'before the chinrest' revisited.
I recently re-read "before the chinrest" by Stanley Ritchie.
he wrote this in 2012.
Generally speaking this is an interesting book, full of great insights into early music and very worth while.
Fast forward to 2020, and I now find certain aspects of his violin technique and philosophy very frustrating.
I was and always have been a great defender of the original instrument revival every since the late 70's and 80's, it taught all string players a new way of listing to early music.
My quarrel with Ritchie now is as follows:-
1. The title "before the chinrest" is wrong, it might
be "before the shoulder rest" but that's wrong as well.
2. To ask for the player to use a lighter bow and gut strings is one thing.....but to ask for a completely different technique for shifting, and a butchered setup
with neck replacement is another.
3. To comply with his requirements means relegating yourself
to a sub-branch of performance practice where employment is even more precarious than playing 'regular" instruments. Who wants to specialize in a form of playing that restricts you
to a narrow historical period in any event??
4. Good professional, and recorded groups have now in 2020 learnt so much from the early music revival that it is now difficult to hear from a recording whether they are playing
'original instruments" or not. They have toned down the vibrato to an incredible degree, added ornamentation in good taste, and often use lighter bows and gut strings.....all this without necessarily using doctored instruments. Listen to any recording of the HANSEN quartet and you will hear what I mean. Many groups are playing at A_=440 as well with
no detriment to the music. They may even in public be hiding
a shoulder rest under their chamois....but I dont want to get nasty!!
So I apologise if this is a bit of a rant. However do you think that the "100% original instrument" movements days as far as strings are concerned are numbered purely on the ground of relevance, and practicality??
You can get away with using a modern instrument if it's an audio recording. But if it's a video or if you have to pose for a picture, then you need to saw off the last couple of inches of your fingerboard.
I have some HIP recordings, most of which are wonderful, but refuse to be part of the movement for reasons part logical, part paranoid. Won't change my technique nor buy a period performance instrument. We can play music of any era with beautiful and appropriate style on our modern instruments and setups.
I have the Ritchie book and while I found it interesting and inspirational, with a few very good exercises too, I never quite got what he meant with the "shifting by swinging the elbow" thing, something he emphasizes A LOT. Anyone care to try to explain?
In defense of Prof. Ritchie:
he says in his book that the only reason for the chinrest is to keep
Bruce thanks for sharing your insights!
David you seem to be having difficulty separating the HIP movement from modern violin playing. The fact is the goals and therefore the chosen means of the HIP movement are often different from modern violin playing. This fact should be accepted and both sides should live and let live.
My main qualm about HIP is that it has a virtual musical stranglehold on the baroque repertoire-so very few modern players even attempt to play baroque publicly anymore besides the Bach 6 S&P and the ocassional keyboard/violin sonata. Four Seasons at most, sometimes. I believe both performance styles should be able to co-exist, but the HIP scholarship has had the perhaps unintended consequence of deleting most of "their" repertoire from the "regular" concert hall experience.
Early Music gives us more possibilities. The movement has moved beyond the hardware and postures and also explore improvisation and things not recorded in notation.
@david renton Many violin virtuosos in the 17th century played the violin below the collarbone, on the chest or on the arm. (Corelli, Biber, Schemlzer, Matteis, etc.) It is a worthy quest to figured out why and how they played the way they did.
Of course-not the same. Why should it be? I would argue "different" possibilities, instead of "more". But one should not overtake the other. Live, and let live, as was mentioned above.
I do agree a bit with Adalberto's point. For example, when do you ever find a "modern" performance of Bach's Matthew Passion? The period groups have in a way monopolized the baroque repertoire. You may find I have a bizarre taste, but I for one am really fond, for example, of Karajan's recording of the Matthew Passion with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yes, it lasts three times longe than modern (sic) performancesr, but for me this music, to which I listen together with my old father, can allow this.
A lot of this discussion concerns opinions about taste in the performance of music. I have known Stanley Ritchie since the 1970's. (And by the way he was/is a top notch modern violin player.)
I would love to see Ray Chen or Hilary Hahn play Westhoff and other great 17th-c. music and explore 17th-century performance techniques. But I have a feeling they won't be doing so anytime soon. We need different musicians to specialize in different styles. It's all good.
I do personally find Ritchie to be a tad old fashioned sounding Baroque-wise, but his Schubert -- what a wonderful recording.
Perhaps for super early violin music, but read yourself: "we *need* specialists for every style". It is that dogmatism that turns me away. Imagine I ridiculed you for your preferences (I do not). We don't "need" them *exclusively*. Everyone should feel free of criticism from playing whatever, otherwise you are limiting the repertoire. Perhaps that is what you deem best, but I disagree. The repertoire is for everyone, not just the scholarly-inclined.
When you have a shorter fingerboard, additionally there are more "lanes" to bow in. It's like moving from Pittsburgh to LA.
Dorian - great links, thank you.
@Adalberto Valle-Rivera, I think you are reading things that I did not write. What I wrote included:
Amandine Beyer exploring below the collarbone hold with Matteis:
No problem, Dorian. Just missing the time players used to record and perform baroque works for their recitals, in addition to their common romantic fare-times long gone. Nowadays there isn't much variety: classical work sometimes, modern work, romantic sonata or two, encore. Though I still enjoy attending the modern recital, I wish performers were not too afraid of the older repertoire, and as I mentioned, I do attribute it to the success of the HIP scene. Wish we could have both types of performance coexist (modern and older setups) rather than compete each other out.
It is interesting to see the diversity of viewpoints on this topic. In his original post David states that using HIP techniques makes employment even more precarious. As has been pointed out, one can play learn and play with more than one technique. Further, the arts are generally not regarded as an ideal career if ones goal is to make money. If a person chooses to exclusively perform in a “sub branch” that is less lucrative, that is commendable, and shows their passion for it.
I would agree with the last point of the original post: The HIP "movement" has taught us a lot. But there is a limit. There are only so many sources to rely on and they have been studied and studied and studied. Plus at any rate, no matter how carefully we read Quantz we still can by no means be certain that the sound the HIP people are creating is even in the neighborhood of how Corelli sounded. We hope, but we can never know. So, yes, HIP losing relevance.
I agree with that. I really think that if Mozart could have heard, say, Hilary Hahn play his 3rd violin concerto (as seen on YouTube she plays it for pope Benedict xvi) with her modern violin and bow and current capabilities, he would have truly and totally been astonished. Idem with Bach etc.
When playing pre-1820 violin music without a CR, and without a SR, you can sometimes be aware of little safety features written into the violin score by the composer (who would very likely have been a violinist himself) to help the player descend from a high position without courting disaster. The sort of things to look for to enable a safe descent, especially in orchestral scores, are a short rest, an open string, an octave harmonic, or even playing across the strings in a high position. This will be just long enough to enable a quick stabilising touch of the chin, jaw, or even cheek, on the violin's tailpiece or a lower bout. In videos you can see violinists in Baroque ensembles doing just this.
I loved the book, it is so full of insight. (Here's
If I may add, if the player also wishes to include a complete set of plain gut strings (the G will be covered gut) in their approach to Baroque music then they will quickly become aware that, if they have never used gut before, they will need to re-vamp their bowing technique because of the noticeably lower tension of gut and a different behavior compared with synthetic strings. Re-vamping will include bow pressure and location of the best sound points on the strings - especially with a gut E. This re-vamping of technique is not a bad thing and can pay useful dividends when returning to synthetics.
I think the HIP movement gave us and classical music a huge benefit by revitalizing baroque music; by challenging the then conventional approach to it thus often its misinterpretation. I also consider its means to do that - using the argument of tradition, thereby using the same weapon that had been turned on the music against its bearers to be a brilliant one. Thus I think it is too narrow a view to look upon the instruments themselves and how they are held, etc., and even complaints about how quiet they might be in large halls, etc., as the greatest distinctions. Moreover, given that early music was not as clearly notated as more recently, the range of interpretation of that music is rightly larger than when it was viewed in the traditional perspectives of earlier times, and still is, so its limitation to just how tradition or history would dictate that it should be played is an inaccurate interpretation, both theoretically and in practice given the variety of interpretations.
The violin is an incredibly versatile instrument
J Ray: great conclusion, very true.
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