Recently an interesting and important question `(roughly) just how much Kreutzer is enough?` was posted here.
The question gets to the heart of what is one of the most important and profound understanding about the nature of learning the violin that there is: from the initial stages to quite a high level (including college for many) the progression is quite linear. One is presented more or less systematically with techniques, scales, etudes, pieces etc and this becomes the way the instrument is conceptualized.
However, at some point the realization often occurs that the highest levels of playing often involving a completion of the circle. One goes back to the roots. This revelation often occurs as a result of teaching a beginner when the teacher suddenly realizes they either a) don’t know how they do XYZ or b) in truth, don’t actually do XYZ as well as they had believed!
Taking the specific issue of Kreutzer first, it is useful to take note how the players of the past saw this book. The general layout and material of the book actually suggest quite strongly that in Kreutzer’s day this was a manual for professional players rather than a student’s book of technique.
It is interesting to note that Heifetz called this "The professional’s manual," a comment which had a strong influence on some of the great Russian pedagogues such as Tziganov. In his books Szigeti told about how he regularly asked top competition players to play and improvise on these etudes and they looked at him blankly. Or that he saw the octogenarian player Rose practicing them. In more modern times, Fischer notes that many top players use No. 2 as a daily bowing exercise and Clayton Haslop has noted that his Paganini improved as a result of practicing Kreutzer even when not practicing Paganini.
So I think the answer to the question of Kreutzer, once taken out of the linear mindset, is that it is a lifetimes daily study, unless you choose to use something else containing the fundamentals of playing as a daily study! There are alternatives that should be explored thoroughly, but the most important point is that it really is unwise to drop the habit of etudes (as well as scales) as a professional.
The advantage of teaching is one is constantly reminded that players/composers of the caliber of Mazas, Wolfahrt and Dancla really understood the nuts and bolts of the instruments. Taking Wolfahrt as an example, in his first book after the elementary duets(in themselves miniature classics of violin technique) there is a fairly short son file type etude (about No. 5 I think) that is really hard to play with perfect control. It encapsulates the same kind of challenge that Mazas No. 1 (Opus 38) has.
To play that with perfect phrasing and proportions is the work of an artist. It is never finished and the lifetime’s process is actually our art growing. It makes perfect sense to me when a top player says I use the Mazas etudes to keep my technique in shape. I have met college level players who scoff at Mazas, but when asked to play number five from the same book with a beautiful seamless detache, can’t do it so well. The same problems as Kreutzer No. 2 (or so many of the others). Detache is something one spends a life time trying to get more and more perfect.
It is also quite normal to go even simpler, which in my case means a great deal of basic open string work everyday (well, about 30 minutes- it just feels like a lot….). Why I mention this is because many violinists are, quite rightly, obsessed with producing a bigger and bigger sound. However, they often go down the misleading path of pressing which creates an illusion of power and very little quality.
In reality a huge sound comes from maximum vibration. I began really pondering this only recently while teaching a student the first Dancla operatic theme and variations, of which the first variation is repeated short down bows. I couldn’t get her to stop either pressing or hitting the violin until in despair I asked her to put down the instrument and repeat it a number of times pizzicato observing the vibration of the string and listening to the ringing tone. She was finally able to recreate this sound.
So, taking this kind of vibration as an ideal, open string work offers a really clear tool of exploration. An area of technical weakness it really highlighted for me was the question of the plane of the bow arm and bow in relation to the string. This aspect of bowing tends not to get as much mention as the inimitable relations between the big three: sound point, bow speed and weight.
However, I have become more and more convinced this is a central issue because of the work I have been doing recently from Drew Lecher's book. Its only been a few months but the players in my piano trio have commented on a noticeable increase in volume (piano trios have a lot of balance problems) and at a competition we aced a couple of days ago the judges first comments were on how the violin power matched that of the open grand piano in the concert hall.
I attribute this solely to having unconsciously learned to pay a great deal more attention to the plane of the bow on every single note of the Beethoven trio we played. It ends for example with three quarter notes on the g string after a 16th note run up to the a string. So the bow arm is in a string position and at the speed it is going it is all too easy to just use a bit of wrist and forearm angle to get back to the g string. No big deal. But if one is actually back on the plane of the G string those notes just explode. It’s fantastic! And the only thing I attribute this change to is working carefully and patiently everyday on such banal practice as two quarter notes and a half note rhythm. G-gd d d-gd g or g (up bow heel) rest e (down bow point) rest…..
You’ve just gotta love this instrument.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.