Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas: Setting the New Performance Standard

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas are among the most famous works of chamber music history and represent, together with Mozart’s works for this instrument duo, the core of violin repertoire from the Viennese Classicist period.

Though composed in a short span in Beethoven’s creative life (nine of the ten were written between 1798 and 1803, with the final one appearing in 1812), these sonatas bear all the marks of Beethoven’s compositional innovation: the breaking of formal tradition, a vast emotional scope, skillful musical manipulation, and, of course, the trademark urgency and power.

The new Bärenreiter edition of the violin sonatas — or, as more appropriately titled by Beethoven himself, sonatas for the pianoforte and violin — offers a revolutionary editorial approach to the music that does more than simply hand down the text.

These new volumes, edited by historical performing practice expert Dr. Clive Brown, present an approach to performance that is quite different from what most of today’s musicians are accustomed to. This approach not only falls much more in line with what Beethoven would have expected, but also imbues the music with a renewed vigor and offers musicians an incredible array of opportunities for creativity.

“This is the highest quality of academic scholarship, but it is not only that: this edition has enabled me to bring these sonatas to life in a way that has not been possible before – this is historical research in the service of living and breathing music!”

Viktoria Mullova, Violinist

Here violinist Viktoria Mullova and pianist Alasdair Beatson demonstrate some of their most illuminating discoveries from the “Spring” Sonata (Op. 24) and show us why they’re excited to work with these new editions:

The Editorial Approach

Dr. Brown’s new editions of the Beethoven violin sonatas combine a traditional scholarly Urtext approach with a wealth of information on historical performing practice informed by the thorough study of recordings and editions made by 19th-century musicians, many of whom had direct contact with Beethoven himself or with others that did.

These historical sources reveal a striking discrepancy between performance and notation. Composers in Beethoven’s era, including Beethoven himself, simply did not write down a large swath of the expressive gestures that they would have expected musicians to make, including rhythmic and tempo flexibility, piano arpeggiation and asynchrony, portamento, cadenzas, and ornamental, rather than continuous, vibrato effects.

By not including these details in the text, composers created a space bursting with potential for the creative performer to exploit in what could and, most importantly, would be wildly distinctive and thrillingly emotional performances. In many respects, it was a creative freedom much more akin to jazz than to today’s renditions of classical music.

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The Inspiration behind ABRSM’s Bowed Strings (2020-2023) Syllabus

Guest post by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)

ABRSMLogoAfter months of practice and anticipation, performing in a music exam can feel like an adrenaline-fuelled sprint to the finish line that passes in a blur of pieces, scales and musical tests. As an exam board, we know that exams can be stressful, and we at ABRSM want to make sure that learners’ exam experiences are as positive as possible. To make sure that learners can really succeed, we carefully select exam syllabus pieces that allow them to demonstrate their talents. We live for inspiring and challenging learners!

If a music exam is a sprint, then our experience of putting together an exam syllabus is more of an endurance event involving a huge amount of music. We take an open approach to our syllabus creations, and for ABRSM’s Bowed Strings syllabus (2020-2023) we: ran multiple surveys with teachers, learners and examiners; engaged a variety of strings consultants; and had several ruthless stages of revisions.

BoysDoubleBassRSMFor this Bowed Strings syllabus (2020-2023), we wanted to focus on the joy of playing with other musicians. Refreshing our syllabus as an instrument family for the first time since 1985 gave us the opportunity to encourage ensemble skills and re-think how our stringed instruments interact. more “The Inspiration behind ABRSM’s Bowed Strings (2020-2023) Syllabus”

From Sketch to First Edition: The (Almost) Seamless Source Documentation of Edward Elgar’s Violin Sonata – from G. Henle Verlag

Guest post by Dr. Norbert Müllemann, Editor-in-Chief of G. Henle Verlag

Elgar
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Many Urtext editions and their sources cross the desk of an editor at the G. Henle publishing house – but we are seldom dealing with such a comprehensive source documentation as is the case with Elgar’s violin sonata. Nearly ever step of the work’s genesis can still be retraced today, and yet in preparing this edition its editors were constantly confronted with unresolved issues – how could that be?

In August 1918 Elgar’s wife, Alice, mentions in her diary: “E. writing wonderful new music, different from anything else of his. A. [i.e., Alice herself] calls it wood magic. So elusive and delicate.” The start of work on this “Wood magic [reference to the location of their country manor near the Fittleworth woods in West Sussex?]” is captured in sketch material. We see literally how Elgar initially recorded crucial themes that he wanted to develop further later on. Before the first accolade of what is apparently the first sketch, you will find Elgar’s remark: “1. idea.” This “first idea” consists of the opening bars of the first movement, and it appears that Elgar actually worked through the entire sonata from “start to finish.” The sketches for the 2nd movement play a special role here, for here he enshrined in music his response to sad news from his circle of friends (a death and an illness). This is existential music that Elgar sent — an exceptional instance — in the sketch stage to the woman friend injured in an accident, so that she could share in the composition: “This I wrote just after your telegram about the accident came & I send you the pencil notes as first made at that sad moment.” The sketches still extant today are in fact snapshots giving us an insight into Elgar’s workshop. more “From Sketch to First Edition: The (Almost) Seamless Source Documentation of Edward Elgar’s Violin Sonata – from G. Henle Verlag”

10 Interesting Facts About the Violin

By Brendan Lai-Tong

Sheet Music Plus Violin

Here are some interesting facts about the violin that you may not have known:

  1. The modern violin has been around for roughly 500 years. It was said to have been designed in the 1500’s by Andrea Amati.
  2. Playing the violin burns approximately 170 calories per hour. Forget about your workout and start practicing harder!
  3. Violins are typically comprised more “10 Interesting Facts About the Violin”