Beautiful Violin Gems 🎼🎻 of the 3 B’s: Bériot, Bull and Bazzini

“The true mission of the violin is to imitate the accents of the human voice, a noble mission that has earned for the violin the glory of being called the king of instruments.” ~ Charles-Auguste de Bériot

I thought it was time to share some lesser known, but brilliant violin works from the nineteenth century. It’s been a little while since my last ‘musical’ post and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms. Plus, I’ve been having technical problems, my old PC has gone to the scrap heap in the sky. The inevitable data retrieval is proving arduous, so in the spirit of a true musician, I’m having to improvise!

The Rehearsal by Edgar Degas

The Rehearsal by Edgar Degas

Romantic violin pieces flourished in the nineteenth century,  the heyday of romanticism. I’ll present these three violin aces and their music in the order of their birth.

Charles-Auguste de Bériot (20 February 1802 – 8 April 1870)

Although he was born in Leuven, Belgium, de Bériot spent the majority of his musical career in Paris. At the Conservatoire de Bériot was tutored by Jean-François Tiby, an acolyte of Viotti. He was also influenced by Baillot and Viotti directly, as well as Paganini (elements of the latter can be heard in the style and virtuosity of his music).

Charles-Auguste_de_Bériot_byCharles Baugniet circa 1838.

Charles-Auguste_de_Bériot_byCharles Baugniet circa 1838.

He played for royalty in France and the Netherlands as well as touring London and Europe. De Bériot was also proficient on the piano and toured much of China against the emperor’s wishes.

His first wife was the celebrated mezzo soprano opera singer, Maria Malibran, who bore him a son in 1833. Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot became a piano professor who counted Maurice Ravel, Ricardo Vines and Enrique Granados among his pupils. Sadly, Maria died at the tender age of 28 (after a riding accident), and de Bériot moved back to Brussels.

In Leuven he met Marie Huber in a cafe of all places. She was an orphan but had been adopted by by Prince von Dietrichstein, making her step sister to his piano legend son, Sigismund Thalberg. It seems to have been a small world in the musical circles of Europe…

Portrait of Charles-Auguste de Beriot by Emile Jean-Horace Vernet.

Portrait of Charles-Auguste de Beriot by Emile Jean-Horace Vernet.

De Bériot later became the chief violin instructor at the Brussels Conservatory where he established the Belgian-Franco School.

Among his followers were the virtuoso violinists Hubert Leonard, Henri Vieuxtemps and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.

He was forced to retire from teaching and performing in 1852 due to failing eyesight and became completely blind by 1858. Unfortunately his ill health continued and he had to have his left arm amputated in 1866.

Compositions

De Bériot wrote pedagogical studies for students, such as the Violin Method Opus 102 and His First 30 Concert Studies Opus 123 for soloists wanting to perfect their technique and skills prior to performing major violin concertos. His output includes various romantic violin pieces that were sometimes used for encore performances in addition to ten violin concertos. His music has fallen into relative obscurity, so I think it’s time to dust it off and give it an outing!

The fabulous Scene de Ballet, Op. 100 with Itzhak Perlman and the Juillard Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster:

Violin Concerto No. 9, Op. 104 with Takako Nishizawi:

Third movement of Violin Concerto No. 9, Op. 104 (performer unknown):

Duo Concertante No. 1, Op. 57 for two violins with Maxine Kwok-Adams and Philip Nolte of the LSO:

A soulful interpretation of Violin Concerto No. 7 in G Major, Op. 76 with Laurent Albrecht :

“If Ole Bull had been born without arms, what a rank he would have taken among the poets – because it is in him, and if he couldn’t violin it out, he would talk it out, since of course it would have to come out.” ~ Mark Twain in a letter to William D. Howells, April 19, 1880

Ole Bornemann Bull (5 February 1810 – 17 August 1880)

This energetic and eccentric Norwegian prodigy didn’t follow the usual path to virtuosity, due to his extremely creative bent and a desire to do things his own way.

Ole_Bull_playing

Ole Bull playing his Gasparo da Salo violin

Norwegian violinist Ole Bull has received less attention than the other composer/virtuosi of the nineteenth century. Perhaps because a good portion of his performance activity took place in the United States, where less of a historical perspective on 19th century music-making has developed among performers. Bull was Norway’s first real celebrity, and as a virtuoso he was something of a rock star, playing on the emotions of audiences in a way Sarasate, for example, did not.

How many other violin virtuosi have played at the top of a pyramid in Egypt? Probably none! Bull certainly led an interesting life…

From the Violin-man.com:

During the season 1836—37 he played 274 concerts in England and Ireland; in 1839 he visited the great German violinist and composer Spohr in Kassel, in the hope of receiving useful advice from him. In 1840 he played Beethoven’s Krentzer So­nata in London, with Liszt at the piano. On July 23, 1849, he announced the formation of a Norwegian Theater in Bergen, which was opened on Jan. 2,1850. While he failed to impress serious musicians and critics in Europe, he achieved his dream of artistic success in America; he made 5 concert tours across the U.S., playing popular selections and his own compositions on American themes with such fetching titles as Niagara, Soli­tude of the Prairies, and To the Memory of Washington, inter­spersing them with his arrangements of Norwegian folk songs.

I found this short documentary about the man, his music and his idiosyncrasies (such as shaving off the top of the bridge to enable him to play chords on all four strings simultaneously) quite informative:

Luthier Gasparo da Salò

In 1842 Ole Bull bought a very richly decorated da Salò violin, originally made in 1570 for the treasure chamber of Archduke Ferdinand I of Tyrol. He used it on tour along with a magnificent Guarneri del Gesu and a large Nicolo Amati model, for nearly forty years of frenzied, fiery improvisation and recital.

Ole Bull's Gasparo da Salo violin.

Ole Bull’s Gasparo da Salo violin.

I adore the deeper, darker, unique sound of Ole Bull’s Violin, made by Jean-Baptiste Villaume:

Compositions

It’s thought Ole Bull wrote as many as seventy pieces in his lifetime, but only around ten of those endured and continue to be performed in modern repertoire.

This is totally seductive and beguiling! ‘Cantabile doloros e Rondo giocoso’ with Charlie Siem and the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios:

Violin Concerto in A major, “Grand Concerto’, Op. 4 (1834; revised 1864) with Annar Follesø with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud:

This sweet tune is an example of his love for Norwegian folk songs, arranged for violin and orchestra by Johann Svendsen – Sæterjentens Søndag (The Herd-Girls’ Sunday):

Polacca Guerriera played with virtuosic flair by Marek Pavelec:

La Verbena de San Juan: Spanish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra with Annar Follesø:

Fantasy And Variations On A Theme By Bellini and other gems by Arve Tellefsen:

It seems that he was friends with Pianist and composer Franz Liszt, and Robert Schumann wrote that Bull was among “the greatest of all,” extolling that he was on par with Niccolò Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing.

“His violin, which transforms all your soul, combines enthusiasm with perfect intonation … his mastery of the bow … produces a song that resembles the human voice, and he has the technique for the most difficult whims found in Paganini, executed without hampering true expression.” ~ Review by a Milanese Critic after hearing Bazzini perform on the violin in 1839

Antonio Bazzini (11 March 1818 – 10 February 1897)

Bazzini was born in Brescia, Italy into a long established Brescian family dating back as far as the 1400s.

Antonio_BazziniHis early introduction to literature, culture and music was provided by his grandfather, Antonio Buccelleni, who had written poems, sonnets and odes, some of which formed the basis of Bazzini’s early compositions.

His first violin instruction was under Kapellmeister Faustino Camisiani, and by the time of his death in 1830 young Antonio was a competent eleven year old violinist.

Bazzini’s fame as a violin virtuoso overshadowed his composing and teaching, he was regarded as one of the finest concert violinists of the 19th century.

From Naxos:

At seventeen Bazzini was himself a maestro di cappella for the church of San Filippo in Brescia. His early works were often religious in nature, and while at San Filippo he wrote Masses, Vespers, and six oratorios. His life materially changed on 20 March 1836, when he played first violin in a quintet by Luigi Savi. The work was dedicated to Paganini and the dedicatee was in the audience. Paganini advised the young man to tour as a virtuoso, and Bazzini took this advice to heart. Beginning in 1837 he toured Milan, Venice, Trieste, Vienna, and Budapest; from 1841–1845 he toured Germany, Denmark, and Poland.

For several years he lived in Leipzig, where he studied the German masters. While in Germany, Bazzini performed with Mendelssohn’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, reputedly giving one of the first private performances of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto. In 1848 he undertook a tour of Spain and in 1852 he settled in Paris. In 1864, after a final concert tour in the Netherlands, he returned to Brescia and concentrated on composition; he also championed instrumental music in Italy through string quartet performances at the home of Gaetano Franchi and the creation of the Società dei Concerti. Among the soloists Bazzini brought to Italy were Hans von Bülow and Anton Rubinstein, in 1870 and 1874 respectively.

Along with Verdi, Bazzini had an important rôle in establishing standard concert pitch (440 Hz), which was first recognised in Italy by the Congresso dei Musicisti Italiani in 1881. In 1873 he was appointed professor of musical theory and composition at the Milan Conservatory and became director of the same institution in 1882. Among his pupils at the Milan Conservatory were Mascagni and Puccini.

Compositions

He returned to Brescia after touring, where he focused on composing. During this time he wrote an opera, Turanda, cantatas, sacred works, concert overtures and symphonic poems (Francesca da Rimini). His chamber music proved to be his most successful pieces as far as composing was concerned.

The insanely virtuosic show piece, Scherzo Fantastique, Op. 25 La ronde des Lutins performed superbly by Maxim Vengerov and Ingo Dannhorn:

James Ehnes is cool, calm and collected, yet manages to set his 1715 ‘Marsick’ Stradivarius on fire…

As popular show pieces tend to be arranged for other instruments, I thought I’d treat you to one for the cello and piano by Duo Toivio; cellist Seeli Toivio and pianist Kalle Toivio :

An incredible transcription for classical guitar of ‘La Ronde des Lutins’ by. Alexey Zimakov:

Violin Concerto No. 4 in A minor, Op. 38 with Aldo Ferraresi, Orchestra ‘A. Scarlatti’ di Napoli della Rai conducted by Franco Gallini:

‘Calabrese’, Waltz in E minor, Op. 34, a splendid vintage recording with Yehudi Menuhin and Adolph Baller:

Fantasia on themes from Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ Op. 50 with Claudio Voghera and Francesco Manara:

I’ll bid you farewell now, (the hungry hordes are waiting for their tea), echoing Shakespeare’s immortal verse: If music be the food of love…play on!

Celebrating a Monumental Musician and Man: Yehudi Menuhin

“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

When asked to think of a violinist, probably one of the first names that would come to mind is Yehudi Menuhin. I’m going to sound-off a bit (in a good way), as today marks the centenary of his birth, (22nd April 1916).

Yehudi Menuhin violin quote

Perhaps being British I was exposed to his music more than say, the likes of his contemporaries, Jascha Heifetz or David Oistrakh, but he’s undoubtedly one of the giants of the 20th century and revered by many current soloists. Not just for his supreme talent on the violin, or indeed his teaching and music school, or his conducting, but for also for his humanitarian work and contributions to the world of classical music as a whole.

A child prodigy, he first studied under Louis Persinger and later Romanian violinist and composer, George Enescu.

You could say he was truly a citizen of the world, born in the USA to Russian Jewish parent’s he became a Swiss citizen in 1970 and a British citizen in 1985. He performed all over the world during his illustrious career.

Yehud Menuhin on music

His recording contract with EMI was the longest in the history of the music industry, lasting almost 70 years from his first recording aged thirteen in 1929, to his final recording aged eighty three in 1999. He recorded over 300 works both as a violinist and conductor.

His legacy lives on in the form of his music school in Surrey (where Adelia Myslov, the violinist who recorded the soundtrack for my novel, The Virtuoso, attended). Adelia spoke of performing with him and I could see they were very special memories for her.

Yehudi Menuhin_1976

So many of his You Tube clips are from those halcyon days of black and white; truly vintage performances that I love. For me, Menuhin was the embodiment of virtuosity, his style was romantic without being sentimental, his musicality and phrasing was exquisite. I’ll share some of my favourite performances of his throughout this post.

“In playing Beethoven the violinist should be a medium. There is little that is personal or that can be reduced to ingratiating sounds, pleasing slides and so on. Everything is dictated by the significance, the weight, structure and direction of the notes and passages themselves.” ~ Yehudi menuhin

Rather than populate this post with tons of text, I’d rather give you his voice and music…

A Violonist in Hollywood – Yehudi Menuhin in coversation with Humprey Burton:

The focus of the film is on previously unreleased footage from the legendary Hollywood music film, Concert Magic from the year 1947. In interviews and conversations with his biographer Humphrey Burton, Yehudi Menuhin recalls the origin of the film, the war and post-war era in America and Germany. Special attention is paid to his commitment to the victims of World War II. These include great artists forced into American exile such as fellow musician Béla Bartók.

During the Second World War Yehudi Menuhin helped to raise the spirits of war victims and refugee children with numerous concerts. He supported artists in American exile, performed for an audience of freed prisoners of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, and in war ravaged Berlin he played demonstratively under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Looking back at the mid-1940’s it is clear to see with what passion Menuhin linked his goals of musical excellence with a dedication to social causes. He used music to plead for justice and reconciliation often against strong resistance.

“Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child’s dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

Yehudi Menuhin School

The Menuhin School was set up in 1963 for musically gifted children and is based in beautiful grounds at Stoke d’Abernon near Cobham in Surrey. I attended a classical concert there last year when Adelia was performing with Craig White; many of the school’s alumni are invited to return. It’s the spiritual home of violin tuition, with Lord Menuhin’s grave located in the grounds near the performance hall.

Menuhin grave

Violinist David Hope was lucky enough to be taught and mentored by Yehudi Menuhin, and talks about his journey with the late maestro and also his latest album, My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin:

Current violinists fortunate to have been taught by Lord Menuhin include Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Paul Coletti and Peter Tanfield.

The Menuhin Competition

Set up in 1983, this is the world’s foremost violin completion for young musicians under 22. The Menuhin Competition is held every two years in different locations around the world. Past winners include Julia Fischer, Ray Chen, Lara St. John, Tasmin Little and Ilya Gringolts. The 2016 final was won earlier this month by Chinese violinist Ziyu He.

“I would hate to think I am not an amateur. An amateur is one who loves what he is doing. Very often, I’m afraid, the professional hates what he is doing. So, I’d rather be an amateur.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

Instruments

As you would expect from a musician of his calibre Yehudi Menuhin played on several famous violins, the most famous of which was the Lord Wilton Guarnerius of 1742.  Among his other violins were the Giovanni Bussetto 1680, the Giovanni Grancino 1695, the Guarneri filius Andrea 1703, the Soil Stradivarius, the Prince Khevenhüller 1733 Stradivarius, and the Guarneri del Gesù 1739.

David Fulton - current owner of the 1742 Lord Wilton ex Yehudi Menuhin Guarnerius

David Fulton – current owner of the 1742 Lord Wilton ex Yehudi Menuhin Guarnerius

I couldn’t find a clip where I could be sure Menuhin was performing on his Lord Wilton, but I have found one of James Ehnes playing Tchaikovsky’s Melody on it in 2012.  He made a series of recordings on famous Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu violins. It seems to possess a very rich, deep and powerful tone.

Performance clips

The Menuhin Century: (Ave Maria, Flight of the Bumblebee):

I think I’m going to have to purchase this!

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis in 1962:

Yehudi Menuhin, aged 22 performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with his teacher, George Enescu conducting:

I absolutely adore his Bach Chaconne solo!

An iconic recording with David Oistrakh of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor:

The second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1in D Major:

A fabulous vintage video of Menuhin in rehearsal and performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, KV 216:

A vintage recording of Menuhin performing Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Elgar conducting the LSO:

Menuhin plays the dramatic third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 with the LSO:

Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique with the RPO:

Teaching

 Violin Tutorial – Left Hand First Exercises:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvV4A6lz-0w 

Left Hand Playing:

Keeping it in the family 

Performing with his sister Yaltah (on the piano), in a feisty rendition of Sarasate’s Habanera:

Accompanied by his son Jeremy Menuhin playing Beethoven’s ‘Spring sonata’ in F Major:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQUzCeIcFnw 

Menuhin performs Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio in 1974 with Rostropovich and Kempff:

Collaborations

Indian Classical Music with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Yehudi Menuhin:

Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar – Tenderness:

In his jazz mood with Stephane Grappelli! Autumn Leaves:

Jacob Gade’s tango – Jalousie:

I haven’t really touched on the technical difficulties he faced in the latter part of his career, because despite his virtuosic decline he was always an outstanding musician, conductor and human being.

Poster at the performance hall of Yehudi Menuhin School

Poster at the performance hall of Yehudi Menuhin School

“Actually, I was gazing in my usual state of being half absent in my own world and half in the present. I have usually been able to ‘retire’ in this way. I was also thinking that my life was tied up with the instrument and would I do it justice?” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 19th Century: Sarasate

“A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony.” ~ Arthur Conan-Doyle (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)

I’m excited to share the sublime music of Pablo de Sarasate with you. He’s one of my favourite composers of 19th century romantic violin music. His tunes are so evocative of his Spanish homeland, but more than that, they are infused with virtuosic flair, memorable folk tune melodies and romantic lyricism.

Sarasate quote-a-genius-for-37-years

Every time I hear his music my heart flutters…especially when played with a colourful tone and expressiveness.

His music always transports me to another time and reality; a place filled with Mediterranean warmth, caballeros, siestas inside white washed houses topped with cinnamon coloured terracotta tiles, dramatic mountain scenery, cicada filled olive groves, dusty plains and shimmering beaches sprawling under pinky red streaked skies;  illuminating a vast land with the effulgence of a romantic Spanish sunset.  Ah, I think I got a little carried away there…

You never get the feeling that he sacrificed a good tune for the sake of showing off, he managed to seamlessly integrate technique, flair and melody.

Sarasate with his Stradivarius

He may not have written a violin concerto, but his repertoire of fifty seven brilliant compositions for violin and piano and or orchestra more than make up for it.

Pablo de Sarasate: 10 March 1844 – 20 September 1908

Born with a spectacular name entirely befitting his talents, Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navazcués, grew up in the city of Pamplona in Spain’s northern province of Navarre.

He must have imbibed the fiery atmosphere of the San Fermin Festival and the “Running of the Bulls” every summer, and somehow transmuted all that thrill, tradition and dangerous daring of nature into his music.

Bull-run monument in Pamplona

Bull-run monument in Pamplona

Famed for his own romantic and virtuosic performances, one can only marvel at his brilliance. His music is mostly for advanced violinists because that was his skill level on the instrument. No shirking for Pablo; or indeed us wannabe virtuosos for that matter!

Sarasate’s genius on the fingerboard influenced many well-known composers. The French romantic composer, Camille Saint-Saëns, wrote and dedicated his third Violin Concerto and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor for him.

Jascha Heiftez blows me away with this performance:

Other compositions written in his honour include Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto. Sarasate’s style of performing had a direct impact on how other composers of the era formed their violin solo passages.

The early days

Spain’s cherished and foremost violinist/composer began lessons at the age of five, being taught initially by his father who was a bandmaster. He gave his first concert at the age of eight, which secured him patronage to study in Madrid under Manuel Rodríguez Saez, where he became popular with Queen Isabella II of Spain.

At the age of twelve he was sent for tutelage under Jean-Delphin Alard at the Paris Conservatoire, but the journey from Pamplona to Paris proved to be a tragic one. Soon after their train had crossed the border into France, Sarasate’s mother died of a heart attack and Pablo himself was found to be suffering from Cholera. Fortunately he recovered and was able to continue his studies. In 1861 he won first prize in the prestigious Premier Prix in Paris.

Pablo-de-Sarasate-sepia-photo1

Thus began his touring soloist’s career. He was one of the early recording artists also, with a performance in 1904 that prompted a reviewer to write he had “the fleetest fingers and bow arm in the history of recorded sound”.

Not only was he popular in London and Europe, but he also toured America, South Africa and Asia.

Operatic inspiration

In his early career Sarasate performed mostly opera fantasies, including his evocative and beautiful Carmen Fantasy based on Georges Bizet’s seductive and passionate opera, Carmen.

1875 poster for Bizet's opera Carmen

1875 poster for Bizet’s opera Carmen

It’s technically very challenging and demanding (as you would expect from a violinist of his caliber), containing elements and adaptations from the Aragonaise, Habanera, an interlude, Seguidilla, and the Gypsy Dance.

Inspired by Sarasate’s work, film composer Franz Waxman wrote a similar piece, his Carmen Fantasie in 1946, which I also adore.

It would be remiss of me not include some stratospheric performances of his Opus 25!

Gil Shaham shows us how it’s done:

I also love Itzhak Perlman:

And of course, it would be rude not to feature this stunning performance by Maxim Vengerov of Waxman’s Sarasate inspired version of Carmen:

Other Operatic Fantasies

 The Magic Flute Fantasy with Gil Shaham:

Faust Fantasy, Op. 13- Pablo de Sarasate Gil Shaham:

Fantasy on Mozart’s Don Giovanni (performer unknown):

Concert Fantasy on Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, Op. 5:

Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen), Opus 20

Zigeunerweisen is Sarasate’s most popular composition, and was written for violin and orchestra in 1878 and premiered the same year in Leipzig. It features the themes of the Roma people, and in part also the csárdás, which was ‘borrowed’ from a theme previously used in Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13, composed in 1847.

A Gypsy Dance in the Gardens of the Alcázar by Alfred Dehodencq

A Gypsy Dance in the Gardens of the Alcázar by Alfred Dehodencq

Sarasate recorded his best loved work in 1904, but since then it has been recorded by many violinists, being a popular stalwart of the virtuoso’s repertoire.

My crumpled violin score of Zigeunerweisen (rescued from the clutches of my youngest)

My crumpled violin score of Zigeunerweisen (rescued from the clutches of my youngest)

Technical data courtesy of Wikipedia.

Zigeunerweisen is in one movement but can be divided into four sections, the first three in the key of C minor and the last in A minor, based on the tempi:

Moderato – An imposing, virtuosic introduction with slow majestic energy by the orchestra, then a little softer by the violin itself.

Lento – The violin plays in lugubrious lento 4/4. This section has an improvisational quality; the melody, which essentially consists of pairs of 4-bar phrases, is punctuated with difficult runs and other technically demanding figures, including flying spiccato and ricochet bowings.

Un poco più lento – The muted soloist plays a melancholic melody with the so-called reverse-applied dotted note (1/16 + dotted 1/8 rhythm), akin to the “Mannheim sigh” of the classical era; in 2/4 time.

Allegro molto vivace – At this point, the piece becomes extremely rapid. The challenging solo part consists mainly of long spiccato runs, along with double stops, artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicato; in 2/4 time.

This is undoubtedly my favourite from Sarasate’s romantic oeuvre, and I love this exquisite performance by Belgian violin ace Arthur Grumiaux:

The inimitable Itzhak Perlman:

The shortened vintage version recorded by Sarasate in 1904:

I can’t forget Jascha Heifetz either!!

The Duo Toivio recorded a beautiful transcription for cello and piano:

This arrangement for double bass and guitar with Edgar Meyer and Béla Fleck is lovely:

And perhaps even more impressive is the amazing duo of two violins and piano. Hyun-su Shin and Clara Jumi Kang display perfect timing and intonation in their stylistic duet:

Sarasate lived the latter part of his life in Paris, in a home that had been decorated by none other than the American Post-Impressionist artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who also painted a wonderful portrait of him at the same time.

Pablo de Sarasate - Arrangement in black by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Pablo de Sarasate – Arrangement in black by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Now quite wealthy he purchased a holiday home, a villa in Biarritz, but would return to Pamplona for the festival every year.

It seems to me from his paintings and photographs that he dressed impeccably, and was ever the perfect gentleman. Sarasate and his music belonged to a romantic era. I’m sure he must have had no shortage of female admirers, but, for whatever reason, he remained a bachelor. No woman could have taken the place of his beloved violin…

His renown as a performer has been immortalised in print, with mentions in plots by novelists Arthur Conan-Doyle, Anthony Burgess and Edith Wharton.

The Sarasate Stradivarius

Pablo played on a 1724 Golden Period Stradivarius, which was bequeathed to the Musee de la Musique at the Paris Conservatoire after his death in 1908, and is now aptly named after their star student, the Sarasate Stradivarius.

His second violin was also a Stradivarius, the 1713 Boissier, which is now owned by Real Conservatorio Superior de Música, Madrid, where he studied as a boy.

Boissier Stradivarius in Madrid

Boissier Stradivarius in Madrid

Here’s a selection of his beautiful, Spanish themed compositions.

Airs Espagnols – great feisty interpretation, but the performers are unknown as they are not mentioned:

Habanera by Itzhak Perlman:

Malagueña Op. 21, No. 1 (Spanish Dances) by Yehudi Menuhin:

Introduction and Tarantelle, Heifetz:

Spanish Dances Op. 22, No. 1 Romanza Andaluza, Leonid Kogan:

Caprice Basque, Op. 24, Itzhak Perlman:

¡Viva Sevilla! Op. 38 (performer unknown):

‘Navarra’ for 2 Violins. Husband and wife team Gil Shaham & Adele Anthony:

Zapateado performed by Henryk Szeryng:

Zortzico Op. 39 with David Oistrakh:

El Canto del Ruiseñor, (song of the nightingale) Ruggiero Ricci:

Nocturnes:

Les Adieux, Op. 9 Tianwa Yang:

George Bernard Shaw once said that though there were many composers of music for the violin, there were but few composers of violin music. But of Sarasate’s talents, both as performer and composer, he said that he “left criticism gasping miles behind him.”

Hasta la próxima vez amigos. ¡Felices Pascuas!

Oscar Shumsky Playing the 24 Rode Violin Caprices on Pierre Rode’s Stradivarius

Every now and then I make a wonderful musical discovery. Lady luck was with me when I stumbled upon Monsieur Rode’s 24 Caprices for solo violin. How could I have not known about these violin gems?!

I guess Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin are just so famous that they have overshadowed other worthy compositions of the same genre. Rode’s amazing caprices (which were composed between 1814 – 1819 when Rode lived in Berlin), came before Paganini’s and deserve be as famous and popular. They may not have quite the fiery wow factor, but they are nonetheless vital for developing skill in training soloists.

Rode Caprice score

The performances I’m going to share with you are performed by Oscar Shumsky (a hugely underrated virtuoso violinist), playing on a golden period Stradivarius that was once owned and played on by the violinist and composer, Pierre Rode.

What strikes me about these recordings is his purity of tone, the romantic colours, intonation, accuracy, incredible double-stopping, smoothness, flowing style, flair and downright virtuosity!

As the uploader (Rare violin treasures) states:

This is a rare world-premiere recording of the Rode Caprices revealing Mr Oscar Shumsky as one of the best soloists the world has ever known: deadly accurate intonation, effortless technique, a warm lush tone, expressive vibrato, and ultimately the ability to create musical drama. I can say he was easily my favourite of all Auer pupils and when you hear a recording like this it makes you wonder how many more incredible performances he has made that should have been captured but never were! Without a doubt he was one of the true greats of the 20th Century!

Oscar and Pierre rode into my heart with these! I hope they leave you as flabbergasted as they did me…

Helpful notes on how to play the Rode Caprices from Axel Strauss/Naxos

Oscar Shumsky

You can read about this superlative musician in his obituary in The Guardian.

David Oistrakh referred to him as “one of the world’s greatest violinists” and the New Grove dictionary says of him: ‘He was a player of virtuoso technique, pure style and refined taste; yet never sought recognition as a soloist, preferring to concentrate on teaching, chamber music playing and conducting.’

Duke of Cambridge/ex-Pierre Rode 1715 Stradivarius

Rather fittingly, this was the violin used by Oscar Shumsky to record the complete 24 Caprices by Rode.

Oscar Shumksy

Mr Shumsky tells how he came to acquire the instrument:

“It was a case of ‘love at first sound’. During the period of readjustment after the ‘war to end all wars’ we were trying to pick up our lives where we had left them, and I was in the throes of trying to better my instrument. I realized that if I were to pursue a concert career I needed something considerably more outstanding than the Camillo Camilli (an excellent violin in its class) on which I was performing. In the process I had been through many Guadagninis and some lesser Strads, but always came away disappointed.

Then on one of my innumerable visits to the atelier of Emil Herrmann, I spotted a violin lying on the long felt-covered table. A quick glance told me that the violin was not only a Stradivarius but one of the finest examples I had seen. Thrilled and discouraged at the same time (I knew that such an instrument was out of my financial range) I nevertheless had a strong curiosity to examine and try it. Permission was granted, and after a few passages from different fragments of the repertory I just knew I had to have it! I won’t flood readers with all the information about my huge bank loan, but I have never had a moment’s cause for regret. The fact that it somehow came by way of my old teacher Leopold Auer is a fascinating bit of mysticism.” ~ Oscar Shumsky (The Strad, April 1985)

Pierre Rode (16 February 1774 – 25 November 1830)

Born in Bordeaux and hugely talented, he travelled to Paris at the tender age of 13 where he became a favourite student of Viotti; whose tutelage helped him become an accomplished violinist and composer. Alongside Baillot and Kreutzer he worked on the Violin method of the Conservatoire de Paris published in 1802.

As well as the 24 Caprices he composed 13 violin concertos, 12 Etudes, string quartets and a trio, 6 duos for violin and a polonaise for guitar, flute or violin.

Pierre Rode black and white

The Viotti violin concertos and chamber music formed the backbone of his performance repertoire.

In 1794 he toured the Netherlands, Germany, England and Spain (meeting and becoming friends with Luigi Boccherini). He became the personal violinist to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800 and he greatly captivated and influenced the German maestro Louis Spohr, who heard him perform in 1803.

From 1804 to 1808 Rode was solo violinist to the Tsar in Saint Petersburg (just at the time Tolstoy set War and Peace) and enjoyed extraordinary popularity. Whilst in Saint Petersburg he stayed with his countryman François-Adrien Boieldieu.

Jacques Antoine Vallin - Portrait of young man with a violin - possibly Pierre Rode

Jacques Antoine Vallin – Portrait of young man with a violin – possibly Pierre Rode

Beethoven wrote his Violin Sonata No. 10, Op. 96 in G Major for Rode, dedicated to the violinist alongside Archduke Rudolph, when he was visiting Vienna.

Because I can’t resist a Beethoven composition here is a fabulous vintage performance of the above sonata with Isaac Stern and Dame Myra Hess from 1960:

The final movement was written with Pierre Rode’s style in mind. Shortly before completing the work, Beethoven wrote to the Archduke Rudolph:

“… I did not make great haste in the last movement for the sake of mere punctuality, the more because, in writing it, I had to consider the playing of Rode. In our finales we like rushing and resounding passages, but this does not please R and — this hinders me somewhat.”

Whilst in Vienna in 1812, Rode gave the first performance of Beethoven’s Opus 96, accompanied by Archduke Rudolph at the piano.

All that remains is for me to get hold of the music scores and start practising!

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 18th Century: Tartini (Part 2)

“Beyond doubt, Tartini strove for the truest possible expression in violin playing, he wished to give his epoch the best possible example of style, in the broadest sense of the word.” ~ Leopold Auer.

In this second installment on Tartini I’ll be covering his formative years, Slavonic and folk music influences, career highlights, as well as his musical ethos, developments on bowing, Treatise on Ornaments and his teaching legacy.  Plenty to write home about and to listen to!

Tartini’s philosophy

Giuseppe Tartini portraitTartini’s principles in performing and teaching, like his principles in composing, were based on an experience of the humanism of art, its need for context and on his desire to be as close as possible to nature without artificiality.

According to Tartini good musical taste should be displayed in both composing music and performing it, as a product of human nature and should therefore be guided by one’s “sommo giudicio” (highest judgement).

I feel that the undisputed heavy weight champion of classical music, Ludwig van Beethoven, who was also faithful to his life experiences in terms of musical expression shared this musical ideology with Tartini.

Tartini attached great importance to the ‘singing quality’ of the violin. In his ‘Regole per ben suonare il Violino’ (Rules for Playing the Violin Well), he differentiates two ways of playing: cantabile (singing style) and sonabile (resonant). According to Tartini the singing manner of playing cantabile required slurring (same bow for multiple notes) and coherence, as distinct from sonabile.

Tartini’s motto: “Strength without convulsiveness; flexibility without laxity.”

‘Theory of Affects’

In his aesthetic views Tartini belonged to a group of 18th century composers who were the trend setters of his day, namely, Francois Couperin, Johann Mattheson, Francesco Geminiani, CPE Bach, Leopold Mozart and Luigi Boccherini. Their collective views were incorporated into a doctrine known as the ‘theory of affects’, which can be traced back to ancient times.

Their ideology can be summed up by Geminiani, who believed that music was good if it expressed “movements of the soul” and bad if it “expressed nothing”.

My score of the G minor violin sonata 'Didone Abbandonata'

My score of the G minor violin sonata ‘Didone Abbandonata’

Tartini certainly was a master of music with a descriptive force that could arouse emotional states in the listener. Truthfulness of expression was everything. According to his contemporaries, Tartini often drew inspiration from the poems of Petrarch and the romantic writings of Metastasio.

The Cipher

Tartini modestly put his verses into cipher, so that his feelings were expressed in the music alone. He wrote his mottoes in a cipher that he invented which remained a mystery to investigators for two hundred years, adding to the mystical aura that surrounded his life and work. Just over thirty years ago the Greek violinist and musicologist Minos Dounias (who cataloged his violin concertos according to tonality), cleverly decoded Tartini’s cipher.

Folk music and Slavonic influences

Tartini had a keen interest in Italian and Slavonic folk songs and dances, hence much of his music reflected their simple, lively tunes and enchanting rhythms.

Lorenzetti_Italian folk dance

There is a story that tells of how the impressionable composer once heard some Venetian Gondoliers singing a song with words by the 16th century Italian poet, Torquato Tasso. Tartini put down the song and allegedly used it in a movement of a solo violin sonata and wrote the Tasso text under the notes.

Violinist and scholar Peter Sheppard Skærved performing the so called ‘Aria del Tasso’:

Tartini dedicated considerable attention to folk songs in his Treatise on Music, written in 1750:

“Each nation has its own songs, many of which arose from old tradition, though many are created afresh in harmony with the prevailing spirit. As  a rule they are extremely simple; one might even remark that the simpler and more natural they are, the better they are assimilated.”

In his youth Tartini listened to and absorbed the songs of Croats and Slovenes. The final movement of his violin concerto D. 115 is a fine example of his affection for Slavonic folk tunes.

Violin Concerto in A Minor, D.115 ‘A Lunardo Venier’ Presto with Nicola Beneditti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in a sweet rendition:

Formative Years

Born the fourth of six children to Florentine merchant, Giovanni Antonio Tartini and a girl from a family in Pirano dating back to the 15th century, Caterina Zangrando; little Giuseppe grew up with his siblings in Pirano, a small, pretty town on the Adriatic coast now part of Slovenia.

Tartini_statue

Statue of Tartini in the square of his home town Pirano

He was influenced by both Italian and Slavonic culture of the baroque period. One of his early musical influences may well have been attending the famous ‘Dei Virtuosi’ Academy in Pirano with his father. Giovanni actually intended for Giuseppe to become a priest and prepared him for an ecclesiastical career.  However, after his initial education Tartini rebelled against his father and moved to Padua in 1708 (which at that time was part of the Republic of Venice) and a year later he enrolled to study law in Padua’s ancient university, (said to have been founded in 1222).

It seems that Tartini quickly began to out-perform his first music teacher, Julio di Terni, and developed mastery of the violin largely through his own efforts and the study of other prominent violinists of his time. He studied Corelli and listened attentively to the likes of Veracini, and divided his time between law and music studies as well as a penchant for fencing.

Love and marriage

According to some sources Tartini developed a passion for the cardinal’s niece, Elisabetta Premazone, and married her secretly in 1710. This did not go down well with her influential family and Tartini fled to Assisi, having also incurred the wrath of his own family, who cut off all financial support.  He spent two years studying assiduously in a monastery and worked on perfecting his musical skills, and where he created his early compositions (and most likely his famous Devil’s Trill Sonata).

There are also claims that whilst in seclusion in Assisi Tartini took musical instruction from Bohuslav Cernohorsky (1684 – 1743 nicknamed Padre Boemo), a noted Czech composer, theorist and head of the 18th century Czech school of composition, who had also tutored Christoph Willibald Gluck.

Prague and Padua

Tartini returned to Padua in 1721 as a mature artist and versatile musician. He  spent most of his life there, but also performed and taught in Venice, as well as undertaking visits to Milan, Bologna, Livorno, Palermo and Naples. By this time he was well known throughout Europe and was invited to perform in Prague by an influential member of the Hapsburg dynasty and a big supporter of the arts, Count Kinsky.

The Kinsky family's coat of arms in Prague

The Kinsky family’s coat of arms in Prague

After the coronation of Emperor Charles VI they worked as chamber musicians in Count Kinsky’s chapel until 1726.  Tartini also played in Prague’s musical academies.

The success of his countrymen Scarlatti and Geminiani in foreign courts may have hastened his decision to go to Prague, but because of his early exposure to Slavonic folk tunes the trip most likely excited him and represented an opportunity to further study Slavic music.

He travelled with his friend and first cellist at Padua, Antonio Vandini. The role of cello accompaniment was quite important in the absence of a harpsichord or keyboard instrument. Tartini and Vandini were close friends for over fifty years, and Tartini wrote several cello concertos for him.

Here’s my favourite of them, in D major, performed by Russian virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich:

After he returned to Padua in 1726 he rarely left, and besides his performances in Venice his last major concert tour was a trip to Rome in 1740 after an invitation from the cardinal to play in the presence of Pope Clement XII.

Performer and teacher

Tartini founded the Paduan Violin School a year or so after his return from Prague, which he directed for more than forty years. Violinists from all over the world came to learn from Tartini and perfect their craft, and he earned the nickname “maestro delle nazione” (teacher of nations). Antonio Capri, who was his biographer states that over seventy of his pupils became violinists of note in the history of violin playing.

“One cannot speak of music at Padua without mentioning the famous Giuseppe tartini, who has long been the first violin of Europe. His modesty, moral standards and considerateness evoke as much respect as his talent; in Italy he is referred to as ‘il Maestro delle Nazioni’ both in regard to the violin and to his compositions… No one has impressed me more with his inspiration and the fire of his compositions than Tartini. ~ Jérôme Lalande

Tartini’s methods were also passed on by his students, namely Pietro Nardini, of whom Leopold Mozart said, “I have heard the famous Nardini… It is impossible to hear anything of greater beauty, purity, evenness of tone and melodiousness. And with all of this he has nothing heavy in his playing.” Other students worthy of mention were Maddalena Lombardini, Domenico Ferrari, Pierre Lahoussaye, Filippo Manfredi and Domenico Dall’Oglio.

From reading about his legacy I have assumed that he was equally as good at teaching as he was at performing and composing! His respected writings qualified him as the eminent music scholar of 18th century Italian violin music; so you could say he had many strings to his bow!

Development of bowing techniques

“The bow should be held firmly between the thumb and forefinger and lightly by the other three fingers, in order to produce a strong, sustained tone. To increase the tone, press harder on the bow with the fingers and also press down the strings more firmly with the fingers of the other hand.” ~ Giuseppe Tartini

The authors of Methods of the Paris Conservatoire (Paris 1802), Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer wrote that under Tartini’s bow the violin becomes a “harmonious, sweet instrument, full of grace.”

He attached great importance to the “correct distribution of the bow.” A story from a contemporary relates that sometimes Tartini used two bows while teaching: one of them had its stick divided into four parts, and the other into three.

Tartini also fluted the wood of the bow. It’s also easy to forget that during Tartini’s musical era the bow was held not at the heel as it is today, but gripped at a certain distance from it. Tartini discovered that in order to enrich the tone it was necessary to lengthen the bow which increased its flexibility and enabled a broader range of expression in bowing technique. He developed a broader palette of bow strokes than Corelli (who used mostly detache and legato), by also using both staccato and bouncing strokes.

It’s quite a skill to amplify the sound without compromising the quality of the note, so bowing technique is crucial in applying the dynamics of a piece. Crescendo’s aren’t my Forte!!!

Minos Dounias observed that Tartini’s slurring of strokes coincides with that of musical phrases.

L’Arte del Arco (The Art of Bowing)

To assist his teaching methods Tartini wrote The Art of Bowing which consists of fifty variations on a Gavotte from Corelli’s Violin Sonata in F Major, (Opus 6, No. 10). Despite its title the variations also challenge left hand activity and require perfect coordination of movement from both hands!

It highlights his exhaustive knowledge of the many modes of expression of the violin and serves as a kind of compendium of violin technique in the 18th century. The work isn’t just a manual in technical ability but combines a certain artistry that frees it from the usual monotony of studies and exercises.

The Art of Bowing was adopted by many prominent 18th and 19th century violinists (such as Joseph Szigeti and Fritz Kreisler) who made arrangements for their own performance.

A gorgeous performance by Oscar Shumsky of Kreisler’s shortened arrangement of Tartini’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli:

Treatise on Ornaments

Tartini was against ornamentation/embellishment as a purely decorative device unconnected with the inner nature of the music itself. The choice of ornaments and the way they were played had to be underpinned by an understanding of the music  and performed to reflect the feeling, idea or, as was the basis for his philosophy, the affect that it expressed.

Tartini’s writings pertaining to technical and aesthetic performance started out as instruction manuals for his pupils that he refined over the years. His Treatise on Ornaments was thought to have been written between 1735 and 1750 when he was highly active both as a performer and teacher.

It contains his ideas on different kinds of grace notes, trills, tremolos and mordents and various ways of using them.  Regarding mastering the trill at different speeds he wrote:

“The same shake will not serve with equal propriety for a slow movement as for a quick one.”

He suggests starting the trill slowly and gradually making it faster.

Tartini’s art was progressive, meaningful, and full of humanity. It’s no surprise then that through generations of violinists many of his principles in methods of teaching are used to this day, and his best compositions still thrive in modern repertoire.

I’ll leave you to listen to a small selection from his massive output of violin concertos, sonatas, trios etc. Happy listening!

Violin Sonata in G minor Op. 1 No. 10 ‘Didone Abbandonata’ David Oistrakh and Frida Bauer:

My favourite violin concerto in D minor ‘Ombra diletta…’ D. 44 Performed by Wolfgang Schneiderhan and the Festival Strings Lucerne conducted by Rudolf Baumgartner:

Violin Concerto D. 22 Concerto Bucolico for violin, strings & b.c. by L’Arte dell’Arco:

Violin Concerto in A Major, D. 96, Accademia Bizantina, on period instruments:

Violin Concerto in G Major, D.  82 Pierre Amoyal, Claudio Scimone & I Solisti Veneti:

Trio Sonata in F Major for 2 Violins and Harpsichord, David and Igor Oistrakh with Hans Pischner:

Sonata ‘Staggion bella’ for Violin & basso continuo in B flat major, Op.Posth (Brainnard Bb.3):

Violin Sonata No. 12 Op. 2 in G Major, vintage recording of Joseph Szigeti:

Trio Sonata in D major, B. D2 (Op.3 No.6) La Magnifica Comunità :

Violin Concerto in E minor, D. 55 by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble & Nils-Erik Sparf:

Violin Concerto in G minor, D. 85 by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble & Nils-Erik Sparf:

Tartini Violin Concertos D70, 42, 109, 123, 54, 45, 115, 13, 125, 110:

Tartini Solo Violin Music performed sympathetically and soulfully by Andrew Manze:

“Tartini has always been to me a source of achievements with the violin.” ~ Joseph Szigeti

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 18th Century: Tartini (Part 1)

“Giuseppe Tartini is one of the leading figures of the Italian School of violin playing in the 18th century, a school whose art is as meaningful today as it has ever been. Tartini’s music is expressive, sincere, warm and melodious, and it is in these qualities that lies its appeal.” ~ David Oistrakh

The more I learnt about Tartini, the more I became engrossed in his life and musical achievements.  As with Vivaldi, there’s just too much to share to do him justice in one post. There’s a lot more to this iconic Italian master than his exceptional ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata; however that incredible work is the main focus for part 1.

Monument to Tartini at St. Anthony's Basilica Padua

Monument to Tartin at St. Anthony’s Basilica Padua

If the violin is the so called ‘Devil’s Instrument’, then Guiseppe Tartini (8th April 1692 – 26 February 1770) is most definitely his composer of choice!

I think Paganini would have given him a run for his money on the fingerboard, but so far in my investigations into the great virtuoso violinists who were also composers, I feel that Tartini, more than the others, embodied the most evenly balanced skills in both composing and virtuoso performance.

Vivaldi, Viotti and Corelli I think leaned more towards composition, whilst Paganini, although highly talented in both, played with such virtuosity that his reputation as the ‘Devil’s Violinist’ will forever remain the stuff of legend.

Tartini however, would prove to be Lucifer’s student extraordinaire, as his most popular Violin Sonata, aptly named ‘The Devil’s Trill’, proves to this day to be one of the most wickedly sublime sonatas ever written for the instrument.

Legacy

Tartini left the world a vast heritage of music. As a result of his study, hard work, and imagination his quill penned no fewer than 350 works, most of which were written for the violin. Like Corelli and unlike Vivaldi, Tartini composed almost exclusively instrumental music, criticising composers of both vocal and instrumental music.

“These kinds of music are so different that he who is successful in one of them cannot be so in the other; each must remain within the confines of his own talent.”  To push his point home he also said, “I have received offers to work for theatres in Venice, but I have never agreed to this, for I know well that the vocal chords are by no means identical with the violin fingerboard. Vivaldi, who wanted to work in both genres, was always booed in the one, whilst in the other he was completely successful.”

Tartini’s influence reached beyond his contemporaries: Vivaldi, Laurenti and Boccherini across nations to what historians have discovered as traces of his style in the works of the young W.A. Mozart. Leopold Mozart recognised his genius by referring to Tartini as “one of the most splendid violinists of our time,” in citations that appeared regularly in the pages of his School for the Violin (1756).

Tartini himself it seems was a creative and sensitive soul with an inquiring mind, who was committed to mastering the technical aspects of the violin as well as finding the peak of his artistic taste and individuality.

He was greatly was influenced by a fellow virtuoso violinist from Florence, Francesco Maria Veracini (1690 – 1768), who had performed in London, Dresden, Poland and what is now the Czech Republic for Count Kinsky. It is thought the two met in 1716 in Venice at the festivities in honour of the Crown Prince of Saxony. Tartini was attracted to the romantic colouring of Veracini’s sonatas and was impressed by his manner of playing, which was bold and vivid, with a smooth-flowing tone and an easy mastery of bow and finger techniques, including the trill.

Tartini assimilated the skill and style of his eminent compatriot over the years that followed as he busied himself in seclusion in Ancona.

Not all of Tartini’s work has been published, but most of his original manuscripts can be found in the music archives of the chapel of St. Anthony in Padua.

Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

How I wish I’d known that when I visited Padua in my early twenties! There are probably more autographs that have yet to be discovered, as was the case with Vivaldi. His first collection of violin concertos were published in Amsterdam in 1729, followed by his sonatas four years later.

In addition to his violin works, Tartini left a few compositions for viola da gamba, cello and flute.

The Devil’s Trill Sonata

Written in the key of G minor, the sonata is an example of one of the best 18th century violin classics. It begins with a beautiful, melancholy and expressive melody, the ‘Largo Affettuso’. I wonder if this is meant to represent Satan’s sadness at being kicked out of heaven?

My score!

My score!

It is both poetic and soulful, with a mournful lyricism that immediately creates an emotional pathos. It lulls you into a poignant state before the song like tune moves into the ‘Allegro’ where the tempo and temperament change dramatically.

The Andante provides a lyrical interlude before the Allegro assai assaults the senses! Vigorous, determined and virtuosic, it’s positively demoniacal to play; Tartini was most certainly gripped by a violent and turbulent passion…

The Allegro assai, where Tartini uses a continuous background of double-stopping trills. Looks like a lifetime of practice for me!

The Allegro assai, where Tartini uses a continuous background of double-stopping trills. Looks like a lifetime of practice for me!

“Such marvellous compositions of Tartini’s as his sonata in E minor and G minor (The Devil’s Trill) or his Concerto in D minor have been with me since my youth, throughout my life as a musician; these and other works by Tartini are now played by my pupils, but his music never loses its freshness for me, its colour and its emotional impact. I consider his Devil’s Trill sonata to be of such importance that I not infrequently conclude my solo concert (recital) programmes by performing it.” ~ David Oistrakh

His words perfectly complement his amazing performance of The Devil’s Trill in a feat of such jaw dropping virtuosity that I haven’t found a performance to top this one!

The Devil’s Dream

French astronomer and writer, Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, tells the story of how the Devil’s Trill Sonata came about as told to him by Tartini himself:

“One night in 1713 he (Tartini) dreamed that he had made a contract with the devil, who happened to be in his service.  Whatever Tartini wanted was granted to him, and all his wishes were anticipated by his new servant, who gave him his violin to see if he could play anything harmonious. But what was Tartini’s surprise when he heard a sonata so original and lovely and performed with such perfection and meaning that he could never have imagined anything like it! He experienced such amazement, admiration and delight that he was breathless; this strong emotion woke him up and he immediately seized his violin in the hope that he would be able to remember at least part of what he had heard, but in vain. The piece that Tartini composed then is indeed the best of all that he has ever done, and he calls The Devil’s Sonata. But the former one that amazed him was so much higher that he would have broken his violin and given up music forever if only he could have.”

The musical idea of the sonata had probably matured in Tartini’s mind long before the dream further ‘elucidated’ his ideas. He’d already worked hard on the trill, conceiving it not only as a technical device but as a means of musical expression.

Painting of the devil's trill

Although the dream story has an air of the mystical about it the cause of the dream was undoubtedly Tartini’s creative drive at work. He later devoted much attention to the trill in his Treatise on Ornaments.

Debate over the date of composition 

The Tartini scholars, Paul Brainard, Andreas Moser and Antonio Capri assert that the artistic content of the sonata, its depth, harmony, originality and technique are more in line with his mature final period, and suggest it wasn’t written before 1730/1740.

However, Johann Quantz heard Tartini perform in Prague in 1723 and made a point of Tartini’s skill in playing double trills. These comments prompted Italian violinist Michelango Abbado, (father of conductor Claudio), to surmise that the sonata had already been written by 1723.

Sadly, the original autograph of the Devil’s Trill sonata no longer exists, and as Tartini was prone not to date his works it may not have shed light on the debate in any case. It’s also logical to assume that if it was composed in Tartini’s youth that over time he would have practiced and perfected the sonata, as well as teaching it to his students. It’s also understandable that Tartini himself didn’t want to shout from the rooftops that he was dreaming of the Devil whilst a violin soloist and director of music at the Chapel of St. Anthony!

Here are some other wonderful performances and interpretations of the brilliant Opus 1 No. 4 composition.

Henryk Szeryng:

Joshua Bell’s interpretation with the harpsichord:

An arrangement for violin and orchestra by Marc-Oliver Dupin, performed by Orchestre d’Auvergne and Jean-Jacques Kantorow:

A lovely performance on authentic instruments from the Palladian Ensemble for violin, viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, archlute & baroque guitar:

A 16 year old Yehudi Menuhin in a fabulous vintage recording:

The inimitable Itzhak Perlman:

Nathan Milstein from 1959:

Publication

Jean Baptiste Cartier first published The Devil’s Trill sonata in his method (L’art du Violon ou Collection Choisie dans les sonatas des Ecoles Italienne, Francaise et Allemande), that came out in Paris in 1798 followed up by a second edition in 1801.

The sonata then had a dormant period of 54 years and reappeared in 1855 with a piano accompaniment by Henri Vieuxtemps and Robert Volkmann. That edition also revived interest in Tartini’s works in general not just The Devil’s Trill.

At the turn of the 19/20th century a large number of arrangements of the sonata were produced by Joseph Joachim, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Auer and Georgi Doulov which further spread appreciation and performance of this brilliant sonata.

I’d love to hear from you with your favourite versions of The Devil’s Trill as well! Until part 2…

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 17th Century: Vivaldi (Part 2)

Having covered the more factual parts of Vivaldi’s life and music in part 1, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the maestro’s music…

Antonio Vivaldi portrait

‘L’estro Armonico’ (Harmonic Inspiration) Opus 3

This is a set of twelve concertos for one, two and four violins composed by Vivaldi in 1711.

“Perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century.” ~ Michael Talbot

It’s impossible to highlight so few works out of such an incredible oeuvre but here, in no particular order is a selection of some of my favourites from this opus for your listening pleasure!

Violin Concerto in G major, Op. 3 No.  6, (RV 310) performed by Elizabeth Wallfisch and Tafelmusik:

The amazing harpsichord version transcribed by Bach (BWV 978) played by Chiara Massini:

Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 3 No. 6, RV 356 by Elizabeth Wallfisch:

Concerto for two violins, strings & B.C in A minor, RV522 Op. 3 No. 8 by Tafelmusik:

Concerto for four violins in B minor, Op. 3 No. 10, RV 580 by Il Giardino Armonico:

The astonishing performance of Bach’s transcription for 4 keyboards (BWV 1065), Argerich, Kissin, Pletnev, Levine and a host of top notch violinists! I challenge you to listen to this and not feel happy afterwards!

Concerto for 2 Violins, Cello, Strings and B.C. in D minor Op. 3 No. 11, RV 565 by Tafelmusik:

Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention) Opus 8

Written between 1723 and 1725 and published in 1725, Vivaldi’s Opus 8 consists of twelve violin concertos which he labelled ‘Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione’, of which the first four concertos were his famous The Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons: Opus 8 Nos. 1-4

Had it not been for the Turin collection The Four Seasons may have never been resurrected from their archive, dusted down and brought back into public awareness. Although ‘Le Quattro Stagioni’ were not among the Turin find the excitement about the discovery meant they were granted a new lease of life.

Vivaldi - manuscript Inverno

Score for L’Inverno (Winter)

The first four Opus 8 concertos are now the most widely recorded pieces in classical music history repertoire. Since the very first recording made by Alfredo Campoli in 1939 there have been over a thousand different recorded versions.

Vivaldi - I-Musici-Felix-Ayo-Vivaldi-The-Four-Seasons

With records, CDs and digital downloads to sell and with so many versions of such a popular work it’s crucial for artists to emulate a critical business practice: differentiation.  There’s an array of classical and period baroque instruments, chamber groups, orchestras and ensemble styles, giving licence to the soloist and musicians to embellish, alter the tempo and put their personal touch to it,  in order to distinguish them from other recordings and performances.

Vivaldi - Alan Lovbeday AOSMITF 4 Seasons

The seminal 1969 recording by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields featuring violinist Alan Loveday under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner, reputedly catapulted the piece from its recondite realm to that of mainstream consumption.

The third movement from ‘Winter’ of that album:

Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording of The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra sold over two million copies, becoming one of the best-selling classical works ever.

Vivaldi - Nigel Kennedy 4 seasons

Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded The Four Seasons as well as a music video for the first movement of ‘Winter’ that was featured regularly on The Weather Channel in the mid-1990s.

Today, it seems unthinkable that Vivaldi could have been forgotten and overlooked by history.

Personally, I love to play The Four Seasons and find ‘Winter’ by far the hardest to master, being written in the key of F minor.  I love the hashtag (sharp notes) but four flats haunt me…

I recently learnt that Vivaldi actually wrote sonnets to accompany the Four Seasons, which the music relates to perfectly. It’s an early example of programme music, a genius of descriptive musical storytelling that conjures up vivid scenes in your mind…

Vivaldi - Perlman IPO 4 Seasons

Between 1718 and 1720 Vivaldi left Venice and travelled to the countryside of Mantua; where it is believed he absorbed the setting and inspiration for his most ‘nature oriented’ work!

La Primavera (Spring) RV 269

In the first movement the birds are represented by the most sublime trills, and the gentle melody that evokes the murmur of the brook, followed by the semi quavers which indicate a quick storm, followed by the birds again as the air clears…

Itzhak Perlman and IPO strings delight:

L’Estate (Summer)  RV 315

The first movement in particular gives me a sense of a sweltering, bleak and languid environment. I can feel how hard it must be for Vivaldi to breathe, his asthma aggravated by the humidity. It’s written in G minor, which is considered to be the ‘darkest’ key. Overall the feel of the second movement is listless. It fills me with torpor…until the third movement he unleashes the storm to end all storms!

Julia Fischer and the strings of The Academy of St. Martin-in-the Field perfectly capture the deeply suffocating spirit of this concerto:

L’Autunno (Autumn) RV 293

The third movement seems to poke fun at the hunters; I think Vivaldi was definitely a member of the anti-hunting lobby!

The dotted quavers  signify the plodding hooves of cruel men on their clumsy horses. As the tempo increases you can hear the prey running for its life. The chords begin to raise a semitone with each phrase, increasing the pressure on the animal as the hunters and dogs close in. Gun shots ring out, the animal finally gives up its struggle and you imagine you can hear the dogs laughing… The final insult occurs after the main theme returns at the end of the finale signifying the hunters going about their deathly business.

I love Giuliano Carmignola and I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca’s interpretation:

L’Inverno (Winter) RV 297

The opening movement sounds very metallic and visceral, (thanks to the use of the bow very close to the bridge). You can definitely hear teeth chattering!

This performance by Il Giardino Armonico sends chills down my spine!

Arrangements of The Four Seasons

Vivaldi actually re-scored his ‘Spring’ allegro for use in the opening overture and chorus of his opera Dorilla in Tempe, thus setting the trend for future transcriptions, covers, remixes, adaptations and mashups.

The fact that so many improvisations have been possible is testament to Vivaldi’s skill as a composer.

In 1765 French organist and composer Michel Corrette arranged ‘Spring’ as a choral motet for choir and orchestra: Laudate Dominum de Coelis, subtitled “Motet à Grand Chœur arrangé dans le Concerto de Printemps de Vivaldi”. The words of Psalm 116 are set to the music with vocal soloists performing the solo violin parts.

Vivaldi’s inventiveness paved the way for Beethoven to write the ‘Pastoral’ symphony in 1808 also featuring drunken peasants and a storm.

In 1969 the Swingle Singers did an a cappella cover from their album the Joy of Singing.

In Argentina Ástor Piazzolla published Estaciones Porteñas, ‘The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’ in performances by various artists since 1970.

Jacques Loussier and his jazz trio covered the ‘Four Seasons’ in this wonderful performance:

Vanessa Mae was the first violinist to use an electric violin on her crossover version of the Presto from ‘Summer’ and following in her footsteps there have been various arrangements for harp, electric guitar, choral and rock remixes.

I particularly like this choral version of ‘Winter’ by the Accentus Chamber Choir:

Arrangement for Flute of ‘Winter’ by Jean-Pierre Rampal & Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra:

A gorgeous second movement from ‘Winter’ for the oboe with Albrecht Mayer and New Seasons Ensemble:

In 2012 composer Max Richter created a postmodern and minimalist re-composition released as ‘Recomposed – Vivaldi The Four Seasons’. Working with solo violinist Daniel Hope, Richter discarded around seventy five percent of the original source material. A live recording with the composer at Le Poisson Rouge in New York:

There’s even a flamenco/tango arrangement of Spring by Gustavo Montesano and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra!

Opus 8 Nos. 5 – 12

Here are three of the remaining eight works that follow The Four Seasons in the Opus 8.

Violin Concerto ‘La Tempesta di Mare’ in E-Flat major, Op. 8 No. 5 RV 253 by Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra:

Violin Concerto in C Major, ‘Il piacere’ Op. 8 No. 6, RV180 – Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music:

Concerto No. 7 in D minor, ‘Per Pisendel’, Op. 8 No. 7 RV 242 by Giardino Armonico:

Other Violin Favourites

I love the way Anne Akiko Meyers plays all three parts in his Triple Violin Concerto in F Major RV 551:

Il Rosignuolo – Concerto for violin, organ, strings & B.C. in A major, RV 335a by MusicaAdRhenum:

Violin Concerto in E Major, RV 271 ‘L`amoroso’ played as a tender love song by I Musici:

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.  11 No.  2 ‘Il Favorito’ (RV 277) first movement by Giuliano Carmignola & I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca:

´La Stravaganza` 12 Violin concertos Opus 4, by Rachel Podger and Arte Dei Suonatori:

Violin Concerto in A Major, ‘The Cuckoo’ (RV 335) with Giuliano Carmignola:

Violin Concerto in D Major, ‘Il Grosso Mogul’ (RV 208) by Il Giardino Armonico:

Sonata for 2 violins & B.C. in D minor, Op. 1 No. 12 (RV 63) ‘La Follia’ by Il Giardino Armonico:

Transcriptions and Arrangements

Violin Concerto in D, Op. 3 No. 9 (RV.230) – arr. for trumpet, violin, cello and harpsichord with Alison Balsam:

Bach Sicilienne from Concerto in D minor, BWV596 after Vivaldi RV 565, Alexandre Tharaud:

The largo of the Lute Concerto in D Major, RV 93 performed on classical guitar by John Williams always transports me to a place beyond words:

Trio Sonata Op. 1 No. 12 ‘La Follia’ by the Barrios Guitar Quartet:

Concertos for other instruments

This one really pulls my heart strings! Adagio from the Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major RV 398 by Rostropovich:

Heinz Holliger on form in the second movement of the Oboe Concerto in C major, RV 452:

Piccolo Concerto in C major, RV 443 – Il Giardino Armonico:

Flute Concerto in G minor, ‘La Notte’ RV439 with Fabio Biondi & Europa Galante:

Examples of sacred music

I don’t think there’s any doubt about Vivaldi’s faith when you listen to his sacred works. Here is a selection of some of my favourites, but there are many I have yet to discover!

Gloria in Excelsis in C Major, (RV 588):

Motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera (RV630):

“Et in terra pax hominibus” with Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance & Tessa Bonner:

Dixit Dominus was rediscovered in 2005 by Australian scholar Janice Stockigt. (RV807):

Nisi Dominus (RV608) by the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood:

Modern Catalog of Works

Although both CE (Complete Edition) and Fanna numbers (F.) have been used in the past, the modern catalog of numbers attributed to Vivaldi’s multitudinous works was created in the 1970’s by Danish musicologist Peter Ryom and take the prefix RV – “Ryom-Verzeichnis” or “Répertoire des oeuvres d’Antonio Vivaldi”. They do not necessarily follow in consecutive order with adjacent works.

The end in Vienna

Although Vivaldi lived a comfortable life in Venice, (he made around 50,000 ducats in his lifetime) changing musical tastes meant his music was no longer in demand so he sold off a chunk of manuscripts to finance his last trip to Vienna.

He planned to serve as a composer at the imperial court of Emperor Charles IV and perhaps stage operas. Unfortunately his patron died soon after his arrival in the city, leaving Vivaldi without an income and he died penniless. Not a fitting end to such a magnificent career. His funeral took place in St. Stephen’s and he was laid to rest next to Karlskirche.

I have come to the conclusion that Vivaldi lived his life with as much exuberance as his music arouses in the listener. The sheer volume of his output is unmatched to this day; a feat of such unbridled passion for music as will probably never be seen again…

The Astonishing 300 Year History of the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius

“The true artist does not create art as an end in itself; he creates art for human beings. Humanity is the goal.” ~ Bronislaw Huberman

Now owned and played exclusively by Joshua Bell, the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius violin was made in Cremona in 1713 by the most revered luthier of them all: Antonio Stradivari, during what was known as his ‘golden period’ from around 1700 to 1725.

Illustration of Antonio Stradivari in His Atelier

Illustration of Antonio Stradivari in His Atelier – Image by © Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis

If the origin of a violin or stringed instrument is the key to its value, then a large part of that provenance is inexorably wrapped up in its history after its departure from the  Stradivari workshop in Cremona.

If a violin can be said to imbibe the qualities of its owners, world events and individuals who have influenced its journey; then this violin’s history is virtuosic, violent, secretive, poignant, beautiful and courageous.

Recent History

Joshua Bell talks about how it was ‘love at first sight’ when he first saw and heard it during a rehearsal with its then owner, British violinist Norbert Brainin, a former member of the esteemed Amadeus Quartet. He felt its tone was sweet as well as ‘gutsy’, which is not surprising considering who has played on it and where it has been. Norbert joked that one day it might be his…if he had 4 million dollars to spare…

Joshua Bell - Huberman_violin

It must have been written in the stars that one day it would be his. That day came in 2001 when Joshua Bell was at J & A Beare’s in London having some maintenance work done on his ‘Tom Taylor’ Stradivarius violin. He learnt from Stephen Beare that the Gibson ex-Huberman Strad was on their premises being prepared for imminent sale by Brainin to a German industrialist.

Joshua had to act fast, and managed to purchase the violin before it was gone from his grasp, probably forever. He performed on it at the Royal Albert Hall the same day it came into his ownership and has never played another instrument since.

How it Sounds

If a violin can be said to have a soul, then I think the Gibson/Huberman violin’s soul is Polish. It may have been crafted in Cremona, but its roots are entwined with its most celebrated owner, Bronislaw Huberman. Perhaps that’s why it sings so resonantly to the music of Chopin.  Here is his nocturne in C sharp minor performed by Joshua Bell on the Huberman Strad for his first album release (Romance of the Violin), after purchasing the violin.

I recently watched The Return of the Violin; an incredibly moving documentary film, (tissues were needed), and felt compelled to share it with you. It’s a film about the depth of the human spirit and the story of the violin’s incredible history coming full circle,  the ultimate testament to the healing power of music.

Narrated and produced by Roy Mandel, directed by Haim Hecht, he talks to the central figure of the film, holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat, whose tragic memories and brutal observations of the Nazi invasion of Poland ties together their respective Jewish families from Czestochowa, along with 20th century Polish wunderkind violinist, Bronislaw Huberman and composer Johannes Brahms.

Bronislaw Huberman (1882 – 1947)

A Jewish boy from Czestochowa, he was a child prodigy who grew to be one of the most iconic violinists of the 20th century. He was known for his individualistic and personal interpretations, which I find very refreshing in this day and age of focus on technique.

Violinist Bronislaw Huberman, aged 18.

Violinist Bronislaw Huberman, aged 18.

He began learning the violin at the age of four, because his father (a law clerk), wanted him to play the piano, but not being able to afford one gave him a violin instead. His immense talent soon became obvious and according to the film, he was gifted the Stradivarius violin that had been owned by the family of Count Władysław Zamoyski (1853–1924).

I love this 1930 Huberman recording of Bruch’s beautiful theme based on Hebrew melodies written originally for cello, Kol Nidrei:

He’s also amazing with Chopin! Gorgeous vintage recording:

For a time the young Huberman was tutored by the great Joseph Joachim in Berlin. He introduced Bronislaw to the composer Joahnnes Brahms, (who was having a bit of a revolt on his hands from the violinists of the day), over the difficulty of his Violin Concerto in D Major. Not so for the Polish wunderkind. Brahms didn’t believe Joachim until he heard the  young boy perform his work at a legendary concert in Vienna.

My sheet music of the Brahms Violin Concerto Op. 77 in D major

My sheet music of the Brahms Violin Concerto Op. 77 in D major

I have to admit I didn’t know much about Huberman, and when I saw the film and learnt of his courage and devotion I was full of admiration for him. He was a remarkable man, a visionary and humanitarian.

Not only was he the founder of what is now known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, he rescued as many of his fellow European Jewish musicians (and their immediate families) from the horror of the holocaust as was possible, by giving them a place in his new Orchestra of Palestine.

“One has to build a fist against anti-semitism – a first class orchestra will be this fist.” ~ Bronislaw Huberman

Talk about playing for your life! I can only imagine the stress of some of these musicians must have felt when auditioning for a seat in Huberman’s new orchestra; which if you earned yourself a place essentially meant escaping the death camps.

Perhaps Hollywood should make a movie called ‘Huberman’s List.’

The Thefts

The first time the Gibson/Huberman Strad was stolen was in Vienna in 1919. Fortunately, it was quickly recovered and Huberman continued to wow audiences on it for another 17 years.

And so it played out, on that fateful day – 28th February 1936 – whilst Huberman was on stage playing his Guarnerius violin during a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, (to raise funds for his new orchestra in Palestine), the Huberman Strad, laying in repose in its double case in his dressing room, was stolen.

I can only speculate if Juilliard trained violinist Julian Altman had premeditated his musical larceny, or whether it was a crime of passion, an opportunistic urge on the night to steal the Gibson Strad.

With breathtaking contempt and audacity the shyster Altman played on it at weddings and other political events. No-one was any the wiser for half a century, with the possible exception of his friend, Luthier Ed Wicks who lived in Danbury. He carried out repairs to the bridge and neck of the violin in 1983 and noticed the inscription inside.

Although Altman told him it was a copy, I suspect he was of a different opinion, but he wasn’t to know that it had once belonged to the great Bronislaw Huberman. Sadly, Huberman never saw his beloved Strad again.

Huberman was reimbursed to the tune of $30,000 dollars (its value at the time), and ownership of the stolen strad passed on to its insurer: Lloyds of London.

It was only while in jail and on his deathbed in 1985 that Altman confessed to his crime, telling his wife she could find the supporting documents to corroborate his story in between the violin case and its canvas cover. His estranged wife Marcelle collected the instrument from the home of Ed Wicks and returned the instrument to the authorities, whereby Charles Beare verified its authenticity.

Charles Beare in The Strad magazine:

“As I lifted the violin from its case, I didn’t appreciate that Mrs. Hall and her friends and family were still in doubt about the violin’s identity. Very slowly I said ‘No — problem’, and it turned out that in the second or two between the two words Mrs. Hall almost died with disappointment. After that there was joy all round.”

“Out in the better light of the garden, away from the crowd and the popping champagne corks, I had a good look at Huberman’s remarkable violin. In 1911, when the young virtuoso purchased it, Alfred Hill of W. E. Hill and Sons wrote ‘The red varnish is in a pure state, as applied by the maker.’ Now you could barely see it, submerged as it was beneath layer upon layer of dirt and polish. . . .Nevertheless the violin was clearly a masterpiece, and in the pale sunlight its handsome wood and red varnish glowed reassuringly.”

Marcelle Hall was paid a finder’s fee of £ $263,475.75  by Lloyd’s of London, which was the focus of much legal wrangling by other beneficiaries of the Altman estate.

Full Circle

Although his entire family were murdered, Sigmund Rolat survived the Second World War and made a successful life for himself in America, returning several times in later life to his and Huberman’s birthplace of Czestochowa.

It was Rolat’s dream to hear Huberman’s violin played by its current owner, Joshua Bell, (who also has Jewish ancestry), in the concert hall that stood on the foundations of the old synagogue before it had been destroyed by the Nazis.

Poignant just doesn’t cover it.

The Return of the Violin

That dream came true in 2009 in conjunction with Rolat’s efforts to open the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw:

Interview

Discussion about The Return of the Violin with Sigmund Rolat, Joshua Bell and Budd Mishkin:

Slight Confusion

According to Charles Beare:

W. E. Hill and Sons purchased the violin in the nineteenth century from an old French family, subsequently selling it to Alfred Gibson, a prominent English violinist who also owned one of the Stradivari violas exhibited in Cremona. In 1911 it returned to Hills and was sold to Huberman, at which time Alfred Hill wrote that “the fine red varnish which covers it is in a pure state as applied by the maker.”

This account contradicts the story that the Gibson Strad was given to Huberman by Count Zamoyski. I can’t quite tie together all the loose ends, but it doesn’t matter. This remarkable violin has had remarkable owners, and a dramatic history.

Portrait of Alfred Gibson with his Stradivarius by Herbert Olivier (uncle of Laurence), c. 1899

Portrait of Alfred Gibson with his Stradivarius by Herbert Olivier (uncle of Laurence), c. 1899

It has been celebrated, coveted, admired, and heard in live performance by many (including me).

One thing’s for sure, it went incognito for 51 years before returning to its well-deserved spotlight!

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 17th Century: Corelli

“In Italy it was not only the human voice that began to sing. The principle that singing is breathing tool a firm hold on all the music. It is well known how the violin began to sing. Soon there came into being style, and forms, and a special kind of music-making, in which the chief figure was the soloist.” ~ Boris Asafyev

It wasn’t until I started doing a bit of research into this Italian baroque superstar that I began to realise just how talented, influential and virtuosic Corelli really was for his epoch.

Arcangelo Corelli

I knew his work mainly through playing his violin sonata, La Folia – twenty three variations on a theme inspired by the folk music of the people. This final work (sonata number twelve in D minor), of his fifth opus encompasses all the violin techniques that had been used in the sonatas that came before it.

Here is my favourite interpretation of the work by violinist Henryk Szeryng. His technique is clean and smooth but infused with emotion and with baroque style embellishments, I just love it!

To understand the influence and relevance that Corelli still has in classical music, it helps to look back at the zeitgeist that Corelli lived and worked in, that blossoming period of creativity in music, the arts and human evolution – the Italian Renaissance – and the importance of Italian musicians in the development of the violin (and cello) in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Corelli paved the way for his equally brilliant violin and composer compatriots Antonio Vivaldi and Guiseppe Tartini (who I’ll write about in later posts).

Arcangelo Corelli: (17 February 1653 – 8 January 1713)

In the 17th Century the Italian city of Bologna was a flourishing centre for music and the arts, a place where musicians, composers and singers would meet, perform and discuss music, prompting its sobriquet “the Italian Athens” by Carlo Goldoni.

One of the societies in Bologna was the renowned Academia di Filarmonici, founded in 1666, of which Corelli was a member; he passed their admission audition at the tender age of seventeen.

Accademia_filarmonica Bologna

The youngest of five children, Corelli was raised by his mother as his father died shortly before his birth. It is thought that Corelli’s early music tuition was undertaken by a priest in the town of Faenza, When he was thirteen he moved to Bologna.

There can be no questioning Corelli’s violin pedagogy – he hailed from the Bologna Violin School, founded by Ercole Gaibara. Corelli signed his first three Trio Sonatas, “Arcangelo Corelli from Fusignano, called the Bolognese.” I don’t think it was because he liked pasta!

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Jan Frans Douven.

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Jan Frans Douven.

It is thought Corelli may have been an admirer of the French baroque composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully.

During the second half of the 17th century Corelli and his fellow musicians were not concerned with technical possibilities on the violin, they followed a more eloquent path, one with a desire to create deeper emotional content, to typify forms, to adhere to simplicity, clarity and lyricism, as well as bringing together chamber and sacred music in sonata and concerto forms and to explore instrumental music as a means of expression.

12 Concerti Grossi (Opus 6)

Corelli found fame through his violin sonatas and his twelve concerti grossi composed under opus 6. One of my all-time favourites is his Concerto Grosso number 8 in G minor, Fatto per la Notte di Natale (Christmas Concerto), performed here by the Accademia degli Astrusi and Federico Ferri in the Teatro Communale di Bologna:

In celebration of the 300th anniversary of the publication of the Opus 6 concertos in Amsterdam in 1714, Voices of Music recorded this delightful performance of Concerto Grosso number 4 in D Major on period instruments. It explodes with pure joy!

I just recently purchased the ABRSM violin Grade 8 music listing with some scores for the 2016 – 19 syllabus, and one of the pieces on List A is Corelli’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in G minor, Opus 5, specifically the Adagio and Vivace. I might just choose this as one of my three exam pieces. Here is the sonata in its entirety:

Corelli moved to Rome in about 1675 living in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni until his death. He founded and headed the Rome Violin School, gave violin lessons as well as continuing to compose and play in chapels himself. Two of his students were Francesco Geminiani and Pietro Locatelli, who became great violinists and composers in their own right.

Concerto Grosso No. 1 in D Major, Opus 6 played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the baton of Nicholas McGegan:

Corelli’s Opus 6 concertos fall into two broad structural categories. The first stems from the Italian tradition of the sonata da chiesa, or “church” sonata, consisting of a series of movements in alternating tempi (slow and fast), often employing rich contrapuntal textures. In contrast, the sonata da camera, or “chamber” sonata, is assembled as a suite, featuring dances such as the allemande, corrente, sarabanda, gavotta, and giga in addition to instrumental preludes and intervening movements.

Transcriptions based on La Folia

The expressive theme of Corelli’s Folia (already an existing theme that he modified), was to be used later by composers Alexander Alabiev in his ballet The Magic Drum, Franz Liszt in his Spanish Rhapsody and Sergei Rachmaninoff in his Variations on a theme of Corelli.

The inimitable Cziffra:

A Russian affair with Ashkenazy:

Corelli the composer is inseparable from Corelli the performer. According to Corelli’s pupils and other contemporaries, his style of execution was distinguished by exceptional expressiveness and dignity. He could be lyrical, thoughtful and absorbed and at the same time animated, emotional, headlong.

By limiting the compass of the violin to three positions (2.5 octaves), roughly the equivalent of the human voice, and by limiting his bowing technique to the detache and legato strokes, Corelli strove to obtain a greater effect from the expressive means he used so sparingly. His use of polyphonic devices (two voices) and arpeggio bowing and bariole were rather daring for his time.  ~ Dr. Lev Ginsburg

A period instrumental arrangement of la Folia by baroque musician Jordi Savall and his ensemble:

Corelli’s music was published in six opera, each opus containing 12 compositions: Opus 1 (1681), 2 (1685), 3 (1689), and 4 (1694) are trio sonatas; Opus 5 (1700), solo sonatas for violin and continuo; and Opus 6 (1714), concerti grossi for string orchestra.

La Follia by Corelli

Corelli wrote forty-eight trio sonatas made up into four volumes, (Op. 1-4, the last of which appeared in 1694), twelve sonatas for violin and bass (Op.5 published in 1700) and twelve concerti grossi Op. 6 (which were published posthumously).

His legacy extended to the 18th century Italian violin school as well as providing inspiration to the baroque greats, George Frederick Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach. His music continues to influence modern composers, such as 20th century composer Michael Tippett, who wrote Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli:

Corelli was laid to rest in the Pantheon in Rome, (as is the High Renaissance painter Raphael), having collected around 150 fine works of art by the likes of Trevisani, Onofri and Dughet, as well as many fine violins by the time of his death.

Interior of the Pantheon by Giovanni Paolo Panini.

Interior of the Pantheon by Giovanni Paolo Panini.

The Purcell Quartet playing Sonata da Camera, Op. 4 No. 9 in B-Flat Major:

12 Violin Sonatas Opus 5, brought to vivid life by Arthur Grumiaux:

“If you take a violin, you can make it sound 50 different ways. Not just pizzicato and played by the bow, but ponticello, and harmonics, and tremolos. If you take an oboe and play it, there’s about one way you can make it sound: like an oboe.” ~ John Corigliano

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 18th Century: Viotti

“…the violin — that most human of all instruments…” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Giovanni Battista Viotti: (12 May 1755 – 3 March 1824)

I have to admit, I didn’t know that much about Viotti before I began writing this post.

Giovanni_Battista_Viotti_afterTrofsarelliHe was 27 years older than his more famous and infamous compatriot, Paganini; but in my view he deserves just as many plaudits. Viotti was a key influence in the lives of many violinists and composers, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre Rode, Pierre Baillot, Louis Spohr and Paganini indirectly, (via his pupil August Duranowski).

Beethoven himself drew inspiration from Viotti’s violin concertos.

Many modern violin greats can trace their pedadogical legacy back to Viotti. He is the founding father of the style of violin tuition from the early days of the Paris Conservatoire.

It’s probably fair to say that his skill as a violinist outshone his skill as a composer.

However, I had no idea he wrote such a substantial body of work: 29 violin concertos, 2 symphonie concertantes, many violin duos, violin and cello sonatas, string quartets and trios, a cello concerto, around 17 piano concertos (arrangements of his violin concertos), as well as 2 flute concertos, (also based on his violin concertos), plus other chamber works.

Uto Ughi and Guido Rimonda perform the duetto per due violini (music commences at 44 seconds):

Viotti’s musical education was under the patronage of Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin and later by violinist Gaetano Pugnani. He served at the Savoia Court in Turin for eight years before touring as a soloist, initially with Pugnani throughout Germany, Poland and Russia, before he found favour in Paris; making his debut as a violinist in 1782 where he became the court musician to Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

He remained in France as a teacher and opera impresario, founding a new opera house in Paris under the patronage of the king’s brother (Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, comte de Provence), in 1788. He worked closely with his friend and opera composer, Luigi Cherubini whom, incidentally, Beethoven regarded as the greatest contemporary composer.

Despite his affiliation with the French monarchs Viotti was philosophically aligned with the Enlightenment movement and the teachings of Jean-Jaqcues Rousseau. After the French Revolution took a turn for the worse Viotti’s opera house was renamed Théâtre Feydeau in order to distance himself from the unpopular French Royalty.

Viotti kept his head and moved to London in 1792 where he became popular both as a violinist and musical director of opera concerts. He met Joseph Haydn in London in 1794, whose musical influence can be heard in Viotti’s later concertos.

Viotti - Violin Concerto no. 22 sheet music cover

Tension between Britain and France led to him being expelled from Britain because of the Alien Bill in 1798, under the false charge of being a Jacobin; only to return two years later from Germany to live in secret with his English friends and supporters, William and Margaret Chinnery.

Around 1801 Viotti set up a wine merchant business, stating, “I find that the English prefer wine to music.” Unlike Paganini, who adored the limelight, Viotti was happier performing at smaller, more intimate gatherings. During this time he continued to compose and put on private concerts.

His friend (and younger brother to the Prince of Wales), the Duke of Cambridge, made it possible for Viotti to become a naturalised British Citizen in 1811, and Viotti became a key figure in the creation of the Philharmonic Society in London in 1813. At this stage of his career he played mostly as a chamber musician and orchestra leader.

When his wine business failed he returned to Paris to become the director of the Italian Opera between 1819 and 1822.  He returned to London in 1823 with Mrs Chinnery and died a year later.

Here is my favourite of his violin concertos, No. 19 in G minor, written in the 1790’s which has a contemporary sounding lyrical drama and a gorgeous melody, performed by Rainer Kussmaul:

The first movement of the same concerto arranged for piano:

Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 22 in A minor was composed in 1803, and was revived by the virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim in the 1870’s, elevating it to the most popular of his violin concerti. Brahms was also an admirer of this work, using artistic license from it in his own violin concerto. Here is one of the greatest violin virtuoso’s of the 20th Century, Itzhak Perlman, playing the third movement:

Origins of the French National Anthem

In 1781 during his time at Versailles, Viotti composed his Theme & Variations in C Major, which was copied in 1792 by Rouget de Lisle and dubbed ‘Song of War’. The ‘song’ was later adopted by volunteers from Marseille, and thus the “Marseillaise” was established, first becoming France’s national anthem in 1795. It seems rather unfair that de Lisle took all the glory!

Franz Liszt also wrote a piano transcription of the Marseillaise:

Viotti’s Violin

Viotti’s violin was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1709, and was given to him by Catherine the Great.

Viotti’s Strad also features in the opening chapter of my novel, The Virtuoso. My protagonist, the concert violinist Isabelle Bryant, is giving a Masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music, where the violin is now on display. Here’s the excerpt from Chapter 1:

Her violin represented another limb to her, it was that precious. It felt so natural, like an extension of her body. She gently rubbed her neck which was feeling a little sore. The rough, red patch of skin on her neck just below her jaw was often mistaken for a love bite, when in fact it was she affectionately referred to as a violinist’s hickey. Many hours of gruelling practice had left their marks.

Her mind drifted to her earlier private viewing of the Academy’s museum, where she had been shown round by the curator in person. She had spent a blissful afternoon paying particular awe and reverence to their recent acquisition of Italian virtuoso Giovanni Battista Viotti’s 1709 Stradivarius, renamed as the Viotti ex-Bruce to honour its British donor, which the Academy extolled as one of the most important and well preserved Stradivarius violins in the world.

She had studied the the sheen of the dark, pinky brown maple; picturing the old master craftsman huddled in his workshop in northern Italy; surrounded by the distinctive wooden shapes that would become so valuable over three hundred years later. Sadly there were so few of them remaining.

Her own violin, a modern Nagyvary, was crafted by the eminent Hungarian professor Joseph Nagyvary, who had spent his life studying the craftsmanship of Cremonese violin makers; namely Stradivarius and Guarnerius.

Nagyvary violins were made as closely to those of the ancient genius as possible, and there had been many debates about whether or not they sounded as good as those of the master. Isabelle adored it sonorous tonal qualities and projection power. If a Nagyvary violin had been good enough for Yehudi Menuhin to play for fifteen years, then it was good enough for her.

I found a great vintage recording of Raff’s Cavatina by violinist Pauline Hall, playing on Viotti’s Stad in 1912:

In the late 1600s the finest instruments originated from three rural families whose workshops were side by side in the Italian village of Cremona. First were the Amatis, and outside their shop hung a sign ‘The best violins in all Italy.’ Not to be outdone, their next-door neighbours, the family Guarnerius, hung a bolder sign proclaiming ‘The Best Violins In All The World’ At the end of the street was the workshop of Anton Stradivarius, and on its front door was a simple notice which read ‘The best violins on the block.’ ~ Freda Bright