Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

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Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Could someone point me towards some accessible work on the use of vibrato in singing and violin playing? Developments throughout the years, etc.

I have gathered from my reading that early music aficionados absolutely detest vibrato. Why is that? Isn't vibrato a natural production of sound by the vocal organs? That goes for singing.

What about in violin playing? Doesn't lack of vibrato make the playing dry and astringent? For example, I have two versions of the Korngold Violin Concerto. One by Gil Shahan and the other by Anne Sophie Mutter. Shahan uses much less vibrato than Mutter. I find that I prefer the Mutter because she uses much more vibrato. Somehow the Mutter is more human. Opinions, please?

A music lover currently living in the middle of nowhere. 

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

If it is annoying then it is too much vibrato, if it sounds too dry then it is not enough vibrato.

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Hi all,

 

Found some leads on Wikipedia. Nevertheless, opinions are still most welcome. 

A music lover currently living in the middle of nowhere. 

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Well it seems that some early music aficionados like the dry astringent sound of vibratoless violins, what puzzles me is why this kind of playing took off over the last couple of decades or so? Is it merely the King's New Clothes syndrome? If it was the norm to play without vibrato when & why did it disappear and vibrato become the norm? How do we know baroque music was played without vibrato? For as long as there has been recording, over a century now, violinists have always played with vibrato until the relatively recent arrival of the "authenticists" and period instrument ensembles.

If authenticism is so important why is late romantic music not performed as we know it was? Why do these authenticists not play Elgar, for example, with the swooping portamento that the composer conducted? Why do pianists today not separate the hands and roll chords which historic recordings tell us the likes of Clara Schumann and Liszt pupils did.

Some forms of "authenticism" good: other forms of "authenticism" bad. Why?

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Vibrato is the natural "production" of sound by either the vocal chords or the string instruments, particularly the violin. However, it is not notated and it is at the discretion of the performer. It affects the pitch of a note or even the actual speed of the performance (in the periodic variation of the pitch).

In the Baroque period, the instruments had quite a few limitations. So, any vibrato alienates these works, since it gives them a completely modern approach. If we consider that the old violins and their bows often have the difficulty of playing chords and violinists have to resort to open string playing, any intervention of modern technique along with more modern instruments and bows, having no limitations, make the baroque works sound quite different than they originally did. So, the vibrato actually didn't disappear; it was used rather scarcely, even in the Romantic period. It was Kreisler's recordings that revealed the extensive use of vibrato on violin. In 20th century, it has been established well, since instruments, bows and more modern technic prevailed. There have been efforts to restore the original playing of the Late Romantic Era. However, the modern instruments have prevailed, allowing more flexibility and availability to the performer to tackle the extreme virtuosic difficulties of the works of this period (Liszt, Sarasate, Ysaye, Busoni, etc).

However, it is not the vibrato or the lack of it that matters. It is the beauty of the tone, either in the voice or the violin (or any other instrument), that can affect the essence of the performance as a whole. If, parisboy42, you like Mutter in Korngold more than Shahan, it is because of the former's superb tone (and immaculate technic) vis a vis the latter's less beauteous tone.

What about rubato? (Is anybody interested in initiating a thread?).

Parla

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Parla wrote: "In the Baroque period, the instruments had quite a few limitations. So, any vibrato alienates these works, since it gives them a completely modern approach".

Gosh, I love such irrefutable truths. Conclusion drawn, case shut! Let me entertain you to more:

"In the Renaissance, the English theatres  weren't generally fitted with modern stage technique. So the very idea of representing Hamlet by the aide of such modern contraptions alienates this work".

"It is unlikely that Homer was familiar with the English language so any attempt to translate his poetry alienates him since it gives him a completely modern approach".

 

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

Good try, HMV.

However, in the case of Hamlet, it's more difficult to recreate the period's staging and in Homer's case, it's extremely awkward to learn ancient Greek to enjoy him. So, any modern conventions are welcome.

In Baroque music, we have options now. So, you are free to choose the option that suits you better. I listen to all different (rewarding) options (Karl Richter was a very convincing one), even if I prefer the...original.

Parla

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

HMV, I'm not against any modern approach and eventual performance of older music, like Baroque. I just believe those, who decide to perform with modern technique and instruments, have to go deep enough to the period details, so that they can serve, as convincingly as it gets, these very idiomatic works. Otherwise, they will sound, in the best possible case, as first class "masquerade" performances.

On the other hand, there are quite a few mediocre with original instruments performances and recordings. Original instruments approach is not a panacea.

Parla

RE: Use of vibrato in singing and violin playing

I'm a bit puzzled by this discussion.  I think the original enquiry was about evidence.  But within a very few posts it seems to have developed into a debate about personal preferences.  I'm not sure that this reflection will do more than muddy the waters further, though it has always seemed to me that Sir Roger Norrington's (whom God preserve) discussion of vibrato has a strong element of added mischief and (for the twentieth century at least) not all that much evidence - who, for example, introduced vibrato to an otherwise previously supposed vibrato-less band?  The leader?  That might mean, for example, in the case of the old LSO, WH Reed.   If there is written evidence for this, where is it?   It's not an insignificant question - Reed was a close collaborator of Elgar, himself a violinist, and for a while, the LSO's conductor.   Did Richter's Halle (which premiered Elgar's First Symphony, which Boult heard him rehearse with the LSO) play with or without vibrato?  In either case, Brodsky would have been involved.  Is there anything in writing which throws light on this?  Norrington doesn't go there.  

Anyway, to muddy the waters, I have been thinking about the famous octave passage in Beethoven's E Flat piano concerto, in which the modern piano easily overwhelms the modern strings which try to compete with it.  Beethoven was too deaf to play this in public himself, but his inner ear knew what it should sound like on the instruments of his day.  It's always seemd to me that if any Beethoven orchestral work really should be played on historically correct pianos, and orchestral instruments, this is the one.   But we don't, do we?   If we have persuaded ourselves we like early string instruments, why haven't we persuaded ourselves that we like 1810 vintage pianos?

 

 

 

 

Peter Street

RE: Use of vibrator

Peter Street wrote:

If we have persuaded ourselves we like early string instruments, why haven't we persuaded ourselves that we like 1810 vintage pianos?

Because early stringed instruments sound good as do early wind and brass instruments. Early pianos can sometimes just sound like a bag of nails being hit with a hammer. If early musical instruments sounded terrible to modern ears no one would be interested, but when they bring extra riches which add to our understanding and appreciation of the music they are welcome. Music isn't a dry technical experience, we need to like the sound to be interested. I would like to hear Beethoven's third piano concerto played on period instruments but unfortunately to enjoy it, I think it would probably have to be played on a modern piano with the period instruments.

RE: Use of vibrator

I think it must follow from what Frank Einstein says that the claim to be "historically informed" is fraudulent.   "Historically informed" performances are tailored to  contemporary ears, and any resemblance to "what composers intended" is coincidental.   Is he really saying that what matters is what the audience like to hear, not the composer?  

I'm not sure, by the way, I go along with his view of early pianos all the way.   To at least one highly cultured pair of ears harpsichord sound is on record as being "like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated iron roof", but since that remark was made, a good few folk have made repsctable careers out of just that sound, "historically informed" or not, and it's now part of the accepted gear for performances of anything up to Bach.  

 What audiences liked to hear when I was a lad isn't necessarily what they like to hear now - - and even a popuar audience was happy with Winifred Atwell's 'honky-tonk' piano, once.  

However,  I'm still concerned with the tendency to claim historical authority for fashions in performance that are, on the face of it, very much modern innovations.   There is, for example, a substantial Brodsky archive in Manchester, where he taught for many years.  (When Richter lived in Bowdon there, they were next door neighbours) He didn't record, though he lived until 1929.  I'd feel happier about Norrington's views on Elgar - not to mention Mahler - if he'd actually mentioned Brodsky, or - in passing- that he'd looked at the archive catalogue, even.   Besides teaching violinists in Manchester Brodsky had premiered the Tchaikowsky concerto -(he played it with Beecham and the Halle in Manchester as late as 1915).   You'd think folk would have at least had some curiousity about whether there was any light to be gained from his papers.  

When it comes to eighteenth century playing styles, written sources ARE quoted - lavishly.  But also very selectively.  Leopold Mozart is held to be an authority on how, say, Vivaldi should be played.   But if performance (let alone composition) fashions changed in eighteenth century Europe as rapidly as they do now (and there is no reason to suppose they did not) what players did following Leopold Mozart in the 1960s, and since, can't be a reliable guide to anything.  As though Metallica were to be taken to be a good guide to the Bill Haley repertoire.  In fact there was no conception of a historically enduring repertory, to be studied and edited and constantly performed.  You wrote something new, or disposable, instead.   I agree that this is not about technical exercises, but the nature of classical music performance is bound up with the interpretation of written texts, and history has to be part of the interpretation.  The trouble is the history is often very amateur indeed.  Perhaps it's time listeners became more sceptical about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Street

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