Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Keyboard artist and researcher Jochewed Schwarz talks about early keyboard instruments and what we know and don't know about historic performance

Photo: Lauren Pressler
In June and July of 2020, Jochewed Schwarz and I met at her home in Kfar Saba, Israel. Ms. Schwarz talked of her life as a musician, about her career and her approach to early music. The Israeli-born harpsichordist and early keyboard artist is a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music (now the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music) Tel Aviv, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensas (Switzerland) and the Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University. Jochewed Schwarz is active as an international soloist and chamber musician in leading concert series, has recorded for Israeli radio and for the Meridian and Toccata Classics labels and has taught at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music. She is often invited as guest lecturer in different countries and was granted the 2011 Israeli Artist Residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. For six years, she served as director of the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library, Tel Aviv.

 PH: Jochewed Schwarz, you have studied piano, performance on early keyboard instruments, historical keyboard construction, keyboard instrument maintenance...and Law. How does one combine all of these disciplines in one career?

JS: Well, it's a rather long story…
I had and still have a great passion for music. As a child I played the piano and eventually studied piano at the Tel Aviv Music Academy with Edith Kraus before my military service (in the "academic reserve" unit). As a student, I would get to the Academy early in the morning to look for a practice room. In those days, the building was much smaller than today. I arrived there one day to find that all the piano practice rooms had already been taken. There was only one room free and that was a room with a harpsichord. I had never "met" or played a harpsichord before; So, I took its cover off, opened it, started playing it and really forgot myself - I liked the sound very much. And that’s how it all started. I looked for someone to teach me. There was hardly a harpsichord class at the Music Academy. Boris Berman played harpsichord; a few people were studying with him, so I became a student of his, graduating from the Academy in both piano and harpsichord.
After two years of military service I continued my studies at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Switzerland, a school and research centre for Historic Performance Practice. I focused on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano.  
Following my return from Basel, intent on performing and developing my career, I realized how difficult it would be to manage financially. While maintaining my musical career, I decided to return to the university to study Law. That was also very interesting.
Since completing law school some twenty years ago, I have been dividing my time between the two careers, but not always equally. There have been years when I engaged more in the legal profession, but then less so over the last decade, when I engaged in much more musical activity. But studying law had its advantages: I had acquired another discipline, seeing life from a new angle, as well as achieving financial independence.

PH: So where do the studies in construction and maintenance of historic instruments come in?

JS: This also happened for practical reasons. Returning from Basel, I brought back a harpsichord, a French model - Blanchet (c.1730) - from the William Dowd workshop in Paris. In those days, it was not easy to find technicians in Israel for harpsichord upkeep, so I decided it would be best if I myself looked after its “needs". I was able to carry out the simpler tasks, such as changing strings and plectra. But, with the Israeli climate very different to that of Europe, in particular the high humidity here, other problems arose and, in order to address them, I felt I would need to have more technical know-how. In addition, I was curious to familiarize myself with the harpsichord action in more depth. Unlike the piano, there are many styles and types of harpsichord with which I felt I needed to become acquainted.
So, some years after returning to Israel, I went off again, this time to do an apprenticeship for two months at Reinhard von Nagel’s early keyboard studio in Paris. There, I gained some knowledge on solving more complex problems than just changing strings and plectra. Today, I could not claim to be an expert technician and would not take on the responsibility of working on other people’s instruments, but I do have an understanding of the action, the soundboard and what one can do to maintain an instrument. I now have several keyboard instruments, which is wonderful, but all of them need some work from time to time, and it's great to be able to "do it yourself".

PH: Are you from a musical family?

JS: No. Not at all. My parents were both child Holocaust survivors, were not able to complete even their basic education and immigrated to Israel as young adults. At home, we would sing – both my parents sang well and loved listening to music. They did give my brother and me whatever they could, including a good, solid music education, the ability to dream and the determination to make a dream come true. With me, music became my big love. My brother plays the recorder quite well but engages in music only as a hobby.

PH: Who has influenced you in the world of early music performance?

JS: It really is hard to say. First and foremost, I owe a lot to my teachers, especially to Boris Berman, my first harpsichord teacher at the Rubin Music Academy. Of the many things he taught me was the importance of getting to know early repertoire.
When studying in Basel, I was greatly influenced by my teacher there, Rolf Junghanns. He had been a student of pianist, harpsichordist, conductor and musicologist Fritz Neumeyer, who, in turn, had been a student and colleague of Curt Sachs, musicologist and music ethnologist as well as the founder of modern organology (the study of music instruments). Junghanns was very thorough: he addressed touch and technique as well as theory-based interpretation. But, the emphasis of this school of thought was on two aspects of music-: being familiar with the many early instruments and getting to know as wide a variety of repertoire as possible. Junghanns himself owned a large collection of keyboard instruments, located, at the time, in a health resort close to Freiburg im Breisgau – Bad Krozingen, Germany. This fantastic, playable collection, the many concerts that were given there (which I could always attend) and Rolf’s vast knowledge have equipped me with a very special perspective.
Different in approach to other people of that time, he understood and emphasized (apart from technique and the repertoire) the great importance of knowing from what background a work had come. He taught me to dare and look for the unfamiliar, to be very cautious of convention when playing, to take careful note as to who had written the piece, what his style was, at what time it was composed, for what purpose, what instrument the composer had (or might have had) at his disposal, what else he had written in the same genre...in short, to put together a profile via a larger view of the repertoire.  To some extent, Rolf Junghanns and Boris Berman shared similar characteristics in their artistic approach. For both, what was important was to be curious about everything, to read essays and treatises and peruse all possible information. This school devoted a lot of time to the study of background information and not only to performance. 
Regarding other harpsichordists who have had an influence on me, this would be a very long list. I love listening to other players; there are so many inspiring musicians I have been lucky to listen to their playing live and to so many recordings… I could, however, mention some of the players hosted by the Schola Cantorum at the time I was there for masterclasses.
One was the Belgian musician Jos Van Immerseel, who also possessed a large collection of instruments; he, himself, is better known today as a fortepianist and conductor. Gustav Leonhardt visited the Schola annually, often teaching 17th-century repertoire; the way he presented a subject and the examples he brought to his lessons have left a lasting impression on me. Anthony Woolley dealt with the lute song in his eye- or rather ear-opening masterclasses. Of the faculty members there in whose classes I participated was Johann Sonnleitner; he always made connections between texts and music and he had a wonderful sense of humour.  I made a point of attending Jordi Savall’s lessons; they were informative and innovative...very interesting.
As to harpsichord recordings, my first strong impression was of Wanda Landowska's recording, of Bach's fifteen Inventions with the Concerto d minor. I didn't like the Pleyel harpsichord sound but hers was a very charismatic performance. There are so many fantastic harpsichordists! Mentioning only a few does injustice to a great many wonderful musicians, but I simply cannot mention all.
However, maybe Violet Gordon–Woodhouse, another pioneer of early keyboard instrument playing; Igor Kipnis, Kenneth Gilbert, Scott Ross, Davitt Moroney, Bob van Asperen, Ottavio Dantone, Pierre Hantai, Olivier Baumont… and I take pleasure in the “harpsichord personality” of each and every one of them. Those I listen to most scrupulously are the players who have made connections between musicological research and performance; that is very characteristic of Moroney’s approach, for example.
But it is not just harpsichordists. I absolutely love vocal music of all times, enjoy 19th-century symphonies and, of course, always have a place in my heart for chamber music…
PH: Where do you stand vis-à-vis the authentic early music performance movement?

JS: I am not sure one can reach any decisive point of authenticity in performance, but I do think and believe that, as far as possible, it is worth aspiring to understand in which musical world a composer existed in order to hold a dialogue with a work of his in the way that would be closest to what he might have imagined or wished to hear, the sound of instruments or media at his disposal and to his ideas and musical language. A work of art, including a musical composition, has a context which I feel must be respected, in the case of music this being sound, melody and harmony, tempo, rhythm and much more. Of course, one can only aspire to knowing all there is to know, without reaching any decisive point, and there will certainly be my own personal understanding, preference, musical ideas which I bring to my interpretation.  
I remember a concert I heard many years ago played by an early music ensemble at the Tzavta Hall in Tel Aviv - one of the more modern halls, its construction consisting of much concrete. One of the players introduced the concert program saying: “This Is what it would have sounded like in Mozart’s time”. Such a presentation was needed then in order to make a point, to show differences and explain artistic decisions taken. Today, of course, we would not be making this kind of error. With time, I think we have come to realize that we will never have the possibility of knowing exactly how music sounded in any specific time and place. And it's not only the inability to know things "for sure". When you read a book, it is not just the book’s text that is involved in your reading: you bring your own personality and life experience to the way you understand it; a meeting point is created…this is inevitable.
Preparing a composition for performance is a long process which anyway may produce various results. In playing a work, I don’t think I have ever performed it twice in exactly the same way, in any “authentic” manner; and I cautiously suggest that the ideal performance of a composer's work does not exist as the "one and only" possibility. A performance also depends on the acoustics of the music room or hall, on the instrument being played and on the audience present at any specific performance. And I would rather think of “historic” performance according to my philosophy, if I may say - “historically informed performance” is what I would prefer to call it, rather than “authentic”. 

PH: Do you play chamber music?

JS: Yes. A lot of it and with great joy. I love playing music with other people and have played a great deal of chamber music. This was my major focus all through the years before I took on directing the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and Library. The job there meant my having to limit my chamber music playing due to time constraints and to do more solo playing.
At home, I have been running a series called “Concert & Coffee”. Till now, the events have taken place twice or three times a year, but next season, if possible, I plan increasing the number of house concerts to as many as possible. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to perform in Israel because of the high cost of moving the harpsichord to various venues.
Overseas, I am able to perform in venues that have historic instruments in place, which makes it easier.  But I am looking forward to returning to the long-established tradition of salon concerts. 

PH: Would you like to talk about your partnership with harpsichordist Emer Buckley?

JS: Yes, of course. Emer and I have much in common, in that we both come from small countries in which, at the time we were both students, the tradition of early music performance was very sparse. Emer is Irish. She studied in Dublin and in Italy and then in France, where she studied with Kenneth Gilbert. We were both very enthusiastic about playing the harpsichord, having encountered the instrument at our academies of music.
We have been close friends for decades. We met at our harpsichord maker's workshop - Atelier Reinhard von Nagel. During 2011, when I had a six-month artist residency at the Cité internationale des arts (Paris), we met often and decided to use the time for playing together. From the moment we started playing together, we have found so much enjoyment in it we cannot stop! Our work together is rewarding: we hardly speak, taking up ideas from each other as we play. Either I go to Paris or she comes to Israel and we engage in long playing sessions, but not before each has worked through the material alone. We both carry out much research.
Repertoire for two harpsichords that is in print or even written out is limited. But there are many different verbal descriptions from various sources and suggestions here and there for the practice of playing musical compositions written for other instruments – on two harpsichords or two keyboards. We do not only play existing scores but are constantly trying out all sorts of works, arranging music, looking for- and thinking about musical possibilities. This is very enjoyable.

PH: Some years back, you ran the “Sounds and Words” series.

JS: Yes. This was a concert series I initiated and in which I was involved with for nearly twenty years. At first it was called “Sounds and Colours” and was a collaboration with flautist Erella Talmi (the concerts were held in various art galleries; we looked for connections between the plastic arts and musical repertoire). Later, with traverso player Geneviève Blanchard, the series became called "Sounds and Words from the Baroque", our approach emphasizing historical performance practice. The focus was a question we asked ourselves: what had taken place in a certain year, or in a specific genre, what was happening with a certain vocal colour or timbre and so on. 

PH: You are about to complete a six-year tenure, in which you have directed the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library.

JS: Yes. The Music Center houses a large library - a public music library. The former A.M.L.I Central Music Library, it is the largest and only one of its kind in Israel. It was established almost 70 years ago. The library comprises very interesting archives and there is a musical instrument collection, mostly of folk instruments, built up from many contributions and preserved there. The centre provides music information for all music lovers: teachers, students, musicians, amateurs, journalists, researchers and whoever else is interested. The archives offer a service to the academic world, to people engaging in communications - films, television programs, to people conducting research and writing books, newspaper articles both in Israel and overseas. It even serves to help people carrying out genealogical research. We have had more than one instance of people looking for family roots and who, through us, have ended up discovering previously unknown details or even unknown skills of family members.
The musical instrument collection has great value in that it can widen musicians’ perspectives on sound possibilities. It is important for us, musicians from one field of expertise, namely "art music", to get to know other fields. For example, kamenche player Mark Eliahu can be heard in the television spy series “Teheran”, for which he has written the soundtrack. An outstanding artist, he plays on instruments unfamiliar to westerners. Visiting the FBMC’s instrument collection can acquaint the public with this and other wonderful instruments.
The library also offers opportunities to the general public to get to know other disciplines - music therapy, music via the computer, film music, etc.
Throughout my six years there, I have made huge efforts to expand the collections, to present some of them on open shelves in order to make browsing possible; also, to gain new patrons and make the library appealing to children. For example, we have collected and added many children’s books about music as well as educational musical instruments, in order to enable parents to present the world of music to children in an attractive way. For adults, we have also built up a collection of novels that have some connection to music; there are many such books by writers like Natan Shaham, Vikram Seth, Batya Gur and Uri Adelman, to mention just a few, these ranging from high-quality literature to some fine detective novels, all with some element of music, bringing people closer to music. For those interested in playing music we have built up a modest collection of instruments - guitars, pianos and more, which can be used there, subject to availability. The library has sheet music, informative books and a huge collection of discs and records. It has something for everyone. 

PH: Now that you are leaving your position as the director of the Felicja Blumental Music Center, what is on the agenda?

JS: I will be devoting more time to playing music, discovering it again in all its fascinating aspects, and I hope to be teaching again. I have also begun PhD studies at Haifa University and am enjoying that very much!

PH: What music is occupying you at the moment?

JS: What I can say with confidence is that there is no day without Bach. This has to be. Either I play through some Bach works or work on a specific piece. At the moment, I am also working on Couperin’s Book 4; it is so different from his other collections…I find keyboard music of the second half of the 18th century, bridging the harpsichord and the fortepiano very interesting and my plans include covering works of all Bach’s composer sons. I am interested in understanding more closely the years from Bach’s sons to Mozart and Haydn, a subject on which I have focused less in recent years. 

PH: What about the local concert scene?

JS: I usually attend concerts when abroad; that's time for myself.  At home, always busy, I lack the time and, quite often, the peace of mind...  I love listening to non-classical music of many styles and, over the years, have attended many performances of popular music; but, in recent years, the sound volume in these performances has increased to a degree at which I find impossible to take. This is a pity, because a live performance is so much more interesting than a recording.
PH: What instruments do you have?

JS: All my plucked instruments were made by Reinhard von Nagel at his Paris workshop. I really fell in love with his work when I was a student at the Schola Cantorum and am still very happy with my harpsichords. He is a very good maker, aware of the gap between old instruments and newly "rebuilt" instruments. Just as an example, years ago, Reinhard and his team beautifully restored a 1765 Blanchet harpsichord. They even made the original leather from 1765 fully usable again using marmot fat. (Today, the instrument is in the Mamamatsu Museum, Japan).
My Reinhard von Nagel “continuo” harpsichord is quite a small, light instrument. Its external dimensions are according to the Couchet harpsichord of 1679, but expanded; it has 56 keys instead of the 49 keys of the original instrument. The compass is GG-d3 (56 keys, plus transposition) - the 1679 Couchet has a compass of C-c3 (49 keys without transposition). The compass of the old instrument lacked the short octave but had its C-c3 of 49 keys - chromatic. "This is the range that J. S. Bach, two generations later, uses for Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Jan Couchet was ahead of his time" says Reinhard von Nagel. The construction is interpreted freely; the instrument could not be considered a replica.
My double-manual William Dowd harpsichord is based on an instrument by Nicolas & François Blanchet, Paris 1730. At that time, François was an experienced builder at 30 years of age and head of the workshop, while Nicolas, his father, was close to death. The Blanchets were a dynasty of keyboard instrument makers. Their harpsichords were based on models of the Flemish Ruckers family, but they enlarged and improved their harpsichords to suit the new French style and taste. The compass of the original old instrument was FF-e3. My instrument has the very popular compass of FF-f3 + transposition, tuned on 392/415 Hz (it was originally tuned to 415 - 440, but I have tuned it down to 392, to early 18th century French pitch – and 415 - because I play a lot of French music and it really sounds well that way). It is about 24 mm wider than the older instrument, therefore, claims Reinhard von Nagel, not a replica. The construction is also an interpretation. In the choice of materials, von Nagel has tried to stay very close to the original instrument, but he has also used creative freedom there.
My single-manual harpsichord is a completely "free creation", even less of a copy, but clearly of the French school. 
Another instrument in my collection is an Anthony Sidey clavichord (built from a kit by Heugel Keyboard Instruments). It's an instrument with two independent strings for each key - a "bundfrei" clavichord. Compass -   C to d3. Anthony Sidey, a Parisian harpsichordist, learned his craft with Arnold Dolmetsch in England. He studied clavichords of various epochs and has restored a whole range of these instruments from private collections and from the Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. This "historic" instrument has also been designed after these instruments.  
And finally, a square piano, a Broderip and Wilkinson from 1798, London. It's compass is FF - c4, five and a half octaves. Francis Broderip made use of three features under patent rights he was able to purchase from their inventor, William Southwell: a type of damper which was attached directly to the back of the key lever; additional notes in the treble for which the hammers could appear through an opening at the far side of the soundboard and fretwork apertures backed with silk on both sides of the keyboard to help the sound present itself with fullness. The instrument was restored by square piano restoration expert Michael Cole, Cheltenham, UK; it has a very rich sound and a soft touch.

PH: Do you edit music?

JS: Not as yet, but I have a manuscript sitting here that has never been published and on which I am trying to work. It is still in its very early stages…
PH: Do you write about music?

JS: Yes. About music and the people around it... Before taking on the job at the Felicja Blumental Center, I was writing quite intensively on my blog - “Keys and Strings”. I then started another blog called “A Musical Moment”, which covered the work we were doing at the Felicja Blumental Music Center. Some of this material was presented by me in recent years in lecture series for music lovers and the general public. Although I very much like writing, I do need a lot of time for it. I hope to be able to continue it….

PH: Do you write music?

JS: No, apart from noting down my own interpretations of certain embellishments here and there, I have never tried composing. Writing music is such a specific and complex skill

PH: When it is not music, what interests you?

JS: Mostly spending time with family and close friends. My favourite hobby is baking cakes and bread. I find it relaxing. I also enjoy reading, cinema and… walking the dog. 

PH: Jochewed Schwarz, talking to you has been most interesting. Many thanks for your time.  

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Talking to violinist Walter Reiter about his recently published book "The Baroque Violin & Viola"

On July 27th 2020, I met with violinist Walter Reiter at his London home to discuss his upcoming publication - “The Baroque Violin & Viola, a Fifty-Lesson Course”, published by Oxford University Press in 2020 (available August in the USA and September, UK). In two volumes, the 700-page publication, written in a style that is informal, accessible and authoritative, consists of five modules on ornamentation, four “Interludes” of historical and cultural interest as well as lessons focusing on topics as diverse as temperament, shifting, vibrato and dance. Of the book, John Eliot Gardiner wrote: “It shows Walter Reiter to be an expert guide in defining a rich cultural context for music-making - and not just violin-playing - and with the potential to shatter dull preconceptions. His practical experience, learning and articulacy combine to enrich and extend our purview of instrumental music extending over five centuries.” British violinist, conductor and Baroque specialist. Rachel Podger has referred to the book as “a journey of discovery covering all technical aspects of playing the Baroque violin, from sound-production to the history of national styles via affect, articulation, rhetoric, intonation and temperament, ornamentation and improvisation.” 

PH: Walter, what kind of a treatise is it and to whom is it aimed?

WR: Basically, it is like a do-it-yourself Baroque violin manual. I’m sure people will find it useful, because a lot of people who don’t actually want to go to a conservatory and also because today many modern instrumentalists are much more open to how we play Baroque music than in past years. For example, you just have to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic when it plays Mozart; it does not sound like Karajan is directing it anymore! The dead weight has come off it. Today, stylistic interpretations have become more important. I also believe that people get really fed up with the repertoire that they play, because when I was teaching children, all the concerto repertoire was Romantic (Rieding, Küchler, etc.) - which is very beautiful - and then on to works of Seitz and eventually onto Bruch and Mendelssohn. After that, they do a bit of Classical, “because you should” and also Bach “because you should”. But then they don’t actually know how to situate Bach in his time. This is really important, especially when you are talking about the court dances of the Partitas and Suites. So, all about the world- and performance of Baroque music, it is a detailed résumé of all my thoughts over many years of teaching. There do exist musicological books on Baroque music. Some of them are so “clever” that you can’t understand a word but, of course, there are books that are readable and there are books about the Baroque violin written in encyclopaedic form, which are very useful. But there isn’t any book of this kind. It’s such a shame that people don’t do more of this kind of thing. When teachers stop teaching after many years (I haven’t stopped teaching, by any means), all their experience becomes hidden. I had some great teachers in Israel who, unfortunately, never wrote anything. Neither did they give interviews. Knowingly or unconsciously or not, their students pass it on in one form or another. 

PH: How did the project start?

WR: I have been teaching for many years. In fact, my first teaching job was when I was 15 or 16 years old when still at school. I taught in Germany while I was studying there, but it was in Jerusalem that I really got into teaching in a big way, teaching modern violin at the Conservatory and the Jerusalem Academy of Music for some 30 hours a week and playing part-time in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. I had some very talented students, a lot who have gone on to be professionals. I was lucky with the talent I had even in my first year of teaching there. With my great love for teaching, I have always tried to find ways of doing it better. Having taught the Baroque violin for some years, I nowadays teach at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London and also at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Holland. It occurred to me that what I was doing was quite inefficient: you get someone coming to class and you show them this and this and this, and then it’s time for them to go. Then somebody else comes into the room and you tell them almost the same thing. So, I needed to reorganize this method. I discovered that a 1st-year undergraduate student might get through ten pieces - sonatas, let’s say - in the first year, together with all the other things involved in adapting to the Baroque instrument - temperament and intonation, rhetoric, posture, holding the violin, all the very basic things. By the time the student has actually played one piece, he is well into the first term...which I thought was unreasonable. I had this idea when I was teaching in London, where fees are very high, that I would write down information about ten basic, seminal works, the idea being that the student could prepare the music on his own and then, when he came to the classroom, he would have the one-to-one tuition that was necessary and I would not have to repeat such things as the harmonic processes, the spadework you have to do, all the detail in the work being studied, with each student. So that is when I started writing out indications on how to play these pieces. This really worked for those students who took it seriously and has proved to be a much more efficient way of teaching

PH: How did the strategy develop further?

WR: After two or three years, I thought I could actually turn this information into a book. So, I approached a UK publisher specializing in early music, who liked the idea. But then my wife, soprano Linda Perillo, pointing out that it was not specifically for Baroque violinists, but that for anybody wanting to know about the Baroque violin, to know why we do what we do, suggested I write to Oxford University Press. Not being a scholarly-, but a practical book, I doubted OUP would be interested, but OUP (USA) was very interested and asked me to send them some samples. They then led me on for a couple of years, not knowing fully what would be in the completed book (they didn’t know and I didn’t know!) and suggested I take my time to finish it and submit it, which is what I did. It took me ten years to write the book. It has been a huge adventure; I have written the book in trains, planes, boats, in cafés and hotel rooms, and, frequently, in the quiet of libraries anywhere I was on tour, most of my touring being with The English Concert. 

PH: How does one manage such an undertaking?

WR: It is extremely difficult. When you start, you know something. You know what somebody says in some quote, where they said it, but it all needs to be looked up. For me, it was an incredible learning process, going over all the work I have been doing over the last thirty years but in a more conscious way. There are some 20 pieces in the book that I really examine bar by bar, showing what there is in it to know. Some of the pieces have 20,000 words written about them over three chapters! Wherever possible, I use a lot of sources to justify things, but, of course, sources create a very incomplete picture. So, a lot of what I say is what I have figured out over the years. (I wasn’t allowed to include jokes - the funny things I say to people when teaching.)

PH: Why specifically the Baroque violin?

WR: The more you go into the Baroque violin, the more different playing it is from the modern violin. The world we live in today has really taken on board what we Baroque musicians do in the sense that there are a lot of great soloists - people like Isabelle Faust  and Alina Ibragimova - playing in Baroque style, or orchestras like the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra where you ask yourself whether the players are using period instruments or not...often, we don’t really know, because they are very good at imitating. They might often get someone in to guide them in playing in the Baroque style, and they copy. That’s all well and good, but it’s not what I call “learning how to play the Baroque violin”. What they manage to do can only be done with mid-18th century fairly run-of-the-mill repertoire - Vivaldi, Handel and, to an extent, Bach, as well. But, as to all the other repertoire - 150 years of repertoire, and there is a lot of it - they would struggle with that. In some cases, such as the French repertoire, they would not even know how to read the scores and they don’t know how to improvise. 

PH: So, who are today’s Baroque violinists?

WR: There are two types of Baroque violinists. One who, as our students do, goes through the whole Baroque style from 1600 to around 1750. The other kind is someone who just takes a Baroque instrument or a modern instrument with gut strings and a Baroque bow and basically plays it the modern way. I’m afraid the latter case covers the majority of violinists in Baroque orchestras in some countries. So, I decided to try to put this right and really go through the whole process in a written form.

PH: How do you begin teaching the Baroque violin?

WR: To start with, learning the Baroque violin means unlearning some of the habits one has accumulated on the modern violin. For example, we spend so many hours practising to get a completely smooth, lyrical sound with the bow. This thing called “detaché” bowing, which doesn’t exist in Baroque terminology, is the complete antithesis of what rhetorical playing is all about. The “speaking” bow has many different kinds of articulation. Much Baroque music is not melodic in nature. Of course, there is melody in it, but most Baroque music is actually much closer to speech and dance than it is to song. One needs to learn how to use the bow in a completely different way. I start (and always have) by imagining you have the menu of an Italian restaurant and you want to order risotto con funghi; I ask you to order (play) it by using the Italian rhythms and inflexions of speech. The difference between an approximation and the real thing is drastic! And I get students to speak such words as “Michelangelo” This is how I get them to free up, so the speaking Baroque violin is really the “Baroque bow”. Also, the way to actually hold the instrument is so important. A lot of people take the Baroque violin without its chinrest and just “grip” it. The whole thing about the Baroque violin is the freedom you have of both sides of the body, as opposed to just one side, to make the gestures you need to make. It’s really quite contradictory because the number of square centimetres that the chinrest covers is very minimal and the whole idea of not having your body against the instrument is that the body stifles the resonance of the instrument. So those are the first steps with which I introduce students to playing the instrument.

PH: Why don’t you have performance of all the works on the book’s site?

WR: It was suggested early on that I record all the pieces, but then we would be back to the “easy” way of learning, which is copying how the teacher plays. There are a few videos where I do explain certain techniques, but I wanted to avoid the above-mentioned trap. For me, to copy is not to learn. To learn is to understand.  It was Quantz who said: “A good teacher is one who makes the pupil understand and doesn’t just allow him to copy as if he were training birds”. One of the things I really inherited from Ramy Shevelov, my wonderful teacher in Israel, was getting students to listen to the music in their imaginations and then to copy that. I always say that the only thing worth copying is what one hears in one’s mind and I think that is so true when playing Baroque music, where there are no right and wrong ways of doing things. Of nine out of ten questions that pupils ask me regarding sound and phrasing, for example, I manage to get them to answer themselves: “Listen to it, sing it in your imagination, copy your imagination”. I get a pupil to play something and then ask him to give a score of 1 to 10 to evaluate how near it is to what he had imagined. The point is that if the result is so different from how you heard it, you have not done the work. You have to play the way you hear it and, if you don’t, what am I supposed to do or say? With my encouragement, they should come to those conclusions by themselves. Where teachers say the pupil should do it “this way and not how you were doing it”, the pupil copies but learns nothing. In truth, it takes some discipline on the part of the teacher not to resort to that practice! 

PH: Would you give an outline of the book’s contents?

WR: It goes through different styles, starting off with fairly standard repertoire, just giving understanding as to how music is made, like why it is so important to understand or to feel the harmony, because that affects what and how we play. I always say that learning from a single part is like learning Romeo’s part without having any clue of what Juliet says to him. I cover all the very basic questions that need to be answered and in a style which is accessible. Not written in a scholarly style, the book is very detailed but easy to read: you can read it even if you are not going to do all the work. In fact, a lot of it is completely intelligible, even to non-violinists; it will make sense to anybody playing a top-line instrument. The book is visually attractive too, with quite a few designs. I want to make it readable and interesting. It is very comprehensive, but it is not about instrumentalism or about “this is the way you play”, but about “this is the way the music is and let’s see how we can make it work using what knowledge we have”. I talk a lot about the vocal roots of instrumental playing, not just about the rhetorical aspect of the words, but actually how the development of vocal music at the time of Caccini, with the beginning of basso continuo and the separation from top- and bottom lines, as opposed to 16th century counterpoint, and leading to opera and instrumental music. I also talk about how the first treatises were written for singers or players of any instruments. That is very important when we are talking about the early Italian sonata, because that’s all there is. There aren’t any particular instrumental treatises from then, so we have to use the vocal treatises. So, together with being a very practical book, it will also give cultural background.

The first volume deals with all the basics and goes as far as the first Corelli and Vivaldi sonatas. The second volume deals with works of Biber and Schmelzer, but also with works of the early Italians. Early Italian music is more esoteric, if you like. You can imitate Vivaldi on a modern violin, but you can’t know what to do with the early material without some guidance. Actually, I start with material that is much earlier than the Baroque period, because one of the things we have to teach is improvisation and ornamentation, which are individual to each style. 

PH: It must be tricky to teach ornamentation and improvisation via a book.

WR: Yes. The early ornamentation comes from much before the Baroque. The question is: how do you ornament and how do you overcome your hang-ups about doing it? There are some violinists and other instrumentalists who can play Sibelius wonderfully, but, if you ask them to make something up, they are completely flummoxed and panicked, which is a shame. There must be something wrong with the way we are taught. Anyway, I introduce ornamentation in a totally a-stylistic way. Then the book goes on to using, for example, Ganassi’s 1535 pre-Baroque treatise on divisions (which is not related to any specific style); I use it to free people up, as I used it to free myself up in the beginning. Later on I go via Ortiz to composers such as Bassano.  

PH: How do the Interludes fit into the contents?

WR: There are five Interludes, which aim to give cultural background, which is so important. When you study the modern violin, as I did, the background is not considered very important...you are learning to play the instrument and the instrument is played a certain way according to the fashion of the day, with the style somewhat adapted to each composer; and there’s not that much difference between playing any of them. But the question is: can you really understand how to pay Couperin if you don’t know something about the standards of court behaviour at Versailles? There are so many styles within Baroque repertoire and each one needs some special knowledge about where this music comes from. John Eliot Gardiner has spoken of actually “feeling your way into a work of art”. Many years ago, I led an orchestra in Rome. We were walking across the bridge that links Rome to the Vatican. There are statues on both sides of the bridge and we started musically imitating these statues… it is not such a bad idea to take a statue (or a painting) and “think” your way into it, to experience what that person is feeling and then express it in terms of sound. Then there are such questions as to Bach and the influence of French music, what the E-major Partita has to do with France, what Bach has to do with France. I explain that Bach didn’t go to France, but that France came to him. 

PH: I see there is a section of Questions and Answers. Can you give some examples?

WR: Yes. 
Q: Is there a correct way to play Baroque music?
A: No. There never was and there never will be, although there are some wrong ways.
Q: Can a book be a substitute for a teacher?
A: No. But it can be a substitute for no teacher.
Q: From reading this book, one could assume that all your pupils play in exactly the same way. Is that true?
A: Absolutely not. Bringing out the special qualities of each pupil is always uppermost in my mind when teaching. Obviously, such discernment is not possible in a book.
Q: But if one hundred people put into practice every detail of one of your lessons, surely, they must all end up playing in an identical way.
A: No. They may play in a similarly informed way, but they will all sound different. That is one of the mysteries of violin-playing.
Q: What would you say if someone read your suggestions and then did exactly the opposite?
A: That too is possible. The teacher’s job is to inform and inspire, not to dictate. 

PH: How does the book apply to violists?

WR: When I started teaching the Baroque viola, the problem was that there was no repertoire for it. There is much orchestral- and chamber music repertoire, but almost no solo music. So I looked around to see what Baroque viola teachers were teaching. They were mostly teaching the Telemann concerto and the Bach Suites for solo ‘cello. Yet, the point is that violists were so important in early Italian music and in the Austro-German music of Schmelzer, Biber and Muffat and, of course, in French music, in which there are often three viola parts and just one top part...even up to Bach, actually. There is no point in learning Baroque viola if you don’t study those styles, and the only way to do that is by studying violin music. So, some of my Baroque viola students actually decided to switch to the Baroque violin in order to learn the repertoire. However, for the benefit of this book, all the violin parts (except for the solo Bach works) are transcribed for the viola. The parts are on the website. (It is impractical to play off such a thick book, so works can be printed off the website. Every bar is numbered, making the material easy to discuss.)

PH: Professor Reiter, thank you for sharing so many ideas behind this remarkable undertaking.


Born in England to Viennese parents, Walter S. Reiter graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London and continued his studies in Israel with Rami Shevelov, a former Galamian assistant, and in Germany with Sandor Vegh and Michael Gaiser. Having studied towards a Master's Degree in Violin Pedagogy at the Jerusalem Academy of Music (with Felix Andreiewsky, former assistant of Prof. Yankelewitch in Moscow) he completed his studies with Piotr Bondarenko, who had been David Oistrakh’s assistant in Moscow.  Internationally recognised as a leading Baroque violinist, teacher, leader and conductor, Walter Reiter is professor of Baroque Violin at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (London).
Walter S.Reiter (Timothy Kraemer)