Flaws in Sarasate ?

June 15, 2007 at 10:44 PM · That is what I just read in a previous post at http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=11499

as stated by Mr.Emil Chudnovsky. I found this curious enough to start a new thread, so please let me know what you think:

1. Is it true that their technique was deficient viewed from today's perspective?

2. If so, in which regards they were backwards?

3. How those 'flaws' were corrected by later players?

4. Would not be unfair and hasty to assess their technical ability based on recordings made with very primitive equipment and when those gentlemen were quite aged?

5.On the other hand, are there some violinists around with the eyes in the future who consider the way violin is taught and performed nowadays by most schools is in certain aspects already behind and that after some more years of research we will establish even better and faster learning patterns?

Replies (41)

June 16, 2007 at 01:39 AM · I only know what I've heard from vintage recordings of people like Ysaye, Joachim, and other fin de siecle fiddle bigwigs. What I've heard is not-quite-there intonation, and a lack of the continuous and wide vibrato institutionalized by teachers like Delay. It's true that the recordings themselves are pretty bad, but the intonation and tone quality still come through. Even Mischa Elman, who was famous for his beautiful sound, sounds sadly lacking against Heifetz and others of the newer generation. The technical standards are simply much higher now.

June 16, 2007 at 02:33 AM · Don't forget to judge them on the standards of that day and not against modern players.

June 16, 2007 at 11:16 AM · Hi,

If one is interested in a good discussion of this transition I would suggest reading the Memoirs by Flesch and The Art of Violin Playing by Flesch also. It will explain very well the enormous transition that took place in the first half of the 20th century.

That said, taking into account the times, the equipment, tastes and all, I would say that Emil is right in that there are some shortcomings that we would not accept from players today. Even if one compares concerto performances in live recordings from prominent violinists from the 40's to Heifetz who was around at that time and later players, the differences are quite obvious.

However, there is much to be learnt from these old recordings in other matters. The sense of timing, pulse, rubato and phrasing has much to offer into the music of composers from the time. In an era where we are interested in performance practice, we have recorded examples of what was going on (often rejected) whereas there is far more guessing involved in the playing of say the baroque period.

For example, listening to Ysaÿe play can be quite helpful in grasping the inner workings of playing necessary to tackle successfully his sonatas.


June 16, 2007 at 03:41 PM · As an amateur violinist but with a long-standing and avid interest in the history of violin-playing, there's no doubt that that the level of musicianship and technique today is superior overall to what it was a hundred years ago. And in addition, not only were the recording techniques primitive in those early recordings, and not only were many of those legends way past their prime, but also recording was a novelty, and I'm not so sure a lot of these people took it as seriously as they might today.

However, many of these violinists were great artists, no matter what the era, and that artistry does indeed come through, and some of it even has positive qualities that you just don't find in anyone playing today. So I think if we try to listen to these historical artifacts with an appreciation for what they did within the context of their time and place, I think there is much to be gained, not just as a listener but as a musician.

Just listen to the Ysaye performance of the Rondino by Vieuxtemps - who today plays with that much rhythmic vitality and variety and sheer elan? The playing literally jumps out at you and pulls you in.

One thing seems certain - these soloists of a bygone era weren't afraid to assert their own individuality. Maybe we need a little more of that today.

And that's my two cents worth.


June 16, 2007 at 11:10 PM · If the level of musicianship is higher overall today, then let's see one of today's fine violinists compose on the level of Sarasate or Paganini or Kreisler or Ysaye.

If the recording techniques were primitive, the artists were past their prime, AND they didn't take recording as seriously, not to mention the fact they didn't over anal-yze every measure of the score in an almost clinical, sterile, uniform manner, then the whole comparison is moot.

I'm not taking anything away from the players of today- they're great. I admire every one of them, and have learned and continue to learn draw inspiration from them.

But I do think it is arrogant (or misguided) to think that Sarasate in his prime or Ysaye in his prime didn't have the chops to compete with a fiddle player of today. Take Stern , for example. I would take any of recording of Sarasate past his prime over any recording of Stern past his prime- and Stern had the advantage of every modern recording technique available!

Years ago, Henry Roth wrote an almost scathing article about Sarasate, saying the recordings were sped up, the pitch was raised, etc. Well, I challenged him and my personal recordings of Sarasate with my tuner. What did I find? A=440.

Then I put my tuner to Perlman's recording of the Paganini Caprices. What did I find? A=443+

Yes, I do think Perlman is a great violinist.

Yes, I do think Sarasate was a great violinist. And Ysaye.

And yes, it is my belief that they, in their prime, could and would adapt to the technical standards of today. Why is that so hard to believe?

Another amazing aspect of Sarasate's recordings was his illustration of spontaneous composition. In some of his pieces, he was clearly improvising/composing on the spot. Incredible!

I believe the players of yesterday were not bound, not chained to the almost clinical standards of today. They were free, and it shows not only in their compositions, but in their brief, spontaneous, not serious and primitive recordings. They were great fiddle players. However, if brought here in a time machine, I think they could and would adapt to the technical standards of today.

That's my opinion, anyway. :)

Edit: Musicianship according to Random House means (loosely): knowledge, skill and artistic sensitivity in musical performance. I will concede that the performance of Bach is certainly more "knowledgeable" today. But generally, I don't believe the level of musicianship is higher today.

Of course, that's just my opinion. And I'm sure everyone in the v.com community is so so interested in my opinion. :). ha

June 16, 2007 at 04:00 PM · One more aspect to this: today's artists do lots of editing to their recordings. The punch-ins and artificial echo in my recording of Mintz's Bach is really obvious. I'll bet if those early violinists could use technology to enhance/fix their recordings, they probably would have.

I also agree with the comment that those guys wrote lots of great music. Our repertoire would be much poorer without Sarasate, Joachim, and Ysaye.

June 16, 2007 at 06:00 PM · Many ideas and traditions have been fundamentally changed in the 20th century. We take them for granted, but they are the reason today's players are different (not necessarily better, but different) than the players of yesteryear.

We live in the machine age. Ysaye, Joachim, David, etc. lived in a pre-industrial world, where many people lived in rural areas. Around the turn of the 20th century, industrialization changed the pace and quality of western life - it got faster, more consistent (some would say rigid), increasingly precise, and far more aggressive. These qualities were reflected in Toscanini's conducting style as well as Heifetz's playing. The rise of recorded music demanded an even higher technical consistency; suddenly top performers such as Kreisler could no longer get away with being boring for 3/4s of a concert and wowing them in the encores (as he once famously did). In the 20th century style, one had to be on from first note to last. Heifetz (along with Kubelik, Capet, Flesch, and a few others in other spheres) ushered in a new era of almost militaristic concentration, machine-like consistency, tenacious fidelity to the printed note, and aggressive musical attack, and whether we like to admit it or not, every single player (pro- or anti-Heifetz) has followed in this automaton approach. Some intellectualized it (Szigeti), others added incredible sophistication (Milstein kept the laissez-faire attitude of the 19th century and added the 20th century style to create his own one-of-a-kind take on the violin), rustic ardor (Hubermann), risk-taking daredevilry (Ricci) or just flat out personality-stamping (Stern), but the mold has been set and we continue to refine it. Previous players (Ysaye, Sarasate, Wieniawski, etc. even Kreisler) relied on charming expression, rhythmic fluidity, and a certain rustic attitude towards even the most cosmopolitan compositions. It takes a generous musical conception to understand and appreciate both styles for what they are without criticizing one or the other in order to appreciate its forebear/antecedent.

We also underwent another fundamental change in the 80s. The personal computer, the internet, and internationalization/globalization have affected the world we live in in such a way that the entire world is point-to-point. Today's generation thinks nothing of mixing and matching different cultures, eras, and ideas and they do so with impunity: Japanese youth with dreadlocks, North Americans eating Thai for breakfast, South Asians wearing Celtic tattoos - often times wihtout the slightest clue as to the history of the things being adopted. In any previous age such things would be completely unheard of! Musically these developments are reflected in the uniformity of technical excellence for today's players (Hahn being a perfect example) as well as a certain multicultural mashup style that translates to many different regions but owes allegiance to none. My personal opinion is that Kogan (and to a large extent, Kremer after him) is the model for this new style, along with Szeryng and Milstein to a lesser extent. Today's playing is far more polished, urbane, quick to travel the world, takes ideas from all over and synthesizes them, is extraordinarily technical, and musically leans toward cosmopolitan style with fewer (often no) rural undertones. In the new style, you don't quite hear the German in Beethoven, or the Italian in Paganini. Nor can you hear the subtleties of Japan in Midori, or Israel in Mintz for example - with these players their Beethoven is sophisticated German from a non-german, completely without any regional accent, and often times you have to guess where they themselves were born and grew up based on their names. It's more of an international way, probably due to the fall of nationalism after world war 2, as well as today's increased migratory patterns and jet-setting travel habits. The uniqueness of today's players is more in their technical approach to music (ASM's vibrato and tone, Vengerov's old school portamenti, Hahn's feral technical gymnastics) and less about where they are from, or (and i hope this point isn't lost) how much of that regional detail they bring out of the scores they play. Rural grit and spittle is largely absent from a lot of today's players; many of them are obviously conservatory-trained, in contrast to players such as Heifetz and Milstein and Ricci who were largely self-taught, and who really had to work on being convincing to the nationalists of their time. In those days a jewish Menuhin went to Germany to study Schubert with Busch, whereas nowadays Chang would study Beethoven with Dorothy DeLay - completely different paradigms. I think that may be the reason many people don't like today's players. The emphasis is on the way music is played rather than on the music itself, and certain subtleties or lived-in experiences that can only be lived and not learned, have been lost in today's playing.

There is a certain inherent shallowness to the modern style, but it does have its strengths and there are some wwwwwicked players out there who have their own 'hear one note and you know exactly who it is' sound (ASM anyone?).

I am not above shameless name-dropping. So here goes. Kavakos and Takacs RROCK! Yes - i know that came out of nowhere and has nothing to do with anything, but hey.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Imo, three completely different styles and their broader societal underpinnings. I wouldn't go so far as to say that yesterday's players were inferior to today's. After all, Paganini grew up in the 1830s and i seriously doubt even the best of today's players would be able to do some of the things he was capable of!

What it comes down to is the style you prefer to listen to or are most comfortable hearing. From there it's down to preference - many people simply prefer the postwar style (Kubelik and Heifetz up to Perlman and Kremer) but i'm sure the next generation will prefer today's players in 30 years.

June 16, 2007 at 06:29 PM · I was not referring to Joachim's, Sarasate's, Ysaye's or Flesch's musicianship. I was referring to their technique, which is perfectly audible through the primitive recording technology utilized. As for the artist' seriousness about the recording process and their being past their prime, that is also beside the point. A knowledgeable ear will hear that Repin - even half-asleep, drunk or unpracticed - is a stellar violinist while even a warmed-up, prepared, well-rested and sober conservatory beginner is not. And in the space of a couple of passages, at most.

Similarly, one hears clearly just what technical deficiency is a result of a player being older or having a bad day and what technical deficiency is more fundamental. An out of tune note is not an indication of bad intonation, just human error. Lots of out of tune notes might just be carelessness. What is it that crosses the line into someone "having bad intonation"? There you have me. I'm not sure (though I'll be thinking about it now), but I do know that one knows it when one hears it.

Consider all of the above to apply equally to the production of a clean, scratch/hiss/grunt-free tone.

As for Ysaye, the careless moments in his recordings in no way impinge on my appreciation of his titanic stature as a technician. (Again, his musicianship and artistry are beyond question; it's just the nuts-n'-bolts that concern us here). For me, Ysaye-the-technician far surpasses Joachim or Sarasate. Is it because of his use of consistent vibrato? His simply more-frequently accurate intonation? His more powerful and appealing sound? His speed? Clarity? Evenness?


(And as for the artistic individualism that these giants emobied, I don't think I could add anything to what Dion wrote. Brava. But conflating musicianship and individualism with a knack - or time - for composition is a fallacy. The ability to compose is a skill entirely separate from that of performer. One might as well argue that Schubert was a lesser composer because he was a mediocre pianist. Or that John Gielgud was a bad actor because he didn't write Shakespearean plays.)

June 16, 2007 at 06:45 PM · I was not referring to Joachim's, Sarasate's, Ysaye's or Flesch's musicianship.

Yes, I know.

As for the rest, well, I guess we disagree about Sarasate, quite completely.

Regarding Joachim- I don't particularly care for his recordings.

June 16, 2007 at 07:56 PM · "But conflating musicianship and individualism with a knack - or time - for composition is a fallacy. The ability to compose is a skill entirely separate from that of performer."

While that is generally true, I don't believe it to be in this case. We are, after all, talking about violinist/composers who composed for the....violin. So, I choose to conflate. I'm conflating. I'm a conflater, I guess... :)

"One might as well argue that Schubert was a lesser composer because he was a mediocre pianist."

Schubert composed for many instruments. He was not married to the piano, compositionally, literally, or figuratively. Well, at least I don't think so.

"Or that John Gielgud was a bad actor because he didn't write Shakespearean plays.)"

I know what you mean, but I still disagree in this case.

June 16, 2007 at 06:51 PM · One very important point has been glossed over. The very act of recording music has changed the way we listen and the way we hear. Many times I would remember doing a performance and asking a good friend --How did it go? and the answer was simply I'll let you know what I really think after I've heard the tape.

That is the very nature of the difference between Paganini and Heifetz. Paganini played for an audience that was only accustomed to hearing music as a one off experience. Heifetz as his career went on was playing for audiences who thought they knew how he played because they had heard his recordings and in fact expected to hear what they had heard on the recordings. That changed the very nature of playing because it changed the very nature of expectations. in point of fact the recording process changed musical performance from a creative art into a recreative art for all except the most exceptional performers.

June 17, 2007 at 04:36 AM · I think it is difficult to judge a performers abilities by listening to primitive recordings done during the beginning of the 20th century. You can tell their phrasing, tempo, and intonation. The beauty of the sound, dynamic range, energy and charisma, are almost completely lost. There is no reason to believe that the greats of the past were any less as performers than the greats of today. I do believe that there are many more highly skilled violinists today than ever before. There are many more opportunities all over the world to learn and perform, and many more people who study the violin seriously starting from a very early age.

June 16, 2007 at 06:50 PM · Scott Cole wrote: "Even Mischa Elman, who was famous for his beautiful sound, sounds sadly lacking against Heifetz and others of the newer generation."

When I was a young fellow I had the good fortune to hear Mischa Elman in person, on numerous occasions. I loved what I heard, and I remain so grateful for having had the privilege of hearing it. However, one day during the years when I was hearing Elman "live", someone played some Elman recordings for me which had been made in the 1920s or so. I was astounded to hear the difference. There was an urgent intensity and fire in his early playing that more resembled Heifetz, yet was totally his own. Milstein and Heifetz were able to keep there playing very much intact up to their old age. Elman, however became more musically eccentric, and his vibrato seems to have lost some of its snap, even *before* he reached his autumnal years. Nonetheless, there remained in his later years a wealth of beautiful qualities to enjoy: Gorgeous intonation, the most generous and sensual tone ever drawn from a violin, a wonderful ability to speak to the audience through his violin tone in a way that carried us to the far away and the long ago, rather than the pedestrian here and now.

If you are able to listen to some of the very early Elman recordings (They were available on Biddulph CDs) you might have a whole different impression of his playing than you would get from the majority of his recordings.

June 16, 2007 at 07:51 PM · I've thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. The conclusion I came to is that it's really a change in fashion, and conforming to it that gives an illusion of progress or raising the bar. The main reason I believe this is that the goals are not definite. If a racing team raises the bar at the Indy 500, we know it, because the goal is forever the same - go faster. In violin playing though, the things Repin does that Sarasate doesn't, including more accurate intonation, don't necessarily mean that. In Sarasate's time Repin's "extras" might have meant nothing. One thing is for certain - Sarasate sounded very good to listeners at the time! I don't think we can say Repin would have sounded more proficient to their ears. We can't say they would have appreciated an intonation or sound better than Sarasate's, of have even heard it for that matter. We are the clean freaks, in other words.

Here's August Wilhelmj --> http://portico.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/wam.html

Scroll down to Witches' Dance. Would Repin sound as strange to August's audience?

June 16, 2007 at 07:53 PM · Here's August Wilhelmj --> http://portico.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/wam.html

Scroll down to Witches' Dance. Would Repin sound as strange to August's audience?

The first time I listened to this I laughed...and laughed...and laughed.

This time I only chuckled. But....I'll be darned if he didn't make his fiddle sound like an old woman! It reminded me a little of Hendrix. It would be nice to know the context of the performance.

June 16, 2007 at 08:07 PM · Thanks to the original poster for that. Lately, I've been noticing many things in common in styles of music the closer one gets to the dim past, a convergence. Or maybe that's an illusion too. It's hard to find information. I think maybe one of the links between it all is 19th cent. parlor music.

June 16, 2007 at 08:07 PM · I just listeneed to the Wilhemj performance. Clearly there is a different aesthetic at work here--there. And it is so removed from our own ideas of what music is supposed to be that I doubt that any comparison can be more than apples and pineapples.

June 16, 2007 at 08:18 PM · There is a tremendous amount of warbly pitch distortion on the Wilhelmj cylinder recording. So much so, that I think we would not perceive such a large difference of aesthetic were we able to hear the actual sound of his playing. Between the cylinder pitch warble and the comic sound effect he made in imitation of the old woman's voice, it is quite a misleading audio clip.

June 16, 2007 at 08:51 PM · I don't think there's that much pitch distortion, because there are plenty of places that seem not to have much. Most likely it wouldn't come and go, but would would be there throughout. It's a really simple machine (so simple I wonder why we don't have recordings made by da Vinci). The comedic sound effect might be comedic, but it's there! But that's out of the realm of TECH which my friend and acquaintace Emil wrote in capital letters.

June 17, 2007 at 12:12 AM · Emil Chudnovsky wrote: "As for Ysaye, the careless moments in his recordings in no way impinge on my appreciation of his titanic stature as a technician."

Thank you for saying that. There is all too prevailing a misunderstanding of technique as meaning an absence, or low number of errors.

June 17, 2007 at 12:48 AM · Mr STeiner--

I think what most people forget is that technic is simply a means to be able to make a meaningful musical statement. Most of us are so accustomed to playing for people who are only listening for our mistakes that musical meaning goes out the window in favor of as flawless a performance as possible and the devil take the hindmost insofar as interpretation is concerned. But then that all goes back to playing to people's expectations. Interpretation better remain on the bland side as well or the judges(auditors) will not be pleased. Recordings have in a sense dumbed the whole process down even though they have made our technical demands much higher.

June 17, 2007 at 01:18 AM · On closer listening...Oliver's right in that there's a lot of distortion to try to hear through there. I was listening to where the piano is alone at about 12 seconds playing a sustained chord, to get a clearer picture of what kinds of distortion the recording has, to mentally subtract it, but all I got was a headache.

June 17, 2007 at 04:43 AM · I wasn't going to write anymore, but I thought this interview with Thibaud might be interesting to others:


Thibaud: Really good violinists are good artists. Sarasate, whom I knew so intimately and remember so well, was a pupil of Alard (my father's teacher). He literally sang on the violin, like a nightingale. His purity of intonation was remarkable; and his technical facility was the most extraordinary that I have ever seen. He handled his bow with unbelievable skill. And when he played, the unassuming grace of his movements won the hearts of his audiences and increased the enthusiasm awakened by his tremendous talent.

"We other violinists, all of us, occasionally play a false note, for we are not infallible; we may flat a little or sharp a little. But never, as often as I have heard Sarasate play, did I ever hear him play a wrong note, one not in perfect pitch. His Spanish things he played like a god! And he had a wonderful gift of phrasing which gave a charm hard to define to whatever he played. And playing in quartet—the greatest solo violinist does not always shine in this genre—he was admirable. Though he played all the standard repertory, Bach, Beethoven, etc., I can never forget his exquisite rendering of modern works, especially of a little composition by Raff, called La Fée d'Amour. He was the first to play the violin concertos of Saint-Saëns, Lalo and Max Bruch. They were all written for him, and I doubt whether they would have been composed had not Sarasate been there to play them. Of course, in his own Spanish music he was unexcelled—a whole school of violin playing was born and died with him! He had a hobby for collecting canes. He had hundreds of them of all kinds, and every sovereign in Europe had contributed to his collection. I know Queen Christina of Spain gave him no less than twenty. He once gave me a couple of his canes, a great sign of favor with him. I have often played quartet with Sarasate, for he adored quartet playing, and these occasions are among my treasured memories."

I believe Sarasate made his recordings just 4 years before his death (pretty sure), so, to me, it is understandable that perhaps his playing wouldn't be as good as some years prior. Anyway, to my ears, his technique doesn't seem "fundamentally flawed," despite some errors. Again, that's just me. And Thibaud, perhaps. *wink*

Here's the rest of the interview:

I also found this quote interesting:

"In realizing the three essentials of good violin playing which I have already mentioned, Ysaye and Sarasate are my ideals."

And here's a wonderful clip of Thibaud, one of my favorite violinists:


I've learned so much from this thread. Thank you, everyone! :)

June 18, 2007 at 04:22 PM · How I love this website! When in the past I've been swayed to say that the present day violinsts don't have what the greats of the past had (especially individuality), I've been pillioried by those who think that the average virtuoso today can run circles around Sarasate and Ysaye. But when I've said that the average level of technical and even musical artistry today is at a higher level than in the past, I get lambasted for ignoring the unique technical and musical mastery of the past virtuosos.

Ah, well.

When Sarasate and Joachim and Ysaye made their few recordings, I doubt very seriously that there was the opportunity for "re-takes." Recording was, indeed, a novelty, and I doubt whether any of that era looked into their crystal ball and foresaw what the recording industry would become within a decade or two.

Also, from what I have read, the impression is that there was not the same consistency of performance back then that is expected today. You know, of course, that Casals once said that Ysaye was the first violinist he ever heard who played consistently in tune. Also, from what I have read, the training of violinists was not as consistent in giving them the kind of foundation that would enable them to sustain their technique into old age.

Even with that, several who knew Ysaye have said that he could be greater than the greatest one night, and off terribly the next (in which case he is perported to have done more facial mugging). So it's hard to believe that the few recordings made by these giants ALL represented their best work.

That being said, there is indeed a sweetness and excitement in the Sarasate recordings that is unmistakable and thrilling. And some of those Ysaye recordings have a quality of rhythmic vitality, technical brilliance, and sheer musical communication that I don't think I've heard by any other violinist, ever. And those few, comparatively poor Joachim recordings still project an inner fire and elegance. This is man who, after all, brought the Beethoven Violin Concerto into prominence (at age 13) after its disgraceful period of neglect, and who practically discovered Brahms and championed his cause.

How can you not love it all.


August 11, 2007 at 06:06 PM · In light of Thibaud's memories of Sarasate's playing ("like a nightingale"?) and of the already archived thread about legendary violinists' mutual admiration, I have the following story to offer. Extrapolate from it what you will:

My late teacher at Mannes, Alexander Cores, was a close personal friend to some of the past century's most legendary artists. Stern spoke at his funeral in 1994. Heifetz would call him over as a reliable pair of ears in the recording booth during recording sessions. Sasha's copy of Piatigorsky's autobiography is hand-inscribed "Milomu Sashi, ot iskrenne liubashchevo evo Grishi" (lit. trans. "To dear Sasha, from the sincerely-loving-him Grisha"). And so forth. And Fritz Kreisler was one of Sasha's heroes with whom, if memory serves, Sasha was personally well acquainted.

Kreisler's example, in terms of sound and intonation, was a constant benchmark that Sasha would hold me up to in lessons. He would reminisce glowingly about how pristine, charming and warm the titan's sound was, how clean his intonation.

Then the complete Kreisler recordings started to hit the CD market. I got as many as I could afford then (two) and began listening to them SPECIFICALLY for all these wonderful qualities Sasha described. A few days later, he was over for dinner and, without announcing who was playing, I put on a CD of Kreisler. Strangely, Sasha had to ASK who was playing. I say "strangely" because to me the Kreisler sound, like Heifetz's, is instantly identifiable. But the reason Sasha didn't guess it immediately quickly became apparent.

"It's odd," he said, sipping his tea, "but I didn't remember him playing THAT OUT OF TUNE!"

Moral: our memories are not infallible and time DOES make fools of us all.

August 11, 2007 at 07:18 PM · I had the exact opposite personal experience. I found some Kreisler records and was talking about them to my teacher, who had few credentials, and he said go ahead and copy them, but don't copy the intonation...

From that archived thread also, Ronald Mutchnik posted an interesting link that covers a lot, and I wonder if it got noticed there. What I liked most was philosophies of teaching put in context. Galamian's democratic approach of I can teach you how to play, vs. Auer's approach of I'll tell you what, and you'd better have the talent to figure out how. Her definition of talent as ability to coordinate the body to the mind is interesting too. It's a space-ily constructed piece that starts with her as a teen turning pages for Oistrakh and his accompanist at the same time, with a Russian impresario not wanting her onstage.


August 11, 2007 at 08:09 PM · Jim, thank you for sharing that amazingly well written article (referenced in your above comments):

"In the semantic translation from the musical idea to the instrument, these players created their own inimitable sound, the repertoire of their technique formed around the context and demands of the music. This is very different from the “new school” approach, where the emphasis is on how to produce a sound, not on what sound to produce. Each domain requires accessing a distinct cognitive faculty."


August 11, 2007 at 08:28 PM · Thank you for posting that link here too, Jim M. Regarding the question of technical fallibility of past masters like Joachim and Sarasate, I am reminded of the ancient dictum that the master teaches the student so that the pupil may stand on the shoulders of the master and see a little further- and so it goes from generation to generation. Aside from the fact that there are more people in the world today, there is a greater percentage of people who play the violin at a higher technical level than ever before. A great deal of this I think is simply the result of the powers of observation (including hearing, of course) which allow for refinements in technique that, over time, prove their worthiness by supplanting older techniques. There is also the inspiration derived from the admiration of violin heroes and a desire to learn to play at that awe-inspiring level thus igniting a process of exploration and refinement in the quest to play better and better.

The analysis of what physical movements create what kinds of sounds and the way to ingrain these movements into players to achieve consistency and reliability coupled with advances in the psychology of teaching children have enabled a greater number of people to reach a higher skill level than ever before.

As an example, we can take the kind of vibrato that Jan Kubelik, a reigning king of the violin back at the turn of the twentieth century, employed compared to the kind Heifetz, Elman, and Kreisler used, and it is understandable that what the latter three achieved with a more opulent, penetrating sound became the norm and students began to learn to vibrate differently. This single technique, the modern vibrato, transformed violin playing in very significant ways. (The effect of the use of the modern vibrato, good or otherwise, on the art of bowing, I will save for another discussion.) Suffice to say that, nowadays, it would be safe to assume that very few would want to return to the Kubelik style of vibrato as an expressive choice when employing it with any consistency in a given piece of music. Today's players are taught a vibrato that, through its use for nearly a century now, is judged technically superior to Kubelik's.

Also, expectations are higher. In this regard, violinists are in competition with past "records" not unlike Olympic participants. Who would have thought of teaching the complicated music of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring to an uninitiated tenth grader when the piece created numerous challenges to experienced professional players ninety years ago but that was in fact what I was charged to do a few years back. The frustration and contempt leveled at Charles Ives by well-known European concertmaster Franz Milcke over the complexity of the rhythms and harmonies in his violin sonatas would hardly be accepted as legitimate criticism today because the challenges of these pieces are often enough met by high school students.

All of this though does not deal with the more crucial issue which is what you say/do with your technique. If in the service of musical expression and the quest for something uniquely yours to contribute to the music while honoring the "instructions" the composer has handed down to you, the two will be inextricably bound and your choice of vibrato, and bow hold, and any number of other supposedly objective measurements will be tempered by intelligence, imagination, and sincerity of purpose. If we choose to look at music in this way, then it is eminently possible to forgive Joachim, Sarasate, Kreisler, and others who lived at the dawn of the era of recorded sound for their technical "blemishes" and hear something of timeless value, which is not eclipsed or overshadowed by the "advances" in violin technique of the past century. When it comes to artistry, what you gain emotionally and spiritually from a particular violinist's performance matters far more than the perfection of the technical execution of it.

Finally, even if one concedes the point of the technical superiority of today's players over those of the past, there is Isaac Newton's statement not unrelated to the ancient saying with which I opened this post, which humbly declares "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants".

August 11, 2007 at 11:25 PM · Listen for yourself and see.

Sarasate recorded some of his own works. They are available on CD. Kreisler was a prolific recording artist. Charles Libove, whose career overlapped Kreisler's, considered Kreisler to be the most in-tune of violinists. I believe that Libove ended his career on the violin faculty of Peabody Conservatory.

I refer to a very interesting book (complete with links) in this blog entry Chromatic vs. diatonic half steps

This book addresses how our ears have changed and why and not necessarily for the better.

August 12, 2007 at 02:16 AM · A little off topic. But long ago, I had done some experiments with using different intonations with Bach's E Major Partita Preludio first page (Galamian Edition). I noticed that playing in essentially pure major rather than pythagorean changes the character tremendously; the former sounded smooth but the latter sounded "bright" or "jangly". Now, how I want to play it really depends on my mood. :)

August 12, 2007 at 07:46 PM · Opal/Pearl has a recording that includes the complete recorded oeuvre of Joachim and Sarasate. I sat last night with my teacher and listened to all of it. Joachim was 72 and Sarasate was 70 when they made their recordings. It is quite incredible playing. If the recording quality had been at the standard of the late 1920's Sarasate's music would have all been retired from public performance. The casual ease of his playing is simply incredible.

August 13, 2007 at 03:29 AM · Joachim was indeed 72, but Sarasate was "only" 60 hen recorded.

It is odd that both died four years afterwards. Did they use radiation to record???

August 14, 2007 at 11:22 AM · Excellent thread. It's good to see Charles Libove's name mentioned - a great violinist, not nearly well-known enough. I studied with him very briefly some years back, and attended many of his wonderful recitals. Actually, after Peobody he taught at NYU for a while, then privately. His last recital was about 2 1/2 years ago. He's not very well now, about 80, and probably won't perform publicly anymore.

Re Kreisler, what I recall him saying is not that Kreisler was necessarily the best in intonation, but that he generally played very well and precisely in tune - so that when, being human, he'd occasionally play a note out of tune, it would be more noticeable. On the other hand, said Libove, many violinists slather on a consistently approximate intonation, which may sound in tune to casual listening, but really isn't. He also once said to me "I don't understand people saying that something was a little out of tune. Either it's in tune or it isn't. Am I right?" I certainly wan't going to tell him he was wrong!

August 14, 2007 at 12:28 PM · Matthias thanks for the correction. Raphael thanks for the anecdote. I was digging into memory of an interview with Libove in Strad magazine that I can no longer find.

My experience with Libove goes back to the mid 70's when he was invited to play the Beethoven concerto with my college orchestra.

My final word on this subject: The means for anyone to form their own opinion on violinists from Joachim on is available to all. The recordings of Joachim, Sarasate, Maud Powell, Fritz Kreisler, Jacques Thibaud, Manuel Quiroga and many others are indispensible to your musical education. Do not omit them from your listening experience.

August 14, 2007 at 10:14 PM · Hi,

I have heard everyone mentioned, except Quiroga. Where can one find his recordings? I am curious to here him, since Ysaÿe dedicated his 6th sonata to him.


August 15, 2007 at 12:21 AM · I don't have any but my teacher played me a CD of small peices recorded by Quiroga. He was absolutely phenomenal.

August 15, 2007 at 08:27 AM · For Quiroga reocording go to:


August 17, 2007 at 06:21 PM · I seem to remember a thread a while back which mentioned gut strings and the difficulty of keeping those strings in tune. Since these older recordings were a one shot deal maybe it was the strings that hurt their intonation, and would gut strings make for a wider vibrato? I thought I read that Heifetz was one of the early converts to the new metal strings.

August 20, 2007 at 03:03 PM · For Manuel Quiroga,look for a SYMPOSIUM 1131


Does somebody hear old Grigoras Dinicu playing

"classics" on Symposium "Zigeunerweissen"?

August 30, 2007 at 05:36 AM · Technical standards versus musicianship... hmmm... I think I'd rather hear an artist with deep musical understanding that misses a note here or there versus an acrobat without any kind of musical sensitivity...

Faster is not better... Heifetz is one in a million or more... so lets not get too excited about our day and age... it seems to me that too many of us pretend to be greater than we are... I've heard almost every soloist live and none of them sound as good live as they do on CD... its just they way it is... the manufacturing of a CD is creative production of a product... a performance is something else... you cannot judge the performances of old players like Sarasate to the overly edited and manufactured recordings of today... I wonder how many takes Ysaye did or Sarasate did when recording... they were experimenting in a way... today you have an artist go and re-record sections until they are content... or sometimes even a note if their budget allows it... recording and performing cannot be compared... in one you are supposed to get the audience to rise up and scream or clap or whatever... in the other you are trying to get a grammy...

August 30, 2007 at 02:02 PM · I think that there is no point in arguing this subject. We have the means to hear for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine