Chapter 2: Understanding the relationship between voice and violin and the presence of portamento in Schubert’s context
This Chapter explores the influences of vocal style and techniques on violin playing of the late-18th and early-19th centuries through analysis of treatises and performance reviews of the period. It also compares the written documented evidence of vocal and violin portamento use during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Through the analysis of expressive fingerings indicating portamento use in the music of Schubert’s time, and the exploration of the playing styles and portamento use in violinists of Schubert’s circle, I discuss possible appropriate applications in the music of Schubert and his contemporaries.
Vienna had undergone rapid expansion during the 18th century, as it was the centre for the Hapsburg dynasty, known as “the Austrian Monarch,” whose territories had expanded to include Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, most of Lombardy and Belgium.1 This fast-growing polyglot city at the turn of the 19th century was home to some of the most influential composers in history, including Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Schubert took lessons in composition from Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) at different points in his life, with Salieri encouraging him to find inspiration and models in Italian opera. However, having studied, played and admired the instrumental music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and early Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) at the prestigious Kaiserlich-königliches Stadtkonvikt (Imperial and Royal City College), this push to explore vocal music conflicted with Schubert’s instrumental interests at the time. Nevertheless, Salieri’s suggestion must have had some influence, as he was repeatedly involved in some sort of opera production between 1811 and 1823 and wrote over 600 Lieder, subsequently revolutionising the form.2 Schubert was one of the most influential composers for the voice in the 19th century and his sensitivity to vocal phrasing and expressive capabilities can be seen throughout his instrumental music, particularly that for violin. Therefore, it is important to explore the vocal expressive tendencies of Schubert’s time to gain insight into the sound world in which he was composing.
Influence of vocal style and technique on 18th- and 19th-century violin playing as documented in treatises and performance reviews
The voice and violin have shared a close relationship throughout documented musical history and vocal techniques and expressive devices have often been the basis of guiding solid and tasteful violin technique and style. The ability to imitate the voice was amongst the highest praise lavished on instrumentalists and particularly violinists during the 18th and 19th centuries, and advice for cultivating this ability dominated violin treatises of the period. In the mid-18th century, Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) stated in his The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751) that, "The Art of playing the Violin consists in giving the Instrument a Tone that shall in a Manner rival the most perfect human Voice."3 Kreutzer, Baillot and Rode’s French Violin School, established at the Paris Conservatoire at the turn of the 19th century, incorporated many fundamental aspects of singing style and technique in order to teach violin. The importance given to the French style of violin playing at the turn of the 19th century can be seen at the beginning of Michel Woldemar’s (1750-1815) Méthode de violon de L. Mozart (1801) where he states that Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was the “leader and model of a new school.”4 As Clive Brown explains, the French Revolution was responsible for the spreading of the French style throughout Europe, and specifically to Austria and Germany. “Musical ambassadors of contemporary French taste” such as the fathers of the French School—Pierre Baillot (1771-1842), Rudolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) and Pierre Rode (1774-1840)—travelled extensively to and via Vienna in the first two decades of the 19th century, spreading the styles and ideals of violin playing established in their joint publication of the Paris Conservatoire’s teaching manual, Méthode de violon par Baillot, Rode et Kreutzer; redigee par Baillot (1803).5 One extensive review of a performance of Kreutzer’s Violin Concerto no. 12 in the Leipzig Allegemeine musikalische Zeitung (June, 1804) shows that the public, as well as leading French school violinists of the time, were in agreement about this change in style of playing, explaining that passages “that only produce their effect when played on a single string … must be executed with an artful use of position changing” (i.e. portamento). Furthermore, in order to affect the listener, the performer should have “security in the highest and to some extent unconventional positions, power and flexibility of the fingers of the left hand in passages … and taste and correct feeling in executing nuances etc.”6 Schubert’s contemporary and musical colleague, Louis Spohr (1784-1859), openly admitted that he was largely influenced by the French style,7 particularly the playing of Rode,8 and, after being refused by Viotti, studied with Franz Eck (1774-1804), who greatly influenced his singing bowing technique.9 In 1805 Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814) criticised Spohr’s portamento as “an exaggerated copy of Rode’s,” which shows the extent of Sophr’s embodiment of the French style.10 More examples of concert reviews praising the French style and condemning others throughout Germany and Austria can be seen in Clive Brown’s book Classical and Romantic Performance Practice (1750-1900) and his article, "Polarities of virtuosity in the first half of the 19th century."11 This range of written evidence clearly shows that the French violin school not only had great influence in Paris but also across Europe at the turn of the 19th century. Therefore, the ‘singing’ French style of playing should be explored further in order to understand the sound world in which Schubert was writing.