Archive for violin

Scordatura: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Scordatura (simply retuning of the strings from their conventional pitches) is not a technique exclusive to modern music; it dates back to the 16th century, when it was employed by French lutenists, then taken up for the violin by many composers, most notable of whom was Biber. After falling out of fashion in the 18th century (though employed for the viola part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for violin and viola), many 19th century violin treatises mention it (including that of Baillot from 1834), and it was a speciality of Paganini, and after him de Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and others. Also employed in Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.

The technique is also common in much non-classical music, especially amongst folk fiddlers in various places. It’s questionable how meaningful the term is when alternative tunings can themselves become standard (as apparently an a-e-a-e tuning is in parts of Scotland and North America).

It is also impossible to play Nick Drake’s songs on the guitar because nobody knows how he tuned the instrument for different songs.

The Biber Rosary Sonatas are surely the classic examples where each sonata is tuned differently. On the only occasion when I heard them performed live the violinist (Elizabeth Wallfisch) had three different violins, each of which was immediately tuned for its own next sonata once it had been played, laid down, and then retuned again when its turn came round. It’s actually a bit of a palaver which detracts a bit from the whole performance because so much time is spent tuning the instruments.

Some Italian words that used to begin “dis” now begin with just “s”. So scordatura probably used to be discordatura.

J.S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita No. 2

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, said about the Chaconne:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

Paul Hindemith: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

I am listening to Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Herbert Blomstedt.

Absolutely thrilling and just a bit weird!

My impression is that Hindemith should have gone to the well from which he drew the Symphonic Metamorphoses a few more times!

I’ve found only a very few other Hindemith works that I’d save from the blaze: the Mathis der Maler symphony and maybe the Konzertmusik for strings and brass Op. 50. I’ve tried a fair bit of his other music but not much seems to linger fragrantly in the memory.

But … I do love the ‘cello concerto of 1940, the main theme from the second movement of which Walton took as the theme for his Hindemith Variations of 1962-3.

Hindemith also, and quite understandably, wrote beautifully for the viola, and for the violin come to that.

After the Second World War war Hindemith returned to Germany and became a respected figure in teaching. Otto Klemperer viewed this with some cynicism and attended one of his lectures. After Hindemith had explained a complex point at length and asked for questions, Klemperer put his hand up and said in his umistakeable gravelly voice “Where is the lavatory?”.

Unfortunately, Hindemith drank too much and went completely mad.

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