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Heifetz's Bow


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The stories of Vengerov and his forcefulness have been commented on in both Strings and Strad. It's entirely possible that he's altered his bowing technique sufficiently, in the recent past, to make this no longer the case -- Vengerov commented in a recent article that the way he was playing was altering as a result of his Baroque playing.

By the way, I think what you hear on record is misleading, tonally -- the very close miking of Sarah Chang and Itzhak Perlman in recent recordings, for instance, results in rather more string noise than would be heard in a concert hall. What you *see* on videotape, though, makes technical approach pretty clear.

Aggressive players presumably play that way because they like the tonal results. One should definitely not assume that such players take this approach because they're deficient in some way.

(Based on what I've heard on record, Vengerov is certainly capable of varying his tone to match the situation: compare the forcefulness of his Shostakovich No. 1 to his smoother delivery of the Mendelssohn, for instance.)

The Russians aren't the only ones with forceful styles, though. I saw Jamie Laredo play the Bruch No. 1 a couple of weeks ago, and he was tearing hairs off his bow at every opportune moment.

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 11-13-2000).]

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Only since coming to my current violin teacter a few years ago have I become aware of what it is that causes the vast differences in sounds - the bowing technique. My teacher comes from a linage of teacters similar to Perlman - infact, their 'family tree' joins above Galamian and my teacher's teacher. This is a school of the Franco-belgian bow hold, and I find that most of the violinists who I appreciate subscribe to this style.

It is those who play in the old 'Russian Grip' with the wrist held high and the fast bow strokes who have the rough, rather light and scratchy sort of tone. I have talked with my teacher at length about different people's styles and it seems fairly clear that Maxim plays in the F-B style, where the sound is drawn from the strings, resulting in a velvety, clinging tone. Volume comes from weight in the bow arm rather than pressure.

I was recently reading some articles of Perlman in which he talks in detail about the Russian and F-B bow styles. Of course he is the champion of the F-B and what he described was exactly what I was recently seeing from Vengerov.

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Actually, the Galamian hold is a fusion between the Franco-Belgian and the Russian, though it leans more to the former than the latter. (This is not surprising, since Galamian's training included both traditions.)

The Russian bow hold, with its rather heavy weight upon the string and lack of incline to the bow, produces a bigger tone than the Franco-Belgian, but does not allow as flexible of a bow hand as the latter. (A Soviet-trained teacher of mine encouraged me to *press* with the index finger. The "Old Russian" tradition definitely does *not* encourage this, though; you let the arm of the weight settle the bow into the string, and the index finger naturally bears some of this weight transfer.)

Think Heifetz, Milstein, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, etc. None of them had small tones. The ones who were not aggressive by temperament had beautifully smooth tones.

By the way, those fast, light, strokes are exactly what will let you project over an orchestra in a big hall, during soft passages. (In forte passages, too, assuming you're already transfering the weight of the arm as much as possible, more bow is preferable to more pressure, so the note rings and the folks in the nosebleed seats can still hear an articulated and sustained note.)

A player should take different sound-production tactics depending on the venue he's in.

[This message has been edited by Lydia Leong (edited 11-16-2000).]

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HKV, how can we know that the bow is still being battered even though the sound seems pure and there are 'no broken bow hairs'?

Is it true that the Russian style of bowing where volume is made by pressing the index finger is more taxing on the violinist than volume gained by leaning into the violin? I recently attended a masterclass by a Russian lady and she was amazed to hear that my teacher can play the Prokoviev sonata no 2 without tiring (using F-B technique for her power). She (the Russian lady) always has to schedule it always just before interval, so she is fresh to play it, but can have a rest straight after it!

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I am puzzled by what you mean by index-finger power vs. leaning into the violin.

Presumably, "leaning into the violin" is applying the weight of the arm to the string. This transference of weight rests primarily on the index finger, regardless of the bow hold that you use. The lower contact point of the Russian hold lets you do this more effortlessly, in fact.

Some Soviet violinists advocate actually pressing down independently with the index finger, as well. This is not the "Old Russian" way, though.

A lot of things go into the total output of energy... and a lot of things determine how much of it you have to begin with. I don't think bowhold makes much, if any, difference. Aggressive players will almost certainly expend more energy, though -- and you can be an aggressive player with any bowhold.

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When I talk about leaning, I guess I mean using the weight of the upperarm to 'draw' the sound from the strings. That is the expression that my teacher uses to describe it. Incidentally, she says that this should never involve pressing of any kind.

Lydia, when you say the 'lower contact point of the Russian bow hand', do you mean lower in the index finger as in closer to the hand or closer to the fingertips?

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  • 1 month later...

Phoebe, I also play that Prokofiev Sonata without tiring.

We Auer guys DO NOT press into the string with the first finger. We use that first finger posture in conjunction with no shoulder rest in order to allow the bow to sit on the strings with the hair flat.

Not only that, but the index finger wrapped around the stick allows the right wrist to be straight, therefore allowing the elbow to open and close properly.

Hence when we bow, we bow HORIZONTALLY and not VERTICALLY. This is why Milstein, Elman, Zimbalist, Heifetz, Rosand, Shumsky, etc. . . have had such long careers - the lack of physical tension allowed them to play continually over the years without breaking down.

About this Russian lady: my guess is that she wasn't from the Auer lineage. Being a Soviet trained violinist and being an Auer lineage holder are two entirely different things.

The entire focus of the Auer training is to play efficiently and rhythmically, allowing both your emotions and the violin/bow to sing out the way they were meant to sing out.

It's obvious from that Russian lady's tension playing that Prokofiev piece that she's NOT an Auer lineage holder despite her bowgrip.

Anybody who tires out after playing that Prokofiev Sonata (not a very strenuous piece) needs to rethink her posture in BOTH hands.

It's good to hear that the Heifetz bow is being kept safe by Vengerov - and I'm not beating on him.

Maybe it's just not the bow for him.

But if I felt it was a great stick, I'd be playing it.

[This message has been edited by HuangKaiVun (edited 12-25-2000).]

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  • 3 weeks later...


Originally posted by HuangKaiVun:

Personally, I'd rather most of the great bows and violins go into museums - where they won't be hacked to death by modern violinists.

Given that museums will undoubtedly retain various samples of great instruments, I'd rather see the rest of the great instruments remain in circulation. Preserving items of historical significance is a worthy endeavor, but I'd rather see the majority of old instruments go to players. Heifetz's bow was his to dispose of as he pleased. He chose not to give it to a museum. So be it.

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Yes that's an Auer lineage, but she obviously didn't learn what she was supposed to.

That Prokofiev piece is hardly strenuous, and Milstein himself never tensed up or got fatigued playing the violin.

Remember that nowadays, most Auer lineage guys have had years and years of prior training before going to the Auer style instructors. I myself am no different, having studied over 10 years with Margaret Pardee before going to Aaron Rosand.

I remember seeing Sheila Reinhold at a local university concert. I was thinking "Here's a well-known Heifetz disciple - let's see if she does the same stuff I learned".

As soon as she raised her bow for the opening bars of the Debussy Sonata (the first piece on her program), I knew I was in for a LONG night based on her curved wrist, stiff bow, and un-flat bowing.

The ensuing notes and the remainder of the concert convinced my students and I that Heifetz had very little impact on this modern violinist's training.

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A former teacher of mine, who was a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony, remembers having been present when Milstein recorded the Brahms concerto with them. If I recall the story correctly: Six takes of the *entire concerto*... in a row (though in sections, of course). Now *that's* endurance.

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  • 18 years later...
On 1/12/2001 at 3:21 PM, lwl said:

A former teacher of mine, who was a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony, remembers having been present when Milstein recorded the Brahms concerto with them. If I recall the story correctly: Six takes of the *entire concerto*... in a row (though in sections, of course). Now *that's* endurance.

That is a great recording! If you don’t mind me asking who was your teacher? I’m from Pittsburgh.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Three observations. All concerning JH.


The later Soviets playing aggressively (in the vertical axis) is much more plausibly the result of them emulating Heifetz (and Kogan, who was emulating Heifetz himself).

Clearance between the stick and the hair is entirely determined by the bow -- a Tourte with a 20 mm. head height and a Sartory at 17 and change are completely different animals. Watch any old video of Heifetz on that point -- there was a lot of "give" in the Tourte (model) bows he used, but that downward pressure you can see did not squash/crush the string. I recall him telling one student, "More pressure,  less sound."

His luthier said he used different bows for different music. His accompanist in later years (Emanuel Bay), according to the JH website (as I recall) was always trying to persuade him to use the Kittl, as he sounded even better with it, but H preferred to stick with his favorite Tourte as a rule.



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