Dumb is smart?

Edited: September 11, 2021, 10:23 AM · A young student brings Mozart 3 to his lesson. He begins with up-down, and is immediately stopped by the teacher who cries 'It's not an upbeat! Play down-down with retake!'
This scenario has occurred probably well over 1000 times over the last 50 years.

The young student is now a bit older and more experienced. He decides to revisit the concerto and bring it to his new teacher or play it in a masterclass. He begins down-down, and is stopped by the teacher who explains, 'If you look in the score, the opening played by the violin sections begins forte and then immediately piano, so try down-up. That way you won't have an accent on the 2nd note and it's more elegant.'
This kind of scenario has occurred much less, a couple of hundred times at most.

So there are 3 possible options to select, how do we decide what is best? The higher up the level we go, the more sophisticated the bowing becomes, but I would like to argue that it is not necessarily the case here. Up-down indeed carries a risk of accenting the down bow, but that is only if you are unaware of this risk in the first place. It is absolutely possible to play the up bow louder than the down bow if one can be bothered to try hard enough.

Down-down facilitates greater ease in giving the first chord power, but adds difficulty through the quick and careful retake to reach the middle of the bow. That being said, I do not think it is sonically superior to up-down, since forte or even fortissimo with a good amount of articulation can be achieved with an up bow in the right hands.

Down-up provides the easiest solution to not accenting the 2nd note, however it overlooks an important detail, namely that assuming you leave the bow on the string to prepare the up bow at the conclusion of the down bow, your bow will be cutting off the motion of the string. Theoretically one could circumvent this by releasing the down bow into the air, however this would vastly complicate the up bow landing.

So what is my conclusion? Well, down-up looks and feels more musical, but is sonically inferior to the other 2 options, including the amateurish up-down. The concepts in this discussion could be also applied to other Mozart openings such as the B flat concerto, or the Allegro Aperto of the A major. The reason I started to think about this is because yesterday I watched the ARD violin semifinals and a contestant played B flat with up-down. My first thought was, what are you doing mate, this is ARD! Then I set my preconceptions aside and just listened, and the sound was beautiful. I can easily see how many jury members would disapprove of this bowing though, and I would play down-down in a competition setting in order to offend the least amount of people.

Replies (32)

September 11, 2021, 7:57 AM · Hilary Hahn plays it up-down = at least on a youtube video I saw.
So now, I do too!
Edited: September 11, 2021, 9:17 AM · Break the conditioning; play both as chop strokes.
September 11, 2021, 9:30 AM · Hilary Hahn does indeed play it up-down.

I also play and teach it up-down and in fact have a long running argument with a colleague over that bowing. It made my day when I found that Hilary Hahn video.

September 11, 2021, 10:02 AM · This just goes to show that there are exactly three ways to skin a cat
Edited: September 11, 2021, 10:35 AM · It's not just any Hilary Hahn video, either. If it's the video I'm thinking of, in the very center of the audience is a grand ziggurat bearing the enthroned Pope.

Of course there is a fourth choice -- up, up. But only Oistrakh could make that work.

Edited: September 11, 2021, 1:00 PM · "this way there will not be an accent on the second beat", and it is an advanced masterclass! surely you can play that second downbow very nice and refined if you have a good bowing technique. like you say James, you can make almost anything work if you have a good bowing technique. if you carefully watch soloists play live performances, you will often notice that they somehow got into a "wrong" bowing, but they solve it without any problems.
September 11, 2021, 1:22 PM · I found the 2007 video that Paul refers to for the 80th birthday of B XVI. There's nothing unusual, it's the sloping theater floor with B XVI's wheelchair in the middle. He is a big music fan though sadly he is now at 94 almost completely blind and deaf. His brother was a musician.

I see the bow strokes and they make complete sense. I will never get there but it's nice to know about just the same.

September 11, 2021, 2:43 PM · My erroneous memory of the video is more fun. :)
Edited: September 11, 2021, 2:49 PM · Some open the Bruch G Minor backwards, which is to say down-bow on a weak beat, and then up-bow on the strong beat. It does avoid the retake, but it still looks silly to me.
September 11, 2021, 3:02 PM · c'mon Ann, the pope is not in a wheelchair during that birthday concert? he sits one some sort of throne just like Paul remembers? it's not exactly a ziggurat though :-)
September 11, 2021, 5:17 PM · Christian,
‘This just goes to show that there are exactly three ways to skin a cat’
I beg to differ. According to my reckoning that leaves 6 more options.
Paws for thought…
Edited: September 11, 2021, 6:32 PM · Jean it's an optical illusion. The normal terracing of the hall makes it look like Pope Benedict is sitting on top of some kind of colossal structure, but he's just positioned in the aisle on an ivory-colored seat (yes a throne) that is raised from the floor maybe 20 cm.
Edited: September 11, 2021, 6:47 PM · Basically, the deeper and more advanced you go into something, in this case violin playing, the more rules you break. I'm tired of finding "forbidden" things being used by pros, so at the end of the day, very, very few things are "like this and nothing else".

I guess the real core to all of this is: why? why are you doing it like that?

For me it is a way better player one that can explain why, instead of that one "robotic" player that says "well, you always begin a phrase that's not up-beat with down stroke". You ask why, and they will tell you "because I've been taught like that". Which basically means I don't know and I have not thought about it.

Try it as you feel it makes more sense. The more advanced and better you are at playing the violin, the stronger your convictions will be.

A mediocre teacher/jury would look at the player competing, which of course is so good, and would comment "your bowing is wrong". A good teacher/jury would understand he/she is dealing with a professional and will assume the player chose to do that. So he/she will ask "Why did you do it that way?"

September 11, 2021, 6:49 PM · The Pope's chair there is a wheelchair which was used for special occasions just because it looks nicer than a regular wheelchair. This idea came about when JPII's Parkinson's disease got very bad. It's not intended to look like a throne, just comfortable for someone in constant pain and to look more like a comfy living room chair.
Edited: September 11, 2021, 9:03 PM · Buri, I always love a good quantum koan. I'll have to sit with that.

Paul, you may be thinking about the backdrop of the orchestra in that video, which sits in front of a quite spectacular sculpture in bronze of Jesus rising from a nuclear crater. I haven't seen that piece in person, but the Vatican has some great contemporary art.


September 11, 2021, 11:17 PM · My teacher also teaches this up-down. Seems like a good idea to me.
Edited: September 12, 2021, 6:13 PM · Another vote for up-down. The audience does not hear, or care, where the bar lines are. The convention for several centuries has been to put a down-bow on the strong beat of the music, which is not necessarily the same as the notated meter. I have read somewhere that our symbols for up and down, are from the abbreviations of the French words noble /"strong", n, and vile, "weak" , V.
Which one of the two chords should sound stronger? One clue is that the first gets a lift while the second one is dotted, longer. Hence; up-down.
September 12, 2021, 1:00 AM · I also learned it up-down. I think it's just one of those things that's universally accepted by a large group of the music community.
September 12, 2021, 1:16 AM · Great issues of our time...
September 12, 2021, 2:54 AM · ah Ann I see. wasn't aware that he was already in a wheelchair at age 80. I mean he was still in business at the time, wasn't he?
Edited: September 12, 2021, 9:00 AM · Yes, Jean, he resigned 6 years later. He could walk but not for long distances. He could say Mass and perform other duties but just not to walk much.

The wheelchair was made to fit in the Popemobile for travel and for circuits through the crowds in St. Peter's square. There was a special safety system and seat belt for short road trips.

The chair appears elevated because it locks into brackets in the vehicle to keep it stationary.

September 12, 2021, 10:22 AM · For those who start the Mozart up/down, do you also play the other parts of the opening sequence that way? That is, doing the appogiature up (E-d, C-b, G-f#)?
September 12, 2021, 6:12 PM · @-- Stephen S. No. The next measure has the appogiatura E-D. The appogiatura makes that note more important and longer, so down-up is good. C-B and G-F# are also appogiatura, also down-up. In general, when choreographing our bowing we want the same phrasings to use the same bowings, especially when memorizing, but there are plenty of exceptions, options, and compromises.
Edited: September 12, 2021, 6:39 PM · @Joel Quivey - I think it depends on one's level of bow technique. If you choose to do down-up on the next sequences, you would be forced to not use too much bow on the down bow in order to be able to comfortably lift the bow off the string at the end of the down bow (somewhere in the middle of the bow) and then carefully place the up bow from the air with enough initial articulation. At the lower, mid-level, and possibly even some of the top level, this is an extremely difficult and intricate maneuver to pull off with absolutely zero bounce on the up bow, and could easily be solved by playing up-down. If you would like the appoggiatura to be longer, it is still very much within the realm of possibility for that to sound good with up-down, if one is able to fight the physical sensation of not playing one's instinctive bowing.
September 12, 2021, 10:27 PM · @-James D. I thank you for the unintended, unexpected compliment. good topic.
Edited: September 14, 2021, 9:13 AM · Joel I can't spot the hidden compliment, but it's a good occasion for me to compliment you too, I find your interventions here always very interesting!

edit: I found the hidden compliment :-) James, aren't you making this all a bit too complicated? or do I also get the unintended compliment ;-)

September 13, 2021, 6:47 PM · Out of curiosity I checked out the score on IMSLP (Urtext): The dynamic markings in the accompaniment have the first quarter of each of those 4 measures forte, the rest of the measure piano. This seems to agitate in favor of the down-up beginning for the soloist, don't you think? Especially as the beginning of the opening tutti has the same dynamics markings. And the slurs in the solo part are arranged such that they end up in the same pattern every time down the slope.

BTW What a wonderfully irregular period this whole beginning (of the solo) is! The second part of 7 (!) measures, (where in the middle it almost feels as if the soloist had forgotten how to proceed) followed by 2 measures of confirming cadence (tutti).

September 13, 2021, 9:33 PM · The upbow makes sense to me based on the manuscript and to help bring out the melodic activity in the first three measures from G to D to B natural.

1st measure: Upbow on the chord (dot above) and then a downbow dotted quarter note G natural.

2nd measure: Upbow on the grace note D and then a downbow dotted quarter note D natural

3rd measure: Upbow on the C and B natural eighth note tie and then a downbow dotted quarter note B natural.

I think Mozart that the G natural and D natural would ring out while the B natural would sound more neutral.

September 15, 2021, 9:21 AM · Obviously, all of the above are technically possible.
I would therefore decide on the musical intention that I want to express. And decide that without the violin. Maybe sing it. After being certain of what I see in the music, I would try out which bowing is the best match for that.
September 15, 2021, 9:57 PM · I've decided to skip the first two notes entirely. Reading the above, ts just WAY too dangerous.
September 16, 2021, 12:43 AM · If I could remember how I did it in 1966 I'd do it quite differently today.
Edited: September 16, 2021, 3:11 AM · I notice how heavily edited some of the IMSLP editions are. Some demand down up. Some seem to require down down at the start of most measures, because of course the follow-through is as important as the attack.

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