Searching for historically informed interpretations of Mozart Violin Concertos

November 11, 2008 at 07:43 PM ·

Having studied the Mozart violin concertos during the Dark Ages of play-everything-as-a-romantic-concerto, I'm looking for recordings, videos, etc of performances on modern instruments that incorporate historically accurate performance practices.  Any ideas?

Replies (30)

November 11, 2008 at 07:53 PM ·

Hello Ken,

The only recording I can think of is Andrew Manze and the English Concert. He is known for historical playing but I do not know if he is using a period instrument or not.

All The Best,

Gerome Stewart 

November 11, 2008 at 07:58 PM ·

Yes, Sir Andrew Manze does use a period instrument and a historical orchestra for that recording. 

Two other recordings that would capture your interest would be a very fast and Italian version of concertos # 1, 2, and 3 with Fabio Biondi and the Europa Galante.  One of my favorites, by far.  Then there is the *smooch* absolutely beautiful Italian recording of the Mozart Concertos with Giuliano Carmignola.

November 11, 2008 at 08:08 PM ·

Funny. I just listened to Beethoven's op. 70 in a historically informed version on the radio. Now it's clear to me that this trend has some reason, but I find myself developing a growing intolerance against vibratoless (read: lifeless), thin and brittle violin sounds.

That Beethoven was a torture.

I wish the musicians have their toothaches treated the same way they played Beethoven, that's to say the way it was done in Beethovens time ;-)

November 11, 2008 at 11:23 PM ·

That's way too harsh.  I personally love Beethoven's music performed on period instruments.  Not to say I wouldn't have it any other way (I love Vienna Phil as well), but I almost prefer period recordings.

November 12, 2008 at 02:10 AM ·

Beethoven was an excentric revolutionary who broke down just about every established convention of his time. He was the harbringer of the romantic period. His late works, especially the late quartets are evidence that he was at least 100 years ahead of his time even going beyond the romantic period.

Moreover, throughout the second half of his creative life, he couldn't even hear how the musicians of his time were playing. Op. 70 was likely composed when he was totally deaf, he could only hear the music in his head and he could not provide any feedback to the musicians at all. How anybody alive today could possibly suggest that playing such a work in a ***perceived*** to be historically accurate style was in fact *accurate* is entirely beyond reason.

If you could snatch Beethoven from his death bed by way of time travel, cure him, cure his deafness, too, then ask him how he intended his music to be performed, it could turn out either way or perhaps more likely it would not match any style known to us today at all.

Of course Beethoven is an extreme example, but in principle this applies to any music composed before the invention and use of recording technology. The simple truth is that nobody knows how music was performed back then, we have some clues, but we don't know. This is the reason why the proper term is "historically informed" and not "historically correct".

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not making any judgement here as to whether or not this or that style is "better", "nicer", "more enjoyable" or "more beautiful" or whatever other expression of personal taste one may use. It's simply a matter of preference and "correctness" has nothing to do with it.

November 13, 2008 at 10:59 PM ·


while I udnertsand the psotion of the original post and respect those who play Mozart in a historically way down to the tools and udnerpants I have to confess i find the most historically accuate performance to be that of Grumiaux.

Sounds like Mozart . Or am I just a pleb?



November 13, 2008 at 11:16 PM ·

Plebs" are relative.  Historically performed is also relative.  I feel as long as we are getting Mozart's ideas and thoughts across in a well thought out and convincing manner, it is indeed a "historical" performance, regardless of style.

November 14, 2008 at 01:21 AM ·

How come you know my relatives.....

November 14, 2008 at 01:51 AM ·

Yes, Mr. Brivati.  I know things about you that even YOU don't know.  I am actually an undercover CIA detective who plays violin, and I have been assigned to find out everything I can about you. 


November 14, 2008 at 04:29 AM ·

that could be the shortest and most boring job on the planet!  BTW I actually do have a CIA file on me but thats another story....

November 14, 2008 at 03:51 PM ·

Buri - stop bragging!  Getting my father's FBI file was a real revelation, mostly for what they didn't figure out.

But, seriously, historically-informed performance is a fluid concept.  I know there were treatises by the likes of Leopold Mozart and Geminiani on how to play violin that probably slightly pre-date Mozart's concerti and may give you some idea of how the violin was played during his time, but these only take you so far.   Things were changing quickly at that time.  And, whether an HIP actually moves you is another problem.  Who the h*ll wants to listen to Manze if you prefer Oistrakh's or Grumiaux's take on the piece?  It is certainly worth listening to Manze or someone like him once, but I would not spend a lot of time worrying about his take on the piece.  Just my $0.02.

November 15, 2008 at 02:24 PM ·

Dear Dean of the School of Music:

This letter is in response to your suggestion that we appoint Mr.  Wolfgang A. Mozart  to our music faculty. The music department appreciates your interest, but the faculty is sensitive about its prerogatives in the selection of any new colleagues.
However, the applied faculty were impressed with his pianism; the fact that he also performed expertly on violin and viola seemed to us to be stretching versatility dangerously thin. We suspect a large degree of dilletantism on his part.
One of our faculty members was present a year ago at the premiere of, I believe, a violin sonata. He discovered afterwards that Mr. Mozart had not written out all the parts for the piano before he performed it. During the performance he actually extemporized and supplied the notes that the violinist had missed.
At our interview, one of our female faculty members was deeply offended by his bluntness. She even had to leave the room after listening to his endless parade of bawdy anecdotes. This propensity of his to excite the enmity of professional colleagues is hardly in accordance to the establishment of the academic community to which we aspire.
We are glad as a faculty to have had the chance to interview Mr. Mozart, but we cannot recommend his appointment. Incredably, Mr. Mozart showed absolutely no interest in pursuing further study to sharpen his compositional skills. This smacks of egotism at its zenith.
Sincerely yours,
The Chair and Faculty of the Department of Music

November 15, 2008 at 04:03 PM ·

Here are my 2 cents... I have doubts about the whole validity of "interpretation" of a musical work as a concept.

I think that only the composer knew what he had in mind when he wrote a given piece - let's call it the "truth" - and what we try to do is recreate it. To "interpret" I think is a little over the top, it's as if I thought I knew something that Mozart didn't when I try to play one of his concerti. 

That said, many people would be shocked if they heard Rachmaninov's own existing recordings of his works. Today you'd get thrown out of the concert hall for choosing certain tempi. Maybe what we end up doing, as players, is adapt a piece of music to our own moment in time and culture.

November 15, 2008 at 09:44 PM ·

...which most would call an aspect of 'interpretation'.

Everyone has different ways of speaking.  DIfferent people tell a story in different ways.

Different actors and directors find different ways to communicate what is in a play.

'Interpretation' describes a necessary process of bringing what is on the printed page to life, and it is necessarily affected by the choices of the interpreter.  Without choices there will be no music, or at least not any that would be considered of good quality.

Since we have really no choice about making choices when interpreting music, it becomes very interesting to talk about what choices are best, and of course there are many different ideas about that.   ;-)

November 16, 2008 at 04:05 AM ·

I am not knowledgable on the subject of historically accurate playing, but I had always assumed that Grumiaux's recording was.

November 16, 2008 at 07:13 PM ·

English is not my native language, so please somebody can explain me what's "informed"...? And I also think (or better said feel...) that Grumiaux is the most "informed" Mozart player... BTW, how it's so easy to get "Sir" when you're onto A=415 or lower?

November 16, 2008 at 07:28 PM ·

informed is another word for "knowing".  If you were to ask if someone was informed about histroical interpretations, you would ask if they knew a lot about it.

November 16, 2008 at 08:06 PM ·

So being "informed" is = having knowledge... Good to know! So l'll ask the "Sires" about knoweledge and in (a couple of days/ hope they last long!) throw my Mozart CD's / convictions in the river... Or not...  

November 17, 2008 at 05:21 AM ·

Strictly speaking, in this context the relevant definition of 'informed' is "based on possession of information".  The term here refers to the performance, not the person.  

November 17, 2008 at 05:47 AM ·

"historically correct" would be equivalent to saying "this is precisely how this piece was played at Mozart's time" but this is impossible, because no recordings exist as recording technology had not been invented yet.

"historically informed" is an approximation, it is equivalent to saying "based on what we know about music history this is as close as possible to what we currently believe how this was played at Mozart's time".

By contrast, a performance that is not "historically informed" might be like saying "this is probably not how this was played at Mozart's time, but we like it this way, anyway".

November 17, 2008 at 06:28 AM ·

I think that the greatest performances are achieved when the artist, rather than being primarily concerned with the fashions of 1780 or of 2008,  seeks a timeless and universal communication. When Fritz Kreisler plays a Mozart Concerto it doesn't seem to be emulating the playing of Mozart's era.  It speaks to all humanity, erasing boundries of time and geography.  These qualities seem to me the better ideals toward which to strive.

November 17, 2008 at 11:14 AM ·

I think, that the ways of playing in the 18th century were much more individual and different than today.
Today the style of the players is quite similar (because of the CD?).
Two hundred years ago there were little correlations between cities and countries, despite of some traveling musicians. The protestant north and the katholic South of middle Europe had completely different traditions and (musical) culture. So individuality was quite pronounced.
This gives us the chance to bring some individual expression of ourselves in the period music we play .





November 17, 2008 at 07:36 PM ·

Kremer-Harnoncourt and Carmignola-Abbado are quite well historically informed!! 

November 17, 2008 at 07:52 PM ·

mr. Radivo, the Carmignola one is performed with period instruments, so yes, it is definitely historically performed.

November 17, 2008 at 08:16 PM ·

I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘timeless and universal communication’.  Music is played in a particular idiom today.  It was without any sort of doubt played in a different idiom in the baroque.  Not every listener is equally at home in multiple musical idioms.  Many of those who post on this forum are living proof that there are listeners who are understandably biased toward the modern idiom and simply don’t like attempts to recreate the baroque idiom.

There are also a few of us who are living proof that it is possible to much prefer the idiom of baroque performance used by ‘historically informed’ performers.  Although I would like to imagine it as possible for some great player to transcend these differences of idiom and play in a way which would appeal to both types of bias, I have yet to hear such an animal.

The only way to avoid being constantly polarized about this issue is to make some effort to adopt a “live and let live” attitude.  For those who are on the ‘period performance side’ that requires a certain delicacy in expressing our preference.  For those on the modern idiom side what is required is to be wary of the easy assumption that the modern idiom is the universal idiom.

November 17, 2008 at 08:42 PM ·

What Andres said.   I would add that the fact that something is a "period" or "historically informed" performance does not magically make it better or more appealing than a performance that is modern.  You have to listen to both types and figure out which one appeals to you or moves you more.  It is important to be open to both.

November 17, 2008 at 10:44 PM ·


>Many of those who post on this forum are living proof that there are listeners who are understandably biased toward the modern idiom and simply don’t like attempts to recreate the baroque idiom.

True. Bu thta cuts both ways.  The orginal pst is very much loaded with the assumption that the great players of the 20th century interpreted Mozart without thought in a `romanric style.`  That is evry bit a sprejudicial.

Yu are quite right in suggesting we just have to keep our ears and minds open .  By doing this I think we can hera which musicains play with intgerity,  passion and musicianship irrespective of which kind of instrument or bow they belive is appropriate for a given period of music.



November 17, 2008 at 10:52 PM ·

Okay guys I know, just make sure those darned period-people don't get too uppity.  I get it, believe me.  Buri you'd know that if you'd read my whole post.  :-b

November 18, 2008 at 12:22 AM ·


there is absolutely nothing in what I wrote to suggets  didn`t read your whole post.  Indeed, to fail to so do would be my loss.



November 18, 2008 at 01:58 AM ·

Hello Buri,

Thank you for your gentlemanly ways, I guess I need to relax a bit.  ;-)


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