The Singing Tone and the Vibrato
Maximilian Pilzer is deservedly prominent among younger American concert violinists. A pupil of Joachim, Shradieck, Gustav Hollander, he is, as it has already been picturesquely put, "a graduate of the rock and thorn university," an artist who owes his success mainly to his own natural gifts plus an infinite capacity for taking pains. Though primarily an interpreter his interlocutor yet had the good fortune to happen on Mr. Pilzer when he was giving a lesson. Essentially a solo violinist, Mr. Pilzer nevertheless has the born teacher's wish to impart, to share, where talent justifies it, his own knowledge. He himself did not have to tell the listener this--the lesson he was giving betrayed the fact.
It was Kreisler's Tambourin Chinois that the student played. And as Mr. Pilzer illustrated the delicate shades of nuance, of phrasing, of bowing, with instant rebuke for an occasional lack of "warmth" in tone, the improvement was instantaneous and unmistakable. The lesson over, he said:
The Singing Tone
"The singing tone is the ideal one, it is the natural violin tone. Too many violin students have the technical bee in their bonnet and neglect it. And too many believe that speed is brilliancy. When they see the black notes they take for granted that they must 'run to beat the band.' Yet often it is the teacher's fault if a good singing tone is not developed. Where the teacher's playing is cold, that of the pupil is apt to be the same. Warmth, rounded fullness, the truly beautiful violin tone is more difficult to call forth than is generally supposed. And, in a manner of speaking, the soul of this tone quality is the vibrato, though the individual instrument also has much to do with the tone.
"But not," Mr. Pilzer continued, "not as it is too often mistakenly employed. Of course, any trained player will draw his bow across the strings in a smooth, even way, but that is not enough. There must be an inner, emotional instinct, an electric spark within the player himself that sets the vibrato current in motion. It is an inner, psychic vibration which should be reflected by the intense, rapid vibration in the fingers of the left hand on the strings in order to give fluent expression to emotion. The vibrato can not be used, naturally, on the open strings, but otherwise it represents the true means for securing warmth of expression. Of course, some decry the vibrato--but the reason is often because the vibrato is too slow. One need only listen to Ysaye, Elman, Kreisler: artists such as these employ the quick, intense vibrato with ideal effect. An exaggerated vibrato is as bad as what I call 'the sentimental slide,' a common fault, which many violinists cultivate under the impression that they are playing expressively.
Violin Mastery and its Attainment
"Violin mastery expresses more or less the aspiration to realize an ideal. It is a hope, a prayer, rather than an actual fact, since nothing human is absolutely perfect. Ysaye, perhaps, with his golden tone, comes nearest to my idea of what violin mastery should be, both as regards breadth and delicacy of interpretation. And guide-posts along the long road that leads to mastery of the instrument? Individuality in teaching, progress along natural lines, surety in bowing, a tone-production without forcing, cultivating a sense of rhythm and accent. I always remember what Moser once wrote in my autograph album: 'Rhythm and accent are the soul of music!'
The Shining Goal
"And what a shining goal is waiting to be reached! The correct interpretation of Bach, Haendel and the old Italian and French classics, and of the vast realm of ensemble music under which head come the Mozart and Beethoven violin sonatas, and those of their successors, Schumann, Brahms, etc. And aside from the classics, the moderns. And then there are the great violin concertos, in a class by themselves.
They represent, in a degree, the utmost that the composer has done for the interpreting artist. Yet they differ absolutely in manner, style, thought, etc. Take Joachim's own Hungarian concerto, which I played for the composer, of which I still treasure the recollection of his patting me on the shoulder and saying: 'There is nothing for me to correct!' It is a work deliberately designed for technical display, and is tremendously difficult. But the wonderful Brahms concerto, those of Beethoven and Max Bruch; of Mozart and Mendelssohn--it is hard to express a preference for works so different in the quality of their beauty. The Russian Conus has a fine concerto in E, and Sinding a most effective one in A major. Edmund Severn, the American composer and violinist, has also written a notably fine violin concerto which I have played, with the Philharmonic, one that ought to be heard oftener.
"Bach is one of the most difficult of the great masters to interpret on the violin. His polyphonic style and interweaving themes demand close study in order to make the meaning clear. In the Bach Chaconne, for instance, some very great violinists do not pay enough attention to making a distinction between principal and secondary notes of a chord. Here [Mr. Pilzer took up a new Strad he has recently acquired and illustrated his meaning] in this four-note chord there is one important melody note which must stand out. And it can be done, though not without some study. Bach abounds in such pitfalls, and in studying him the closest attention is necessary. Once the problems involved overcome, his music gains its true clarity and beauty and the enjoyment of artist and listener is doubled.