Using a variety of primary sources and scholarly interpretations, noted keyboard pedagogue Donna Gunn offers a guide on Classical Era piano performance practice that is at once accurate to the scholarship and accessible to the performer. Gunn surveys and explains eighteenth-century music notational language, and from this develops tools that get at the heart of the otherwise enigmatic sound aesthetic of the era. Through over music examples, Gunn provides specific answers to performance questions regarding period influences on the modern piano, including technique, dynamics, articulation, rhythm, ornamentation, and pedaling. A Companion Website houses recordings of three versions for each music example that demonstrate different interpretations and deliveries. Gunn encourages the reader to study the sources, listen carefully, and experiment with the past in the present. Remarkably researched and engagingly written, Discoveries from the Fortepiano is an indispensable aid to any pianist who seeks both an academically and artistically sound approach to performing in the Classical Era style.
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Both would gain international recognition over the next few decades, but their notoriety and respect would decline by the end of the century, only to rise again decades later. Six months later came the second progeny, carrying an equally weighty name but known to us in English as A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing—sometimes referred to simply as the Violinschule. Initially, it appeared that the treatise would be the more influential of the two and would enjoy greater longevity.
Wolfgang was musically gifted and became known throughout Western Europe as a child prodigy, but people began to lose interest in him when he entered his teens and seemed likely to become just another common Austrian musician.
The treatise, in contrast, was a tremendous and longstanding success. It was soon translated into French and Dutch; a second German edition, with just a few revisions, came out in , and this was reprinted unchanged in and again in After that time it fell prey to editors and abridgers, and before long it was supplanted by more up-to-date treatises taking note of advances in violin making and performance technique.
Not until did a full translation by Editha Knocker appear in English, currently available from Oxford University Press. Leopold was certainly a solid composer, though no innovator, and as a violinist and teacher he valued steady, assured, tasteful playing free of gaudy effects and tricks that disguised poor technique.
He seemed to be unfamiliar with earlier treatises on violin playing by Michel Corrette and Francesco Geminiani, for he touted his Violinschule as the first of its kind. By the time Wolfgang was seven, he and his older sister Nannerl had developed such impressive musical skill that Leopold decided to take them on the road. On June 9, , father, mother, son, daughter, a servant, and presumably a few copies of the Violinschule set off by coach for a tour of Europe.
Leopold spent seven out of the next 11 years on the road with Wolfgang, and wondered bitterly why he never got promoted to kapellmeister in Salzburg. Leopold directed his Violinschule more toward teachers than students; in it, he offered hints on pedagogy and practice, and he stated explicitly that his aim was to reform bad teaching, and thereby improve the musicality and accuracy of violin playing.
Perhaps because he was writing for fellow teachers, he felt free to go off on a few tangents the folly of intricate scroll design, for instance and indulge in some rustic Austrian folkisms.
Nor could he fail to be impressed by his knowledge of the classics and of the general literature of his own day. And this is the very reason why everything seems so fabulous. Who knows? Perchance the poets of future centuries may have cause enough to celebrate as gods our present-day virtuosi of song, for it really seems as if old times might return.
Advertisement Leopold could be a tough customer, though. If they do not believe this, let them ask me concerning it. At first glance, its contemporary application would seem limited. He insists that each bar not beginning with a rest should start with a down bow. Yet the treatise tells us a great deal about how string music of the midth century was played—or, at least, how Leopold believed it should be played, with detailed accounts of a wide assortment of trills and embellishments, with names that sound like Viennese confections.
The Violinschule also provides tips that are useful in music from many periods. Legato, it turns out, was very important to Leopold. He came to insist that each left-hand finger be left in place until it absolutely had to move; this would, among other things, produce a smoother legato.
He also focused attention on the freedom of the right elbow and hand, insisting that one should keep the bow arm low while tilting the violin toward the E-string side to allow freer wrist action. From the most basic things such as his bowing exercises, right up to his words of wisdom on the subjects of fingering, articulation, and ornamentation, it is, with the Geminiani book and the Tartini writings, our most important 18th-century information about how the violin was taught and therefore played.
Not so violinist Kenneth Goldsmith, a professor at Rice University who has taught students from age eight through graduate school of all eras. Goldsmith insists that any string player can learn much about 18th-century music from Leopold Mozart. He puts a lot of things down for the ages that we need to remember. Of course, most modern violin students have to play Mozart concertos for auditions where other considerations may have priority—such as how the listening panel expects or wants to hear Mozart played!
In my experience, very few modern violin students are interested in performance-practice issues, and the majority want to be told what to do.
So Leopold is valuable up to music of the middle of the 19th century in his advice on bowing, and playing on and off the string, and rhythms and fingerings. Look at his glissandos—he uses all the slides that the Romantics used. Producing Wolfgang was no small achievement, either.
A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing
A Reexamination of Leopold Mozart’s Famous Violin Pedagogy
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