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Dirge

Why I Think Unaccompanied Solo Violin Music Is Unsuitable For The Conc

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I was somewhat snotty about a suggestion that I should look at baroque violin, flute, etc solo music as possibilities for playing recently.(sorry Jim, no offence intended.) I thought I'd explain my view on this.

 

It seems to me that nearly all orchestral instruments have great control over how their note is produced that a concertina doesn't; they can alter the tone and tuning of the notes in significant ways not open to us. We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note. But we can routinely play several notes together. So a concertina can never hope to match the throbbing emotion that a good strings player, say, can create, but we have other compensations. You could say the same about pianos, organs and all sorts. When's the last time you heard a pianist applauded for playing a bare melody line? But equally when did you hear a violinist attempt the Grieg piano concerto? Horses for courses.

 

Change of scene: it's the beginning of the 18th century. Bach wants to write something a bit different, so he does a solo 'cello piece. He knows that it's going to be pretty sparse with the absolute minimum of harmony as that is all the instrument will allow. However his player can be relied upon to ham it up to the nines to recover his audience's interest in the piece, using his 'cello to it's best.

 

Later on he feels like knocking out a number on the harpsichord, an instrument with no tuning or tone variation available (yes it's a single manual one, smart Alec...). This time, if he gave his audience a single line with the occasional harmony note, his reputation would be in tatters, and he knows it. He must dazzle with lively harmony to bring the music to life, to show the instrument's strengths, so that is what he writes.

 

I think that does it.

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Interesting argument and you may well be right.

 

I would just suggest that an important difference between concertina and other "keyboard" instruments is that you have control of volume and hence "shape" throughout the note, and also some degree of control over attack. With the other wind keyboards, organ and harmonium etc you have no control over the shape of the note, and precious little control of attack. With the string keyboards you have control over attack, lots with a piano, a very little with harpsichord, but after that you have lost control entirely and just have the choice when to damp the note. (Let's leave clavichord out of it!)

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Interesting argument and you may well be right.

 

I would just suggest that an important difference between concertina and other "keyboard" instruments is that you have control of volume and hence "shape" throughout the note, and also some degree of control over attack. With the other wind keyboards, organ and harmonium etc you have no control over the shape of the note, and precious little control of attack. With the string keyboards you have control over attack, lots with a piano, a very little with harpsichord, but after that you have lost control entirely and just have the choice when to damp the note. (Let's leave clavichord out of it!)

 

 

I'm not arguing; there was no attempt to suggest they are the same instrument. I wouldn't have even mentioned clavichords...

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No, fair enough, I meant "argument" in the "point of view" sense.

 

Victorian EC enthusiasts seem to have been happy enough with the expressive qualities of the instrument to accept it fairly widely in a violin type role. Obviously it's open to discussion whether its poplarity in this situation waned due to factors inherent in the instrument, or due to social factors related to cheap German concertinas.

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I was somewhat snotty about a suggestion that I should look at baroque violin, flute, etc solo music as possibilities for playing recently.(sorry Jim, no offence intended.) I thought I'd explain my view on this.

 

It seems to me that nearly all orchestral instruments have great control over how their note is produced that a concertina doesn't; they can alter the tone and tuning of the notes in significant ways not open to us. We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note. But we can routinely play several notes together. So a concertina can never hope to match the throbbing emotion that a good strings player, say, can create, but we have other compensations. You could say the same about pianos, organs and all sorts. When's the last time you heard a pianist applauded for playing a bare melody line? But equally when did you hear a violinist attempt the Grieg piano concerto? Horses for courses.

 

Change of scene: it's the beginning of the 18th century. Bach wants to write something a bit different, so he does a solo 'cello piece. He knows that it's going to be pretty sparse with the absolute minimum of harmony as that is all the instrument will allow. However his player can be relied upon to ham it up to the nines to recover his audience's interest in the piece, using his 'cello to it's best.

 

Later on he feels like knocking out a number on the harpsichord, an instrument with no tuning or tone variation available (yes it's a single manual one, smart Alec...). This time, if he gave his audience a single line with the occasional harmony note, his reputation would be in tatters, and he knows it. He must dazzle with lively harmony to bring the music to life, to show the instrument's strengths, so that is what he writes.

 

I think that does it.

 

Your statement that 'some other orchestral instruments can alter the tuning of notes in significant ways not open to us' is I suppose strictly speaking correct in that we have no way of emulating the vibrato of string instruments etc. but to suggest that we simply ' press a key and get given a note' sounds a bit too negative to me! There is still quite a bit that we can do to enhance that given note as I'm sure you will agree ? For instance we can at least attempt to use our bellows in a similar manner to which Larry Adler employed his lungs....even if we fail ! I am not of course comparing like with like and you understand these things far better than I do.

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Victorian EC enthusiasts seem to have been happy enough with the expressive qualities of the instrument to accept it fairly widely in a violin type role. Obviously it's open to discussion whether its poplarity in this situation waned due to factors inherent in the instrument, or due to social factors related to cheap German concertinas.

Or for other reasons.

Then again, even at the peak of its popularity, how many professional -- or acclaimed -- EC players were there vs. violinists of a similar status? ... Or performers on the piano vs. on the (Maccann) duet, in the latter's heyday?

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Are we comparing like with like? How would the Bach solo violin works sound when played by a violinist who has started at the same age, and put in the same number of hours as most concertina players?

 

In an interesting study reported (I think) in New Scientist a number of Music Conservatory students were rated for their career potential against the number of hours they had put in on their instruments. (How that was established, I don't know.) The study found a direct correlation, (as I recall the numbers)

 

Future

- Music teachers 4000 hours

- Orchestral players 6000-8000hours

- Soloists 10000+ hours

 

(One of the interesting things about the study was that they found no exceptions to this correlation, no diligent failures and no lazy geniuses.)

 

It may be untrue, of course.

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As has been pointed out by the likes of Allan Atlas, baroque violin (or flute) music is preoccupied with the melody line more than tonal variation or bowing effects. Obviously a concertina cannot emulate a violin directly, but it can do a pretty good job of playing a melody line, and hence baroque music is fairly well suited to it. (Romantic repertoire would be a different matter.) We probably shouldn't concern ourselves with whether a paying audience of classical snobs would be entertained by the results.

 

For all their difference in tone, a concertina is still closer to the sound-world of a violin (and the flute possibly moreso) than a piano or harpsichord. Its bright timbre arguably favours sparse arrangements. I know we may simply be expressing differences in taste here, but I personally find single-line concertina performances (maybe with limited harmony), whether of classical or folk material, more convincing than attempts to play adaptations of keyboard pieces, which can only really be done with any freedom, as you have regularly pointed out, on the duet. I am yet to hear a duet performance (even of the 'vintage', pro players) in which the left and right hand parts could clearly be separated in the manner of a piano - they always seem to smudge together, the bass notes threatening to overwhelm things. This is okay for polkas, waltzes, and other tunes requiring a thick accompaniment, but seems wrong for classical, except perhaps small-scale organ works.

Edited by LangoLee

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2 things got me thinking about this: we've had a couple of posts by English players of very competent attempts at Bach solo violin pieces and they left me underwhelmed; I felt that, although they were nicely done, the music didn't really come to life. Maybe it is possible to do this, but why, I thought, start with music that doesn't take advantage of the strengths of the instrument and relies heavily on a property whose lack is notable in a squeezebox? On a hiding to nothing, surely?

 

Then there was Danny C, who I think has a lovely touch on the concertina, saying that he felt there was much more potential in the 'cello. Well I'm prepared to believe he knows what he's talking about. That means I either agree with him, or work out where he's wrong. And this is what I think his problem is; trying to play a concertina as if it was a 'cello...

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I was somewhat snotty about a suggestion that I should look at baroque violin, flute, etc solo music as possibilities for playing recently.(sorry Jim, no offence intended.) I thought I'd explain my view on this.

 

It seems to me that nearly all orchestral instruments have great control over how their note is produced that a concertina doesn't; they can alter the tone and tuning of the notes in significant ways not open to us. We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note. But we can routinely play several notes together. So a concertina can never hope to match the throbbing emotion that a good strings player, say, can create, but we have other compensations. You could say the same about pianos, organs and all sorts. When's the last time you heard a pianist applauded for playing a bare melody line? But equally when did you hear a violinist attempt the Grieg piano concerto? Horses for courses.

 

Change of scene: it's the beginning of the 18th century. Bach wants to write something a bit different, so he does a solo 'cello piece. He knows that it's going to be pretty sparse with the absolute minimum of harmony as that is all the instrument will allow. However his player can be relied upon to ham it up to the nines to recover his audience's interest in the piece, using his 'cello to it's best.

 

Later on he feels like knocking out a number on the harpsichord, an instrument with no tuning or tone variation available (yes it's a single manual one, smart Alec...). This time, if he gave his audience a single line with the occasional harmony note, his reputation would be in tatters, and he knows it. He must dazzle with lively harmony to bring the music to life, to show the instrument's strengths, so that is what he writes.

 

I think that does it.

 

Your statement that 'some other orchestral instruments can alter the tuning of notes in significant ways not open to us' is I suppose strictly speaking correct in that we have no way of emulating the vibrato of string instruments etc. but to suggest that we simply ' press a key and get given a note' sounds a bit too negative to me! There is still quite a bit that we can do to enhance that given note as I'm sure you will agree ? For instance we can at least attempt to use our bellows in a similar manner to which Larry Adler employed his lungs....even if we fail ! I am not of course comparing like with like and you understand these things far better than I do.

NO NO NON The harmonica has two vital differences from the concertina,one you can bend notes and two you can overblow

 

Dick. I was thinking of the basic scope for a free reed in ANY context. 'Over blow' is a new one to me. Is it any different to 'over sqeeze', if such a thing were to exist, or have I missed the point again ? What is your definition for 'overblow?... (another new expression to me). Rod

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I was somewhat snotty about a suggestion that I should look at baroque violin, flute, etc solo music as possibilities for playing recently.(sorry Jim, no offence intended.) I thought I'd explain my view on this.

 

It seems to me that nearly all orchestral instruments have great control over how their note is produced that a concertina doesn't; they can alter the tone and tuning of the notes in significant ways not open to us. We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note. But we can routinely play several notes together. So a concertina can never hope to match the throbbing emotion that a good strings player, say, can create, but we have other compensations. You could say the same about pianos, organs and all sorts. When's the last time you heard a pianist applauded for playing a bare melody line? But equally when did you hear a violinist attempt the Grieg piano concerto? Horses for courses.

 

Change of scene: it's the beginning of the 18th century. Bach wants to write something a bit different, so he does a solo 'cello piece. He knows that it's going to be pretty sparse with the absolute minimum of harmony as that is all the instrument will allow. However his player can be relied upon to ham it up to the nines to recover his audience's interest in the piece, using his 'cello to it's best.

 

Later on he feels like knocking out a number on the harpsichord, an instrument with no tuning or tone variation available (yes it's a single manual one, smart Alec...). This time, if he gave his audience a single line with the occasional harmony note, his reputation would be in tatters, and he knows it. He must dazzle with lively harmony to bring the music to life, to show the instrument's strengths, so that is what he writes.

 

I think that does it.

 

Your statement that 'some other orchestral instruments can alter the tuning of notes in significant ways not open to us' is I suppose strictly speaking correct in that we have no way of emulating the vibrato of string instruments etc. but to suggest that we simply ' press a key and get given a note' sounds a bit too negative to me! There is still quite a bit that we can do to enhance that given note as I'm sure you will agree ? For instance we can at least attempt to use our bellows in a similar manner to which Larry Adler employed his lungs....even if we fail ! I am not of course comparing like with like and you understand these things far better than I do.

NO NO NON The harmonica has two vital differences from the concertina,one you can bend notes and two you can overblow

 

Dick. I was thinking of the basic scope for a free reed in ANY context. 'Over blow' is a new one to me. Is it any different to 'over sqeeze', if such a thing were to exist, or have I missed the point again ? What is your definition for 'overblow?... (another new expression to me). Rod

 

I don't know how to re-edit the previous message so shall try again. In the final sentence I meant to ask for a definition for 'bending a note'. Rod

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I think this post from last year's debate regarding "virtuosity" is relevant.

 

In fact, I think the entire thread (181 posts, so far) is worth reviewing, if only to see how extremely varied (and seemingly irreconcilable) are different individuals' preferences and perceptions regarding "music".

 

I can't see that it has much to do with my original observation, unless you are suggesting I am a virtuoso player in which case thank you but you are too kind.

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I think this post from last year's debate regarding "virtuosity" is relevant.

 

In fact, I think the entire thread (181 posts, so far) is worth reviewing, if only to see how extremely varied (and seemingly irreconcilable) are different individuals' preferences and perceptions regarding "music".

I can't see that it has much to do with my original observation, unless you are suggesting I am a virtuoso player in which case thank you but you are too kind.

Dirge, your "original observation" included:

It seems to me that nearly all orchestral instruments have great control over how their note is produced that a concertina doesn't; they can alter the tone and tuning of the notes in significant ways not open to us. We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note.

In his post, David contradicts that claim, proposing well-known concertina player Noel Hill as a counterexample.

 

We, on the other hand, like other keyboard instruments, press the key and get given the note.

Surely that's not all you do to get music out of your concertinas? If it were, then I don't think your Maccanns would be any better suited to your musical preferences than you seem to think my English is suited to violin music.

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Can you imagine playing this air, this movingly, on anything other than a fiddle or a flute?

 

At any rate I can't imagine it on a concertina. And I do love the concertina.

 

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And do you think that the piano adds anything to this exquisitely played air?

I think it would be better played without accompaniment.

 

Edited by David Levine

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And do you think that the piano adds anything to this exquisitely played air?

I think it would be better played without accompaniment.

 

yes I agree about the accompaniment,but it is possible to play airs on a concertina with feeling,here is an example

my point is that it is different,we cant do glissandos properly [imo]but we can do vibrato,and can play with expression

 

I know this is completely irrelevant and off topic, but is it easier to play English concertina standing up than Anglo?

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the music Dick. Many thanks for posting it.

 

Nigel

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Can you imagine playing this air, this movingly, on anything other than a fiddle or a flute?

Well, yes.
:)

At any rate I can't imagine it on a concertina. And I do love the concertina.

I certainly can imagine it on the concertina... English, anglo, or duet. And I can imagine it played very beautifully in a number of different styles.

 

It's a lovely air. (One of many, I might say. I love slow airs. :))

 

And Brid does a nice job of it, but -- in my opinion -- nothing exceptional, except that her vibrato is a bit heavy for my taste.

 

And do you think that the piano adds anything to this exquisitely played air?

Oh, it definitely adds something. Whether you like what it adds is something else again. ;)

 

I think it would be better played without accompaniment.

You, David, apparently don't like what it adds. Neither do I, but why not? After all, Eugene himself apparently does like it.

 

Well, Eugene grew up in Ireland at a time when musical tastes -- even "traditional" musical tastes -- were different from what is popular today, especially in the international folk and ITM "Irish music" cultures. No bouzoukis, bodhrans, or even guitars, but piano was considered a necessity when performing. I know from personal experience that Eugene can play beautifully with no accompaniment at all, but playing with accompaniment, and particularly piano, is something he learned to both expect and love early in life.

 

His style of playing the fiddle is also quite different from most of today's popular fiddlers. The text with the video notes his classical training, but it's more than that. It's a style that in an earlier era was considered very desirable. I tend to associate it with both the concert stage and "drawing room" performances, but mainly I know it as something revered by my parents' and grandparents' generations.

 

Now why don't I like the piano? I think it's too heavy and too harsh. I think part of that is the sound of that particular piano, which I don't feel fits with Eugene's playing on those airs. Interestingly enough, I found myself imagining the same accompaniment played on harpsichord, and I think I might like that combination. (Short pause as I dug out the LP of Seán Ó Riada playing traditional Irish music on the harpsichord. I'll have to give that a fresh listen in the morning. :))

 

Yes, I know those airs would be wonderful with no accompaniment at all, but I think they can also be lovely with accompaniment, if it's done tastefully. Tastes, however, can vary, and proof is in the fact that we both love Eugene's playing, but not his own choice of accompaniment.

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