The virtuosos composers
I am reproducing an open debate I was having with my uncle. He is a pianist. We were talking about who was the greatest violinist of the 20th century and he advocated for Kreisler. He argued that to be a "master" of an instrument, one had to be able not only to play it perfectly (that would be to be an interpreter), but also to create music for the instrument.
As he said, if Paganini hadn't composed its Caprices, he would have remained an anecdote of history. Since then one could bring the crown to others like Sarasate, Wieniawski, Ysaye and others but my uncle would not grant "the crown" to those who did not do any significant composing.
He said that in a pianist, it is expected some composing skills, but he was puzzled about why it does not happen the same with violinists.
I would not agree completely with him but it is true that I would have loved to have compositions from Heifetz, Menuhin and so many others that I do think were real masters. And the same goes with the modern ones. After the conversation I am missing an original album from Vengerov, for example. Hilary Hahn is close by commissioning from others and recording improvisations but.. not yet there...
It is just a dream to play like Perlman, but it would be nice to play a Perlman piece...
Another thought that worried me is that this "end of the era of violin virtuosos composers", implies the drying out of the repertoire. If Kreisler is the last original violin composer, we are getting close to be using 100 year old stock. Not a problem if it's a choice, it is worrying if it's lack of options...
Now for the debate would be if that analysis is true and if so, why is it happening? Is modern playing too demanding to leave time to compose, does playing violin require different skills than before?
I opened a similar thread about a year ago. I agree with your uncle here and there. History never cared about interpreters, only composers and possibly directors. I doubt that this will change in the future. While playing a piece does hold some artistic merit, all the relevant work is already done before people start playing it.
I don't see the need for connecting composing with playing. Turn the question around and ask who wrote the greatest violin concerto. Regardless of your preference, would Tchaikovsky be excluded because he merely composed for the violin but didn't master the playing side? I doubt you would argue that. We all love the great violinist composers and that combo skill puts them in their own class. But that doesn't make them the greatest violinists.
"but it would be nice to play a Perlman piece..."
I'm afraid the demise of the virtuoso composer has a lot to do with the state of "modern" music and the conservative taste of modern audiences. Given a chance to hear one of the great violinists of today, I'm sure at least 90% of the potential audience would prefer him or her to play a great concerto of the past, rather than a new composition in whatever style - serial, minimalist, neo-romantic... The fact that the player was also the composer wouldn't alter the situation.
"I'm sure at least 90% of the potential audience would prefer him or her to play a great concerto of the past, rather than a new composition in whatever style"
The audience *should not matter* but it does-many claim the modern audience now "knows better", but I would argue they "know less", by only emphasizing the great but much hackneyed works mostly "everybody" plays, due to often overemphasized reasons, such as "these are the really deep/musical composers and works worth listening to".
How much composing did Horowitz and Rubinstein do? Are Kreisler's pieces really that much more than encore pieces? He never wrote a symphony or a concerto. Meanwhile the greatest violin music was composed by pianists, with relatively few exceptions (e.g., Sibelius).
Horowitz had his grand transcriptions.
I am surprised no one has mentioned this young genius.
Alma Deutscher anyone?
"Stars and Strips Forever"? Bit exposed, if you ask me!
"He argued that to be a "master" of an instrument, one had to be able not only to play it perfectly (that would be to be an interpreter), but also to create music for the instrument.
Sorry, all you fans of Janos, Mstislav, Jacqueline, Pierre, Julian, Steven, etc.
Keyboard instruments such as piano is the most convenient instrument for composition and doing compositional analysis polyphonic music, but not all composers are good pianists, nor all pianists are composers.
Knowing how to play the piano to an intermediate/advanced level is invaluable if you want to be a composer, but there's no inherent connection that I know of.
So easy to declare your favorite violinist "The Greatest" when you get to make up the rules by which they are judged.
Nothing wrong with Bach's Chaconne depth, but just as well with Paganini, Ernst, et al. Snobbery kills music (though haters will argue showpieces and virtuoso violin composers' works are "not music" anyway.)
Bach played the violin. We may not have the numbers, but we have the greatest.
We've forgotten ORPHEUS*!