How has intonation gotten better over time?
In general, with some notable exceptions, I find that violin intonation in recordings has gotten significantly better over time, such that some previously-regarded performances by classic, acclaimed performers would, I think, not meet the current expectations for professional performers, let alone the most acclaimed.
In the early days some of the blame on intonation could be placed on the recording equipment of the time - if the recording or playback equipment had unstable speed, then the pitch would be unstable. But I think we can go forward from the very early days and still find that intonation has improved since.
I suppose having recordings to scrutinize has facilitated a greater awareness and undesirable persistence of intonation errors. And electronic devices to check pitch, some very sophisticated ones which might be used professionally, and more pitch-stable companion instruments (including electronic ones), would also have facilitated greater accuracy.
So would it be fair to conclude that technology has largely facilitated the apparently higher levels of achievement and expectation in pitch accuracy over time?
I think the skill ceiling has risen overall.
I agree with cotton above. The amount of people in the world has multiplied, and with it the amount of violinists and, as a result, the level of competition and standards have gone up. As in most sports, records steadily keep getting broken and humans keep getting better as the field of stellar competitors gets bigger and more specialized, as people start younger and focus their lives around their profession. Just my 2 cents :)
Actually I think the number of professional violin players is going down over time, not up, the music is becoming less and less popular.
Nobody said anything about the number of professional violinists, Lyndon, or the popularity of the music.
Auer said that Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was unplayable. Now, it is used regularly to audition into conservatory. So to me, it seems likely abilities have increased. If this is the case, intonation would also improve.
Editing has also gotten better. Listen to Kreisler. His takes had to be recorded non-stop. Each take was a significant investment. Listen to Perlman. His takes could be edited. Each take was less of an investment. Listen to Perlman's live performances and you'll notice things are (sometimes) a bit different.
Life of old people were so much easier. Same in my workplace.
I suspect Horace is just kidding but he might actually be right. Standards have gone up in just about every professional livelihood. At the same time, in most arenas the tools have improved too. Okay so maybe violins and bows are the same -- but as others have suggested editing techniques are better for recordings. Still, when I have heard top violinists live (Gil Shaham, Josh Bell, Perlman) they sounded pretty darned good to me.
The number of professional violinists has gone up. There may be fewer professional orchestras in Europe now, but few American cities had a professional orchestra before 1900 (many mid-sized cities' orchestras were amateur as recently as the 1960s), and there were none in Asia before the 1920s. New frontiers are still being opened. The entire Arabian Peninsula did not even have an amateur orchestra until the 1980s, and still only has two professional orchestras with the first being founded in 1989. India got its first professional orchestra in the 2000s.
It's not just intonation, it's technique overall. Technical standards for recording musicians are so much higher than 20-30 years ago.
Intonation has not improved for the top solists (just listen to Prihoda, Heifetz, Kreisler, Ysaye etc)
Matthias Eklund is right. Auer thought the Tschaikovsky concerto "unviolinistic" and unplayable not in technical but in musical terms. He performed it many times (his cuts and changes donto the score don't make it any easier) and regularly assigned it to his pupils. There is no evidence whatsoever that Auer should have been incapable of pulling it off, on the contrary.
The equipment has changed in some ways.
My intonation has just got (sic) worse. But then so has my high jump
The technical level has definitely gone up for tutti players.
J Ray - just because you found one recording, probably live or atleast unspliced, perhaps even of a soloist past his peak, you can't say that the overall standard has increased in the top segment.
Mattias, with respect, I think you're not getting me, and that we might be hearing things differently. I do say that the overall standard has improved in the top segment, in general, and there are numerous recorded examples of this, not just one or another instance of that. In the counter-example I have in mind for supposed perfection of historic recordings, I'm not just referring to one or two notes here or there, but substantive departures to the point where I think that I don't really enjoy listening to it because I hear intonation issues.
@Herman West "The technical level has definitely gone up for tutti players."
The other factor is pedagogy. What improvements in pedagogy have done is to improve the "bench depth" of violin players worldwide. Good pedagogy keeps kids motivated.
It is definitely true that there are old recordings with less than perfect intonation around, even from top players. There is (or was) for example a recording of a Haydn quartet with the Budapest quartet on youtube which is in fact pretty bad as far as intonation goes (and I am not supercritical about intonation). You won't find any modern recordings like that.
I'd comment on Haydn being overused by quartets as warm-up pieces, but that might be disrespectful. It is great however that quartet intonation has improved, as that genre can be more accessible and fluid than say symphonies or concertos, and can be more appreciated as intonation issues are lessened.
Trevor mentioned the level of amateur and semi-pro orchestras going up, and I can agree with that. Two orchestras canceled planned performances of Schubert's 9th Symphony during his lifetime because they found it too difficult in rehearsals. Even after Mendelssohn's Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performed it in 1839, other orchestras continued to struggle enough with it to cancel performances after attempting to rehearse it. The high-level community orchestra I play in -- pro first-desk string players and principal wind/brass players, but otherwise amateurs -- performed it comfortably on five rehearsals. That's possible because there are so many amateurs out there with excellent musical training. I am the only regular member of that orchestra's viola section who does not have at least a bachelor's degree in music, and I would guess the other sections are of similar composition.
While is true the general playing level is very high, I think too much is made of this. People have always liked to play and listen to music in tune. Heifetz alone didn't bring with him the idea of technical perfection. More people than ever play at a "high level", but "high level" has always been "high level".
"All I mean to say is that today's level is high, but that I doubt older high level playing has ever an intentionally sloppy affair. I cannot imagine Paganini "happily" playing out of tune. Bad playing has always been deemed bad."
You really mean this, Mr. West? What's the problem with these recordings? Does the vibrato or the style bother you?
One point not yet mentioned here is recording. Spohr never heard himself play on a recording. Nowadays every player has easy access to equipment to record themselves. Recording has produced pressure on people to work harder on intonation in two ways I believe.
Szigeti's Mozart recordings were done in 1955. (Ref:
When I was a young violinist and music lover, I greatly misunderstood old recordings, and also had the bad habit to find technical problems in everything (live performances included), even if I was nice about it (I was never hyper critical or insulting of the performers despite my observation of their "errors"). As I grew both musically and more importantly, as a person, I soon realized the folly of trying to listen to music as a race towards perfection. Though it is also ill-advised-in my view-to use "musicality" as an excuse for poor technical command, I nevertheless prefer the less than 100% "perfect" performances that convey the better musical message.
my point in referring to the 1955 Szigeti recording is not to say Szigeti had lousy intonation.
There are a few modern (and good) recordings that feature "iffy" intonation if absolute perfection is required. Won't mention samples so as not to tarnish the artists' image-especially since the "faults" are no problem, and do not affect the performance.
Ah, the endless, and usually fruitless pursuit of absolute perfection. Tomita produced absolutely perfect renditions of Bach on a computer - interesting the first time, absolutely boring each time after that.
I feel compelled to note that the lack of any "Krakovich plays Paganini" commercial recording is not a sign of excessive focus on technical perfection.
This question is like asking 'how have women become more beautiful over time?' Can you really prove they have?
The more I learn about intonation, the less I know what it means. Good intonation is not absolute it seems, and is very much relative to the key and context apparently. So what is good intonation?
I still havn't seen any argument that shows that intonation has improved in the top tier.
@Mattias. I suggest that in the top tier of violinists the effective physiological limit to playing in tune has long been reached. A bit like athletic, swimming and track cycling records today, a fair indication being that to identify the winner of an event it is now often necessary to time electronically down to 0.01 second, or less - the unaided eye and reflexes of the track-side official with a stopwatch are no longer sufficient.
Maybe you're judging intonation by an Equal Temperament standard
I probably am, but I'd like to mention that I'd have my electronic piano on Kirnberger temperament when playing Baroque because ET sounded wrong at times. How do you tune your harpsichords Lyndon?
Clavichords, Kirnberger III. C-G, G-D, D-A, A-E tuned 6?? cents flat, all other fifths perfect.