Detlef talks about his collaboration with Jonathan Del Mar:
My new edition of the Beethoven Romances is now published by Bärenreiter. This is what Jonathan Del Mar, the world-famous musicologist and editor wrote about our collaboration:
‘It has been a constant pleasure to work closely with Detlef Hahn on the Text of these Romances. As in the Violin Concerto, he has been endlessly patient with me in my endeavours to obtain as far as possible a playable text while retaining precisely the integrity of Beethoven’s slurring, and I thank him warmly for our most enjoyable and fruitful collaboration’
Jonathan’s insistence on authenticity, even against our ‘natural’ instincts as violinists, was an interesting and most enjoyable learning curve for me. I had to negotiate almost every note with him. What it brought, I think, is a new edition, which comes close to Beethoven’s intentions, but which is still ‘playable’ from a so-called ‘modern violinist’s’ point of view. It is now in the hands of a new generation of performers to use our concepts and make them their own. I understand this edited solo part as a signpost that leads into the right direction. As with the Violin Concerto, it can only give indications as to how a successful performance can be achieved. It is now up to the performer to make use of the underlying ideas and tailor them to their own needs and visions. As long as Beethoven’s intentions are respected, the doors are still fully open for our individual input.
© Detlef Hahn
Detlef Hahn discusses the new Bärenreiter edition of Beethoven’s violin concerto:
The solo violin part of the new Bärenreiter edition of Beethoven’s violin concerto is a close collaboration between Jonathan DelMar and myself. It is now available in all good music shops. My student, Bjarne Magnus Jensen, played the highly acclaimed world premier of this newly edited violin part last year, at the State Academy Oslo, with the college orchestra, with Andrew Manze as conductor.
My aim for this new edition was to wipe the slate clean and present an edition, which Beethoven might have hopefully recognized as his work, and not of generations of players adding their own idiosyncrasies. For this reason I have tried to stay as close as possible to Beethoven’s bowings and articulations. To play it in this way requires very fine bow control, but it is certainly worth the effort, since the concerto comes to life in an entirely different and musically satisfying way.
What I eradicated throughout the solo part were the ‘upside-down’ bowings, which have been made fashionable in the nineteen sixties by pedagogues like Rostal and others. Their argument was that playing in this way offers more possibilities and is more ‘violinistic’. It also asserts, quite unjustifiably, that playing in this way offers more musical possibilities. I however think that this makes many phrases and articulations sound flat and uninteresting, and is not right for Beethoven, since it interferes with the musical idiom of the composer. Good violinists can most certainly start phrases on a down-bow when the weight distribution of the music requires this – despite its occasional awkwardness. The often quoted argument that the ‘Tourte bow’, which became fashionable during Beethoven’s time, offers more musical and technical possibilities, is of course true. The development of the romantic repertoire would be unthinkable without it. But Beethoven was essentially a classical composer, indebted to a different musical idiom and technique than the romantic movement. The ‘rule of down bow’ is still clearly evident in his phrasings. A newer and better bow does certainly not justify turning bowings on their head simply because it offers other possibilities. Even with the finest bow, a down bow has a different feel than an up-bow, simply because our body and arms (and our musical imagination) respond to it in this way.
My fingerings in the solo violin part came from my experience of what I found helpful during the many times I performed this concerto. Some were taken from other editions, despite having ideas of my own, because these fingerings were excellent and nothing needed to be changed. But then, fingerings are something individual as well, not only dependent on the size of hands and fingers, which are different with every player, but also dependent on the system of scales and arpeggios (and the rules attached) with which players have grown up with. My fingerings are intended here as mere suggestions, although I have tried to do justice to the polyphonic writing as well as to the ‘one melody-one string’ technique. Both ways of playing were used during Beethoven’s time. I have also added some ‘glissando fingerings’, most notably in bars 300 etc. where Beethoven puts ‘espressivo’ as a performing instruction. In studying the fingerings of the violinists of this time, it is striking to discover how often they use the same finger to slide during expressive passages. This might shed some light on why it is assumed that they might not have used a continuous vibrato as much as violinists do today, and instead, used an expressive vibrato occasionally, and when the music required it. This inspires me to think that although the energy of a tone relies heavily on a vibrato in contemporary players, the vibrato was however only one of the many expressive ingredients used in Beethoven’s time. The age old discussion of using vibrato or no vibrato is a very black and white argument. We must not forget that every good sound produced on the violin comes from an alive and expressive left hand’s mutually integrated dialogue with the bow, not a dead hand, and so the discussion should rather concentrate on the degrees of a vibrato – from almost unnoticeable vibrato to powerful, and not from existent to non existent. The expressive scope in Beethoven’s time was obviously much richer than we imagine it today, using many other ways of musical expression apart from vibrato, of which glissando, imitating the singing human voice, was one of them.
I hope this edition will satisfy and inspire an ever growing new generation of fine violinists, who are willing to venture through different paths with this wonderful concerto.
I recently received a copy of ‘Le Carnival Russe’ by Wieniawski, for which I was the performance consultant of the violin part. ‘Faust’, for which I also was the performance consultant, will be out in the shops very soon. The aim of this new edition by the Polish Wieniawski society was to publish everything as Wieniawski left behind – so, what you get are his fingerings and his bowings. This is a wonderful project and brings us as close as possible to Wieniawski and his expressive world. There are other works already published, most notably the ‘école moderne’ and ‘etudes caprices’, for which my friend, the wonderful violinist Piotr Janowski, who sadly died last year, was the performance consultant. If you do not find these excellent new editions in the shops, you might try to order them directly from the Wieniawski Society, 61-840 Poznan, Swietoslawska 7, Poland.
Written by Detlef Hahn 2010
The following letters were published in February 2010 in ‘The Strad Magazine’ under the title:
“The Beethoven letters. Detlef Hahn and Andrew Manze reveal their differing views on the Beethoven Violin Concerto in an exchange of correspondence about the new Urtext edition.“
I am publishing here the original letters between Andrew and myself. In my opinion, ‘The Strad’ magazine distorted the content by editing them into several smaller letters to create the illusion of an ongoing correspondence of differing views, whereas in reality, there were only two letters written, both with mutually sympathetic views.
Detlef Hahn 2010
A new edition of Beethoven’s violin concerto is not only an opportunity to rethink the work in its entirety – it is also an opportunity to rethink the way we perform it. When Jonathan Del Mar invited me to collaborate on the violin part, we decided from the very beginning to wipe the slate clean and present a new edition that embraces an ethos of performance closer to one Beethoven might have recognized. The immediate benefit of this is that the violin part of the new Bärenreiter edition stays as close as possible to Beethoven’s text. All slurs, added by a previous generation of players, have been removed. This is a gain-and of course also a loss. It helps us to understand Beethoven’s musical intentions more clearly, but in the process also eliminates a great tradition of violin playing most of us have grown up with. So the question here is: is it possible (and do we dare) to free our thinking from traditional solutions, sanctified by generations of great violinists, in order to look afresh at this concerto?
My very personal experience in preparing the violin part is that the logic of a musical text is different to the logic of body and instrument. What appears in its ideal musical form in the score needs to be translated into sounds that project the voice of the solo violin clearly to an audience, whilst blending perfectly with the orchestra. This is a challenge if one plays the slurs and bowings in their original form. Nevertheless, every challenge can certainly be met. Our agreement to take up an exchange of letters, in which various aspects of violin playing are discussed, each from our own specific angle, can now begin. Here then, are some of my ideas (and questions) and in the meantime, I am eager to hear what you think.
The first obvious matter that needs to be addressed is the question of tempo. Contrary to common belief, Beethoven was flexible with his tempi. He would slow down or speed up, as the music required. This kind of flexibility will affect not only the performance, but also the choice of fingerings. Also, considering some of the long slurs in the first and second movement, it seems that the basic tempo of these movements should not be too slow.
This brings us to principles of bowing. There is the old baroque/classical ‘rule of down-bow’ versus a more modern, post-Viotti approach to be considered. Also, are Beethoven’s slurs actual bowings or merely phrasing suggestions? I personally think they can be both, depending on the musical situation. Looking at the manuscript and early sources, many slurs were considerably longer, however Beethoven subsequently shortened them. In this case they are definitely phrasing suggestions already tailored to the fact that we do not have an unending bow. Therefore, it seems that Beethoven gave his blessing to splitting long phrases into several down and up-bows. Should we then, split even more, just to give our tone more power, or should we absolutely stick to Beethoven’s solutions?
Concerning fingerings, I use a more modern approach but integrate some ‘voicing’ by setting off the qualities of the individual strings against each other. Where it seems musically sound I have also used the more modern one-melody, one-string system. Beethoven’s violin concerto is a hybrid, reaching both back and forward, to classical and more modern style of playing. So, in this light, I think it correct to mix these two ways of playing.
Now comes a sore point: vibrato. How much and when should we use it? Again, another aspect easily overlooked: portamenti. Should we really use slides? I have included fingerings to allow their use in the development of the first movement, but what would Beethoven’s ideas have been in this respect?
Regarding cadenzas, there will be a large collection available from Bärenreiter, spanning from Abbado, via Novacek to Ysaye. Cadenzas were, of course, an opportunity for soloists to improvise and display their dazzling virtuosity. I would love to hear your opinions here. Should we dare to do this again?
Here, to finish this letter with a more general question: what exactly is Beethoven’s violin concerto? Is it a late classical piece, conceived in the tradition which produced the concertos of Haydn and Mozart, or is it in fact an early romantic concerto?
In awaiting your reply, I remain,
Thank you for your letter and the handsome, new edition of Op.61 on which you and Jonathan Del Mar have worked so conscientiously. What a task! Although most musicians will approach this masterpiece with many of their own ideas, your countless excellent and skilful suggestions will be of great use to “wipe the slate clean” and help them think afresh. Your edition provides a long-awaited alternative to those inherited solutions that have been, in your tactful phrase, “sanctified by generations of great violinists”. We must remember that, compared to many other works of Beethoven, Op.61 did not find a secure foothold in the repertoire until Joachim’s lifetime, half a century after the 1806 premiere. Such a “tradition” is of little relevance to an Urtext edition and performers should be able to make their own decisions without resorting to imitation (a synonym for tradition). To those who hide behind tradition, exalting it as the wisdom of hindsight, I would quote Charles Rosen’s pointed definition (in The Frontiers of Meaning, p.11): “tradition – the name generally given to widely accepted error.”
Your edition succeeds in combining the objectivity of an editor with your “very personal experience” as a performer. I applaud and admire your certainty that, although “the logic of a musical text is different to the logic of body and instrument”, “every challenge can be met.” Much has changed since Beethoven’s day to affect radically the way a soloist must play: the size and density of sound of orchestras, instruments, auditoria, audience expectations etc.. I do not believe that we are more or less musical than Beethoven’s contemporaries, if that could be measured, but we are encumbered by history and incorrect thinking – for example, that Op.61 is one of the big violin concertos, alongside those of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius; that beauty of sound and size of tone are paramount; that how we play Op.61 defines who we are. If only there were several violin concertos by Beethoven, just as there are for piano! We would then be far more relaxed about approaching this one.
Now to the nitty-gritty… As you say, there is plenty of evidence that Beethoven was at times flexible with tempo. Although duration statistics should be used with caution, a quick survey of recordings shows that a) performances are on average slower than they were eighty years ago and b) soloists performing the piano concerto version (Op.61a) take faster tempos than most recent violinists. For example, to get from the opening timpani stroke to the first movement cadenza takes Wolfsthal (1928), Heifetz and Hubermann about seventeen minutes. Busch and Szigeti take eighteen minutes, as do most pianists. In contrast, few violinists nowadays get there in less than twenty minutes (Vengerov in nearly twenty-three!). The same trend is observable in the other movements as well. The first victims of this decline in tempo are usually the phrasing, which becomes over-burdened and static (think of the very opening), and Beethoven’s slurs. An old justification for ignoring his slurs (and Brahms’) is that they are marks of phrasing rather than bowing. What a tiresome excuse for lazy thinking! Beethoven knows well enough that a long slur requires a slow bow stroke. (So does Brahms.) Indeed, every slur carries information. Take the divine second movement melody (from bar 45): if you can make the first bars sound as Beethoven asks whilst splitting his slurs, you may ask “why not?” My answer is “why bother?” Now look at the opening movement’s first solo melody (bar 102ff.): why change what Beethoven wrote? If you find the slurs difficult, try changing something else – phrasing, sound, dynamic, orchestral balance, tempo, your expectations, even your technique – before rewriting one of the greatest composers in history. We must all of us be on the look out for the hubristic tendency to place our own puny selves above the composer or to allow the music to fall victim to our weaknesses of mind or technique.
The rule of down-bow, that rhythmically and/or harmonically strong notes are always played down, may have been labeled “wretched” by Geminiani but it was far from arbitrary. The down-bow stroke naturally begins more strongly than the up, thanks to gravity and the weight of the player’s limb. I see clear evidence that composers expected players to follow the old rule well into the nineteenth century, because it is the embodiment of commonsense phrasing. No violinist would ever start the first or last movements of Op.61 on a down-bow (… so why, oh why does anyone start Mozart’s G major concerto on an up-bow?!).
Your careful choice of fingerings, some monodic, others polyphonic, reflects well Op.61’s position as something of a watershed. The chin rest (or chin bar) is not first sighted until years after the concerto was written – although I always felt that Op.61 alone was reason enough to invent one! To compensate for the lack of a firm chin grip, fingering choices necessarily involved a greater degree of flexibility than our modern, scale-centric, position-based training allows. Extensions, contractions, finger substitutions, “crawling” motions and a judicious use of portamento* were fundamental ingredients of a solo violinist’s left hand technique in Beethoven’s day. One inevitable result is a less pronounced, narrower vibrato than we are used to hearing today. But I should put that the other way around: vibrato had not yet evolved from an embellishment of phrasing into a component of sound. That took place fairly recently. According to one eyewitness to Joachim’s playing in the early 1900s, “no one who listened appreciatively to his playing will ever forget the stillness and grand simplicity of the way he so often played slow themes of Beethoven, allowing himself not one slide when avoidable or one hint ofvibrato.” Perhaps we string players should seek the advice of fine clarinetists or horn players who play without any vibrato but sacrifice nothing of phrasing and expression.
When thinking about cadenzas, Prince Charles’ words (on modern architecture) come to mind: “like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” Early nineteenth-century cadenzas were ephemeral and personal, composed in the style of the day, rather than of the concerto itself (look at Beethoven’s un-Mozartian cadenzas to K.466). The later Romantic approach – ingenious, virtuosic time-outs from the business of the concerto, or some kind of pseudo-development section – will hardly suffice for Op.61. Beethoven has himself confused the issue by leaving us an eccentric cadenza to piano concerto version that is untypical in its length and rhapsodic structure. (It also resists being transferred to a violin, despite some valiant efforts over the years.) Thanks to Bärenreiter, we now have a selection of intriguing cadenzas to study. I would still advise players, however, to get fiddling and produce their own. What better way is there to get intimately involved with this masterpiece, or to develop the healthiest of respect for its composer, than to join in with the process of creation? It removes any question about whether Op.61 is late Classical or early Romantic and brings it right up to the present. Op.61 is clearly post-classical, if by classical we refer to the concertos of Haydn and Mozart. To find a context for Op.61 we should look rather at the concertos by Viotti, Clement, Kreutzer, Rode and others. Beethoven’s concerto is Janus-faced, looking both ways: classical in its architecture and language and yet innovative in its proportions and breadth of vision. It is not yet Romantic, albeit romantic, but opens up a path for later composers to explore.
Legend has it that Clement premiered the concerto only hours after it was completed. Thanks to you and Jonathan Del Mar, we can take a large step closer to the ideal of playing the concerto as though the ink is still thrillingly wet. To answer your first question last, “is it possible (and do we dare) to free our thinking from traditional solutions?” Yes, as you have so admirably shown.
With best wishes,