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8. Expression

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

If there is one clue that should help us understand the rarity of dynamics and other indications of expression in much of the music composed before the end of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the nineteenth, it is that musicians of the period were provided with a set of basic rules of interpretation that simplified their professional life. Francesco Geminiani’s treatise lays out many of these, as do those of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Leopold Mozart, and Daniel Gottlob Türk. Indeed, even the terms crescendo and decrescendo or diminuendo are rare until well into the nineteenth century, other than where it would not be normal to use them. One may find the word crescendo on groups of slurred notes, which, according to Leopold Mozart, should normally fall away dynamically, but decrescendo hardly ever. For example, in the entire orchestral score of Beethoven’s first piano concerto only one decrescendo is indicated, and that occurs in the twelve measures of string accompaniment leading to the coda of the finale, which start pianissimo and get progressively softer!

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12. Baroque Clichés

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

The literature of Baroque music contains certain melodic and rhythmic patterns whose occurrence is so frequent that they are considered to be clichés. I devote this chapter to revealing several of them, with correct and incorrect ways of interpreting them. Here is one of the most common:

In this example the suspended C becomes a dissonance on the third quarter that then resolves on the B. It is therefore incorrect to make a diminuendo on that note, and certainly not a rest, which transforms the B into a pickup to the C. It is best to lift the bow slightly on the bar-line. Try fitting the words “I’m going home” to the melodic line: this phrase exemplifies the articulation appropriate to such a figure.

When playing groups of slurred notes it is important to respect the Baroque and Classical convention according to which the slur infers a diminuendo. When two, three, or four notes are slurred there will always be a diminuendo. Thus:

Pairs of slurred, leaping sixteenth-notes are among the most common:

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Introduction: How to Support the Pre-Chinrest Violin

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

Learning to support the violin without the aid of a chin or shoulder rest can be frustrating at first—many times I have had a modern violinist come to my studio from practicing virtuoso repertoire and say, “I feel like a beginner!”—but patient and consistent application of the following principles can result in relative comfort. Personally, as a modern violinist, having already succeeded in ridding myself of the shoulder rest and then playing Baroque violin for a few years, I discovered how little I really needed to use the chinrest!

First, it is essential that the body be as relaxed as possible. The left shoulder must remain low so that it never comes in contact with the back of the violin other than briefly when shifting down from a very high position. This is to ensure that the instrument be at all times free to vibrate naturally—to ring like a bell—and that the sound not be muted or constricted.

To help achieve this I suggest that you start by sitting down, facing directly ahead. Shoulders lowered, raise the violin straight in front of you to place it on your collarbone, which is a natural platform. In the interest of optimal relaxation of the neck and shoulders you should avoid the customary modern manner of angling the violin far to the left and looking along the fingerboard: rather, look straight ahead with the instrument at an angle of approximately 30°. The violin should rest on your collarbone, slightly tilted downward to the right, with the tailpiece beneath your left ear. In this way, should you find it necessary to use your jaw to stabilize the instrument or provide brief support, you may touch it to the tailpiece1 instead of the top of the instrument. It also helps to have an overlapping piece of chamois attached to the button that secures the tailpiece, in order to prevent the instrument from slipping on one’s clothing and also to absorb perspiration. Do not let the violin droop but instead elevate the scroll slightly above the horizontal—you will find this especially helpful in downward position changes by preventing the instrument from falling away from you. One should never grasp the neck of the violin but rather rest it on the thumb as one of three points of support, the other two being the collarbone, as described above, and—most important in the beginning stages especially—the bow. To convey this concept I use a simple image: imagine that your instrument is filled with helium and that it will float away unless you use the bow to hold it down!

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16. Half-Position

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

When playing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, one frequently encounters passages such as the excerpt below, from the final chorale of Cantata 138, that require the use of half-position, or at least fall more readily under the fingers when half-position is used. Here, therefore, are some exercises to help you to become more comfortable with its use—the arpeggiated one is but a sample: you should improvise others. Be sure to sustain the fingers on the string for as long as indicated:

In these rapid excerpts from Bach’s Cantata 138, it is necessary to change to half-position and then back again. Playing in fourth position is not an option due to the need for tonal clarity.

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6. Combination Strokes

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

A characteristic style of Baroque articulation is one in which slurred and separate articulations occur. In such cases the swift-bow techniques described above come into play:

The first pattern should be played in the lower half, where, on each retake, with the forearm raised so as to suspend it, the bow will rise easily from the string. The second will feel more comfortable in the upper half.

Each one, though, can be played with a “walking” bow-stroke, using the Z-bowing technique described earlier. This will result in, and should be used for, a subtler, less energetic affect. Obviously, then, the first pattern will start in the lower half and work its way down to the point and the second will “walk up” from point to frog:

A useful exercise is to join the two together thus, walking from one end of the bow to the other and back, but still taking care to observe the nuances indicated:

I must distinguish here between situations in which normal alternation of bow direction is indicated and those that call for a double down-bow, as in certain dance movements. The following passage from a trio sonata by Biber, for example, is a dance tune whose sprightly energy suggests retaking the bow in order to give the notes equal emphasis:

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