Sunday, February 7, 2016

Catacoustic presents the Baroque violin

Vielle, 1475

Like most instruments, the violin is a product of evolution. Someone in central Asia started making music by pulling a bow across a string, and the idea spread across the continent, morphing as it went: Two strings. Three strings. Four. Held on the lap. Between the knees. On the shoulder. The variations on the bowed instrument in Asia are legion. 

First painting of a violin, 1530
It made the jump into Europe through the Byzantine Empire, and by the 13th century troubadours were playing the vielle, also called the Renaissance fiddle. The architecture of the instrument continued to change, and by 1530 an instrument appeared in a painting that was recognizably a violin. The Amati family had set up shop by 1550, the Guarneris were in business by 1626, and family Stradivarius moved in around 1644. The violin had arrived.

The oldest extant violin,
an Amati built in 1559
Those early violins, Baroque violins, were notably different from the violins we know today. The shape and size were slightly different, and they were strung with gut strings, not metal. The bow was also shorter. What performers and audiences were looking for was a little different from what we look for in a violin today. In the 17th century, music was intended to emulate human speech patterns, with short phrases, lots of articulation, strong and weak notes. Music was often experienced in small rooms, with the audience sitting only a few feet from the performer, so volume wasn’t an issue. 

By the time Vivaldi took a job at a Venetian orphanage in 1703, the girls were being taught violin to give them a skill for use in celebrating Mass. Vivaldi was among the first to compose for orchestras of violins playing in harmony with one another. 

Paganini's Strad
By the end of Vivaldi’s century, though, the nature of performances and performers had changed. Now the violin especially was seen as an imitation of the human voice when singing, with longer connected phrases, and more emphasis on consistent tone. The bow became longer to accomplish this. Metal strings were employed for their loud, ringing tones to fill the large new concert halls. 

Think of it this way: If you want to hear Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, a Baroque violin won’t be up to the job. And if you want to hear a Bach Violin Partita, a modern violin simply isn’t the right choice either.

Catacoustic is thrilled to bring to town a violinist who knows the difference. Krista Bennion Feeney, from New York City, has had a stellar career on modern violin as concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a long catalog of recordings. Among her lengthy list of collaborators are Louis Langrée, Jaime Laredo, and Paul McCartney. She also founded the Serenade Orchestra and Quartet, which is dedicated solely to music of the High Baroque. She plays a violin built in 1770. 

We’ve had few opportunities to hear this instrument, this uniquely Baroque instrument, and the music written for it, here in Cincinnati. Don’t miss this chance to hear Biber, Leclair, and, yes, Bach, played the way they were meant to be played.

Sunday February 14, 2016
Church of the Advent (Walnut Hills)
 2366 Kemper Ln.
 Cincinnati, OH 45206
 Tickets $25, students $10 (buy tickets here)

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