among their recordings will stand the test of time? Time will tell!

September 26, 2016 at 03:56 PM · Hi Paul, riveted is a nice word. I actually felt a tingling like goose bumps (but much much more intense) from Your fine speech :)

Good luck with violin playing. I guess your fine motor skills are ok in the morning :)

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