Are we in a golden age?

June 24, 2008 at 08:57 PM · There seems now to be more luthiers, performers, and students than at any time prior. Luthiers are now on every continent. Pros are now in most countries. Students seem to be in all countries, and in greater numbers (China is reported to have some 100 million students of music. wow!)

So what does this mean for the future? Some say the classics are dying. But the numbers indicate classics will thrive.


Replies (22)

June 25, 2008 at 11:50 AM · I’ve actually been thinking about this recently, and find that we aren’t necessarily experiencing a Renaissance, but are at least living the beginning of an awakening process, which has come about through the massive sharing of ideas and information online. The shared content is not necessarily correct and good, or producing wise individuals, but it is a start.

The problem for me is that this wellspring of knowledge is being shared in a rather impersonal way. While a certain level of intimacy can be shared through writing, nothing can replace learning with someone in person. This has been displayed here many times, when people start to talk about basic technique (bowing etc) which is hard to describe. Granted there are videos etc, it’s still not the same as physical correction of the process.

This seems to be the age of “Do It Yourself”, an attitude that will have to change if people want to learn the most that they can, and be the best at what they do.

June 25, 2008 at 01:12 PM · Yes, I believe that we are living in a "golden age" of the violin - in every way but one.

Yes, of course one needs direct contact with a teacher or coach or fellow player. But in general, there is more information, it is more readily available, there are more violins, more violinists (probably) than at any other time in history, better teaching methods (not only for virtuosos, but for the average music lover and amateur musician), and certainly an incredible availability and exposure to classical violin playing and music. We now have easily available recordings that go back almost 110 years.

In only one respect are we not living in a golden age - We are not in the golden age of individuality. The unique and individualized and idiosyncratic techniques and interpretations of the past have been replaced by a kind of uniformity of technique, sound production, vibrato, and interpetation.

In part, I think that the individuality of the past - in which you instantly knew who was playing and you heard entirely different interpretations of the same piece - was due to the fact that before the recording era, people were much more isolated, and there were only miniscule opportunities for repeated hearings of players and of music. Therefore, the great violinists of the past were (comparatively) trained and grown (as musicians) in a kind of vacuum.

As a result, most of them had highly individualized aspects of their playing and interpretations that might not even be acceptable today. But the advantage was that we had a wide variety of ways to appreciate the same piece, as well as a vast palette of musical styles and experiences.

That's what I miss about the good old days. Hillary Hahn and Joshua Bell and Leonidas Kovakos may have their differences in playing and in their conception of the music. However, the differences between them are microscopic compared to the differences between Heifetz and Szigeti and Francescatti and Grumiaux and Ysaye and Hubermann.

On the other hand, one can't help but feel that the violinistic geniuses of today are just as great as those in the past, and there are (I think) a lot more of them.


June 25, 2008 at 11:42 PM · I really liked your comments about recorded work, and how it has impacted modern playing. The same thing applies in all areas of the arts… exposure to lots of material… and the best of the best has been archived and pointed to as something to strive for.

So we are in a golden age where instruments have become commonplace, and everyone is overexposed to norms that could potentially stifle creative work.

Who are the greats of our time?

June 26, 2008 at 01:18 AM · personally, I think the violin is just as popular as it always has been. it just seems more visible now because of the internet,, youtube, etc.

June 26, 2008 at 06:58 AM · One area where we aren't in a golden age is that of violinist/composer. I think this too has been affected by the rise of recorded music. In the past, virtuoso violinists created a legacy mostly by virtue of their compositions, wheres after the rise of the recording industry a violinist's legacy is his/her discography.

June 27, 2008 at 02:43 AM · It's been a specialized world for a long time. Composers don't have time to keep their instrumental chops up and instrumentalists don't have time to compose much. Although, it's probably easier to be a player who composes occasionaly rather than the other way around.

June 27, 2008 at 06:15 PM · Composers have been forced into an academic and social corner, from which it is very difficult to inovate. They may appease their minders in the acadamies but paying patrons are few and far between. Fewer still would even have the required musical knowledge to fully appreciate much of what is being produced--this might just be the fault of the academics.

Performers are at the mercy of their bennefactors, that pretty much only want to hear music composed/produced prior to 50 years ago.

Not the best scenario to encourage a composer/violinist let alone new pieces.

Of course, this has been the scenario for much of modern music.

I wonder what will change it.

June 27, 2008 at 08:31 PM · I have to completely agree with Sander on the idea of a lack of individuality; I think that we're living in a time where classical music is becoming populare with all age groups and overall "stereotypes" (I once talked with a farmer from North Carolina who loved listening to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto), which may or may not have been true years ago (I'm young, not a great judge of this!). I think that this highly apparent popularity of classical music may cause a lack of some individual expression, vibrato, technique, etc. In my opinion, individuality is the most important asset a musician can have (of course good technique too!).

Who knows, who can even judge such a broad topic? I'm just glad that many youth now-a-days are so appreciative of classical music! :)

June 30, 2008 at 04:01 AM · Good discussion. The issue seems to be access. I would guess that fine instruments are still crafted as in the past, but the through digitial measurement tools like computers and lazers it is easier to measure and reproduce many of the qualities that luthiers in the past reproduced intuitively. Two interesting analogies are photography and optometry. Buying eyeglass 40 years ago was a very different deal that it is today. It was an art to fill a complex perscription. The digital tools available make glasses and contacts for astigmatism and trifocals very accessible to people who could never have them in the past. You can drop off your perscription at Walmart and pick them up later. The same is true for cameras. No violins in Walmart yet, but who knows...Nothing would surprise me in this age of populism. Someluthiers create a whole brand of instruments by assembling and hand finishing factory produced parts. And many sound darn good for the price. So maybe we are in a golden age of precision that makes products and information more easily accessible through precise mass production. Maybe this fetish for precision is reflected in the current crop of virtuoso you mention here. No one can really know. All I mention is very consistent with the rise of populism in the past few decades as demonstrated in literature, art (Andy Warhol), pop culture, manufacturing, politics, celebrity and just about every other category you can think of. As far as the future, I think the pendulum will swing away from the narrow parameters of quality and taste we sometimes regard as conformity and some type of chaos will keep the old phoenix rising some new way we have not thought of yet.

June 30, 2008 at 07:28 AM · They sell everything

June 30, 2008 at 12:23 PM · Golden age? Yes and no.

Yes, because via the Internet or just by having a CD/DVD player one can gain "almost personal" instruction in many more places than in the real golden age (maybe from Tartini onward to shortly before the 2nd World War).

Yes, because I live in Germany, right close to Bubenreuth and have thus access to lots of outstanding violin (viola, cello, double bass...) and bow makers.

Yes, because there are still a lot of superb orchestras (Nuremberg Phil, Bamberg Symphony) to name just two in my neck of the woods.

Yes, because there's a lot of music available in print, on records, on the air and live.

Yes, because it's easy and affordable to travel to places that breathe the "string spirit", from Cremona to Weiser.

No, because technical perfection seems to eclipse what I'll call "soulful playing" for lack of a better word.

No, because less and less people take up a bowed instrument (that's something I both feel and have seen statistics on).

No, because today's society goes more for instant gratification and non-committing activities; learning a bowed instrument, however, is decidedly "user un-friendly" (Arnold Steinhardt) and surely a long-term project.

No, because lots of contemporary composers seem to write against their audience, not for them.

No, because there's not a new string band on the radio every week (how many people even know what a string band used to be).

Anyway, like Churchill said, we should never, never, never, never give up. Maybe, if we pretend long and dedicated enough that it is the golden age of bowed instruments, we'll make it happen.

Bye, Jürgen

June 30, 2008 at 06:44 PM · Well there you go...Walmart = globalization even in music. Franchise music, instruments, coffee, food. I was just kidding when I wrote about Walmart but it makes perfect sense. Distribution gone global is makes everything available.

I think many would be horrified by this if they have dedicated their life to being a luthier, but so it goes in all areas today. So much for elitism in music! Everything can be yours as easy as a jelly donut!

June 30, 2008 at 09:50 PM · For the professional musician, the golden age has past. Gone are the Broadway shows. Gone are the string sections from country music. Most of the decent-paying jobs out there like symphony and academic are virtually impossible to get. There is a huge worldwide army of new graduates each year and no jobs for them. Gas prices and health insurance mean it barely pays to be a freelancer.

And this just in:

July 1, 2008 at 03:31 PM · Scott you said "Most of the decent-paying jobs out there like symphony and academic are virtually impossible to get. There is a huge worldwide army of new graduates each year and no jobs for them. Gas prices and health insurance mean it barely pays to be a freelancer."

However, I think the current mass of new students (in china, and in euro countries like England, who are openly imitating the succesful venezuelan approach to get more kids with training in classical music), could form an important mass of AUDIENCE, making it in the future more likely to create an increased demand for top notch performers and top notch teachers...don't you think?

July 1, 2008 at 03:34 PM · " I think the current mass of new students (in china, and in euro countries like England, who are openly imitating the succesful venezuelan approach to get more kids with training in classical music), could form an important mass of AUDIENCE, making it in the future more likely to create an increased demand for top notch performers and top notch teachers...don't you think? ""

One can only hope!

July 1, 2008 at 04:13 PM · Cesar,

I'm not talking about the casual students, but all the hopefuls enrolled in conservatories and grad schools. Relative to the job openings they are a vast army, but relative to the seats in concert halls they're a teaspoon in the ocean. And if they're unemployed, they can't buy tickets.

July 1, 2008 at 05:32 PM · "Music is not dying of anemia, but of plethora. There is too much production, too much supply and too little demand." Honegger (1951) (He was actually talking about the production of compositions, but it can apply to production of musicians, too, I suppose:)).

July 1, 2008 at 06:56 PM · >"Music is not dying of anemia, but of plethora. There is too much production, too much supply and too little demand." Honegger (1951)

Wow, that certainly is fitting for today. That was to be my very argument. Too many people want to be on stage and not in the audience. This goes for literature as well. Amid an ever-shrinking readership, tens of thousands of aspiring novelists are producing books (and self-publishing when they get impatient with their odds of success the "old" way). It would be ideal if all those music performance graduates filled the auditoriums and all those aspiring novelists bought books, but as has been pointed out, that costs $$. And it's a different end result completely. A music performance student wants to perform. Their opportunities are shrinking even as their numbers are growing.

Good thing for people like me who will forever hopelessly suck ((am I allowed to say that here?)) on the violin but love it and its music with all my heart and consequently I will happily shell out the $$ for the symphony experience.

July 1, 2008 at 07:44 PM · So what do you predict regarding the plethora or anemia?

It seems all about owning niche markets. The soloists for example like Nigel Kennedy are niche performers who own their niche. If he was playing Baroque, like millions of others in all likelyhood he would not be well known. Traditional soloists are all still pretty young so there is little room for more.

The soloist niche will keep breaking apart into more sub niches just like rock and jazz etc. This is "keyword search" mentality. This is the only way a musician, soloist can build the needed celebrity to break the inertia and rise above TMI and the plethora aka "noise". The same seems to be the case with composers. Commercials, film, utube and festivals seem to be the only new venues for new compositions. A person heard one of my sons compositions and told me the only way to get anywhere was to get hits on Utube, which seems to be to be a total self promotion, networking site detached from any notion of standards or quality. Even within composing, you have niche composers (Action, romantic commedy...) So there a tiny golden ages around but no broad based golden age because that would not be obvious until there is some type of historical perspective.

Niches I predict will emerge will be what I call the "exotics". Composer/performers, performer/conductors, dancer/singer/performers, conductor composers, or crossover music players from different genres. African drumming and orchestar or some other type of unlikely combinations. Films, TV and cable/internet media will converge and the music played on those venues I predict will endure a bit longer and redistribute revenues away from live music.

July 1, 2008 at 08:05 PM · To me the term "golden age" connotes something truly special, something above and beyond mere social trends such as how many kids are studying instruments or how many people go to symphony.

When did we really have a "golden age?" To me the last true golden age died with Rostropovich. The man was a "golden age" unto himself. If you doubt it, take a look at the list of compositions which he premiered or commissioned. Not only did he inspire great interest in his instrument but he inspired composers to do some of their very best work. Britten, Shosty, Prokofiev, Lutoslowski, Dutilleux with his wonderful cello concerto, and many more. (If you have not heard the Rostropovich recording of the Dutilleux concerto you are missing a truly sublime experience).

So there was a golden age.

I think some people may be aware that there was a violinistic golden age mid-century:))

While we currently have a truly great group of violin virtuosos, I'm not sure we live in times which are conducive to another golden age, absent another great personality like Rostropovich coming along at some point. Public tastes are far too narrow, commercial demands require the repetetive programming of the Tchaik violin concerto ad nauseum, while many other great works go unplayed. Just what Honegger was talking about 57 years ago, but now it's probably much worse.

July 1, 2008 at 11:14 PM · Sure,a very few can find a spot

upon the stage

but really,who can ?

not that very many.

our causes are noble and i'd much rather see a younger person major in music.

tons of occupations occur because of mere

happenstance in our wanderings.

i'd bet that half of the people in attendance

at a symphony or opera secretly aspire or overtly

covet any position upon any stage in which they may be included..

there is usually room for teachers to enter the

field,but they are sometimes confronted by

ambitious parents--who want their child to


when their offspring has no clue what

the picture is all about !

parents of children can be very difficult

to fully ascertain the progress of their children.

above aside--tis noble to major in music.

some say that music is mostly math

hell,its similiar to accounting---eh ?

how much will make you a better being from math ?

how much will make you a better being from music ?

i'm trying to say that studying music is more beneficial than other majors because music

encompasses a universal language,which includes

math,personality,social interaction skills:

when to be quiet

when to go crazy

when to stop

when to allow others to proceed

when to be in unison w/others...

hey,it's tons of fun and when your done

you may be more receptive to another

oppourtunity for you to enter

any situation you may be confronted with

and do a swell job in a major key !

July 2, 2008 at 03:05 PM · Mitchel,

I like the way you framed your input. I agree.

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

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email 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 Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning 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 in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine