Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions
In this thesis I have explored the intimate relationships between late-18th- and early-19th-century vocal and violin styles and techniques, and how this can help us interpret the use of portamento in the violin music of Schubert and his contemporaries. The practical application of 18th- and 19th-century portamento in current playing is a relatively unresearched area. Thus, my research aimed to shed more light on the subject and to provide current performers with a wider variety of approaches in interpreting and using 19th-century expressive devices, such as portamento, to create unique and spontaneous performances that move the listener. I conducted extensive analysis of written and recorded sources of portamento use by singers and violinists. I then explored why this fundamental expressive technique was lost during the 20th century and explored the psychological associations with and responses to music to gain better understanding of the variation over time of portamento’s importance as an expressive device. I augmented this research with my own artistic experimentation with the music of Schubert and his contemporaries and surveyed leading 19th-century HIP practitioners, to explore possible ways to reignite this expressive device in modern-day performance practice.
Through my analysis of 18th- and 19th-century written documentation in Chapter 2, I found that vocal styles and techniques greatly influenced the violin playing of the time, as violinists were always advised to, and praised for, imitating the voice. There was frequent portamento use documented before, during, and after Schubert’s time. Portamento also had its own dedicated section in both vocal and violin treatises, and was often the first ornament discussed, even before vibrato, which clearly shows its importance in the 19th-century expressive language. This written historical evidence provides strong justification for current historically-informed performers to use portamento in Schubert’s music.
I found a variety of documented ways in which to execute different portamenti through my analysis of historical written sources. Therefore, in Chapter 3 I categorised the different types of portamento found in vocal and violin treatises, exploring the connections between these types. In both vocal and violin treatises, portamento slides before the destination syllable or bow change were overwhelmingly the preferred execution technique. In singing, Manuel Garcia favoured continuous air pressure during portamenti, whereas Domenico Corri advised to alter air pressure and speed depending on the context of the slide. Similarly, violin treatises advised connected and continuous bow pressure and speed in general, but Louis Spohr’s and Ferdinand David’s respective treatises suggested varying bow speed and pressure when executing hairpins, often in association with portamenti. The vocal and violin treatises examined also discussed appropriate locations of portamento use, including in slower movements or cantabile passages, or at fermatas as an alternative ornament option. Fingerings from annotated 19th-century violin music showed portamento use in order to emphasise chromatic melodic movement, falling intervals, such as fourths or sixths, or after an accented note to release the sound after an accent. Charles de Bériot’s 1858 treatise also explored the expressive qualities of different types of portamento based on vocal style.
While the written evidence of portamento use from the 18th and 19th centuries is useful academically, interpretation of written evidence alone can vary drastically. Therefore, I found it essential to explore, in Chapter 4, the early-recorded evidence of portamento use in order to have a better aural understanding of the device. These recordings are highly relevant to understanding how portamento was used in the 19th century, because each recorded performer had strong links to early-19th-century performance practices. Using Sonic Visualiser software to analyse portamento use in the 14 vocal and 7 violin recordings examined, I categorised the six main portamento types with sub-categories, many of which have not yet been documented in detail in current academic research. I compared the vocal and violin use of portamento and found that early-recorded portamento use shared many similarities with written documentation of portamento execution. These similarities included using more ascending than descending portamenti, favouring sliding before the destination syllable or bow change, using portamento in association with rubato, and using more portamenti in cantabile or slow movements. I did not find many substantial differences between written and recorded evidence of vocal and violin portamento use. The only substantial difference I found between vocal and violin portamento use in early recordings was that, compared with violin players, singers used far more anticipation portamenti to begin phrases, which could be due to the ease with which singers can execute this portamento subtly. A minor difference was that written documentation often suggested portamento use in “moderation,” whereas early-recorded singers and violinists used portamento frequently. However, as we cannot know exactly to what “moderation” referred in the written sources, this difference in portamento use cannot be deemed a substantial difference.