Analytical approach in Vivaldi study (V3)


1. Collecting the Video Material

Like the two previous studies, the video material for Video Group 3 'Poetic Imagery' was collected in the various situations of individual practise, rehearsals, teaching, and concert performances.

The Four Seasons study brings a new aspect into this thesis, which is the role of violin technique in musical interpretation and performance. Although the starting point here is similar to the previous studies, the embodied reading of a musical score, the specific aim of this study is to explore the relationship between expressive body movements - drawing on the poetic imagery implied in the music - and the highly demanding technical challenges of a virtuosic collection like the Four Seasons.

In this study I also include a discussion of Le Quattro stagioni by Danish composer Karl Åge Rasmussen, which is a recent composition based on Vivaldi’s Seasons (or a composition on composition, as Rasmussen called it in an interview), premièred in June 2016.

Further video material is collected from online master classes by leading virtuosos of today (for example, Pinchas Zukerman) which is discussed in relation to a close reading of the seminal treatises on violin playing of the 20th century, including Leopold Auer and Ivan Galamian (the latter was also a teacher of Zukerman).

Although I started my violin journey within the context of the virtuosic violin school in the former Czechoslovakia, I later renounced this approach, in order to apply the principles of historically informed performance. In this study I revisit some dormant technical habits and re-evaluate some general technical principles that transcend the stylistic and historical aspects of violin playing.

The Soundist and Gesturist dichotomy is here viewed in a new perspective: instrumental technique. Can expressive bodily gestures be merged with the efficient sound producing movements of virtuoso violin performance?


2. The timeline of the Four Seasons projects and the amount of documentary material

There are five projects included in this study. In September 2015 I played the Four Seasons and other concertos with the Ostrobothnian chamber orchestra in Finland. Apart from being the soloist, I was also the musical director of the production. Three rehearsal days were followed by two concerts, in Pietarsaari and Kokkola. I recorded the two last days of rehearsal, collecting 6 hours of video material, and both concerts, which amounted to 80 minutes of video material.

Also in September 2015, two weeks after Kokkola, I played the Summer concerto in an annual cooperation project with Concerto Copenhagen and the Royal Danish Academy of Music, under the direction of Lars Ulrik Mortensen. There were two days of rehearsals, of which 75 minutes are captured on video. The concert and the preceding dress rehearsal gave me another 30 minutes of video material.

The premier of Rasmussen’s version of Vivaldi’s Seasons took place in June 2016. I was the soloist in the Summer and the Winter concertos. For my comparative analysis I used a 12 minute video recording of the Summer concerto and about 3 hours of audio recordings from the rehearsals.

There were two projects comprising the complete set of Vivaldi’s Seasons in 2017. The first one, in March - with the Malmö Academy of Music chamber orchestra - included four days of rehearsal and three concert performances. I recorded the last rehearsal day on video, amounting to 3 hours of video material, and all three concerts, providing about 150 minutes of material.

The second project, and the last to be included in this study, took place in July and August with Camerata Øresund. One week of rehearsals and two concerts in Skalholt, Iceland, were followed by a tour of four concerts in Denmark. All concerts were recorded and parts of rehearsals producing about 80 minutes of video material. Icelandic Radio recorded one of the concerts and I acquired the audio file.

During the preparation for the projects I recorded individual practicing and experiments amounting to 2.5 hours of video material.


3. Analytical procedure and outcomes

The present study has a similar analytical procedure to the previous studies V1 'Mimetic action' and V2 'Dance'. The body movement strategy in V1 draws on my own embodied experiences. In V2 I explore the shared space of dance form and musical form in order to assimilate the dance movements in my violin playing. In V3 'Poetic imagery' I explore the relationship between the kinaesthetic vocabulary acquired in the two previous studies within the context of technically demanding violin concertos.

If body movement contributes to the musical interpretation of Telemann’s Don Quichotte and Rebel’s Les Caractères de la danse through kinaesthetic links to the narrative and dance respectively, what role will expressive body movement play in an assimilation of the abstract poetic imaginary implied in the musical score of Vivaldi’s Seasons? Furthermore, assuming that the most generic aspect of the solo concerto genre is to display instrumental virtuosity, what limitations and advantages will the Gesturist strategy bring to the performance in comparison with a Soundist approach, which in this study embodies the role of the technical virtuoso?

In my individual experimentation 'In the Studio' I construct my movements in several stages. First, adopting a Soundist virtuoso strategy, I build up the technical grounds for executing the solo violin part with a focus on technical attributes, such as sound quality, dexterity in fast passages, precision in complicated arpeggios, coordination of the left hand and bow hand actions, etc. My body movement here is strictly limited to the principles of sound production and technical efficiency.

In the next stage I develop the sound producing movements towards a sonic representation of the poetic imagery in the Sonnets to which Vivaldi refers and implied in the score. A storm must be reflected in an explosive and swift bow action; a lament requires a slow speed of the bow and well-coordinated action of the joints to ensure the straight trajectory of the bow stroke; falling on the ice will imply a heavy accentuation, where the bow 'crashes' onto the string from high above. Here, body movement extends the mere sound production in support of the sonic realization of the poetic imagery.

Confident of having found the way to employ the Soundist strategy, I approached the first rehearsal in Finland (in September 2015) with great expectations. During the project I had a very good feeling about my new Soundist way of playing. The successful concerts, the creative atmosphere in the orchestra, the enthusiastic response from the audience, as well as the reviews in the newspapers, were reassuring of the success of my Soundist quest.

Only later, when analysing the video material from the project, I realized that as soon as I went on stage for a rehearsal or concert, I fell back unconsciously into my Gesturist habitus. Not that I sound bad, but on close observation the priorities appear very clear. I enact (and the orchestra with me) the storms as if it were Don Quichotte’s fierce attack on the windmills. In the weeping lament, instead of focusing on the resonant trajectory of the bow, I throw my body back and forth assimilating the despair of the shepherd. We bark like dogs (not only sound like dogs), embody the birdsongs and murmurings of streams, and dance a wild Gigue and a gentle Sarabande.

I realized that this study will not exemplify a Soundist virtuoso strategy after all. There were far too many 'sins' against the proper art of sound-making in the rehearsals and concerts. This was obviously a Gesturist performing Vivaldi’s Seasons.  This influenced the course of my analysis. Instead of establishing the Vivaldi study as a contrasting strategy to the Telemann and Rebel studies, which was my original intention, I set out to compare the local instances of the Soundist and Gesturist strategies inside the frame of the Vivaldi study itself.

What are the implications of Gesturist and Soundist strategies on the musical interpretation of the poetic imagery? Is 'sounding good' necessarily less gestural? Does embodying the poetic imagery always cause impediment to the sound?

I carried out a comparative qualitative analysis of the audio and video material that I had collected, with a particular interest in the sonic and gestural results of the different approaches employed.

The form of the video essays reflects the analytical methods and are constructed as sequences, using various editing techniques such as looping, slow motion, split screen, and picture in picture. Where necessary I provide explanatory captions or 'thinking bubbles'. Where many important points might pass unnoticed in a continuous, unedited video clip, the above-mentioned techniques allow for greater insight and intelligibility of the arguments, even for non-violinists.



Theoretical framework



From gesture to sound



Back to 'Poetic imagery' V3