Function of vibrato?
I was wondering the other day, what is the function of vibrato?
The first thing most string players will say when asked is that it is an expressive device. And it could be, if one made full use of the speed/width combinations. But if you look at most violin players, none of them have very developed vibrato nuances, and in fact, a lot of them have a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to vibrato, a bit à la Karajan.
Also, the frequent advocates for vibrating every single note fail to realize that doing so nullifies the point of vibrato, which is best used as a means of adding certain colors to the sound, sometimes.
And I do find that the right hand is much more efficient as an expressive device than the left anyway.
You could also argue that vibrato can be used to very distinctly recognize a person’s playing, but I find that while it used to be true with some of the old school players like Heifetz or Kreisler, it’s not the case anymore.
I thought about other possible uses, and the only one that made sense to me, other than as a way to add color, was using vibrato as a mean of increasing the resonance of the string.
So, especially since vibrato is quite a recent invention, I don’t understand why there is all this fuss about it being so important in modern day violin education.
What is your view on vibrato?
- vibrato as ornament
Also: Vibrato as an intonation "help"...
To be fair, many modern players do use it well, in context with the music (I understand that some less than others, and that a few may lack a certain subjective "individuality" in its usage)
I think the most important function of vibrato on a string instrument is to enlarge the palette of overtones that combine with the fundamental tone to bring your interpretation of sound to your own ears and (hopefully) to your audience. The increased range of acoustic overtone frequencies produced with vibrato interacts with the human hearing mechanism to give the impression of increased loudness and greater projection. You see, the overtone strengths of given pitches on any given instrument are not equal. Vibrato sounds out overtone pitches over a wide enough range to sound louder to an audience. By varying the width of vibrato the violinist thus creates "timbre" along with the notes and phrases being played.*** Along with some creative "rhythmic devices" this can resonate with the emotions of the audience. I believe that fine players learn to "fake emotion" in their playing through practice of all these various "devices" so that when it is time for a performance - they can just "follow the numbers."
We say we vibrate to emulate the voice, but why does the human voice vibrate to begin with?
I think the psychoacoustic explanations are interesting, and not entirely without validity, but really? The reason most classical players use vibrato is because they are told to do it by authority figures from a young age. It is "the way it's done."
"Both singers and string players that attempt to play loudly without vibrato sound like they're yelling."
I never notice someones skillful use of vibrato...the only time I'm aware of it during a performance is when it's problematic.
When it comes to the voice, a healthy vibrato is also a sign of good tone production - you’re producing your tone without stressing the muscles and allowing it to just happen. It is possible to control vibrato with the voice, sing with or without it. However, singing excessively without tires out the voice and puts unnecessary strain on the muscles. My teacher would get upset at our choir director who liked to have late night rehearsals a couple days before aconcert. He always wanted the singers to hold back on vibrato to blend the sound better. The next day the students would come into studio class feeling tired vocally.
I'm sure most of these ideas are partially correct and there's no single reason for the use of vibrato in music. My theory (or did I read it somewhere?) is to do with the psychoacoustic phenomenon of co-modulation masking release.
There's nothing wrong with not using vibrato for musical reasons; just make sure it's not a crutch-excuse to avoid developing your vibrato.
Adalberto, remember the piano has its own "vibrato"...although the speed increases as one ascends.
Scott, I think you're pushing yourself into a corner. Some of your logic is just increasing hard to comprehend:
Albrecht wrote, "Anne Sophie Mutter likes to suddenly go completely senza vibrato for a small section and she certainly plays on a decent instrument. I find it irritating." I think one of the great things about Mutter's playing is how she uses the entire spectrum of vibrato as its own musical dimension. She rejected the "motorized" vibrato of her forbears (e.g., Stern) and decided that more could be done with it. Kudos to her. I'd certainly rather listen to her Franck Sonata than Zino Francescatti's or Arthur Grumiaux's, hands down.
IMPORTANT correction, Sigiswald Kuijken is Belgian, not Dutch :-)
All I can say is that as a child I was very envious of the older kids who could already produce vibrato, and I did not rest until I could do it myself! So at least personally I agree with the "innateness".
If Scott Cole is right, then 19th century musicians must have been very 'shouty' when they were playing --in many the same large concert halls that are still in use today-- without the continuous vibrato that came in vogue in the 20th century.
""Fiddlers don't do a lot of things, including playing double-stops, spicatto, or 7th position."
"Fiddlers don't do a lot of things, including playing double stops..."
A minority from a movement can be extremist — but that's not representative of everyone in the movement. Out of the "70s Dutch cult", I can only speak for Sigiswald Kuijken because I studied with him, and I can say he never said or would had said "One should never vibrate Bach." because he uses vibrato playing Bach. Different vibrato than continuous vibrato of course. He even talked about teaching wrist vibrato to students who came to him knowing only arm vibrato.
"I can only speak for Sigiswald Kuijken because I studied with him, and I can say he never said or would had said "One should never vibrate Bach." "
' Scott Cole
@ Scott Cole... Right, but if you throw a big Romantic vibrato on those same chords in the Chaconne, it will sound awful and you can't hear the elegant part-writing. They are intense enough, and project just fine, without any extra vibrato dripping all over them. In my opinion, of course.
"I'm specifically thinking of passages in the Brahms concerto and the Romantic works in which lack of vibrato on this kind of chordal playing can sound quite harsh."
Dorian, I think it is typical of vibrato that it was never actively taught, even well into the 20th century. Most violin methods wrote things like "At some point in his or her development, the violin student will display an innate desire to vibrate, blah blah blah". Seriously. This has been remarked often here on this forum. It is only with the expansion of music pedagogy in the late 20th century and early 21st that pedagogical approaches to vibrato were worked out and discussed in detail.
It's interesting how early recording affected vibrato. First listen to this 1894 recording of violin on cylinder:
"...violin student will display an innate desire to vibrate."
I agree that the 20th century habit of applying constant vibrato like a coat of paint is a bad one that should be resisted. I sort of believe there is an innate "desire to vibrate" that comes with our emotional response to the music. Singers must undoubtedly have started it and instrumentalists came after. Something similar happened with portamento which singers have always employed but in the early 1900's came to be applied indiscriminately by violinists. We cured ourselves of that one but sadly seem to have virtually lost the impulse to apply proper, emotionally driven portamento also.