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Before the Chinrest

Before the Chinrest: A Violinist's Guide to the Mysteries of Pre-Chinrest Technique and Style

Stanley Ritchie
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Indiana University Press
Pages: 168
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    Before the Chinrest
    Book Description:

    Drawing on the principles of Francesco Geminiani and four decades of experience as a baroque and classical violinist, Stanley Ritchie offers a valuable resource for anyone wishing to learn about 17th-18th-and early 19th-century violin technique and style. While much of the work focuses on the technical aspects of playing the pre-chinrest violin, these approaches are also applicable to the viola, and in many ways to the modern violin. Before the Chinrest includes illustrated sections on right- and left-hand technique, aspects of interpretation during the Baroque, Classical, and early-Romantic eras, and a section on developing proper intonation.

    eISBN: 978-0-253-00111-5
    Subjects: Music
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: How to Support the Pre-Chinrest Violin (pp. xv-xviii)

    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...

  5. Part 1. Right-Hand Technique
    • General Observations (pp. 1-2)

      Baroque and Classical music requires great subtlety of nuance and tone color and a consequent delicacy of bow control that differs in some ways from that called for in much Romantic music. There are also bow-strokes to be mastered that are especially peculiar to Baroque repertoire.¹ The transition from Baroque-style bows to the design perfected by François Tourte was gradual, and the latter was not in general use until well into the nineteenth century. The exercises that follow and the accompanying commentary are designed to acquaint you with aspects of style and right-hand technique appropriate mainly to the pre-Tourte era....

    • Chapter One Tone Production (pp. 3-5)

      Two words that should never, in my opinion, be used to refer to the contact between hand and bow are “hold” and “grip,” as both suggest some kind of effort. Ideally, in my view, one should balance the bow in the hand as lightly as possible, exerting no physical effort. The following are exercises I prescribe to convey this concept:

      Preliminary exercise: Play a down-bow on the G or D string, and lift the fingers one by one from the stick (4–3–2–1) until only the thumb remains in contact with the bow. It is essential to keep the...

    • Chapter Two Bow-Strokes (pp. 6-14)

      The term “bow-stroke” has different connotations according to the context. In its simple form it defines the various ways in which the bow can be used:détaché, sautillé, legato, martelé, and so on. It can also refer, however, to the passage of the bow across the string or to the way in which a particular player uses the bow. To avoid confusion, therefore, I shall use the word “gesture” to describe what happens when a number of consecutive bow-strokes occur.

      For me a bow-stroke of any kind is the motion of the arm through the air; that one has a...

    • Chapter Three Chordal Technique (pp. 15-19)

      In 1933, in an article in theMusical Times, Albert Schweitzer promoted the idea, originally conceived by musicologist Arnold Schering at the beginning of the twentieth century, that there had once been a bow that could play chords in the Bach solo sonatas and partitas with all the notes sustained. This prompted violinist Emil Telmányi to invent what became known as the “Vega” bow, whose frog was hinged to enable the player to slacken the hair when playing double-stops and chords, and to tighten it with thumb pressure when playing a single line. Recordings made using this device are notable...

    • Chapter Four Bow Division (pp. 20-21)

      “Choreography” is a comprehensive term that I use in my teaching to describe the artful use of bow-strokes to shape a musical phrase. According to Michael Vernon, director of the Ballet Department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, choreography is “the art and craft of marrying steps and movements to music in such a way that the music is illuminated and the combination of music and movement produces an emotion in the spectator that is satisfying and expressively cohesive.” Just as in ballet, then, where the choreographer combines steps and gestures to tell a story or depict an...

    • Chapter Five Swift-Bows (pp. 22-24)

      Here are two exercises that are very useful for developing the ability to pass lightly and rapidly from one end of the bow to the other. This is an invaluable skill in Baroque interpretation: one often encounters a passage in which a light, unaccented up-bow is necessary, as well as gestures requiring a strong but unforced down-bow.

      As I have observed earlier, I define “bow-stroke” simply as the passage of the arm through the air. In the following exercise the complete bow-stroke starts and finishes at the frog:

      Practice this exercise playing the quarter-note at the point, turning the corner...

    • Chapter Six Combination Strokes (pp. 25-26)

      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...

  6. Part 2. Left-Hand Technique
    • Chapter Seven Position-Changing Exercises (pp. 29-34)

      Position refers not to the hand but to the arm. Hence “First-position” is that configuration of the arm that allows the fingers to fall naturally, without extension or contraction, on all the notes between G-sharp on the G-string and B-natural on the E-string.

      Position-changing or Shifting refers to the motion made by the left arm in conveying the hand up or down the fingerboard.

      The Swing: This is the term I use to describe and refer to a lateral motion of the left arm whose principal purpose is to maintain a balanced left-hand position. It is also an essential element...

  7. Part 3. Interpretation
    • Chapter Eight Expression (pp. 37-53)

      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 termscrescendoanddecrescendoordiminuendoare rare until well into the nineteenth century, other...

    • Chapter Nine Dynamics and Nuance (pp. 54-60)

      Until the second half of the eighteenth century expression marks of any kind were relatively rare. Dynamics were limited mainly to the indication of echoes or the use in cantatas and concertos to alert the accompanying instruments that the solo voice was entering or leaving the texture. In mid-century, in the spirit ofSturm und Drang, composers began experimenting with the addition of unusual and dramatic effects, asking performers to make dynamic contrasts in places and ways that, because of their training, would be unexpected. This was the genesis of dynamic indications as we understand them.

      In the Baroque era,...

    • Chapter Ten Tempo (pp. 61-66)

      As early as the sixteenth century Galileo was experimenting with ways of keeping time in music, and before the invention of the metronome in 1815 other means were employed to calculate and indicate appropriate tempi. For the modern player, accustomed to being provided with a metronome mark—the number of “beats” per minute, or a “tempo mark” such asallegrooradagio—the absence of any such indication can at first be confusing and perplexing. The choice of a suitable tempo is influenced by a number of factors, some having to do with the form, some with the music’s technical...

    • Chapter Eleven Ornamentation (pp. 67-75)

      Baroque ornamentation can be classified in three categories: symbolic, notated, and spontaneous. I do not propose to provide an exhaustive catalogue but only briefly describe and illustrate those most frequently encountered in violin repertoire.

      Symbolicnotation of ornaments was most common in French music, but present in all music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Symbols are, by definition, shorthand, and musical symbols, which varied in meaning from one country or composer to another, were usually translated into real notation in prefatory tables or described in scholarly treatises.

      Thegruppoorgroppois usually indicated simply by the word itself,...

    • Chapter Twelve Baroque Clichés (pp. 76-82)

      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 adiminuendoon 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...

  8. Part 4. A Technique and Intonation Practice Guid
    • Chapter Thirteen Tuning (pp. 85-92)

      Intonation is certainly one of the more contentious and complex issues in music-making. Over the centuries theorists have wrestled with the problem of the distribution of the “comma”—the amount by which the octave is exceeded when one tunes only in perfect thirds and fifths. In order to arrive at a pure octave, the comma must be divided into small parts that are subtracted from various intervals within it. A number of different solutions, so-called temperaments, were arrived at in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which made some keys more tolerable than others, but as composers experimented with increasingly chromatic...

    • Chapter Fourteen Exercises Starting with the First Finger (pp. 93-116)

      Use the first finger as the “guiding finger,” keeping it down as long as possible. Play the exerciselegato, varying the number of notes under a slur but usually no more than four and at a moderate tempo, slurring over position changes and string crossings so as not to lose contact with the instrument. Avoid the use of open strings.

      Practice, four notes to a bow, slurring across the position changes. When playing broken thirds it is essential to drop the intermediate (silent) finger simultaneously with the sounding one on a real note, and to be sure to keep all...

    • Chapter Fifteen Exercises Starting on G (pp. 117-135)
    • Chapter Sixteen Half-Position (pp. 136-138)

      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...

  9. Notes (pp. 139-142)
  10. Index (pp. 143-146)
  11. Back Matter (pp. 147-147)