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Ornamentation in recent recordings of J.S. Bach's Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin

Ornamentation in recent recordings of J.S. Bach's Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin
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  Min-Ad  : Israel Studies in Musicology Online , Vol. 11, 2013/II   Dorottya Fabian – Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin 1 Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin DOROTTYA FABIAN The performance of baroque music changed enormously over the course of the twentieth century. Its history is well documented on sound recordings, and parallels the development of the so-called early music movement that has more recently been referred to as historically informed performance or HIP. Whether or not this style of performing has actual historical verisimilitude is not a concern here. What matters for the current investigation is the fact that, throughout this time, musicians dedicated to playing baroque music according to their understanding of historical sources have established many stylistic conventions that are now associated with HIP. These may resemble eighteenth-century performance practices because they are based on descriptions found in contemporary music treatises and instrumental tutors, and take advantage of the technical and physical characteristics of period instruments. In any case, the resulting sonic characteristics are recognizably distinctive. Many modern publications tally these stylistic conventions and provide information on the constituents of what is currently believed to potentially emulate historical techniques and means of expression. 1  An interesting facet of this literature is how the emphasis of discussion has changed over time. In the earlier twentieth century, publications dedicated most space to ornamentation, collating various historical ornamentation tables and score examples, and debating the nature and execution of grace notes, such as trills and appoggiaturas. 2  The performance of dotted rhythms also received considerable attention, especially in the 1960s and ’70s. 3  However, since the 1980s or so, publications placed more emphasis on the importance of rhetoric and creating a “speaking” quality, on rhythmic projection and flexibility, articulation, metric stresses and accentual patterns. More recently, the topic of ornamentation has been taken up again in relation to improvisation and melodic embellishment, including that of continuo parts. 4  While all this was happening in certain musical circles of increasing influence, many musicians and conservatoires remained steadfast in practicing a “living tradition.” They saw no need for a re-creation of past performing conventions because they maintained that past composers and master performers have handed down the way pieces should be played through 1  Colin Lawson & Robin Stowell,  Historical Performance: An Introduction  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Frederick Neumann, Performance Practices of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries  (New York, Schirmer, 1993); George Houle,  Meter and Music, 1600-1800  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); John Butt,  Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Bruce Haynes, The End of Early Music  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); and many others. 2  The best known are Arnold Dolmetsch, The Interpretation of the Music of the 17th & 18th Centuries  (London: Novello, 1949/1915 [R1969 Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music  (London: Faber, 1963 [2nd edn.: 1965; rev.1974, reprinted with corrections 1975, 1977, rev. 1989, R1990 Putnam Aldrich, Ornamentation in  Bach’s Organ Works  (New York: Coleman-Ross, 1950); Frederick Neumann, Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978). 3  See, for instance, Frederick Neumann,  Essays   in Performance Practice  (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1982), which is a collection of his papers on the topic first published in the mid-1960s. One of the last overviews of the topic is by Stephen Hefling,  Rhythmic Alteration in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Music  (New York: Schirmer, 1993). 4  For instance, the work of lute player Paula Chateauneauf and the Division Lobby or Christopher Suckling’s PhD (in preparation), which explores ornamentation in continuo cello parts (Guildhall and City University London).  Min-Ad  : Israel Studies in Musicology Online , Vol. 11, 2013/II   Dorottya Fabian – Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin 2 their pupils and disciples from one generation to the next. As the HIP project gained strength and credential, and especially since sound recordings have shown how radically performing styles have changed over time, the claim of the “mainstream” to be representing a “living tradition” became seriously challenged. This can clearly be seen by merely looking at the discography of Bach’s six pieces for solo violin. The very first recording on a period instrument occurred only in 1976 (Luca), and there is only one other such version before the mid-1990s (Kuijken in 1982), while mainstream (MS) violinists continued to record the pieces throughout the 1980s. Then, during the second half of the 1990s, it seems that HIP violinists took over with hardly any MS violinist recording the pieces until the middle of the first decade of the new millennium (cf. Discography for detail). Since about 2005, it seems that non-specialist violinists have begun to reclaim these seminal works and make them part of their repertoire, as can be seen from the growing number of recent releases by performers not associated with HIP. For instance, Julia Fischer, Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff, Richard Tognetti, Rachel Barton Pine, Lara St John, Victoria Mullova, Isabelle Faust and Sergej Khatchatryan. Commentators on the history of twentieth-century performing traditions have noted a mutual influence or interaction of MS and HIP. 5  At times, this alleged convergence of styles is evaluated as a sign of increasing homogeneity of practice. However, there are hardly any systematic examinations of recent recorded performances. Compared to the growing literature on early recordings and artists, there is very little hard evidence regarding the characteristics of contemporary performance practice, especially in orchestral and ensemble music but also in relation to Bach’s compositions. 6  In this paper, I intend to put the contemporary performer in the limelight and examine the current situation, at least as far as performances of Bach’s works for solo violin go. I am not searching for the ultimate HIP style, whether prescriptive or descriptive, nor do I wish to compare modern violinists to old ones in an attempt to deliberate whether violinists recording early in the twentieth century had a more unique sound or playing than those making records now. My purpose is to study contemporary practice with a view to evaluating the level of individuality as opposed to homogeneity in approaches to and interpretations of these classic pieces. Although the interaction of MS and HIP styles may manifest in a variety of performance measures, I focus here exclusively on ornamentation and embellishment. Since this is linked closely to individual creativity and spontaneity, this aspect of an interpretation will surely tap into the level of impersonal homogeneity or subjective diversity that may be characteristic of contemporary trends. I studied more than thirty recordings prepared and issued between 1976 and 2010; approximately twenty by non-specialists and ten by period violinists. 7  The age of the violinists varied considerably, the oldest (Oscar Schumsky) was 5  Lawson & Stowell (above, n. 1) also noted the application of “period principles … to mainstream situations” in their book  Historical Performance , 160, whereas Eitan Ornoy demonstrated “clear similarities” between the styles of playing in his paper, “Between Theory and Practice: Comparative Study of Early Music Performances,”  Early Music ,   34/2 (2006): 233-47 (citation p. 243). This trend began when Harnoncourt and other HIP specialists began conducting large symphonic orchestras in the early 1980s, demonstrating that the HIP style was transferable to modern instruments (see Fabian,  Bach Performance Practice, 1945-1975: A Comprehensive  Review of Sound Recordings and Literature  [Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003]). 6  For instance, Robert Philip,  Early Recordings and Musical Styles: Changing Tastes in Instrumental Performance, 1900-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Robert Philip, Performing in the Age of Recording  (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 2003); Timothy Day,  A Century of Recorded Music  (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 2000); Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Changing Sound of Music:  Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performance  (London: CHARM, 2009).   7  The number is approximate because not all of the studied recordings are complete sets of all six Solos (see Discography), and only a selection of them will be commented on in detail.  Min-Ad  : Israel Studies in Musicology Online , Vol. 11, 2013/II   Dorottya Fabian – Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin 3 born in 1917 and the youngest (Alina Ibragimova) in 1985. It is important to take this into consideration when seeking performing trends. Researchers have pointed out that performers tend to form their interpretative styles early in their career, and only rarely change their approach to pieces in a radical way. 8  If true, the longer lives and recording careers of twentieth-century musicians would contribute to the concurrent availability of diverse generational trends, making the assumption of uniformity somewhat counter-intuitive. On the other hand, possible diversity may be nothing more than generational differences. The issue therefore is the trend. Are older musicians more subjective in their style of playing than younger ones? Has the youngest generation turned the tide and, on the wings of postmodern plurality, embraced greater flexibility and subjectivity than was typical for the previous generation who reached maturity during the 1950s to ’80s? I hope this paper will provide some answers to these questions. In my earlier work, I argued that ornamentation, together with the use of period instruments, was less important in establishing the style of a performance than rhythmic projection and articulation. 9  I came to this conclusion in relation to performances from the 1950s to ’70s and, to that extent, I still stand by my opinion. However, in the examination of recordings made since, ornamentation turned out to be one of the most interesting aspects of study; it has emerged as a crucial indicator of how far the HIP movement had developed by the beginning of the new millennium. The choice of apparatus or specializing in baroque repertoire may not be adequate criteria for categorizing violinists in stylistic camps. This was certainly true for recordings of the Bach repertoire up to the 1980s. The analysis now indicates that several other aspects of a performance may get mixed or often even converge (e.g. the use of accents and metrical stresses; dynamics and bowing; tempo and rhythmic rubato), making the distinguishing of MS and HIP styles of articulation and phrasing a complex task. In this situation, ornamentation becomes crucial in contributing to a dividing line. To be precise, it is the level and kind of ornamentation and, significantly, the way it is delivered that make the difference. Ornamentation therefore seems the most obvious signifier of advanced   HIP style. It is in fact a little inaccurate to label it simply ornamentation, as this word refers primarily to trills, appoggiaturas and various other types of short figures contemporary sources indicated (or not) by signs. Although pleasing and certainly in line with historical practice to add such decorations at cadence points, on accented notes and at other suitable moments, their occasional use does not make a huge difference to the overall effect of a performance. In contrast, when smaller note values are played with quasi improvisatory freedom, when such smaller notes are added as melodic embellishments to smooth out melodic lines, to fill or emphasize larger leaps and dissonances, to add energy or weight to structurally important notes, or to vary oft-repeated melodic turns, then the music gains additional stylistic affiliation and character because it sounds freer, more gestural, affect-centered, impulsive, possibly improvised—all desirable characteristics as theorized in eighteenth-century treatises. The richer such detail is and the more spontaneous sounding its delivery, the more it appears to match eighteenth-century performance aesthetics as we understand them today. As a way of gaining an overview of practice, I assigned ratings (1 [a little] to 10 [a lot]) to each recording studied, along three scales: frequency of added graces; extent of added embellishments; and level of improvisational delivery. It is clear from the scores in Table 1 8  See, for instance, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, “Recordings and Histories of Performance Style.” In The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music , ed. Nicholas Cook, Eric Clarke, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson & John Rink (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 246-62.   9  Fabian (above, n. 5),  Bach Performance Practice . The repertoire discussed in the book does not include the solo violin works but is limited to recordings of the two Passions, the six Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations.  Min-Ad  : Israel Studies in Musicology Online , Vol. 11, 2013/II   Dorottya Fabian – Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin 4 that apart from Luca only two other HIP violinists, Huggett and Podger, go reasonably far in this regard in the twentieth century. Since the mid-2000s, non-specialist violinists have been leading the way, with Isabelle Faust and Viktoria Mullova’s very recent recordings taking the lead. But let us not rush ahead and, instead, proceed in a systematic manner.  Min-Ad  : Israel Studies in Musicology Online , Vol. 11, 2013/II   Dorottya Fabian – Ornamentation in Recent Recordings of J.S. Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin 5 Table 1 Summary of subjectively-rated level of ornamentation (1 = a little; 10 = a lot), based on repeated comparative listening. Names of violinists known to be specialist period players are marked by italics. The recordings are listed in order of age of performer Performer; Recording date Added Graces Added Embellishments Improvisational delivery Shumsky 1983 1 1 Ricci 1981† 1 Schroeder 1985 5 3 Poulet 1996 1 2  Luca 1977 7 5 7 Kuijken 1982 3 2 Kuijken 2001 3 1 2 Perlman 1986 Van Dael 1996 4 2 9 Kremer 1980 1 Kremer 2005 1 Wallfisch 1997 2 1 6  Holloway 2004 2 8  Huggett 1995 4 7 9 Mintz 1984 Lev 2001† 1 Mullova 1987* Mullova 2008 8 8 9 Zehetmair 1983 8  Brooks 2001 1 7 Tognetti 2005 8 7 6 Tetzlaff 1994 4 5 Tetzlaff 2005 4 1 6 Schmid 2000 1 1 8 Podger 1998 7 8 8 Faust 2010† 9 8 9 Barton Pine 1999 3 2 Barton Pine 2004† 2 3 Barton Pine 2007 1 5 Ehnes 1999 Hahn 1997† Gringolts 2001† 8 9 8 Fischer 2005 1 Khatchatryan 2010 1 Ibragimova 2008 8 * In 1987, Mullova only recorded the B minor partita. † Only three or fewer works recorded by these violinists. For detail, refer to Discography
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