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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Do use vibrato when playing Baroque music?

March 29, 2008 at 6:13 AM

Seems like everyone's all atwitter over vibrato these days.

For example, Jasmine was bummed when her teacher told her she sounded childish for not using vibrato. On the other hand, I started a small storm when I suggested some wiggling during solo Bach.

Honestly, you could probably talk me into either idea, when it comes to Bach. With a nice Baroque set-up and perfect intonation, Bach needs no vibrato. And yet. I always play it on my regular violin, and I always use a measure of vibrato.

So there is theory, and there is practice. I want to know, when you actually play Baroque music, do you use vibrato? And what is your thinking about it? If you use vibrato, do you temper it for the style? Do you use it only on certain notes? Do you play on a Baroque instrument or with a Baroque bow? Do you believe in modern interpretations of Bach? Do you feel the purest interpretation would not involve vibrato?

From Neil Cameron
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 12:53 PM
What it is about so many classical players that they can't help but vibrate for EVERYTHING!?

I've always been bemused when any of the teachers I've had try to show me something, and keep in mind I'm on Suzuki Bk 2 so no vibrato for me yet, and they vibrate away like crazy. It significantly detracts from whatever point they're trying to illustrate.

Most amusing of all would be when they're showing where a note lies on the fingerboard and the associated sound it makes. Ummm, nope, it doesn't make the sound you think it does when you vibrate between ## and bb like that. Not a lot of help.

Just something to think about.

Oh and personally, I strongly prefer period pieces to be performed in an appropriate period manner. Romantic, heavily vibrated Bach? YEEEEECCHHHHHHH!!


Posted on March 29, 2008 at 1:22 PM

As pianists know, when you play Mozart or Bach at the piano, the use of pedal should be very shallow; In fact, it is almost not needed . . . pure notes speak for themselves . . . typical of the classical and baroque periods. Likewise, I believe, the use of vibrato when playing Bach (specially his solo works) should be somehow limited, although not forbidden at all.

From Brian Allen
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 2:45 PM
I would hate to listen to a Henryk Szeryng recording of Bach without vibrato. How dull!! I am reminded by a book I read about Dorothy Delay, she was always encouraging her students to vibrate more, not less. I like to think that if the violinist in Bach's time could vibrate, they would have, without question.
Brian and Don
From Nick Ittzes
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 3:54 PM
Yep, I use vibrato when playing Bach, but sparingly, ever so gently, on notes that need a little extra warmth or emphasis. I couldn't do Bach with a non-stop, operatic vibrato.

May I submit something off topic that could help someone. I've started taking lessons again, and my prof noticed I was not drawing my bow parallel to the bridge. That surprised me. I did not remember having that problem years ago, but now I was having a dickens of a time for over two years! He finally suggested that I put the violin higher on my shoulder, and aim it somewhat to the left. Wow. Instant cure. I began to wonder. Then my wife put on an old movie which included some scenes of my playing the violin. My bowing was straight as an arrow. Then I realized that my woes seemed to coincide with changing to one of the new style of shoulder rests that one of your bloggers called a prosthetic device. When I removed the device and changed its set-up to rotate the violin counterclockwise from me (to the left) the problem disappeared without any further conscious effort on my part. So...if you're suddenly having trouble staying parallel with the bridge maybe the configuration of your shoulder rest is the problem.

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 4:22 PM
I definitely use some vibrato when playing solo Bach, but temper it for the style. There's a big difference between the vibrato I'd use for Lalo or Brahms and the vibrato I'd use for Bach. My baroque vibrato is less wide and fast than romantic/classical vibrato. Also, I don't necessarily vibrate every possible note. It depends on the context.
From Owen Sutter
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 9:59 PM
well, they did use vibrato then, just much less so you'd be crazy to play it with absolutely zero. Certain sections ask for some added color and i think vibrato is essential then but you have to use good taste. The rule of thumb i was taught was it's good to use vibrato to color chromatics, and a decaying vibrato is usually more tasteful than one that gets more intense through the note. However, in the end it always comes down to your discretion. Besides, if you're playing it on a modern setup with a modern bow then you're not going to use true baroque technique anyway.
From Jasmine Reese
Posted on March 29, 2008 at 11:53 PM
Neil, I actually encountered what you are saying. My student was so distracted by my vibrato and even discouraged. She said,"I can not play it that way, yet. So maybe I should not play at all." So, now I teach without vibrato, unless the student is at the level where it is time to learn it. I like to give my students an example to strive for. So, I try to play as good as I possibly can, but I would never want it to feel like a competitive environment between the student and I. I mean, the reason I played vibrato in the first place is because I wanted students to strive for that sound, but I guess they can strive for a beautiful sound without vibrato first and then strive for vibrato when they come to that point in their development. Which is why I am trying to work really hard on sounding good without vibrato!!!

As far as Baroque music goes, I do vibrate, but I use baby vibrato, small, seldom, and barely audible. But I do not play BAroque music often since Romantic period and Modern periods are my favs (I want to specialize in those periods if possible). I am all for interpreting music differently without the restrictions of period rules, especially if one can pull it off. I think Anne Sophie did great on the Vivaldi concertos. She used her signature vibrato on that album.

So, whatever.

From Pooya Radbon
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 12:50 AM
Dear friends , you may probably know that it makes a big difference when you play baroque music on a modern violin and with a modern bow and when you play with baroque bow on gut strings .
I belong to the performers who say "vibrate" but not as much as you can .
as Leopold mentioned in his versuch ...
From Carol Holmes
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 3:10 PM
The problem with playing Bach and other baroque composers on a modern set up is the non-varying string timbre that is produced by metal strings and Tourte bow. There is no possible way a player is going to sound better than a good student when using no vibrato on a modern instrument. Switch over to gut strings and baroque bow, and the ear is drawn to the sheer natural beauty of the gut strings. The colorful varying timbre of each note makes one not want to taint it with an ongoing vibrato. However, on a metal string, the unchanging brassiness is something one's ear can't take for too long, hence it needs to be covered up with vibrato. Also, the use of a baroque bow instantly fixes all the bowing problems. The heaviness of the frog end naturally gives emphasis to the "strong" notes (down-bows) and the light tip end de-emphasizes the weak notes (up-bows). I never even write bowings in any more on baroque gigs. Plus, I never have to do crazy fingerings to avoid playing the open E string. It's the most beautiful sounding string and I truly enjoy it played uncovered. Now, thanks for reading my shameless plug for going "baroque." :)
From Jenny Fischer
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 5:19 PM
I think there should be a tasteful amount of vibrato to be used more as ornaments than anything.
From Neil Cameron
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 5:43 PM
And Jenny gets it exactly right, while also using the least amount of words to say it. :)


From Joel Arthur
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 5:48 PM
There is a difference in vibrating everynote like a machine with the same type of back and forth vibrato that you use for everything that you play, and keeping a note alive. In one of these threads, I discussed the idea of the alive hand when playing the violin. It's rare that you play just a dead note. Everynote played on the violin should have a good sound. Although it is true that the main sound of the violin is produced by the bow just as a singer uses their breath. But just as a singer has to know where to place the sound and how to relax the muscles in the face and neck etc., in order that the breath flows free and thus produces a natural vibrato, you have to find a way for your left hand and arm to do the same so that each note you play has an aliveness and gives importance to the phrase that you are playing. You also have to realize that in the days of Bach and other Baroque composers, there really wasn't the type of concert halls we have today. Most of their music was composed for either the church or a chamber room suited for music. Without the aliveness given to the notes played (and of course a good bow arm) you can never hope to fill these halls (especially when they are filled with people). This doesn't mean that you are not true to the spirit of the composer or the music he wrote.
From Steven Snodgrass
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 12:25 AM
I have a baroque violin and bow, but I switched from gut strings to gut-core strings. I even put a chin rest on it! Egads! It still sounds baroque, but I find it infinitely easier to play it. I use vibrato sparingly. I'm a proponent of historically informed performance [HIP] practice, but vibrato has a place even in baroque music. In fact, since taking up the baroque violin, my formerly stringent interpretation of HIP practice has relaxed. If you look at the historical evidence, there was no single baroque style even in the baroque. I love a good performance by Manze or Holloway, but I can't achieve that level of professionalism; I'm willing to be flexible. By the way, a baroque bow really comes in handy with baroque music!
From Bruce Berg
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 3:41 PM
From Geminiani's The Art of Violin Playing, 1751 concerning vibrato "The close Shake...To perform it, you must press the finger strongly upon the string of the instrument, and move the wrist in and out slowly and equally, when it is long continued swelling the sound by degrees, drawing the bow nearer to the bridge, and ending it very strong it may express majesty, dignity, etc. But making it shorter, lower and softer, it may denote affliction, fear, etc. and when it is made on short notes, it only contributes to make their sound more agreable and for this reason it should be made use of as often as possile."
From Marty Dalton
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 6:05 PM
I don't know why some people think that vibrato is a modern invention. It has been around probably since the beginning of violin playing. Dr. Berg quoted Geminiani (a quote in a book I'm reading about baroque performance practice), and aside from Geminiani there were many others who vibrated constantly. Of course, there were also those who didn't vibrate much.

I always thought that music was about expression and beauty of sound. If you can do that with vibrato or without, God bless you.

From Oliver Bedford
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 7:26 PM
Baroque music with no vibrato sounds as flat as a plank!
From Chris Rogers
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 8:25 PM
As in any style of music, vibrato is an expressive tool to be used in different ways at different times. In general it was more used by soloists than ripieno players in the time of Bach, no doubt helping to distinguish the solo sound from the tutti sound. I don't enjoy Bach with continuous wide vibrato myself. I use a smaller vibrato, but still with wide variety (though not anything over romanticised) Cutting out vibrato completely would be like losing the soul of the music. But having a wide romantic vibrato would be like serving pasta with too much sauce!
From Pooya Radbon
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 8:54 PM
well dear friends , excuse me but I have figured out some thing which I think is not a bad thing to do for such performers like me who do not hold the baroque violin in the way Kuijken believes "without chin rest" , but just try it in this way , you might learn many things : tie a scarf around your neck from the tailpiece like Onofri . Then your situation will be in a shape without chin rest , then vibrate ... you will see that your convenient place which is left will not help you to vibrate in a Tschaikowsky shape !! so the situation will fit your ability of vibrating in a baroque mood . Don,t forget that even till 1830 violinists used to play without chin rests .
From Pooya Radbon
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 9:09 PM
Messa di voce , swelling . why not learning more of these techniques rather than vibrato ? instead of imagining messa di voce , its very easy , just listen to Standage or Podger or Stephen Mai (principle violin of Alte musik Berlin)
I highly recommend this CD : Solo and double concertos . Bach . Harmunia mundi .
After some decades more people would rather listen to him or some body like him rather than Heifetz and Menuhin .
Believe me ...
From William Wolcott
Posted on April 1, 2008 at 3:01 AM
Thank you Bruce Berg! :)
From Bruce Berg
Posted on April 1, 2008 at 3:46 AM
Having played solo Bach on both the Baroque and modern violin I would like to assert the opinion that when playing on the period instrument less vibrato is required, while playing on the modern violin more is required, due to the nature of the 2 different instruments. I think that what Geminiani was talking about in his treatise of 1751 was having a left hand which is "alive" and ready to have a bit of ornamental creativeness on any individual note if desired by the performer or required by the music.
From William Wolcott
Posted on April 1, 2008 at 10:15 AM
"if desired by the performer or required by the music."

Well, that pretty much covers it! lol

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