A Note from Frank: This journal entry is written by BCOC’s leader-violinist and guest blogger Cynthia Miller Freivogel, with reflections on musical “genealogy,” early music influences, making music beautiful, and passing knowledge to the next generation. I hope you enjoy this amazing essay… and our new album, Corelli’s Circle!
Americans are obsessed with genealogy. It was something that I took for granted before I moved to Europe. I met a Belgian who lived in exactly the same house that his ancestors had owned for generations. He was fascinated by the mystery of an American’s roots, particularly that mine could be partly known back to the Mayflower and partly lost in Germany in the 1880s. I never thought of that as particularly exotic, though I at a certain age I loved going through the old photographs and looking at the silly names in my grandma’s attic. Now that you can have your DNA tested there has been another big resurgence of interest in America. Especially interesting seems to be finding out which parts of your history have been left out as they got passed down the generations.
A Musical Family Tree
If you are not a musician, you may be surprised to find out that there is a thing called “teacher lineage.” It’s the idea that you trace your teacher back to her teacher back to his teacher until you get to Galamian (the great American pedagogue who taught Dorothy DeLay). But Galamian actually goes further back to Lucien Capet at the Paris Conservatiore. Or, you can get quickly from Joseph Silverstein to Gingold to the great violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe. Any Wikipedia article about a famous violinist will mention at some point the “family tree” of teachers back generations from the same four or five roots. My teacher from my masters program in San Francisco, Camilla Wicks, had a whole orchestra in Norway which she referred to very affectionately as the orchestra of her “grandchildren” (the students of her students).
Well known is the debt that we all owe to our music teachers, but few people really understand how much can not be passed down in written form or in the form of recorded music. We are completely dependent on the knowledge that is handed down from one generation to the next from the experience of lessons and playing chamber music. It is how we understand what we are reading on the page and how to turn it in to a performance. That is the craft of our art form. We might think of recording as a record of how things were done in a certain moment, but it is impossible to hear how one is the wrestling with the musical decisions and the mindset of how we come to the conclusions that create that performance. A recording is also missing the component of learning how to engage the energy of the live audience. The oral history of violin pedagogy is particularly important as we grapple with how this simple wooden box with metal strings can be made to stir the emotions of audiences in so many different styles and genres over generations.
The Spirit of Early Music
The Early Music movement – the wrestling with old manuscripts and experimentation on old instruments – began in the late 1960s as a natural out growth of the counterculture movement. We are in danger of forgetting that now that it has become so mainstream. But the reason I got into it was for that very spirit. I had to break away from the 19th century mentality (particularly the sort of worship of the aforementioned Galamian).
For me the problem was that as the holders of this oral history – the teachers themselves and the lineages became so heroic and overly important that no one was thinking for themselves any more. When Bach wrote a chord and indicated “arpeggio” in the score, Galamian wrote exactly which notes to play and how you should bow it. Any other possibility was considered heresy in the 1980’s in the US. But with “historical performance practice” we started looking at manuscripts and seeing how Corelli broke chords, how Geminiani taught violinists to improvise arpeggiation and different bowing combinations how far sometimes ornamentation could go and we suddenly had so many more options. It was like the DNA testing of today where we suddenly could see things from a new perspective with real information instead of the story that was passed down to us.
There is always this paradoxical dependence on told stories and necessity of self discovery that is the journey of life. Particularly for an artist the tension can be considerable. For me, while my modern violin stylistically and pedagogically was very prescribed (Silverstein-Gingold school) early music was entirely the road of self discovery for the first 10 years. The founders of the movement in the Bay Area of San Francisco were my colleagues. Only when I moved to Holland (in 2012) did I have suddenly access to the first pedagogues in this field – the founders of the movement such as Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, Frans Bruggen, Anner Bijlsma, Lucy van Dael, Vera Beths, the Kuijken brothers and the sort of splits in the branches the “family tree” that create the different schools of thought. This generation of musicians who these great pedagogues influenced are musicians my age.
However, coming from my Californian early music cultural vantage point, they sometimes seem like they are dangerously repeating the hero worship of the 19th century teacher lineage. I have this perspective just because circumstance meant that I came about it from the other direction. I was completely free of an early music genealogy. Of course, I am not without humble respect for those that came before me in my field and also always grateful for the advice of a mentor and teacher. However, I felt so lucky to encounter someone like Lucy van Dael after establishing my own road of inquiry. I could come to Lucy and ask “but what questions were you asking, how are you looking at these manuscripts?” “What were your debates with your colleagues like on this subject?” “How do you come to the working out of your own ornamentation?” “How do you go about performing ornamentation that you find in the sources?”
Corelli’s Children… and Grandchildren
When I started this project about Corelli’s circle with BCOC, Lucy went in to her closet and pulled out a stack of manuscripts which she handed over to me. It was all of the ornamentation she had collected on Corelli op. 5 Sonatas over her whole career. People had sent her manuscripts before they were published, sent her thesis defense programs on the subject along with the collected new McGibbons divisions. There were little slivers of music history stuffed in amid the thousands of little scribblings that were themselves windows in to the private musings of the great 18th century violinists Geminiani, Tartini, Dubourg and Roman. Neat English handwriting and crazy Italian blotches all to be deciphered.
I decided for this project with the F major sonata I would include as much as humanly possible from these manuscripts. They are designed of course only as examples for students, or possibly as sketches for different possibilities for improvising. They are supposed to be used as models for our own decorations. But just as Jazz musicians transcribe solos from the great masters and learn them first, so do we have to begin with these models. And so for this recording- for this record of history – I have chosen to use for the most part only ornamentation from the manuscripts. What you hear are various versions patched together in a way that I thought said something about how far violinists were willing to depart form the original line, and also made the line the most beautiful. They were, in short, all of my favorites.
Because I had so much material to experiment with, I also wanted to try to share some of it with my violin section colleagues in Colorado. The Geminiani D major Concerto Grosso is directly based on the 1st of the Op. 5 violin sonatas. So I imported ornaments me and for Martin Davids from the manuscripts in the opening Adagio and for the whole section in places like the middle slow movement.
So with a nod to the great Lucy van Dael, who provided me with the manuscripts and the great gift she gives in her lessons of the discipline of never-ending curiosity and inquiry, and equal nod to the my inspiring colleagues in California who taught me never to lose sight of making a beautiful performance out of that inquiry, out of both of those branches of my on early music influences equally, comes this experiment. In the spirit of Corelli, and his “children” and his “grandchildren.”
A Moment in Time
When you hear something beautiful, and in a moment it moves you – to tears of sorrow or joy, how do you hold on to that? It is such a deep human desire. The whole history of recording equipment grew out of it. So many of our audience members come out of a concert and say “can you please record that piece, I want to take it home.” Paradoxically, you can not possibly take it home, music is something that happens in a time and in a moment that passes. We can only hold on to it by passing the knowledge of how to make people feel that moment on to the next generation. But of course, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t take this recording home now. It was its own moment in time.