old school sound,,,

January 17, 2008 at 07:37 PM · based on technique? schools? what?

any modern day players have this "old school sound"?

Replies (63)

January 17, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Can't give you an answer, Al, but I know where you're coming from. I have been listening to the Meditation (inspired by your own little rocket, and congratulations to her, she looks and sounds fantastic. I just can't watch her for too long since we've both been playing for about the same amount of time and she's so much, well, better, and geting there faster), and went trawling through you tube. Have you listened to the Milstein post - no video, just the audio. the sound he creates is just so different to any one else today. It just sings. I can hear how some of it is his phrasing and bow speed, but the strings themselves make a different sound.

Its a pity about that piece, I find it really boring after the first 30 seconds or so.

January 17, 2008 at 09:09 PM · This prompts thoughts of the Victorian age for me. I hear in my head slow,wide vibrato, a lot of the shift motion audible (slides by any other name), a fair amount of allargando, "tear-jerker" dynamics. Not so good that I notice I have some prejudice against the styling as I hear it. Andre' Rieu?? Sue

January 17, 2008 at 10:17 PM · sharelle, funny you mentioned milstein's take. with my limited exposure of who played what and how, that one on youtube is really special, definitely my favorite. what i take away is the contrast of seemingly not trying hard, but full of endearing feelings, subtly powerful if you will. also, many artists in the black and white generation seem not to sway the body much. that in contrast to the emotional sound coming from the violins/fingertips seem quite alluring as well.

sue, what i meant by old school sound is perhaps what elman was referring to in one of those violin documentary tapes (perlman did a lot of talking there). elman if i remember correctly was talking for and standing on the "old school" side.

what i find confusing, if you will, is that many older generation recordings were done on older technology and that by itself has a different tone to my ears. it seems to have less overtone and more core tune so it is easier on the ears and the sound seems simpler and purer.

i would like to know that beyond the old radio sound/recording tech, that the old school has something else going on. i am pretty sure there is, but just cannot pinpoint it. i guess milstein's take on meditation can be one example? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXuzLRVi6qk

January 17, 2008 at 11:42 PM · I think art reflects what is going on in society. And today things are getting faster and faster and more out of touch with the pace of what is natural. I think “old school” violinists were more in touch with the beauty of nature. They took more time between phrases. They took more time between concerts. In the 30’s noone had 150 concert dates a year. It’s been awhile but I seem to remember from reading a book on Arthur Rubinstein that a violinist friend of his had 12-15 concert dates a year, and made a living at it. There were no recordings, fewer competitions, more originality, and probably a lot more bad playing too. No computers. No CDs. The famous violinists practiced more in-between concerts because they could.

The recordings from a bygone era that have survived to today reflect a more natural way of living. Since recordings were much much more expensive to make back then, only the best were able to record.

I think all of that is what is reflected in the “old school” recordings. It’s what makes them so good. I don’t think anyone today plays that way anymore.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it for now. Until someone proves me wrong – which could happen any second. ;)

January 17, 2008 at 11:51 PM · Okay, I'm probably going to misquote this but I 'think' I read somewhere that Auer said the great virtuos's became great because they came from poor backgrounds and they knew suffering. They had the drive to better their situations and they played with emotion because of their hardships.

Makes sense to me. Look at today's musicians...if the parents cannot afford music lessons and instruments the kid just doesn't play. At least in the USA there aren't govt programs to help poverty stricken kids who show talent and promise.

January 18, 2008 at 01:50 AM · Ha! It reminds me of a movie we used to be shown every summer as students at Meadowmount (in the 70's). It was a cartoon about a poor, hungry violinist playing for a pittance on the street corner, but playing so beautifully... Finally, one day he was "discoverd" and became "world famous" and wealthy and...his playing lost its soul. So...he lost his fortune and career, ended up standing on the same street corner...but playing so sweetly.

Surely life experience and soul accounts for some part of this wonderful "old school" sound.

January 18, 2008 at 03:19 AM · It has a lot to do with the static and how that distorted and changed sound, compared to today where recording is crystal clean

January 18, 2008 at 04:17 AM · "Surely life experience and soul accounts for some part of this wonderful "old school" sound."

I've read, rightly or wrongly, that Heifetz sounded the same since he was about ten years old.

The noisy record issue, I vaguely remember reading some study where they added noise to a recording to see how listeners would react. I think the mind does fill in some gaps, and also maybe some small things you wouldn't like are obscured as well. But at the same time I don't know how we could go from button up shoes to Nikes, from a dirt main street downtown to chrome and steel, and not have music making change right along too.

January 18, 2008 at 04:08 AM · Greetings,

I think there are so many angles to this question , including perhaps the role of bel canto, that it could become the most unending discussion in history. I would just throw in two dimensions for better or worse.

The players of the first half of the 20c had less access to the whole cornucopia of knowledge and sound of the violin world. They were, I think searchign for individual solutions to any probnlems they felt. These days all but the finest of the finest individual pints of playing has become so well publicized and learnt that anyone with talent can usually find the best posisble etacher and follow a rather typical path of aboulte excellence. Not much in the way of quirks, rule breaking or diversions. Thus whereas Mr Bron talked about how in his day he was rated very highly for playing the Bach a minor at age 8 these days children of this age may well be do an embarassingly proficcient job of Paginini caprices and some major concertos.

Then there is the very pervasie influenc eof comeptitions. In order to have a solo career these days it is usually necessary to win a few. To so one has to play as perfectly as possible without ibeing to individualistic. The danger of individualism lies in offending one of the judges who may be individualistic in the opposite direction however fair the try to be , or not. That`s why we have a Heifetz crowd, an Oistrakh crowd , a Kreisler crowd and so on these days. An interestign comparison of how routinely brilliant and brillaintly routine players have become seemed to me to be a comparison between the Japanese lady who won the Tchaik last year and Akiko Suwanai.Its not even using old school as under discussion here but there is to me quite a prgression down the uniformity road.



January 18, 2008 at 04:41 AM · The first thing is really interesting. It never occurred to me that everyone being able to do more, earlier, is a result of streamling. In fact I was wondering what was causing it. Dumb.

January 18, 2008 at 06:35 AM · Ahh, Buri I think you are closest to the true answer.

Another analogy...practically every kid in America now wears braces on their teeth at some point in time. You look at all the kids in any high school in the USA and what do you see? They all have the same exact smile. There is no individualism. There isn't a kid in the school with one tooth out of place, they all have perfectly uniform teeth.

January 18, 2008 at 06:47 AM · ...did you seriously just compare an individual violin sound to crooked teeth...?

January 18, 2008 at 07:20 AM · Can you have individualism without bad students? This is the rock and roll approach. Instead of advertising where you went to school, they advertise when you dropped out... It's also the Microsoft approach.

January 18, 2008 at 07:44 AM · Mara...not comparing to the violin per se. Simply another example of uniformity leading to loss of individualism...yes...with teeth. ; )

January 18, 2008 at 07:58 AM · You know, when people start going on and on about competitions winners all being carbon copies of some ideal violinist, I wonder if they've actually watched any recently. You're talking about people like Hadelich, Khachatryan, Znaider etc... there's a lot of violinist who are every bit as soulful and unique as "old school" players, it's just really fashionable right now for people to say that everyone sounds the same.

January 18, 2008 at 08:17 AM · I agree with most of that. I also find it hard to imagine a judge who doesn't vote for you because you're in some debatable stylistic camp - if you do a convincing job. On top of that, I'm not sure if what the judge thinks even matters. I saw the winner of one big competition confidently predicted months in advance, out of the entire field -- and obviously at that point in time nobody knew how anybody was going to play. On the other hand they've done statistical analysis that shows just the opposite kind of thing. dunno just dunno.

January 18, 2008 at 08:17 AM · I have watched the 3 you mentioned in competition and have seen them live. I would only recognize 1 of them, though. The other 2 play very generic in my opinion (and characteristic of this generation). I don't think you would be able to spot these violinists out in a crowd of other superb violin players. However, i'm sure many here can spot heifetz, milstein, kreisler, seidel, menuhin, szeryng, gitlis, etc in just seconds. you know what I'm saying?

January 18, 2008 at 08:54 AM · D., there are a modern player or two I would recognize as quickly as I would Heifetz even. If you want to compare distinctiveness, you should use the most distinctive players of the present too. To me it's an issue of what someone has to say, so to speak, not how easy to spot they are. And some of that comes with age, I'm sure. I would say in no case should you compare a generation that consists of kids to the likes of H. and Milstein. Even though H. supposedly sounded the same since he was ten years old....

January 18, 2008 at 10:01 AM · There was a discussion on here some time ago, exploring why it is possible to distinguish between older players sounds than modern ones. Someone posted a link to a violin teacher, who has made a DVD which tries to explain this.


I bought this DVD, although to be honest I think it was overpriced. I thought for one thing it is too short, and the image and sound quality is extremely amateurish. If anyone is desperate to get there hands on it I can always lend it to you!

However, the interesting point he made was that (in his opinion) the great players of the past used what he referred to as an impulse vibrato. To explain briefly, he compared the vibrato movement to a woodpecker, and the hand and arm will move only passively as a result - the action comes just from the finger. He claimed that the result is that the soul and expressiveness of the player can be transferred through this type of vibrato.

January 18, 2008 at 01:17 PM · I had lunch yesterday with a friend who is an outstanding musician with a great love for the early masters of the violin. We didn't discuss this specifically but some of his comments cause me to think that one of the big differences is intonation. He said that all good playing flows from intonation. He explicitly does not mean tempered tuning. Every pitch must be "justified" by the key of the moment and every change in key must be "justified". He claims that tone, sonority and line all flow from carefully thought out intonation.

He claims that a consistent method for tempered tuning of pianos was not widely available until 1918 and that there is a distinctive difference in the playing of violinists who got their ears before 1918 and those who got them after 1918. He makes the same claim about composers.

His models for good intonation are the Flonzaley and Capet quartets.

I am sure this is very controversial but it may be one more explanation of the old-time sound.

January 18, 2008 at 01:28 PM · Corwin you make an interesting point but as an example Heifetz and Seidel got their ears before 1918 and there is an enormous difference in the sound they make. Heifetz sounds much more "modern", to my ears not necessarily better but more modern.

January 18, 2008 at 02:03 PM · interesting points people...

on strings,,,i understand people have been using gut strings, but of different type/quality. does the string evolution play a role?

oh, old school, new school, better than seizure:


January 18, 2008 at 01:12 PM · The emphasis in lessons has changed. In the nineteenth C and earlier if you went to a master for lessons you would generally work your way through music. Exercises and scales were studied, but I think lessons had not nearly so much the mechanical focus of today.

Technique was something for you to work out for yourself at home. You could play the violin any way you wanted as long as you sounded great, and looked reasonably noble (or mysterious in Paganini's case) while standing on the stage. Individuality in sound and style were greatly prized. There is a lot of talk now about how to move your elbow, and where your wrist is, what the rotator cuff is up to, and how the knuckles and joints should do this...and that.

This current preference for making a special study of technique is an understandable reaction against an earlier neglect, when in Joachim's and Ysaye's time several strange fashions crept into violin teaching, such as holding the right elbow too close to the body, bowing using only the wrist, and so on.

The best players rose to the top despite this technical neglect. They worked out their own successful manner of playing for themselves, found their own method of learning difficult things, and/or they watched their teachers, peers and the master performers of their day and came up with their own approach to playing.

Then Heifetz and others came on the scene and blew much of the old school out of the water. This new style had its roots in a personal, informal and mainly self-taught setting. Elman developed much of his style himself. He also was influenced by his amateur grandfather's playing. Auer apparently learned more from Elman than the reverse. Auer contributed greatly by providing his immense experience, networks, guidance, friendship, and support. But the sound was Elman's. Kreisler also had developed his own approach which was different to the 'academic' sound of violinists of his time. Heifetz in turn was heavily influenced by Elman and Kreisler. All the teachers that came on the scene during and after these players felt that an efficient understanding of mechanics should be the new focus in order to match the new standards.

Another big change was that wind instruments greatly improved in sound and playability around about the same time (eg. the Boehm system woodwinds, and new valves, etc), and a new emphasis in string technique was called for to match the better sounds coming out of the clarinets and flutes and things. The phonograph made string players give up a lot of the audible position changing that they had formerly used, resulting in a more difficult manner of playing. This difficulty had to be countered with more concentration given to technical problems. Last but not least, a new insecurity, insularity and stifled, wooden artistic sensibility developed in society that valued credentials and safety-in-numbers more than individuality and artistic heroism (roughly paraphrasing Kenneth Clark).

And then everyone quit and just listened to records, cd's, and downloads.

January 18, 2008 at 02:59 PM · so, for those who frequent v.com, are they at risk of developing pruny sound due to burian influence?:)

January 18, 2008 at 03:31 PM · Hadelich has a very stylized way of playing, and so does Khachatryan. I'd be very worried about anyone who couldn't recognize their sounds.

I think this idea of uniqueness is largely in people's heads. It's much more sophisticated to say that you only like dead violinists. I go to a lot of concerts I think there is a lot of individuality out there. If you look mechanically at what many modern players are doing, it isn't any different from what someone of the "golden age" is doing.

January 18, 2008 at 07:48 PM · I don't know where the origin of the term "old school" came from in connection with violin playing but it has come to mean in my mind primarily a difference in a perceived individualistic approach to playing from roughly the middle of the 20th century and before and a more standardized technical approach that created greater similarities in a greater number of players after that point, in part due to the influence of Galamian and DeLay. Some people feel there is less a difference between Perlman, Zukerman, and Kyung Wha Chung, who all studied under the influence of Galamian-Delay, than between Heifetz, Milstein, and Elman who studied with Auer, but, nevertheless, differences are there because there are so many factors involved in creating an individual sound that even if there is a more common approach to technique, the individual player's choice of fingerings, portamenti, vibrato, rubati, etc. are going to be part of their own unique style.

The more consistent use of dominant arm vibrato over dominant hand (wrist) vibrato (since most players use both but one tends to dominate more) and the greater more prevalent use of the Franco-Belgian bow hold (and its variations) over the Russian and German bow holds after the midpoint of the previous century, the less frequent use of slides and portamenti (although Heifetz, whom many would link with the "old school" already was doing less of this than his predecessors and a number of his contemporaries and given his use of vibrato sounds decidedly part of the mainstream twentieth century) in addition to musicians striving for excellence and perfection and greater precision across the board, has created the impression that there was an old school with greater variety and individualism than there is now, but as Pieter pointed out, there are quite a few players whose style is distinctive and are no less individualistic than players in the past so one must be careful to generalize and create categories that might pigeonhole whole generations of players into a group that they really don't fit into upon closer examination. That said, an interesting "blindfold test" would be for someone to choose a piece or two that a lot of violinists have played and post as many recordings of the same piece (or part thereof) by different artists from different periods and see who would be linked with an old school or older style of playing and who with a more contemporary school or style in addition to trying to identify the actual performer. I'm not sure we'd reach a consensus about what sounds old school or doesn't but it might be worth a try.

January 18, 2008 at 08:47 PM · Pieter,

I think it is not so much people liking dead violinists so much as it is people liking the music making of those dead violinists. Today's violinists are the products of a musical education which demands adherence to musical values which place a great deal of importance on juries, competitions and the like. This does not encourage people to think for themselves musically but cows them into adhering to an orthodox kind of interpretation so as to pass their juries or win their competitions. SUch a system squeezes the individuality out of people. It certainly doesn't foster individual thinking. And after years of adhering to orthodoxy it begins to assume a life of its own and perpetuates itself as the only way music is made.

By contrast Auer's students didn't all sound like each other. By and large today's fiddlers sound pretty much alike in a way that Auer's did not. Listen to Heifetz, Seidel, and Elman they are all so different that they could hardly be confused. Bell and Hahn and Ehnes are more alike than different from each other. As an example Seidel and Heifetz both play violin but are so different from each other that the violin is the only thing they have in common.

January 18, 2008 at 09:19 PM · Compare any two golden age players, and then compare Hahn and Elizabeth Walfisch.

January 18, 2008 at 10:44 PM · Again, all misconceptions.

There's quite a few players with a lot of qualities that old players had. The aesthetic back then was different. It was all about, just play the violin very sweetly with as many vocalizations as possible. The result was very beatiful playing, but the sacrifice was the music itself. One thing that you will get from these old violinists is that almost every composer they play sounds the same. Their decision making with regards to shifting, fingerings, vibrato, was basically the same from Bach to Bartok. As long as you played every phrase as close to Carusso's singing as possible, then you've been successful.

The other issue is that there were probably just as many carbon copies and boring players then as there are now, and in fact they probably played less in tune and made more mistakes. Today, there are many players who have every quality a violinist has had in the past, except for the distinct disadvantage of having become famous in the 21st century, after many people have decided that the best has already been.

If you are going to cite Joshua Bell and Hillary Hahn as the best violinists of our generation then I think you need to go to a CD store and listen to the playing of someone like Frank Peter Zimmerman. Leondias Kavakos has such an incredible approach to everything he plays which fits the composition, not just the convenience of his hand. Hadelich is another person who has a lot idiosyncracies in his playing and had he (or a number of others) come out 40 years ago with all those crackles over his playing then everyone would be building shrines to him like they do for Elman and Milstein.

January 19, 2008 at 02:01 AM · A good metaphor is how people used to speak, and how we do now.

We used to enunciate a little more clearly, use more precise grammar, maybe even have a wider vocabulary. We would take a little more time, even take some breaths between statements. And, where appropriate, we would "modulate" the voice, so as to fit the context.

But BBC presenters all used RP, so the metaphor doesn't go all the way.


January 19, 2008 at 05:25 PM · Your metephor speaks well to the fact that many older listeners prefer something that communicates in an older fashion while the younger group gravitates to something they have helped to implement.


what is RP?

January 19, 2008 at 08:14 PM · My favourite speakers are older ones. I love Orson Welles, of course Churchill (I have 5 biographies, a big compilation of his speeches and a DVD containing a lot footage). The difference there is that these speakers were modern men, and the things they said were of immediate and incredible importantance. Heifetz was playing Brahms, Tchaikovksy. That was music of a different time, presented a century later. I like his violin playing, not the interpretations because I don't think that you're hearing Brahms or Bach, you're hearing Heifetz. I think that there is more to being a musician than vocalising everything. We have been given music by incredible artists like Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Brahms, Tchaikovsky etc... and not everything is meant to be so pretty and rich. These old school violinists lived in comparitively repressed times where everyone felt what we feel now, but it wasn't really acceptable to express too much of these complex emotions.

The old school was just concerned with classic beauty alone. They ignore the id, the darker subconscious, the grotesque or even something euphoric and extravagant. I'm not talking about wanting people to put on a big production, and start moving on stage. The best artists today don't do that either, they are equally reserved in their demeanour, but they bring out qualities in the music that the older generation ignored. I feel like violin playing has caught up with art, whereas in Heifetz day, it was stuck back in the Rennaisance age (which is some of the most rare and prized of all, to me as well). We now have expressionism, minimalism, cubism. Luckily there's something for everyone. If you like old style playing then there's more than enough of that available.

January 19, 2008 at 09:30 PM · Pieter,

do you mean there's enough old-style playing available from old recordings or from present-day players?

January 19, 2008 at 09:52 PM · Pieter-

You don't find Kogan dark? I feel he has a haunting quality in his playing...his Shosty is imbued with angst and with a certain edge.

Ironically the expressionists (Kandinsky and Schoenberg), the cubists (Picasso) and the minimalists (Glass) all existed during the "old school" tradition. Interesting how art does not always line up chronalogically.

January 19, 2008 at 09:53 PM · I think Kogan was a great violinist of whom I have several recordings but for me the most interesting aspect of his playing is his violinistic command of the instrument.

"Ironically the expressionists (Kandinsky and Schoenberg), the cubists (Picasso) and the minimalists (Glass) all existed during the "old school" tradition. Interesting how art does not always line up chronalogically. "

Notice how I say that violin playing has finally CAUGHT UP with art? I agree totally.

To me "dark" (which I don't think is a very good word) doesn't mean being a stunning virtuoso with a serious demeanor. I find him a lot more interesting than Heifetz and Elman, but not as interesting as Oistrakh.

Yes, there's great old, classic russian playing. Vadim Repin is one. Very violinistic, beautiful lustrous tone. Mikhail Ovrutsky is really great too, also a Bron student.

January 19, 2008 at 10:00 PM · I don't think it really has caught up yet, we are still behind. We are a nostalgic bunch. :)

I wasn't refering as dark as being serious on stage, but about his playing.

January 19, 2008 at 10:18 PM · I don't know if I agree. Starting of course with Gidon Kremer, then Leonidas Kavakos and Ilya Gringolts, there's 3 players who have a very modern approach to playing, who really deconstruct this "horreur de vide" that old school players were part of (to use another art term). I like how Ricci put it when talking about Kavakos - architectural. I'm going to see him play Berg concerto with Cleveland soon and I know it will be great.

I don't think there's anything more illuminating and simple than Kremer or Kavakos's Bartok. The latter's Bartok 2 is on youtube and it's really great. It lacks that overly romantic quality which many people for some reason associate with Bartok. I love how he plays the opening. I know he wasn't the first to play it like that, but he does a really great job.

January 19, 2008 at 10:47 PM · Maybe I am not being clear enough. If you compare musical styles versus violin art there is a rift between the two. The expressionist era was in the early 1900's, during the time of Kreisler and Elman. Schoenberg was composing his 12-tone system when Kreisler was melting hearts worldwide with his sweet sound. Philip Glass and Steve Reich were breaking ground with their minimalist style when Isaac Stern and Oistrakh were performing all over the world. Today I agree there is a large spectrum of violin personalities. Kremer, Mutter, Sonnenberg and Josefovicz have different apporachs to their playing which can been seen as expressionist et al. In the new music realm, composers and professors who I have spoken to are telling me that there is a trend for more tonal, shorter approach instead of the "modern" style music we have become accustomed to. (Webern, Penderecki, Tippett etc.) That's what I mean about being "behind". It's almost if new music (not all) is evolving in a regressive way as a reaction to the avant-guarde style.

"The old school was just concerned with classic beauty alone"

I'm not sure Joseph Joachim, Adolf Busch, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Lucien Capet, Arthur Grumiuax, Szymon Goldberg or Josef Suk would fit in this catagory. Yes, many of the famed violinists might have but not all of the so called old school.

January 19, 2008 at 11:00 PM · Kevin, are we reading the same internet page?

I'm saying exactly what you are. Do you not recall that anecdote about Churchill being a contemporary, modern man? I made the distinction of Heifetz and his ilk still being back in the Rennaisance while minimalism was happening around him. I hope you get my drift now.

Compositionally Adams and Corigliano are becomming more popular than Salonen and Penderecki, I agree with you there, but I don't think that's a regression at all. As we know, philosophy and art will sometimes reach back to the classics after a period of very different thinking and paradigms.

As for some of the names you mentioned, I dont have recordings of all of them, but they don't exactly represent the mainstream which is what I'm talking about. I wouldn't really say that Suk is this radical thinker but I could see how you distinguish him from Milsten/Heifetz/Oistrakh/Kogan/Elman/Seidel.

January 19, 2008 at 11:12 PM · I get what you are saying - maybe I was a little redundant. The new composers I was talking about were the ones our age, between 18-30, not Adams and Corigliano. Many of them are writing in a very free tonal style.

January 19, 2008 at 11:14 PM · Yes, and like I was saying to you kevin, when people like Adams and Corigliano become popular, then all the youngsters, like Jay Greenberg, are influenced and are convinced that there are still things to be done tonally.

January 19, 2008 at 11:43 PM · We are saying the same thing but we arrive at the same place from different directions. :)

January 19, 2008 at 11:44 PM · Mapquest

January 20, 2008 at 04:03 AM · Jay, RP is "Received Pronunciation".

It is the English that you hear spoken by BBC newsreaders before the 80s. It is almost posh, but the English spoken by the upper class used to be more twisted, with stranger vowels.

It is a standardised pronunciation, taught in elocution classes, and so is actually more analogous to the uniform approach to violin sound that it is clained the younger players have developed.


January 24, 2008 at 01:13 AM · I really agree with what Pieter says about artistry's role to excavate the recesses of the soul and of our culture - the strange thing is I just don't at all recognise how you relate it to past/current players. For starters, it’s a mistake to assume that to believe something’s been lost (the thread started with sound, but it’s hard not to go beyond that, creative fingerings, range of shifting, sense of timing, before getting into wider interpretative issues) is just down to misguided sentimentalism clouded by nostalgia, ignorant of the attributes of modern players. The idea that “old-school” (an approximate term, but let’s go with it) playing is merely about making something beautiful, about vocalization and sweet sentiment, brushing under the carpet the dark, anguished, visceral aspects of music ... is only right to a limited extent. If one's talking about Kreisler, for instance, yes – I personally find Kreisler artistically limited. Obviously Kreisler was a major influence in terms of sound and probably aspects of rhythmic treatment. But artistically, I’d say Ysaye had a more profound influence on the generation of players emerging in the early 20th century and it’s clear that he was a titanic musician who was angel and demon rolled into one. To say that Elman and Heifetz are merely concerned with tonal lushness and evolving a vocal style is only part of the story. What Elman had, in a way scarcely any player of the last few decades has had, is not so much a lush sound as a super-subtle sense of timing: that’s why to me even his late recordings, when his sound had lost its sheen, are special. (I think Buri some time ago mentioned his playing of some very simple Gossec Minuet or Gavotte). And as for Heifetz, in terms of sound, he can sound like the aural equivalent of MGM Technicolor but his playing can also take on an aggressive, spiky, even savage edge. There is definitely a complex question as to the extent the music he played fell under the spell of his extra-strong personality, but he certainly didn't prettify. True, it’s a limitation that Kreisler, Elman and Heifetz, and Milstein and Francescatti for that matter, avoided music that wasn’t primarily tonal with a lyrical core, but at least they had the good sense to know what suited them. Beyond this: they don’t sum up the “old school” style or sound, only one strand of it. The likes of Busch, Szigeti (comparing his Berg with Kavakos would sum up much of what I'm saying), Enesco, Huberman, Menuhin, Ricci, Stern, Gitlis, Kogan (though I tend to agree with what Pieter said about him), Goldberg, Wicks, Ferras, even the Olympian and Apollonian King David up to a point - to name a few and each in their very different ways, could offer sincerely visceral, anguished music-making, or in a virtuoso context allow themselves extreme risk-taking, that absolutely sacrificed beauty to convey something more profound, atmospheric or primordial. I barely hear that kind of approach anymore, it’s certainly not encouraged or fostered and I’m not convinced it would be tolerated in a competition. None of which alters the fact that there are currently a number of wonderful soloists, and I'd agree a more interesting range than there has been for many decades.

Best, Nathaniel

PS: the argument sometimes put forward of the crackle and pop of old recordings being at the source of their charm doesn't seem to make sense. Apart from anything else, most of these recordings have been completely cleaned up.

January 24, 2008 at 02:31 AM · "misguided sentimentalism clouded by nostalgia, ignorant of the attributes of modern players"

Exactly what I think of people who always go on and on about something being "lost" in violin playing. Nothing's been lost. Nothing has changed fundamentally how we play the violin. We can still see direct descendants and contemporaries of Heifetz. They do NOTHING differently with their vibrato or whatever than many of us do. Yes, a lot will go for a more neutral, less personal sound so they are more able for competitions. However when I see someone like Gitlis, Ida Haendal, or students of Heifetz, Friedman, or Rosand Himself, nothing is different. It's mostly about musical choices. There's so many young people who play very beautifully, who might simply just make more neutral artistic choices than Heifetz or Rosand who would go for 100% what they want; that of course, still exists in our greatest young artists.

"Old school sound" is misguided nostalgia. They didn't have different arms and fingers back then, they had the same instruments. Nothing is gone or lost. A lot of this impenetrable greatness of some of these "old school" artists is in one's head. Of course they were amazing, but the idea that no one can touch them is the same ignorance that allows some other flawed idiologies to thrive and be so economically profitable (which I will not go into).

Nathaniel, I never said that Heifetz and his colleagues were not interesting. I just reject the idea that no one can touch their artistry. I will always believe that the best part of them was the actual violin playing. Yes they had many sides to them, but I will never, ever accept the idea that they were more musically enlightened than anyone today.

January 24, 2008 at 03:35 AM · WIll you accept (and I'm not trying to be snarky) that many (not all) of today's celebrated violinists are less interesting musically than those of the previous generation? Or is it simply a matter of changing fashions?

January 24, 2008 at 04:10 AM · No Mike I'd say that it is probably true, but I can name several violinists who deserve to stand directly beside any violinist.

January 24, 2008 at 04:08 AM · People nowadays have very fast vibratos... There are almost no players with unique vibrato like Szigeti

January 24, 2008 at 04:14 AM · Greetings,

Chris, I note somwhat tongue in cheek , that if Szityei`s vibrato was almost unique then there weren`t any player sin his day who played thta way either;)

More seriously, Szigeti was a product of the Hubay school which had a noticeably slow vibrate. This influence can no longer really be seen among violnist but there are still cellists around who have been affected by this.

The problem is that vibrato is a reflection of the artist. In the Szigetio was Szigeti because that was him. If this sounds banal it probably is but anyone who tried to play that way just for the sake of being like Szigeti would sound like a fraud. Nor, in my opinion, is it true that todays players do not, as you are implying I think, vary the spee dof vibrato down from very intense to much slower. Hilary Hahn did this extremely well last time I saw her live.



January 24, 2008 at 04:23 AM · I wouldn't call what Szigeti did later on in his career a vibrato. My friend slowed down Szigeti's recordings without altering the pitch and it showed that he was varying the pitch to as far as a semi tone.

January 24, 2008 at 04:27 AM · I've got a fairly slow vibrato, and every time I try to explain to someone that it's simply a reflection of my having been trained in an odd mix of the Czech, Hungarian and Romanian schools of playing for the past five years, they still say "no, it's just a bad habit!" I mean, I had one teacher ask me if I had some physical deformity in my hand.

Nate, Szigeti had terrible arthritis in his hands in his later years. Give the poor man a break...

January 24, 2008 at 04:31 AM · I think it was Parkinsons actually. His earlier recordings are another story.

January 24, 2008 at 04:36 AM · Parkinsons? Geez, not to my knowledge...hope not, szegény Jóska...

January 24, 2008 at 07:49 AM · Masuko Ushioda, one of my teachers, and a pupil of Szigeti in Switzerland told me that he had explained to her that because of his collapsed lung his posture had changed and that he began to put the violin to the right more in front of him. She never mentioned whether this affected his vibrato but it is clear that his vibrato is noticably slower in later recordings than the early ones. Nonetheless, he was a fascinating violinist and his interesting interpretation of the Debussy Sonata that he played with Bartok is well worth repeated hearings. All of his recordings with Bartok have much to offer in terms of rhythmic flexibility and energy. Though he is unikely to ever be ranked among the technically most polished of violinists that matters little because his musicianship and keen sense of timing and melodic shape and phrasing continue to provide much food for thought. One little facet of his many wonderful qualities was explained by Masuko Ushioda with regard to his intonation. She said that he created greater expression of sadness, longing and pain in his music by stretching apart the intervals in augmented seconds. What some might consider out of tune was Szigeti's way of using intonation expressively.

January 24, 2008 at 06:17 PM · Pieter you said:Their decision making with regards to shifting, fingerings, vibrato, was basically the same from Bach to Bartok. As long as you played every phrase as close to Carusso's singing as possible, then you've been successful.

I've been giving your comment a lot of thought and listening to a most peculiar Brahms concerto last night finally gave me the answer I was looking for. YOuseem to object to people making everything sound like Caruso's singing. But point in fact the Brahms and Caruso are part of the same musical ethos. No wonder I want to hear a violin played with line and legato--slurred notes don't guarantee legato. Legato is something more. And all of the old school players were born while that ethos was still in play. I agree that Bartok and Bach should not be played the same but in the interests of a little nod of the head to the A 415 people don't you think that our performance should be informed by a knowledge of the ethos of the period from which these pieces spring. Don't play Bach like Brahms but also don't play Brahms like Stravinsky. When you speak of the id--certainly it is appropriate to give voice to these concepts in performance but in an appropriate way. What I find I'm objecting to is the fact that some of the younger players ignore the past as if nothing existed before themselves. We all keep talking about schools of violin playing that now go back over a hundred years--certainly some part of that past was worth preserving, else why would we struggle so on the differences between the Soviet school and the Franco-Belgian school, etc. The past didn't disappear because someone was just born.

January 24, 2008 at 08:00 PM · Yes and the future isn't meaningless because there is no past.

I don't hate old violinists I just wish that people would acknowledge that they like Heifetz but also a couple modern people as well, instead of just throwing the baby out with the bathwater which has become quite commonplace.

To me there's nothing more boring than talking about schools of violin playing, as if it's even important. Figure out a way to play the damn thing and then focus your time on the music. I was at a concert of Vadim Repin and afterwards I went backstage, and after I spoke to him some other student came there and started grilling him on the difference between Russian and the Franco-Belgian whatever, and Repin sort of squinted, shook his head, and said "...What's the difference?" It obviously wasn't a question, it was a statement of "Who gives a ----."

I don't think anyone is ignoring the past, because in most ways the past is the only thing we have to go on. Some of the repertoire we play is like 300 years old. But the problem is when you hear Heifetz doing something really romantic, and people start to heap onto that idea and you start it hear it more and more and more. Think of the intro of Sibelius, all these people are doing these disgusting shifts and exagerated gestures which come out of nowhere. The opening of Tchaikovsky is typical, the A to F# is so overdone that I can guarantee any "old school" player would find it tasteless. I don't think smart modern players are ignoring the past, they're simply looking at the score and playing what is there, and of course the artifacts of their own personality will appear, often times in agreement with great violinists who came before.

I reject the idea that anything new is good and that everything old is bad, and vise versa. However, I have to say, that these days I'd rather hear something new than hear someone imitate their take on an old idea.

January 24, 2008 at 08:51 PM · changed my mind

January 24, 2008 at 08:52 PM · Ok me too.

January 24, 2008 at 08:53 PM · Aaagh you got in even quicker!! :)

January 24, 2008 at 08:54 PM · whooo!

Wish we had ac hat room, or IM system

Would have loved to have had that little exchange properly


January 25, 2008 at 04:57 PM · listen to kreisler and enescu: the slides and portamentos

and thibaud how he would play an occational note slightly out of tune as suggested by gitlis on the art of violin

January 25, 2008 at 05:57 PM · When I read books or speak to older players, they talk about sitting near the radio in Russia or Poland and listening to music. No CDs no digital rewinds etc. No time for real analysis. They possible captured the essence on some level when listening. Also, they talk about having maybe two old "record" albums they listened to. They had to crack the code on their own without the analysis and yes, web discussions to chime in. They heard the music and then were left on their own more. Some might consider this risk taking, but compared to the limited recordings available it was more a lack of reference of what others were doing possibly? Certainly when they were younger and developing I would guess.

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