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Chinese violins with Cremona labels?


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Robert,

I am glad to see that it is never to late for me to agree with you on something. The issue you have raised is of critical importance and goes well beyond the frequent fiddling.vs.classical discussions on this board. As you said, personal taste is personal taste.

The real issue here is the recognition of '`intrinsic value` and the tremendous sacrifice and effort involved in recognizing beauty and understanding it. Furtwaengler, in his genius, had foreseen the role of the media (record companies, pseudo-intellectuals, etc) in generating confusion and in making it more and more difficult to recognize intrinsic value. False cultural relativism is everywhere. If a Bach fugue has the same cultural value as Neapolitan folk tune why bother learning counterpoint, right? If a landscape by Claude Lorraine has the same cultural dignity as a naive painting by an untrained artist why bother studying the light, perspective, etc? I once read a ``review' of some Bach sacred cantatas, written by an atheist, claiming that in Bach's music she could feel Bach's sadness at the evils Christianity has imposed on mankind. No comment.

A famous american critic (forgot his name but I can double check, if needed) gave a name to a similar phenomenon, calling it ``midcult'. ``Midcult' is when the contents of culture are watered down (thus losing all their value) in the attempt (demagogic, commercial, or even well intended) of reaching a wider audience. Midcult is the favorite strategy of classical CD companies. A recent example comes to mind: the ``Inspired by Bach' series, played by Yo-Yo Ma. Or, have you ever counted the number of Vivaldi's four seasons and Mozart's requiems on the shelves of your favorite CD store?

Obviously midcult is an attractive concept for the people who make money out of ``culture' (music companies, TV and film producers, book publishers) but it is also attractive for the consumer: after all if you can buy ``Beethoven for Dummies' you don't have to study and listen for years, right? On a more basic level, why learn that boring and complicated correct English spelling, when you can make yourself understood anyway?

Of course, when somebody expresses the ideas above, one runs the risk of being accused of elitism, snobism, conservatism etc. I don't care. I object to nobody's taste as long as they don't lightly mess with things that require a lifetime of serious study to get a mere glimpse of.

My support to Robert. Thanks for speaking up.

Flavio

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:

: : : since when is an unused (or barely used) brain non-wasted?

: : Confusion reigns supreme after reading your highly elucidating message.

: : What are you talking about?

: The following remark from the preceeding post

: " They hate it when I whip through some Chopin in a "non-standard" manner, especially when the non-brainwasted like it better! "

: Characterizing those who actually know the difference as "brain-wasted". Not having heard your non-standard performance I cannot offer my opinion as to whether it was good music or a travesty. And granted there are those who will reflexively bash anything that isn't just like the one they were taught to like. However, there is, was and ever will be a huge market for kitsch in all forms. To label those who understand the difference (and may yet prefer the real thing) as "brain-wasted" is at least as obnoxious as the snob attitudes attributed to classical devotees.

: And for pikinandgrinnin

: Doesn't this mass movement from classical to picking tell you that feats of O'Connor et al not withstanding that the entry standard for classcal is higher than for bluegrass etc. That is one must master more technique, know it better, and be able to apply it consistently at will just to get a basically acceptable, pleasing result. This is not to say that one kind of music is better than the other but lets get real about cold technical facts. And of course a non-classical player who has the skill to cut it the classical world will be at a tremendous advantage is his chosen realm as he will have the power to avoid the following:

: The improvisor has the luxury of leaning on his best stuff and avoiding uncomfortable gaps his technique, the lessons that weren't learned for one reason or another. The classical player is expected to master the terrain as it is with few accomodations for technique. The repertoire is well known and merciless. Within that framework there is (or used to be) ample room for individuality (compare Kreisler and Heifetz) I am not criticizing anyone here for preferring what ever non classical style. Life is short take what you want and what you can. But please do not try to tell me that the average professional fiddler is anywhere near the average symphony player or soloist in cold hard technical skill. Resembles the difference between hard trail biking(good rolicking fun) and climbing mount Everest (exhaltation at the top, sacrifice the rest of time).

Dear Robert,

To dismiss any different interpretation of classical music as "kitsch" is a very arrogant and close-minded attitude, furthermore it is one that does nothing but reinforce the stereotype of the ivory tower-dwelling classical music lover. You risk lumping yourself in with the rest of the "reflexively bashing" music snobs who have lost sight of what music is.

Music is not a vehicle for showing off "cold technical" skill, music is a vehicle for creating and appriceiating something beautiful. If all you want to hear when you listen to music is a technically sound player repeating exactly what you heard before then I would suggest you program a good synthysizer to reproduce the musical notes. Perhaps this is the "real thing" that you were refering to.

I am classically trained and have been playing the violin since I was four. I have recently set foot in the realm of bluegrass and I must again disagree with you on the level of techincal skill needed to play bluegrass well. I recently had the pleasure of attending a concert of Mark O'Connor, Benny Martin, and Stewart Duncan. All three of these musicians displayed an extraordinary level of skill that I have seen equalled only by the best solo classical violinists.

What made the concert even more impressive was the fact that these beautiful melodies were never heard before and will never be heard again! The sheer musical sensability that is required to play just "off the top of one's head" is truly amazing. It is very easy to plunk away at the basic melody of a bluegrass tune but very difficult to take that tune and transform it into a multi-layered improvisation. I have found that my "technical prowess" has not turned me into an instant bluegrass phenom, I have instead needed to turn to an inner musical sense that is unrelated to technique.

By saying that an improvisor has the luxury of leaning on "his best stuff and avoiding uncomfortable gaps his technique" (sic) shows how little you know about improvisation. If a player does nothing but apply the same motifs on a basic tune or chord structure, then this is, by definition, not improvisation. Improvisation is the creation of something new; I would counter that your classical musicians who do nothing but play the same thing over and over until it is second nature to them are in fact the less musically skilled players. One of classical music's most highly skilled players (Wynton Marsalis) left to go into Jazz, another kind improvisational music, and he has been quoted as saying that it is much harder to play than classical.

Your patronizing tone of "take what ever you can" does nothing but paint you as an arrogant, close-minded, classical music chauvinist. Please do not try to tell me that your weak disclaimers absolve you of any such sentiments. For the sake of all of us (I include myself) who enjoy classical music, please try to keep an open mind and a closed mouth.

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: Robert,

: I am glad to see that it is never to late for me to agree with you on something. The issue you have raised is of critical importance and goes well beyond the frequent fiddling.vs.classical discussions on this board. As you said, personal taste is personal taste.

just kidding! i agree with your line of reasoning, and i do not see it as cultural elitism. there are many complex issues here that could stand to be discussed, and probably would be profitable; i'm not convinced everyone would enjoy facing some of these realities, but i guess that is human nature the topic of music as cultural expression and as a formal pursuit reminds me very much of the struggles i have with art/art history as an art educator. as a musician, i have come from the blues/improvisation end of things but with a love for the very facinating world of baroque music. i am not so sure that baroque music really possesses the limitations that might appear on the surface. well i might as well stop before i wind up confusing myself any more than i have already.

mike

: The real issue here is the recognition of '`intrinsic value` and the tremendous sacrifice and effort involved in recognizing beauty and understanding it. Furtwaengler, in his genius, had foreseen the role of the media (record companies, pseudo-intellectuals, etc) in generating confusion and in making it more and more difficult to recognize intrinsic value. False cultural relativism is everywhere. If a Bach fugue has the same cultural value as Neapolitan folk tune why bother learning counterpoint, right? If a landscape by Claude Lorraine has the same cultural dignity as a naive painting by an untrained artist why bother studying the light, perspective, etc? I once read a ``review' of some Bach sacred cantatas, written by an atheist, claiming that in Bach's music she could feel Bach's sadness at the evils Christianity has imposed on mankind. No comment.

: A famous american critic (forgot his name but I can double check, if needed) gave a name to a similar phenomenon, calling it ``midcult'. ``Midcult' is when the contents of culture are watered down (thus losing all their value) in the attempt (demagogic, commercial, or even well intended) of reaching a wider audience. Midcult is the favorite strategy of classical CD companies. A recent example comes to mind: the ``Inspired by Bach' series, played by Yo-Yo Ma. Or, have you ever counted the number of Vivaldi's four seasons and Mozart's requiems on the shelves of your favorite CD store?

: Obviously midcult is an attractive concept for the people who make money out of ``culture' (music companies, TV and film producers, book publishers) but it is also attractive for the consumer: after all if you can buy ``Beethoven for Dummies' you don't have to study and listen for years, right? On a more basic level, why learn that boring and complicated correct English spelling, when you can make yourself understood anyway?

: Of course, when somebody expresses the ideas above, one runs the risk of being accused of elitism, snobism, conservatism etc. I don't care. I object to nobody's taste as long as they don't lightly mess with things that require a lifetime of serious study to get a mere glimpse of.

: My support to Robert. Thanks for speaking up.

:

: Flavio

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: Based on my recent readings, a dealer who holds himself out to public as a knowledgable figure in a field can be held liable to some extent when he should have known something was wrong. This seems like an instance of that. Certainly would put a dealer at risk to handle suspicious instruments.

I would urge caution when asserting liability under the law without first consulting a liability lawyer. The defense is anyone (no matter how expert) can make an error. If the instruments are new and coming from an Italian violin shop, the US dealer has a reasonable expectation of authenticity. Again, as I stated before, the "white" instruments could be ungraduated, just pre-cut, un-glued pieces.

On the other hand, if the instruments are old and coming from another shop (Italian or otherwise) the US dealer must be careful in reselling them, especially if he claims to be an expert in the field.

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I was informed today that my violin by Brussels maker

is very similar or identical to many modern Italian violins,

so I compared it to a nice Chinese violin. Pretty

close at first glance! The overall impression I have is

that the Chinese violin was a bit refined in line, especially

in the scroll, that the wood had a deep and sharp flame

compared to European wood (but no little black lines - perhaps

some silica bands and dark spots), and that the varnish

wasn't quite as "rich", for want of a better term.

The varnish on mine looks very thick and lush, but

lies over the wood nicely. Seems to almost have

a flecked appearance under a lens as though the

some of the pigment is in relatively large chunks.

The varnish on the Chinese violin was a bit less

deep looking and a less rich color, but very close,

nevertheless. The sound on the Chinese violin was

a bit brighter and less sweet, but one would expect

that with the difference in asking prices. I could

have been fooled easily if the violin had been built

with European maple. Certainly the difference in

asking prices is much further apart than the apparent

quality. Will be interesting for those who can

compare them in a few decades. I'll see if I can

find additional examples and compare them when I'm

next in a large city.

Steve

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I must disagree with a couple of things:

1. Judged purely on the groundrules of classical violin playing, Mark O'Connor would be a third-rate concert artist wanna-be. (In the same vein, most concert artists would end up being third-rate country fiddler wanna-be's).

2. I recently saw an extensive interview with Winton Marsalis. He claims that his roots are with jazz, and he would just as soon not be viewed as some "novelty act" that tries to cross over and do both.

pickin'and eatin'

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Hey nose picker. I think I know you, and us pickers

agotta "stick" together. Din I see ya'all at the straw

fess lass year or so? I don't care whad ya eat, if

ya kin pick yur welcome at my place anytime. But ya

otta git som'in good in yer belly. Cause yull never

keep up wid the ress of us..Now you take cara yurseff..

Ya'all come back now, ya hear?

pickinandagrinnin..

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: The British trade laws (the book you read is British) are much stricter than American ones, I believe. I don't even think it's strictly legal for them to sell an antique German instrument with its original "Stradivari" label, since it's not a Strad.

New edition has a section on US laws and tort history that is most illuminating. Seems to me that one is more likely to suffer monetary loss from defending oneself in the US system, even if innocent.

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Raymond,

You might review this thread. I simply made an inquiry as to

whether or not something was going on precisely because I am a

cautious person and wanted to check up on something I was told.

My inquiry here was specifically

intended to make sure I was armed with the facts as best as I could determine

them. If things reported in this

thread as fact are true, then risk exists for people who buy and sell violins.

The buyer may not have what they think they do. The seller may be exposed

to risk. This is not going to be a problem for specialty shops, unless

someone crooked is running them - which I haven't seen and really hope isn't

happening. The specialty string

shops I've been in have exhibited a high degree of professionalism and ethics.

On the other hand, a generalist music store attempting to satisfy many needs (middling

sized places have to have these - not enough market for the specialist in most

cases) could easily stock instruments and sell them without clear knowledge of

their origin. The problems I've had in working with imports have been with a mix of intentional

and unintentional misrepresentation by middlemen, rather than the jobber I got things from

or the manufacturer (this was in a non-musical field). Where an expert would easily see a problem, a part-time

salesman wouldn't and could easily make inappropriate representations. By their

position in the community (one of trust and expertise), any resulting problems

could be laid at their feet. Used to be one of my concerns when I was doing retail! I've seen such things in other businesses; the results

are not pleasant.

After examining a rather nice Chinese violin and a rather nice new European one, I

can clearly see the difference in wood and note some other subtle

stylistic differences. I assert that these would not be obvious to

the average buyer or the average seller in a generalist music store dealing in all

types of instruments. Rather than

dozens of violins, I see 5 or 6 violins in this type of store. One will be very fancy looking and

usually German or Chinese. The rest will be Chinese of "beginner" level. The fancy one could have

any label in it and be believable to a novice. One can

easily envision the owner of an inadvertently misrepresented instrument becoming

rather upset when he visits a specialy shop for an adjustment or something and

finds the label doesn't match the goods. Whether intentional or inadvertent,

everyone loses, from the Chinese maker to

the poor guy who breaks the bad news to the instrument's owner. Of course, any party

misrepresenting things knowingly eventually loses his ability to work a given market.

I really hope I never see an intentionally misrepresented

violin or guitar or whatever in my

travels, whether new or not, and I frankly do not expect to see such a thing.

I suspect that any problem is small in scope.

On the other hand, you might enjoy looking at the

wonderfully odd-ball representations on EBAY auctions.

Most amazing. You'll find a wonderful old Italian instrument

that's been in the family for 250 years on auction now under

antique musical instruments. I'd be interested in a legal

opinion on the vunerability of the seller in this

instance. Take a look.

Steve

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i hate to say it, but i don't think many of the classical musicians i know could be even a 5th or 6th rate fiddler if they could play at all. i don't mean that spitefully or with any malice, but amature classical musicians rarely possess the ability to improvise.

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: just kidding! i agree with your line of reasoning, and i do not see it as cultural elitism. there are many complex issues here that could stand to be discussed, and probably would be profitable; i'm not convinced everyone would enjoy facing some of these realities, but i guess that is human nature the topic of music as cultural expression and as a formal pursuit reminds me very much of the struggles i have with art/art history as an art educator. as a musician, i have come from the blues/improvisation end of things but with a love for the very facinating world of baroque music. i am not so sure that baroque music really possesses the limitations that might appear on the surface. well i might as well stop before i wind up confusing myself any more than i have already.

: mike

*******

Hello,

If one looks throughout music history, improvisation was a big requirement for people like Bach and Mozart. (Everyone should do some history reading.) There are lots of chances to improvise with Baroque music, including different national styles. When I was in college we had a Thursday night potluck and wine and play recorders etc. and improvise sessions. One member always was searching out new (to us) music, and we used to sightread and elaborate on renaissance and baroque music. In spite of being a geology major, one member played recorder well enough to play with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (not me.) It seems sometimes that the modern idea of classical music is to set it in stone, but this has not been the practice over time.

A. Brown

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: i hate to say it, but i don't think many of the classical musicians i know could be even a 5th or 6th rate fiddler if they could play at all. i don't mean that spitefully or with any malice, but amature classical musicians rarely possess the ability to improvise.

It seems to me that improvisation is learned. I'm not certain that it is an ability that can be possessed. In any case, virtually none of my classical piano training was directed at manufacturing new music on the spot. And I find a lack of skill and, to a large part,

interest in doing this on the part of most amateur players I run into. Seems a lack in the standard program, at least the programs I and my contemporaries passed through. I find my hard work at understanding music well enough to improvise helps my classical playing a great

deal. I suspect that training in improvisation would benefit many on a primarily classical track. Unfortunately much, but thankfully not all, of the classical world seems to be stuck with "standard" interpretations that fail to do justice to the music. This is especially true

with the more free romantic works by various stars of the past, including Chopin. I suspect their concerts are reflected only weakly in the scores they left us. Personally, I find that a background in popular music and improvisation serves me extremely well in grasping and

interpreting music, especially Baroque and Romantic music. I like to hear new music and different well-thought interpretations. The tendency of some elements of the classical community to dismiss anything that smells of reinterpretation saddens me. Right now I'm working

with a fine musician almost ruined by an early rigid approach to performance. Breaking through the early training has revealed much to me about the way she feels and sees music, as well as allowing her greater freedom to really play. Improvisation has been one of the keys

to this reawakening.

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: Hello,

: If one looks throughout music history, improvisation was a big requirement for people like Bach and Mozart. (Everyone should do some history reading.) There are lots of chances to improvise with Baroque music, including different national styles. When I was in college we had a Thursday night potluck and wine and play recorders etc. and improvise sessions. One member always was searching out new (to us) music, and we used to sightread and elaborate on renaissance and baroque music. In spite of being a geology major, one member played recorder well enough to play with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (not me.) It seems sometimes that the modern idea of classical music is to set it in stone, but this has not been the practice over time.

: A. Brown

********************************

Mrs. Brown,

It seems to me that your example of music improvisation is a little bit too '`ad hoc` to prove your point. In the musical periods you are referring to (renaissance and baroque) the concept of ``classical music' as we understand it today was utterly unknown. True, during the Renaissance it was the habit to improvise on a ground. But the existence of these ``jam sessions' by aristocratic amateurs of limited skills (especially since you are referring to winds rather than viols or lutes) does not imply that Josquin or Palestrina (just to mention a couple) would have enjoyed alterations in the strict (utterly strict) counterpoint of their masses or motets.

Moving cronologically, during your history readings you may have come across the violent fight between Maestro Colonna and Arcangelo Corelli, about the alleged presence of ``parallel fifths' in one of the latter's triosonatas. The whole argument (involving the best musical brains of the time) boiled down to the length of a rest. It destroyed Colonna's reputation and career. Sticking with Corelli, much as he admired people emebellishing his sonatas, he would sometimes write ``come sta' (as it is) on the score: no tampering.

Bach, the great improvisers, would fall prey of fits of outrage when his music was not performed as he meant.

The gradual chenge of attitude towards (excessive) ornamentation can also be setected when reading Leopold Mozart's opinion of those who ``make out of one note at least a dozen':

``Such note murderers expose thereby their bad judgement to the light, and tremble when they have to sustain a long not or play only a few notes singingly, without inserting their usual preposterous and laughable frippery'

As time went the control of the composer on his work became almost absolute. Beethoven got furious when one of his editors ``improved' one of his piano sonatas with the addition of four bars.

Wagner would scream ``Rezitativ, kein Opera' at his singers (they were not changing the notes, they were just singing ``the wrong way').

Richard Strauss once got mad at Nikisch for ``ruining' one of his works by not following his directions on the score.

And so on so forth.

Improvisation has had a role in western music, but there are things that, if not written in stone, are very clearly written on fine paper or parchment.

Flavio

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: : Hello,

: : If one looks throughout music history, improvisation was a big requirement for people like Bach and Mozart. (Everyone should do some history reading.) There are lots of chances to improvise with Baroque music, including different national styles. When I was in college we had a Thursday night potluck and wine and play recorders etc. and improvise sessions. One member always was searching out new (to us) music, and we used to sightread and elaborate on renaissance and baroque music. In spite of being a geology major, one member played recorder well enough to play with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (not me.) It seems sometimes that the modern idea of classical music is to set it in stone, but this has not been the practice over time.

: : A. Brown

: ********************************

: Mrs. Brown,

: It seems to me that your example of music improvisation is a little bit too '`ad hoc` to prove your point. In the musical periods you are referring to (renaissance and baroque) the concept of ``classical music' as we understand it today was utterly unknown. True, during the Renaissance it was the habit to improvise on a ground. But the existence of these ``jam sessions' by aristocratic amateurs of limited skills (especially since you are referring to winds rather than viols or lutes) does not imply that Josquin or Palestrina (just to mention a couple) would have enjoyed alterations in the strict (utterly strict) counterpoint of their masses or motets.

: Moving cronologically, during your history readings you may have come across the violent fight between Maestro Colonna and Arcangelo Corelli, about the alleged presence of ``parallel fifths' in one of the latter's triosonatas. The whole argument (involving the best musical brains of the time) boiled down to the length of a rest. It destroyed Colonna's reputation and career. Sticking with Corelli, much as he admired people emebellishing his sonatas, he would sometimes write ``come sta' (as it is) on the score: no tampering.

: Bach, the great improvisers, would fall prey of fits of outrage when his music was not performed as he meant.

: The gradual chenge of attitude towards (excessive) ornamentation can also be setected when reading Leopold Mozart's opinion of those who ``make out of one note at least a dozen':

: ``Such note murderers expose thereby their bad judgement to the light, and tremble when they have to sustain a long not or play only a few notes singingly, without inserting their usual preposterous and laughable frippery'

: As time went the control of the composer on his work became almost absolute. Beethoven got furious when one of his editors ``improved' one of his piano sonatas with the addition of four bars.

: Wagner would scream ``Rezitativ, kein Opera' at his singers (they were not changing the notes, they were just singing ``the wrong way').

: Richard Strauss once got mad at Nikisch for ``ruining' one of his works by not following his directions on the score.

: And so on so forth.

: Improvisation has had a role in western music, but there are things that, if not written in stone, are very clearly written on fine paper or parchment.

: Flavio

****************

Hello Flavio,

I apologize for using the term "classical music."

Anecdotal evidence isn't proof. I do put forth that we were not all amateurs; one participant is now music department head (he's also a conductor-type) of an excellent small college in St. Paul. He's a DMA. I'm MM. At that time in my life I was not amateur. Another member had union membership, but ultimately pursued another field. But certainly none of us performed in public together as a professional group. We were jamming. We can't possibly be the only people who did/do this sort of thing.

I think that Donnington's "The Interpretation of Early Music" is a fine scholarly works that draws together information from primary sources. From chapter VIII on sixteenth-century ornamentation:

"The 'unaccompanied' polyphony of the sixteenth century has been such a bye-word for purity that it comes as something of a surprise to learn that it was not only quite often accompanied by instruments, but actually embellished in performance with ornamental figuration, even when sung unaccompanied. This does not mean that unaccompanied and unornamented Josquin or Palestrina is unhistoric: on the contrary, all these methods of performance are authentic, and the choice rests with the performers.

"Where there are more performers than one to a part, either there was careful rehearsal to secure harmonious results, or the ornamentation was left to soloists with the others holding the plain original. A high degree of passing dissonance and a certain degree of 'incorrect' progression was tolerated, because disguised by the speed at which the ornamentation proceeded. It was for the ear to decide how much. . . "

During the Renaissance, composers did not habitually indicate a strict preference for the instrumentation for their compositions. Voices, winds, and viols could be interchangeable and could also be mixed. The churches and courts provided groups of trained musicians of all varieties. But the idea of writing for specific instruments was in place for the Baroque. Composers did not necessarily insist on strict adherence, however. Obviously, the difficult violin music of Vivaldi Four Seasons was not appropriate to the one-keyed flute of the time.

Leopold Mozart wrote his book on violin playing. but his treatise is not as thorough or inclusive as those of C. P. E. Bach (keyboard) and J. J. Quantz (flute.) Quantz has a lengthy section concerning the strings (violin, viola, cello, bass) in an orchestra.

As for Baroque music, improvisation certainly had its place both in a solo line and in the figured bass realization. Consider J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3, and this quote from C. P. E. Bach's "Essay on the True Art of Accompanying Keyboard Music," part II, introduction, 27. :

"When the piece allows it . . . the accompanist may modify the bass extemporaneously . . . And how often must this be done!"

Solo cadenzas of an improvised nature developed during the Baroque and became integral to Classic, Romantic, and Contemporary concertos. Donnington says, chapter XII, that some written-out cadenzas in Vivaldi manuscripts that did not appear in published editions, the implication being that Vivaldi kept them for himself and his students. Other performers had to create their own.

Written notes of manuscripts implied unwritten rhythmic conventions also, with two common examples the double-dotting in an Italian overture and the French notes inégales.

Check out what the Harvard Dictionary says about improvisation:

" . . . is a phenomenon so evanescent that it defies documentation and detailed description. This is true, at least, of the great days of improvisation, when masters such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven were a famous for their improvising as for their written compositions . . . In the romantic period, Moscheles, Liszt, Franck, and Bruckner were famous for their improvisations, which frequently were included in their concert programs."

Donnington says in his own words:

"Even in the nineteenth century, composer-pianists like Chopin and Liszt were still enriching keyboard figuration at their finger ends . . . "

Having given license to add to written work, however, all sources agree that ornamentation and improvisation in bad taste are unacceptable. Bad taste is what Leopold Mozart was railing against, not all ornamentation and improvisation.

Here's a real problem: what is tasteful to one person may well be indigestible to the next.

When a composer makes it absolutely and purposely clear that he doesn't want extra notes played or changes made to his score, that's the time to pay attention. But one must read beyond the notes. After all, why do we like those "clean" Henle editions?.

Ann Brown

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: Hello Flavio,

: I apologize for using the term "classical music."

: Anecdotal evidence isn't proof. I do put forth that we were not all amateurs; one participant is now music department head (he's also a conductor-type) of an excellent small college in St. Paul. He's a DMA. I'm MM. At that time in my life I was not amateur. Another member had union membership, but ultimately pursued another field. But certainly none of us performed in public together as a professional group. We were jamming. We can't possibly be the only people who did/do this sort of thing.

: I think that Donnington's "The Interpretation of Early Music" is a fine scholarly works that draws together information from primary sources. From chapter VIII on sixteenth-century ornamentation:

: "The 'unaccompanied' polyphony of the sixteenth century has been such a bye-word for purity that it comes as something of a surprise to learn that it was not only quite often accompanied by instruments, but actually embellished in performance with ornamental figuration, even when sung unaccompanied. This does not mean that unaccompanied and unornamented Josquin or Palestrina is unhistoric: on the contrary, all these methods of performance are authentic, and the choice rests with the performers.

: "Where there are more performers than one to a part, either there was careful rehearsal to secure harmonious results, or the ornamentation was left to soloists with the others holding the plain original. A high degree of passing dissonance and a certain degree of 'incorrect' progression was tolerated, because disguised by the speed at which the ornamentation proceeded. It was for the ear to decide how much. . . "

: During the Renaissance, composers did not habitually indicate a strict preference for the instrumentation for their compositions. Voices, winds, and viols could be interchangeable and could also be mixed. The churches and courts provided groups of trained musicians of all varieties. But the idea of writing for specific instruments was in place for the Baroque. Composers did not necessarily insist on strict adherence, however. Obviously, the difficult violin music of Vivaldi Four Seasons was not appropriate to the one-keyed flute of the time.

: Leopold Mozart wrote his book on violin playing. but his treatise is not as thorough or inclusive as those of C. P. E. Bach (keyboard) and J. J. Quantz (flute.) Quantz has a lengthy section concerning the strings (violin, viola, cello, bass) in an orchestra.

: As for Baroque music, improvisation certainly had its place both in a solo line and in the figured bass realization. Consider J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3, and this quote from C. P. E. Bach's "Essay on the True Art of Accompanying Keyboard Music," part II, introduction, 27. :

: "When the piece allows it . . . the accompanist may modify the bass extemporaneously . . . And how often must this be done!"

: Solo cadenzas of an improvised nature developed during the Baroque and became integral to Classic, Romantic, and Contemporary concertos. Donnington says, chapter XII, that some written-out cadenzas in Vivaldi manuscripts that did not appear in published editions, the implication being that Vivaldi kept them for himself and his students. Other performers had to create their own.

: Written notes of manuscripts implied unwritten rhythmic conventions also, with two common examples the double-dotting in an Italian overture and the French notes inégales.

: Check out what the Harvard Dictionary says about improvisation:

: " . . . is a phenomenon so evanescent that it defies documentation and detailed description. This is true, at least, of the great days of improvisation, when masters such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven were a famous for their improvising as for their written compositions . . . In the romantic period, Moscheles, Liszt, Franck, and Bruckner were famous for their improvisations, which frequently were included in their concert programs."

: Donnington says in his own words:

: "Even in the nineteenth century, composer-pianists like Chopin and Liszt were still enriching keyboard figuration at their finger ends . . . "

: Having given license to add to written work, however, all sources agree that ornamentation and improvisation in bad taste are unacceptable. Bad taste is what Leopold Mozart was railing against, not all ornamentation and improvisation.

: Here's a real problem: what is tasteful to one person may well be indigestible to the next.

: When a composer makes it absolutely and purposely clear that he doesn't want extra notes played or changes made to his score, that's the time to pay attention. But one must read beyond the notes. After all, why do we like those "clean" Henle editions?.

: Ann Brown

*****************************************

Hi Mrs. Brown,

First of all I would like to make clear that when I mentioned "aristocratic amateurs of moderate skills" I was not referring to you or your friends but to the image I have formed of a recorder practitioner of the past. I am sorry if my remark sounded as a slight. Also, I did not want to contradict your point, but complement it. I only wanted to stress something that is dear to my heart: before starting being creative with a score, we should first make sure that we understand (as best as we can) the ideas of the composer. This usually takes a lifetime of hard work, just because the examples of performance practice you mentioned in your post are not part of our present time but must be painstakingly reconstructed. And I am wary of many of these creative misunderstood geniuses of interpretation scourging the international scene. Tha's all...

Flavio

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: Hi Mrs. Brown,

: First of all I would like to make clear that when I mentioned "aristocratic amateurs of moderate skills" I was not referring to you or your friends but to the image I have formed of a recorder practitioner of the past. I am sorry if my remark sounded as a slight. Also, I did not want to contradict your point, but complement it. I only wanted to stress something that is dear to my heart: before starting being creative with a score, we should first make sure that we understand (as best as we can) the ideas of the composer. This usually takes a lifetime of hard work, just because the examples of performance practice you mentioned in your post are not part of our present time but must be painstakingly reconstructed. And I am wary of many of these creative misunderstood geniuses of interpretation scourging the international scene. Tha's all...

: Flavio

*******

Hello Flavio,

I believe that it does NOT take a lifetime of study to begin creating your own "edition" of a Baroque work. A knowledgeable teacher and a compendium of practice should set a path.True, the longer one studies, the more discerning one may become.

This brings me, a non-violinist observer, to the point of being somewhat appalled at the path of my daughter-violinst's musical education, which leapfrogged her from the fixed editions in the Suzuki books almost directly into concerto literature. She has played Bach solo-violin literature as marked and instructed by her Russian violin teacher. She has developed few guidelines that I can hear concerning Baroque customs. The clean edition I bought is left unmarked in favor of the copied sheets from her teacher's edition.

Watching the development of my daughter and her peers, the general standard of violin teaching seems to follow Leopold Auer's advice (Violin Playing As I Teach It, 1921)":

"I have always found it impossible to regard style in music as a matter of historical development . . .Beauty and not tradition is the touchstone of all style. And what may be beauty in style during the eighteenth century is not necessarily that in the twentieth. I have no respect for that nuch-abused word "tradition . . . Let them [violinists] express themselves, and not fetter their playing with rules that have lost their meaning."

I can't believe in this, and I know you do not either.

When I taught flute, my middle-school students edited their Handel sonatas themselves, one movement at a time. We started with an urtext and first learned conventions for trills. Then we went on. These were average kids, but they learned to think for themselves. They didn't go out and buy several different recordings to compare, although I played for them and encouraged them to listen to Baroque music. They worked with the music at their own technical level. I tried to give them the tools. Of course, we were bound to fail, some would say, at the start, because the modern flute sounds nothing like the wood one-keyed flute of Handel's period; but I do not appologize for thinking that the music could best be appreciated with some regard for Baroque conventions. I don't think they had to give a life-time of study to appreciate historic Handel. I am sure they will recognize, now and evermore, whether a trill begins on the upper or lower note.

Amateurs are the lovers of music. Amateurs love teachers and artists too. You and I both could get all heated up about degrees of authenticity, but I think more energy should be expended on examining why so many violinists get herded along like sheep through the Romantic concerto literature to the detriment Baroque conventions and the sonata literature.

I don't think we are in disagreement that attention to performance detail is important.

Consider this: in graduate school, I was on the path to get a M in music history. Although I done well up to this point, my advisor sat me down and told me I had to quit playing flute in order to do more reading and writing. My real music was taking too much of my time and energy (I was taking lessons, playing in symphony, symphonette, lab orchestra, a chamber group, and a contemporary music group . . . ) This shook me up so much that although I had completed all the requirements for music history except writing the thesis, I changed my major to applied music, gave a recital, and graduated.

I can't separate music away from music history, but the time comes just to start playing as best we can.

Ann Brown

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: *******

: Hello Flavio,

: I believe that it does NOT take a lifetime of study to begin creating your own "edition" of a Baroque work. A knowledgeable teacher and a compendium of practice should set a path.True, the longer one studies, the more discerning one may become.

: This brings me, a non-violinist observer, to the point of being somewhat appalled at the path of my daughter-violinst's musical education, which leapfrogged her from the fixed editions in the Suzuki books almost directly into concerto literature. She has played Bach solo-violin literature as marked and instructed by her Russian violin teacher. She has developed few guidelines that I can hear concerning Baroque customs. The clean edition I bought is left unmarked in favor of the copied sheets from her teacher's edition.

: Watching the development of my daughter and her peers, the general standard of violin teaching seems to follow Leopold Auer's advice (Violin Playing As I Teach It, 1921)":

: "I have always found it impossible to regard style in music as a matter of historical development . . .Beauty and not tradition is the touchstone of all style. And what may be beauty in style during the eighteenth century is not necessarily that in the twentieth. I have no respect for that nuch-abused word "tradition . . . Let them [violinists] express themselves, and not fetter their playing with rules that have lost their meaning."

: I can't believe in this, and I know you do not either.

: When I taught flute, my middle-school students edited their Handel sonatas themselves, one movement at a time. We started with an urtext and first learned conventions for trills. Then we went on. These were average kids, but they learned to think for themselves. They didn't go out and buy several different recordings to compare, although I played for them and encouraged them to listen to Baroque music. They worked with the music at their own technical level. I tried to give them the tools. Of course, we were bound to fail, some would say, at the start, because the modern flute sounds nothing like the wood one-keyed flute of Handel's period; but I do not appologize for thinking that the music could best be appreciated with some regard for Baroque conventions. I don't think they had to give a life-time of study to appreciate historic Handel. I am sure they will recognize, now and evermore, whether a trill begins on the upper or lower note.

: Amateurs are the lovers of music. Amateurs love teachers and artists too. You and I both could get all heated up about degrees of authenticity, but I think more energy should be expended on examining why so many violinists get herded along like sheep through the Romantic concerto literature to the detriment Baroque conventions and the sonata literature.

: I don't think we are in disagreement that attention to performance detail is important.

: Consider this: in graduate school, I was on the path to get a M in music history. Although I done well up to this point, my advisor sat me down and told me I had to quit playing flute in order to do more reading and writing. My real music was taking too much of my time and energy (I was taking lessons, playing in symphony, symphonette, lab orchestra, a chamber group, and a contemporary music group . . . ) This shook me up so much that although I had completed all the requirements for music history except writing the thesis, I changed my major to applied music, gave a recital, and graduated.

: I can't separate music away from music history, but the time comes just to start playing as best we can.

: Ann Brown

Mrs. Brown,

it is funny how, sometimes the virtual reality of the ethernet projects a totally different image than the one we would like to give. I say it is funny because, although my father, a follower of idealistic philosophy in Croce's style, was very much into the late romantics and first taught me about Wagner, Brahms, Bruckner, etc., my real first music teacher was a lutenist, a stern supporter of what is now called '`historically informed` performance. It is safe to say that I have learned about Pisendel and Biber before I ever suspected the existence of a guy called Jascha Heifetz. Due to this kind of mentoring I discovered ``mainstream' interpretation of ``pre-classical music', long after I had gotten acquainted with ``period instrument' performances, which remain my reference standard (ideologically, if not always technically). I find myself having to continuosly defend ``performance practice', especially on the violin, where some tonal and expressive ideals are so rooted into the ``romantic' tradition that anything different is seen as anathema. I think I am the only one in the (pretty decent) community/student orchestra (which includes music performance majors) owning a ``baroque' bow. (I do not have a baroque violin because: 1) I am still pretty broke 2) My academic oriented lifestyle combined with a lamentable luck of natural talent, prevents me from devoting myself to both instruments (yes I consider them to be quite different instruments, sort of harpsichord.vs.piano).

When I talk about a lifetime of research, what I mean to say is that generations of musicians/scholars die contributing to a work in progress. Just to focus on performance practice on the violin, the performers of the 90's (like Biondi, Carmignola, Letzbor, Manze) have little in common with those of the 60/70's (Kuijken, Schroeder, Alice Harnoncourt). Which doesn't mean that the older generations were ``wrong'. (Somebody on this board once minimized the seminal work of Dolmetsch, by accusing him of not using the right instruments, quite ridiculuos). All the people I mentioned were (are) all at the ``cutting edge' of the movement at their time. More research gets done and ideas change with time. I couldn't agree more with you when you talk about study. Given a certain amount of performing skills, study is all that matters. As you said, a good teacher and serious research can help you form your interpretation pretty early in life. I also believe, though, that our interpretation will appear to future generations as the result of our times (as well as of state of the art research). Also, as far as lifetimes go, I can still remember my father quoting the Italian critic and music historian, Abbiati, on Wagner: ``Only those who have much lived and much suffered can understand Tristan'. As a boy I really didn't have a clue what my dad meant. Now I know and, obviously, my understanding of Tristan is still a work in progress...

It is also funny that you quote Auer's book, and I am glad that you believe I don't share Mr. Auer's opinions. Actually, ``Violin playing as I teach it' contains ideas that I abhorr(sp.) (although I respect them as the product of their time). Incidentally, the more I read about the great virtuosos who were associated with him, the more I think that Auer's reputation as a teacher is very overrated.

Again, my apologies for any misunderstanding. Sometimes I wonder what Beckett and Pirandello would have written about ``virtual communication', they who were already so skeptical about the real thing.

Flavio

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: here in Seattle, at least two shops have very very

nice Chinese violins. Some of them were signed

by their makers.

It sounds like you are from Tennessee.

I'll bet the shops in DC also have good chinese violins

and don't forget, there are people in North America

making violins for affordable prices!

I know, I am about to buy one!

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