Violin Playing And Violin Music

The development of the violin, of violin playing and violin music, in a certain sense shows reciprocal influences, and went hand in hand. This was the more certain because the composers who wrote for the instrument were also players, in almost every instance the virtuoso of their times. During the polyphonic period, composers were singers or organists ; during the period when the violin dominated instrumental composition, composers in that form were usually violinists. In the next period, when the pianoforte was coming to the front, the representative composers were clavier composers. And since then with but few exceptions the great composers have also been pianists.

—In the music of the viol period no demands were made upon the instrumental player except that he should double the voice part, which was simple, viewed from the standpoint of modern violin playing. Even later when music was written for quartets of viols the parts were vocal in character and did not exceed voices in range. The earliest known solo composition was published in 1620 by Marini. It demands but little from the expectant. The next work of importance was in 1627, when Carlo Farina, an Italian living at Dresden, published a collection of pieces which show quite an advance technically, including variety of bowing, double stopping and chords. The names applied to violin compositions were : Sonate, Canzone and Sinfonia, the principle of the first named being an alternation of slow and quick movements.

About 165o the term Sonata comes into general use, and a further distinction is made between Sonata da Chiesa (church sonata) and Sonata da Camera (chamber sonata), the former consisting of three or four movements varying in tempo, the latter being really a suite of dances, with slow and quick movements in alternation. The Church, always ready to make use of the fine arts, soon discovered the capabilities of the violin and its music, and adopted it as one of its musical forces, not merely for assisting in accompaniments but for independent performances. As a result of this patronage, the violin sonata, the only form of serious composition for the instrument, took on the severer character of the church sonata, giving an impulse toward the establishment of sonata form.

Composers of the 17th Century.—Among those who pre-pared the way for the great ones to follow was Giovanni Battista Vitali (1644-1692), who shows in his chamber sonatas the tendency to adopt the form of the church sonata. His name is best known in violin literature by a Chaconne with variations, which makes no inconsiderable demands on the technic of a player, and must have marked him out as a conspicuous player in his own time. This is a worthy forerunner of Bach’s great work in a similar form. In Germany the significant name is Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) , who had a highly developed technic for that period, for his works carry the player up to the sixth position and introduce difficult double stopping and arpeggios. The next name to be noticed is Giuseppe Torelli (1660-1708), who lived many years in Bologna as leader of a church orchestra. He is credited with having been the first to apply the principles of construction as shown in the church sonata to concerted music, which later developed into the Concerto.

Corelli.—In any great movement one man seems to sum up the best of the work of his predecessors. The name associated with putting violin music and playing on a firm foundation is that of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), eminent both as composer and player. He was a contemporary of Guarnerius and Stradivarius, who brought the instrument to perfection. Of Corelli’s early life little is known. He traveled in France and was also in Munich for some years. In 1681 he returned to Italy, making his home at Rome. As a teacher, he acquired great fame and pupils came to him from all parts of Europe. The most eminent violinists who were under his instruction were Geminiani, Locatelli, Somis, Baptiste, and Castrucci. Corelli did not invent new forms of composition or of technic—in the latter respect he did not equal certain of his contemporaries —he was a reformer rather than an innovator. He had, however, a keen sense for effects that were specially suited to the instrument, and his conservatism put the art of playing the violin on a solid basis upon which others were able to add newer and more difficult technic. His works included forty-eight three-part sonatas for various combinations, twelve two-part sonatas for violin and cembalo, nine for two violins and cembalo, and six concertos for two violins and ‘cello with a quartet accompaniment. The violin being so preeminently a singing, a melody instrument, it is singular that Corelli and his contemporaries did not grasp the principle of using clearly defined melodic themes. This fact shows that the influence of the church sonata and its rejection of a formal tune as unsuited to serious art was still strong. Therefore, while Corelli’s works do not show themes such as are characteristic of the next period of the sonata, his construction is logical and his handling of his form-material is concise and clear. The student of Form in music will find the germs of sonata-form in Corelli’s works.

Corelli’s Pupils.—Among Corelli’s pupils must be mentioned Francesco Geminiani (168o-1762), who spent part of his life in England. He published the first work of a pedagogic character, a “Method for Violin Playing,” in Lon-don, in 1740. He also recommended holding the violin on the left side instead of on the right, as was customary in his time. Pietro Locatelli (1693-1764) greatly influenced the development of violin technic. Giovanni Battista Somis (1676-1763) lived at Turin, was the teacher of Pugnani, the instructor of Viotti. Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1743) devoted himself to virtuosity and influenced the Concerto from this point. He was fertile and ingenious in making new combinations and devising new effects. J. S. Bach arranged his works, sixteen for the clavier, four for the organ, and one as a concerto for four claviers and a quartet of stringed instruments. Still another name is to be mentioned, that of Francesco Maria Veracini (1685-1750), who greatly influenced Tartini by his playing. He was a player full of temperament, which made his playing powerfully expressive. His sonatas are bold in harmonic and melodic treatment, and well constructed. Their technical difficulty is considerable. (His lifetime coincides with Bach.)

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) is one of the commanding figures of musical history. He was intended for the profession of law by his parents but, fortunately for music, did not fall in with the plan. A hasty marriage with the niece of an archbishop brought him into trouble, and he fled to a monastery, where he spent two years, devoting the greater part of his time to musical studies. At the end of this time he was allowed to rejoin his wife, and went to Venice, where he learned to know Veracini, with whom he studied to correct the faults he had acquired through pursuing his studies undirected. Again he went into retirement and gave him-self up to the study of violin technic. Among other things he made some improvements in the bow, increasing the range of effects. His contemporaries ascribe to him “a fine tone, unlimited command of fingerboard and bow, perfect intonation in double stops, a most brilliant trill and double trill as well, which he could execute equally well with all fingers.” His celebrated composition “Il Trillo del Diavolo’ (“The Devil’s Trill”) shows his skill in embellishments. A technical work “Arte dell’ Arco” (“The Art of Bowing”) gives a clear idea of his method in that branch of the violinist’s art. In his compositions he shows advance on Corelli and Vivaldi, for his melody is broader, his phrases more developed and clearer, his harmonies richer and better contrasted, with many passages of a strongly emotional character. He wrote a great number of pieces, sonatas and concertos. In addition to his work as player and composer, Tartini devoted himself to teaching. His school at Padua was the Mecca of violinists from all Europe. In those days there were no instruction books ; Tartini’s pupils looked to him for everything, and his character as a teacher can be learned in a letter addressed by him to a pupil. Tartini’s contribution to music also includes work of a theoretical character. He discovered the so-called combinational sound, by which is meant the sounding of a third sound when two tones are sounded together.’ He published a treatise on the subject. Two pupils of Tartini’s who deserve mention are Pietro Nardini (1722-1793) and Gaetano Pugnani (1726-1803), who was also a pupil of Somis, thus uniting in him-self the teachings of the two great masters, Tartini and Corelli, which he transmitted to later generations through his great pupil, Viotti.

With Tartini the violin sonata of the old type lost its place, being succeeded by the sonata for the piano which was being developed by composers, giving rise to a form that was later to be the basis of a new sonata for violin and piano in which each instrument filled an equal place. In the earlier days the tone of the clavichord and harpsichord, weak and thin, was not suited save for accompanying the full-toned brilliantly effective violin; but after Tartini’s time the instrument gained in power and sonorousness and formed a worthy helpmeet for the violin.

Violin playing in France was largely influenced by Italian players. Lully, the opera composer, was a violinist, but the Italian school had not developed when, as a lad, he left his native country. The Corelli principles were carried to France by Leclair (1687-1704), who received his training from Somis, a pupil of Corelli. His treatment of the bow showed the lightness and agility that later became distinctive of the French school. Pierre Gaviniés (1726-1800) lent strength to the establishment of an independent French school of playing. He is best known today by a set of difficult studies. Giovanni Battista Viotti (1753-1824): an Italian by birth, greatly influenced violin playing in his day. As a lad of seventeen he traveled through Europe with Pugnani, his teacher, winning great success. Later he located in Paris, teaching and composing, giving regularly private performances at which he brought out his concertos. His themes have a marked singing character, and all his writing is eminently suited to the instrument. In his concertos he used the elaborated sonata-form as developed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and in his accompaniments draws fully on the resources of the orchestra. His works include a fine set of duets for two violins. His most eminent pupils were Pierre Rode (1774-1830) and Pierre Marie Francois de Sales Baillot (1771-1842) who with Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) were teachers in the Paris Conservatoire, for which they prepared the famous “Méthode de Violin.” Rode and Kreutzer are famous in violin literature for their studies for advanced players. Beethoven dedicated his great sonata for piano and violin, Op. 47, to Kreutzer, for which reason it is known by the latter’s name. In connection with the educational writers just mentioned, Federigo Fiorillo, born 1753, in Germany, of Italian parents, is to be noted. His thirty-six etudes or caprices rank with the works of Rode and Kreutzer. Antonio Lolli (1730-1802) was a virtuoso and nothing else. His execution was marvelous, and he was, in many respects, a forerunner of Paganini.

Violin playing in Germany had its source and inspiration in the concert tours made in that country by the great Italian virtuosi, a number of whom lived for periods of some length at the courts of Berlin, Dresden, Mannheim and other capitals, where they trained pupils for the various ducal. orchestras. The orchestra at Mannheim was the most famous for its work and sent out a number of fine players and musicians. Space does not permit the mention of these men. The first great name in the violin world of Germany is Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859), who was also one of the great composers of his time, his activity leading him into the domain of the oratorio and opera as well as orchestra and instrumental music. (His principal teacher was Franz Eck (1774-1804), who belonged to the Mannheim school.) Later he had opportunity to hear Rode, by whose playing he was much impressed. He spent some years in concertizing, and in 1822 located at Cassel as the director of the orchestra there. Here he taught many noted pupils, the best known being Ferdinand David. While Spohr was a great player and a great teacher, he influenced modern violin playing more by his compositions. Some of his concertos still figure in the violinist’s repertoire and his duos and concertantes for two violins and for violin and viola are unsurpassed by any compositions in that style. In 1831, he published his “Violin School,” which was a standard work for many years. The direct successor of Spohr was Ferdinand David (1810-1873), a great player and a great teacher who was associated with Mendelssohn in the founding of the famous Leipzig Conservatorium. From this institution David’s pupils went over all Europe into positions of responsibility and reputation. His greatest pupil was August Wilhelmj (b. 1845). After David’s death supremacy in the field of violin playing gradually fell away from Leipzig and centred in Berlin around Joseph Joachim, the Nestor of the present-day violin world.

The Vienna School.—The southern Germans had certain characteristics wherein they differed from their northern kin; they were in closer touch with Italy and were also influenced by their Hungarian neighbors. In Beethoven’s time considerable attention was given by Viennese violinists to chamber-music. Four names are prominent : Karl Dittersdorf (1739-1799), Anton Wranitzky (1756-1808) Joseph Mayseder (1789-1863) and Joseph Boehm (1795-1876), the latter being the teacher of a number of famous violinists, Hellmesberger, Dont, Remenyi, Ernst and Joseph Joachim (b. 1831), the latter, representing the solid, classical style of his teacher, joined to a mastery of the technic of his instrument that enabled him to win and maintain the highest rank as virtuoso, quartet player and composer for his instrument. lip to the time of his death, August 15, 1907, he was director of the Royal High School of Music in Berlin. He was the teacher of hundreds of players, including many celebrated artists of the present day.

Paganini.—The most unique, most startling figure in music belongs to the violin, a law unto himself in his playing, one for whom the violin seemed to have been perfected long years before by Guarnerius and Stradivarius and one who seemed to have been made for the violin, the hero of fictions innumerable, to whom was attributed in his day all manner , of occult power. This mysterious king of the violin was Niccolo Paganini, born in Genoa, February i8, 1782, died May 27, 1840. Never strong in body, in his early youth he gave himself up to dissipation to such an extent that he undermined his constitution; and passed through the world as a spectre rather than as a man Paganini was self-developed, he belonged to no school and he founded none, yet so great was his command of the technic of the violin and the bow, that no other player so profoundly influenced contemporaries and successors on the matter of virtuosity. He taught but one pupil, Camillo Sivori (1815-1894). Paganini greatly influenced the younger French violinists of his day, among whom may be mentioned Alard and Banela. After these men come Charles de Bériot (1802-187o), who represents the Belgian School, his pupil Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) and third generation in the line of pupilage, Eugen Ysaye (b. 1858). Others who belong to the Belgian School are Massart (teacher of Wieniawski, Kreisler and others), Léonard (teacher of César Thomson, Marsick, Musin, Marteau, etc.). At the present time the centre of interest in the violin world has shifted to Prague, where Ottokar Sevcik has sent out young violinists of the Slav race who display the most astonishing technical mastery.


Grove.—Dictionary of Music and Musicians, articles or. Violin Playing, Sonata, Concerto, and players mentioned in this lesson.

Stoeving.—Story of the Violin.

Ehrlich.—Celebrated Violinists.

Hart.—The Violin and its Music.