‘Five’ (working title) A Mozart project

Posted on January 5th, 2019 by

On my desk. My heavily marked-up facsimile of the manuscript of Mozart’s 4th concerto, with some of the cut material…

Coming clean. For the whole of my playing life, I have been fascinated with Mozart’s 5 violin concertos, composed after he and his father returned to Salzburg in 1772. This fascination led to my first commercial recordings, of the Michael Haydn Concerti, and exploration of linked works by Joseph Haydn, Reichardt, the Bendas, Vanhal and Myslivecek (to name but a few).

Over the past three years, I have spent countless hours with the facsimile of Mozart’s immaculate autograph (it is always chastening, to realise that this is the work of a teenager). And, I think, ideas have clairfied, and I might even understand a little more.

There’s so much to be tried; but central to it all, is the Mozart’s understanding of the fluid role as a soloist (these works were written for himself, as ripieno/tutti player, as improviser, and as the most wonderful control freak!

So this is a ‘watch this space’ moment. Over the next few weeks, I will talk more about the ideas and plans for this project, which needs to move from private obsession, to the public exploration

A violinist’s notebook: 

Day 1 – 5 1 19

There’s been such an immediate response to the project, that I thought that I would write something straightaway, and start the ball rolling. Here are 3 bars from the last movement of Concert No 2. , the D Major K 211. All that is missing from this example, is the cello/bass part (which just plays quarter-notes on the beginning of each bar). But the first time that I heard this,and more to the point, the first time that I played this passage, I was buoyed up, by Mozart’s genius in supporting a joyfully vocal solo line, with a dramatic, almost violent piano-forte  from the 1st to 3rd beat. It should destabilise the line, but in stead, it gives it wings, and the contrast between different kinds of violinist/violist-ic affect, from the golden solo line to Dryden-esque ‘ Sharp violins proclaim [ing]/Their jealous pangs, and desperation,’ underneath is everything. Just think on this: no one can agree whether Mozart expected the tutti  players to cut down to solo instruments in these passages (it’s very common to hear it done at the opening of the last movement of K219). But one thing is for sure – the  drama and acuity of these attacking lines becomes all the more fascinating when it is all solo instruments. Think of how Stravinsky uses the solo concertmaster in his Violin Concerto. And when I premiered Gregory Rose’s wonderful new concerto last year, he and I discovered that one aggressive passage from the first violins was all the more effective when played by just the leader. This was a lesson which Mozart had taught me.

From the finale of K211 (solo, Vi, V2, Va)

Day 2 – 6 1 19

D unisons, lined up in violins and violas. K218

I realise that seem to be fixated on violin and viola parts for now, but I will broaden my field of view! Every composer has, it seems, devices particular to each instrument, that appear  with regularity, in each work that they write. Mozart was fascinated with the colouristic effects that could be achieved with open strings, or rather, open strings in various contexts. The most straightforward of these was the ‘unison’ – playing the open string with a  the same note, fingered, on the adjacent string. On each four stringed instrument, there are three of these. Mozart only uses one of these with any regularity, the open ‘D string’ on the violin or viola, with the same ‘d’ on the adjacent ‘G string’. The thing about a ‘fingered uinson’ like this, is that it’s almost impossible to play it completely in tune, which means that there’s a resulting ‘beat’ between the open and fingered notes. This beat adds a certain ‘kick’ and colour, particularly when it is used in a tutti context. This has a relationship to Mozart’s love of dissonant semitones, between open string and the closest note below. I will come to that later. But for now, here’s an example of Mozart’s ‘signature’ unison, on1st and 2nd Violins and violas, at the end of the first tutti  of the 4th Concerto, K218.

Day 2 – 6 1 19

Cadenzas: or what have we been missing? I do not yet want to write about the kind of cadenzas Mozart might have improvised. Rather, in the spirit of my first two posts, lets look at details and settings.

There’s nothing unexpected about the placing of most of the cadenza points and holds in the 5 concerti. However, something was lost when these works were viewed from the context of subsequent evolutions of the the violin concerto. Most of the great works of the 19th century evolved from the post-revolutionary Parisian tradition, or performer/composers influenced by it, and from its’father creator’ as Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was known (Mozart himself would later re-instrumentate Viotti’s 16th Concerto and write a -lost- replacement slow movement).

So it is not surprising that Mozart’s consciously non-virtuosic concertante writing would include elements, felicities, which seem insignificant, and can pass us by. I am gradually going to move towards the question of the subtle notion of primus/prima inter pares that is the notion of relationship between solo and other players on stage. For today, I would like to draw attention to the care and even the eccentricity which he took with the framing of cadenzas.

Here’s an example, from the the 1st movement of K218.

Cadenza point. 1st Movement Concerto No 4 in D Major K 218 (MS)

Things to note; setting up the cadenza, the soloist does not play along with the first violins. There are all kinds of reasons for this, ranging from the dramatic, to the pragmatic (if one is going to play a solo improvisation-it’s worth checking that the instrument is in tune, to name one!). But I would like you to look at the material that Mozart offers as the ‘staffage’, the armature, for the improvisation, and when you see that, just one detail of that. The quarter-note upbeat,  ‘D’, is derived from the second oboe part-bottom line on the extract illustrated. The down-beat that begins the cadenza/hold, is ‘F sharp’, which comes from the first oboe line (one up from the bottom). Then the ‘out’ of the hold material is the same ‘D’ as the Oboe, unadorned, and nothing like the interruption of triple-octave ‘D’s that can be seen in the First Violins – two lines down (note the Unison ‘D’s in Violin 2-see my note above).

So Mozart finds his way in and out of the cadenza point, not from the violins, as one might expect, but from within the ensemble. This might have no audible outcome, but it speaks volumes as to the care with which this teenager understood the whole of his orchestra, and his place within it as a violinist. I will talk more about this later on, but for now, I will simply observe that, across the 15 movements of these concerti, Mozart seems to be hunting for a variety of ways to dialogue with the inner dynamic of the orchestra as he sets up points for improvisation. This (and here is my point) makes it all the more ridiculous that one almost never hears any respect, or attention, given to this material, or these subtle agogics, in performance today.

Day 4- 8 1 19

On second thoughts. Whilst the manuscript score of the 5 concerti  includes a number of places where Mozart changes his mind. Interestingly, most of these second thoughts are structural, as opposed to cosmetic. By way of contrast, the MS of Beethoven’s Sonatas Op 30 is littered with dynamic adjustments, which are comparatively rare in Mozart’s case. Here’s an example of the kind of adjustment that we see in this set of Mozart autographs. And this one seems (in my opinion anyway) to have a consequence in the the next work of the cycle. Here’s the beginning of the second exposition of the D Major Concerto K218. 

The solo entry in the first movement of the fourth concerto

As will be clear, Mozart’s first plan, was to have the soloist enter on a rising D major arpeggio. I cannot decide whether this was the original Eingang to the familiar fanfare motive (which it must be remember, is not the first subject of the work), or whether something more lyrical was on his mind. When we come to record the concerti in the near future, I will take the opportunity try this out, as seems to have been originally intended. But, something seems to have lodged in his mind, with this excision, and come the following concerto, the A Major, at the end of the first exposition, the orchestra allegro stop, murmuring violin 32nd notes are heard, and over the top, the soloist appears, a rising root position arpeggio. Exactly this gesture, up an octave and a half, set in a gilded frame. I may be completely wrong, but, it seems to me that this affords a glimpse into the composer’s mind – perhaps the cutting of this simple bars set the hare coursing which would result in the ingenious entry of the solo in the next concerto.

Day 5 – 9-1-19

High notes!

Two top Ds.

For a couple of days, I am focusing on the moments when Mozart changed his mind. The most dramatic change is to be found in the last movement of K218, where he cut 9 fully composed bars, which originally ran up to a dramatic cadenza before the last statement of his double rondo theme. Today I am simply going to focus on two aspects of this.

The first is very prosaic: in doing this, he removed the only instance of allegro triplet sixteenth notes in the set of concerti. I have a hunch, that this gesture was perhaps a little too close to Johann Michael Haydn’s first concerto (G Major). The two were sitting opposite each other in the Salzburg Kapell,  and there’s an intimate relationship between their respective violin concertos.

The other aspect of this is the pitch. You will notice that are two high Ds (three octaves and a tone about middle C). In fact the two bars that I have reproduced are the highest-lying bars in the whole cycle of concertos. Removing them brought the top note of this concerto down a perfect fourth, and only the fifth concerto gets close, in the first movement, which reaches high C sharp, just before the cadenza point in the first movement. Interestingly, in 1787, Mozart wrote his only full-scale cadenza for violin alone-the ‘everything-goes-wrong’ cadenza in the slow movement of his ‘musical joke’, Ein musikalischer Spaß  K 522. This disastrous bit of improvisation for the leader, is for all of its heavy handed humour, a great example of contemporary cadenza practice, and goes up, to top ‘D’. This morning, I found that interesting, and perhaps you will to. Here’s that high note.

The slow movement of ‘Ein musikalischer Spaß’-from the 1797 first edition

Day 6 – 12 11 19

Trills and change. Today’s post was tripped by a new turntable which arrived at our apartment two days ago, triggering a lot of Sven Asmussen, Mae West, Thelonius Monk, Leslie Caron/Louis Jordain, Max Jaffa and Corelli – most particularly, the bizarrely wonderful recording made of the Op 5 Sonatas  by Ruggiero Ricci, Ivor Keys and Thurston Dart. At every moment that I listen to this double LP set,  I am surprised, provoked, and moved. And what touches me most is the vigour, elan and devil-may-care dash with which Ricci approaches every note, and, most of all, the reminder that, music must both dance and sing, however we approach these qualities. Ricci is, not suprisingly, every inch an italian – I remember a shopkeeper in Rome, finding out that I was a musician, singing out: ‘Sempre la Lirica!!!’

Cadence and trill K 218 1st movement

Listening to Ricci play Corelli sparked a discussion between my various ages-between the violinist I was at 16, and the one that I am now. As with all of these posts, that discussion focuses on one tiny detail. I guess that this might be read as a performance-practice issue, but as ever, am more interested in practising, and performing. Listen here:

Here’s the trill (see illustration above), played twice. It’s the end of the exposition of the first movement o K218, which I studied and performed for the first time as a 15-year old when I had been working under Ralph Holmes for three years.

Holmes in 1982.

Ralph was all about lyricism. Everything had to sing, and his violin sang with uniquely touching voice. He was concerned to preserve song throughout every phrase, and the first version of the trill is the fingering which he taught me, to ensure this. The final ‘A’ is played with the 3rd finger extended. Ralph and I had very different physiques, and very different hands. My fourth finger is long and as mobile as my third, whereas Holmes was sure that his was not as effective, expressively, as his third, so made every effort to use the hand with the extended third finger wherever possible. In the case of this cadence, that meant learning to trill in first position, and then plonk the third finger down out of the trill reaching a tone high, without changing the hand shape. Initially I hated it, and then I loved it, and it became part of the piece for me: Trill  1212121… 01 extend 3.

But as you can hear there’s a secondary stylistic conceit allied to this. There was no question that I was taught Mozart in the context of the composers that came before him. Ralph had me working very hard on Corelli, Leclair and Bach continuo sonatas – the E minor BWV 1023 was precious to him and we laboured over it. The rule that was standard for Mozart trills at that time was, in 90 percent of cases, start ‘on the note’ and stop the trill halfway through the note, to sing ‘on the note’ (B natural in this case) ap to the turn (AB) to the finial (A). So Holmes’s lyrical 3rd finger extension must be seen in that light.

If you listen to the second reading of the cadence, you will hear the fingering that I have marked in on the MS. 21212121010. This remains in first position, and ends on the open A which will match the tutti first violins below-who interupt, forte. In addition the trill is started on the upper note , an stressed C sharp’ and there’s no hold on the anacrusis of the cadence, which trickles along and even a little bit away to the final open A. That is what I would instinctively do now. My 15-16 year old self is horrified.

I present these two approaches as a mnemonic for myself, to keep in mind to be enriched by all the approaches and solutions to expressive and syntactical problems. They are both approaches which might be defined as ‘of their times’. They enrich the possible readings of these pieces. Neither is right nor wrong, and like Ricci’s Corelli, they will come to be seen as period pieces, but thought-provoking nonetheless. The normal listener, revelling in Mozart, does not have to worry about them, but we craftspeople should agonise, argue, scream and shout (even come to temporary resting-points, truces!) about what to do.

Day 7 – 19 1 19


Finger-replacements in the slow movement of the B flat Concerto K 207

It has been a week since I was able to spend any time with Mozart, a week Spagnoletti, Paganini, Mori, Cowie, Dickinson, Matteis and Michael Hersch. But now I have, momentarily, space on my practice desk, and am able to inch forward with some more neurotic detail. One of the problems of the artificial walls that tend to be erected between musicians and musical practices of different stylistic/aesthetics stripes/prejudices, is that things can be dropped. An example of this, in string playing, is the variety of possible expressive shifts that are not only possible, but indicated/expected, in repertoire from the 17th to 21st centuries. There are two simple reasons (which are, in many ways, one) for these techniques’ neglect. The comparatively late advocacy of constant vibrato (linked to developing recording technology) rang a passing bell for the subtleties of ‘finger replacement’ technique (to give just one example). The refinements of how this effect was used were/are clearly linked to the infinite possibilities, in poetry/rhetoric (and by extension, singing) of the passage from syllable to syllable, trochee to spondee, foot to foot, through the varying intersections of consonant, vowel, stress and syntax. The omni-present vibrato obviated the need, usefulness, and eventually, understanding, of these affects, and the pursuit of volume and the attendant crudification of right-hand technique which resulted from the a number of dominant pedagogies after WWII finished them off. Ironically, the rise of what came to be called ‘Historically Informed Practice’ which has, and continues to have, revelatory outcomes in every field, initially compounded the problem in a unwittingly reactionary revolution against the expression of sentiment in performance, advocating a notional purity of approach, which remained unassailable for some time.

This is a grotesque simplification, and thankfully, the walls  of exclusion have tumbled, or at the very least, crumbled. But there are still areas which are glossed around, and the expressive possibilities and requirements of composers, apparent in their writing for violin, manifestly fall into this category.

The passage from the slow movement of Mozart’s violin concerto is an example of a place where an 18th century composer expects a number of gliding movements between repeated notes, over strings,not to mention the portamenti over larger intervals, which I will come to later in this series of posts. I would not presume to suggest that the fingering that I have suggested for this passage is the right fingering. However, what is clear is that when these gliding, finger-crossing, and sliding movements are incorporated/recognised the simplicity of the melodic writing can be enhanced, enlightened even, without the need for an overbearing weight of expressive devices (such as vibrato) to enhance the passage.

Leopold Mozart, in his 1753 Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule included a number example of these gliding fingerings. I will later talk about how this affects the ‘tutti’ writing in this movement. All I want to do for now, is to offer this fingering solution as a possible example of what his son was requiring, and did, when he played his Klotz ‘Butter-violin’.

Try it and you will see what I mean.

Day 8 – A question of pizzicato

‘Pizzicato’ is comparatively rare in concertante writing for the violin, despite it’s frequent use in the tutti  of 18th century concerti. This is not to say that it is any way rare in early solo writing for the instrument, especially in the works by German-speaking composers. In his extraordinary 1684 cycle of sonatas, Hortulus Chelicus , Johann Jacob Walther made extensive use of various versions of the technique, to solo ends, but notably, invariable as an imitation of plucked instruments (one sonata, imitating a dialogue between lute and a nightingale, is nearly entirely played plucked, and there are indications to imitate guitars and the intriguing ‘arpa smorzata’. Haydn and Michael Haydn eschew pizzicato in their concertante  writing for violin, and it’s not to be found in the solo parts of the concerti by Vanhal, Reichardt, Myslive?ek, or the Bendas. It does appear in the two solo violin parts of Mozart’s  Serenata Notturna K.239 which was completed the year after the violin concerti.

In addition, discussion of pizzicato is rare in 18th century methods. Leopold Mozart chose not to mention it at all in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (Publ. 1756).  However, Johann Joachim Quantz, in his Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen which appeared four years earlier, devotes some time and thought to the most effective execution of the technique.

Left-hand pizzicato, which would be brought to an apogee in the solo works of Paganini and especially Ernst in the 19th century, is not mentioned at all in 18th century manuals. The earliest reference that we have to it, is in John Playford’s 1669 edition of his Musick’s recreation on the Violl lyra-way where he calls the open-string technique, the ‘thump’.

Here’s Mozart’s notation of the ‘thump’ technique, in the last movement of the  G Major Concerto K216. There’s a subtle reornamentation  of the rondo theme, each time that it appears, and the last appearance in the solo part, presented in a very transparent context, uses an off-beat open-D left hand ‘pizz’.

The last statement of the rondo in K216

This is clearly not used here as a virtuoso technique, but rather as a rhythmic ‘back-beat’ effect, which is all the more effective for the aural pun which result from the off set with the arco open ‘D’ in the first violins, one eighth-note later, which can be seen in the line below.

One note, the familiar ‘+’-notation for left-hand pizzicato did not come into general use until the late 19th Century. There was no standard notation in place until then. Here’s the most famous example, from Paganini’s 24th Capriccio Op 1, with his personal notation-which was not consistent in his manuscripts.

Paganini’s 9th Variation of the 24th Caprice. The ‘o’ s are the left hand pizzicati

Day 9 – Some Hurdy-Gurdys

The Hurdy-gurdy imitation in the finale of K 218

A note, before I get to the pith of today’s entry. I hope that you will not take it amiss, if I mention that this series of jottings are not in any way scholarly, informed, and are certainly not my final word on the subject. However, I do think that there is a something to be gained from taking a somewhat instinctive approach, once in a while, and, rather than tilting for academic completeness, trying an idea out, just for now. So forgive, me, while I indulge myself a little more.

The inclusion of street music, Gassenhauern , in the finales of two of the concerti is one of the most famous aspects of these five extraordinary pieces. Today, I would just like to point out that these both revolve around, to a greater or lesser extent, the imitation of the Austrian hurdygurdy, or Drehleier.  Here’s a little at the desk recording of the Drehleier material from the G Major and D Major concerti, wrapped around another example. Both the concerto passages are in G Major.

The middle passage, which is distinctive by being in D Major, is not by Wolgang Amadeus at all, but by his violinist father, Leopold. I have lifted it from the set of violin duos which accompanied one of the editions of his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, mentioned above. My reason for offering this comparison, is simply to note that the imitation of the Drehleier was clearly a family thing. The segments which I lifted from the G Major(3rd Concerto) K216, where the hurdygurdy just plays a small role in the Gassenhauer section, are most similar in technique to Leopold’s writing, requiring simple positions, and offering no real technical challenges.

However, if you look at the segment from the D Major Concerto K218, which I have reproduced above. it is clear that the teenage Mozart has ‘upped’ the stakes, in terms of virtuosity. The result is the only passage in all of the concertos which requires that the violin soloist should climb  up the D string to the G, an octave and a up, in order to keep the G-string ‘droning’away. The result is a resinous, swoopy, almost Balkan sound.

And from all this leaps a simple question: it’s one which causes much soul searching for players. When a composer such as Mozart imitates what we would now call ‘folk instruments’, what is the role of the player. Should I imitate the Drehleier every droning, resinous, scratchy, raucous particular? Or should the hurdy gurdy player be ‘cleaned-up’, given court clothes, ‘bowdlerised’?

I will leave this to you for now.

Day 10 – Slides, glides and more. 

The solo part from K261. Some fingering options, including simple 2-1 and 1-2 replacements

I find myself back in London, which gives me time to find my way back to the Mozart manuscripts. Up to this point, I have not mentioned the two ‘extra’ movements, maybe replacements for parts of the A Major & B flat Major concerti. This evening, I have spent some time with the E major Adagio K261. This manuscript is dated, on top left of the first page ‘1776’. There is some suggestion that this might have been written as a replacement for the middle movement of ‘Turkish’ Concerto No 5. I will come back to that later in this series of thoughts. I will also return to the fact that this is, by the standards of the 5 complete concerti, a rather messy score.

But,more importantly,  this score gives me the chance to return to one neglected feature of 18th century violin playing: ‘finger replacements’. There’s a simple question that needs to be answered, for every player. How do we work with repeated notes?  One answer to that question, particularly when a string instrument is imitating the voice, is that the move from one note…to the same note, demands the variety which comes from playing the repeated note with a different finger. For now, I am eschewing discussion of the bow in this, as well as the role of changing strings in this process. For now, I will only consider the nature of different fingers on the strings alone. This is an aspect of syntax which is rarely treated with any seriousness.


This will require more than one entry to explore fully. But firstly let’s begin the characters of the four fingers of the strings. Each digit imparts a different quality of attack and hold to each note that it plays. This is firstly related to the angle of approach. The 1st finger can land on the string with most weight and solidity, but not from so great a great , so with somewhat limited velocity, at a generally acute angle. The 2nd finger attacks the string with less weight and heft, but from the greater height and velocity, and, most often perpendicular to the string. The 3rd finger attacks the string with medium weight, from a median to extreme height, at potentially great velocity and at at  an acute to perpendicular angle. The 4th finger lands with the least weight (or most delicacy!), from the generally lowest height and slowest, and at the most acute angle to the the string. Any note played successively with each finger will tend to accrue characters related to these simple qualities.

Allied to these dynamic characteristics are the varying qualities of the finger tips themselves. These result from, a number of variables, but the two most important are the flexibility, the the softness of the finger pads and and the effect of the various angles of use on the disposition of bone tuft to the string (through the pad). As you might expect, the 1st finger is the hardest, and least flexible, and the 4th, the softest and most flexible. It is as if one were able to play a piano with hammers of different characteristic s and ‘fluffiness’.

1-2 finger replacement

I will keep this simple for now, but simply ask you to use your imagination, and just visualise the possible colour shifts that are possible, with all the factors mentioned above, as the hand moves from finger to finger, especially, when, as is being shown above, this involves replacing one finger with another, on the same note. That’s the Gsharp to Gsharp in the musical example given above. More on this tomorrow!

Naturally, there is an intimate relationship between this and the question of portamenti, less sexily referred to as ‘slides’. One element of this is vital to the ‘finger-change’ on a unison, which is the slightly ululating quality as each finger drifts from the position adjacent to the note, into a sounding role. In the 19th century, this ‘howling’ became integral to certain virtuoso (stunt) pieces. The most obvious example is the opening of Bazzini’s Ronde des Lutins, where the gambit is used on Fsharp on the e, a, d, and g strings in quick succession, with the first, second, third, and fourth fingers respectively. Later on, when Stravinsky and his collaborating violinist, Samuel Dushkin, made a transcription of the Chanson Russe  from his Mavra, he used a much subtler version of the gesture to add a moment of expressive spice in the last held note of the solo violin.

But it is fair to say that the use of these techniques in the later 18th century was a lot subtler than later developments,and deeply related to the questions of rhetoric which underpin all the music of this era. There’s an implicit relationship between the syntax of bow changes, the limitless possibilities of consonants and vowels with the right hand, and the corresponding, counterpointing possibilities with the left.

There are two many varieties of finger changes to number, but I would suggest that they should be considered alongside the world of consonants in speech and song. Consonants, put crudely, offer variety of expression and meaning through both obstruction and access. What I mean by that (particularly with the bow in hand) might be crudely understood, expressed, by the difference between words beginning with ‘B’ and ‘W’. such as ‘beak’ and ‘weak’. The ‘B’ on the front of the word, the closed lips before the release of to the vowel, offers resistance, which when breath is forced through, energises the word. The open-mouthed start of ‘weak’ offers no such obstacle. Consequently, the energy in the word, if I might put it thus, gathers around the finial ‘k’. This is an extremely crude way at looking at speech, but is useful, if only to understand how articulation works on a simple bowed note. Normally, when we think about the transfer of such modes of expression to stringed instruments, this is spoken of simply in terms of what the right hand does, how the ictus, of ‘B’ might be provided by the ‘catch-and-release’ of the 1st finger pushing down into the stick at the opening of the stroke.

However, these processes are mirrored in the left hand, and sometimes, that hand offers the more powerful techniques for accessing them. I should explain. The left hand offers a limited range of ‘direct’ articulations, such as a ‘hammered’ attack on the string, which, of course, relates to the ‘left hand pizzicato’ discussed earlier. However, considerable energy and colour can be found in the ‘finger-to-finger’ moves being discussed here. Much of this power comes from a certain discomfort. For instance, if you are playing heavily with the 3rd finger, with arm-weight into the fingerboard, it takes quite some force to dislodge the finger-if the 1st or 2nd are going to do it, they have to kick (an interesting analogy!) with greater or lesser assistance from the hand, wrist, lower or upper arm. If the 4th finger is going to replace the 3rd, it has to push it away from above.

3 and 4 preparing to replace 2

The best comparison that I can give to this is a climbing one. In bouldering. If one foot is on a tiny, dangerous hold, the only way to replace it is for one foot to step on top of the other, painfully! It’s literally squeezed out of the way.

These finger-dislodg-ings often have the quality of multiple consonants, such as ‘spl-‘ or ‘gn’ or ‘ttl’.They bring the quality of the the violin-playing ever closer to that of speech and song. It’s fair enough to say that to not think about using them when the composer has provided repeated notes, is to miss what the music is doing, is saying, is singing. At the very least, to not use them, should be a decision, not a default.

Revelation. 6 3 19 

Revelation. As some of you might have noticed, I have been moving towards a Mozart concertos project. That leapt into sharp relief today when I met this wonderful 1750 Sebastian Klotz fiddle. I have spent the afternoon on the 1st Concerto, with a Tartini style bow, and this is the sound I have been looking for!

More light-bulb moments 9th March 2019

A close view of Klotz’s exquisite purfling work 9 3 19

Since beginning work with the Klotz violin mentioned above, much has fallen into place, and reactions to the ideas have become more marked. On Thursday, I got the violin out in front of friends and colleagues at the Royal Academy of Music, without comment. I played the opening tan  tan tararaa  of the D major concerto (K218), and effect was electric. One, renowned for his research into Mozart, lit up:

‘That’s so right. That’s the violin. That’s the sound’

I will leave the responses there. I am not claiming that what the violin does is any more ‘right’ than any other. But I am offering the idea, that there’s a logic to the agreement between these German-speaking artists – luthier and player composer. But now I would like to move to what it has brought to me. I have been silent about it online.Curiously this concerns Giuseppe Tartini.

As I have moved deeper into this work, an impossible, but almost possible, meeting, has been on my mind. In 1770, the great travel-writer-music-researcher Charles Burney was in Italy. In 1771 (reprinted 1779), he published

‘A Letter from the Late Signor Tartini to Signora Maddalena Lombardini, (now Signora Sirmen) as an important Lesson to Performers on the Violin. Translated by Dr. Burney’

It’s fair enough to say, that there was never, and would never be, a more important piece of writing about violin playing. At the end of July 1770, Burney had  arrived in Padua, where Tartini had lived and taught for so many years: The great master had died in February of that year. There can be little doubt, that when Burney  planned his trip to Italy, seeing Tartini would have been high on his list of priorities. Indeed, in his ‘travel classic’, Music, Men and Manners in France and Italy (published immediately upon his return), it’s clear, that after giving his first impressions upon arriving in the town –

‘very disagreeable, the streets narrow, dark and diabolically paged, with great rumbling stones of different sizes’

-Burney’s priority  was to meet –

‘…a learned padre a great musician and particular friend of Tartini, who left him his papers.’

Chief among these papers, would be the famous letter, to which I will return a presto. Three weeks after Burney left Padua, he found himself standing in the church of S. Giovanni in Monte, Bologna. He wrote:

‘Who should I spy there but the celebrated little German Mozart who 3 or 4 years ago surprised everyone in London so much by his premature musical talents. I had a great deal of talk with his father. […] The little man is grown a good deal but sill a little man.’

The Mozarts had been in Bologna for over a month, so that Wolfgang could study with the celebrated Padre Martini, in preparation for his examination for membership of the ‘Accademica Filarmonica’ in the autumn. I like to imagine the conversation, which took, place, as Burney noted under the astonishing Raphael ‘The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia’. The idea of  this ‘great deal of talk’, about music, no doubt, going on under the gaze of the greatest painting of Music’s patron saint is charming, even if Raphael’s depiction of the treatment of string instruments is less so!

The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia (Raphael) – Detail

I like to imagine, that at some point in their conversation the question of Tartini would have come up. I wonder if Burney had every got his hands on Leopold Mozart’s Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1755) which, for all its wealth of information about articulation, steps around, rather pointedly the central tenet of Tartini’s teaching, which was the mastery of vocal ‘shaping’, the true legato on the violin.

I am getting to my point, albeit circuitously. Bear with me.

These concerti have been in my hands, ears and imagination since childhood. Every time we go back to the scores, new joys emerge. This process is redoubled when the facsimile of the MS is in my hands. So I began again, at the beginning, with the Klotz, working through the 5 concerti in detail, pencil in hand. After three days of (interrupted) work, I have just arrived at the opening of the 4th Concerto.

I was, I confess, shocked at what I found, learnt: The violin seemed to be pointing things out to me. Naturally, I found that I revised choices of fingerings and bowings. That’s always going to happen -what seems natural on Monday, will seem ridiculous by Friday. But the violin seemed to be pointing to something which I had noticed, that one of the gestures which the music seemed to be framing, again and again, is the mesa di voce (literally: placing of the voice).  This was often used, particularly in baroque arias for a male soprano, to introduce the singer. Burney later wrote  of one singerthat ‘Handel gave him an opportunity of displaying by a mesa di voce, or swell, at the beginning’, and there are many tales of singers winning over reluctant audiences with spectacular displays of this technique. Here’s an obvious example from the first Mozart concerto, which he may have written in 1773.

From the 2nd Movement of Mozart’s 1st VIolin Concerto in B Flat. K207

Mozart does not need to mark this note with what modern players have come to call a ‘hair-pin’, which looks something like this ‘<>’. In fact he never marks it, for the simple reason that it was part and parcel of what all musicians did to, or with, all music, thought not an omni-present ‘tic’ like late 20th Century vibrato.

Tartini recommended that violinists practice this every day. Here’s an extract from the Letter from the Late Signor Tartini to Signora Maddalena Lombardini,  as translated by Burney.

‘…my advice is, that you first exercise yourself in a swell upon an open string, for example, upon the second or a-la-mi re : that you begin  pianissimo, and increase the tone by slow degrees to its fortissimo ; and this study should i the morning, and a little in the evening ; having constantly in mind, that this practice is, of all others, the be equally made, with the motion of the bow up, and down, in which exercise you should spend at least an hour every day, though at different times, a little in most difficult, and the most essential to playing well on the violin. When you are a perfect mistress of this part of a good performer, a swell will be very easy to you; beginning with the most minute softness, increas- ing the tone to its loudest degree, and diminishing it to the same point of softness with which you began, and all this in the same stroke of the bow. Every degree of pressure upon the string, which the expres- sion of a note or passage shall require, will by this means be easy and certain.’

It’s interesting to me, that Burney made some changes to the letter. Some of these were designed to make something written by a Catholic palatable in Protestant England. But interestingly, it’s also clear that he was sure that his audience would not be familiar with the Italian moniker for the technique. Here’s the beginning of the passage above, in the original Italian.

‘Per far tutta la fatica in una sola volta sin comincia dalla messa di voce sopra una corda vuota,…’

So the insight which this most German of violins has offered, is to make me think about how dependent Mozart’s violin writing at this point, might have been on Tartini’s ‘School of Nations’. I don’t want to try and prove this, but I have a suspicion, that the dispute which clearly developed between Leopold and Wolgang Amadeus might have been. in part, because the younger musician resisted the role of exemplar for his father’s teaching methods (and his book!), which might be said to be the polar opposite of the school which produced disciples and descendants all over Europe.

The fact of the matter is, for now, I can’t play the first three concerti, without Tartini’s Mese di voce, everywhere. These are just initial thoughts on the topic, the places this violin is leading me, reminding of something which, doubtless, Mozart would have loved, Tartini’s motto:

‘Per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare’ (to play/sound out well, you must sing well)