Coming Out of the Silence
I have recently been learning the Beethoven violin concerto from memory for a performance last Saturday with a local orchestra, and the whole process has been full of insights and rewards at every step. Like few other works of this kind for the violin, the Beethoven is a true journey which organically develops from the opening, magical timpani notes through a succession of heart rendering scenes. Each successive passage carries us through the most elevated emotions and experiences, the whole work having a mobility which is life affirming – like spending time with a close friend.
To a performer, the Beethoven offers a musical challenge worth writing about: namely how to give meaning to silence. The very first entry of the principle violin emerges from the silence on an ascent through the A major seventh and setting out it’s role for the whole work: namely as a spiritual wanderer. If the violinist is to give this silence a feeling of life (as as to avoid it coming across as a lifeless pause), we must engage with it almost as if it is louder than the ensuing notes. In that way, it acts as a springboard for the first two violin phrase (which my violin teacher Kato Havas described as “…a simple arpeggio touched by the Gods…”)
In the third phrases, the quaver silence must also generate the energy for the phrase to grow from. If we imagine a gentle undulating semiquver pulse, emanating through the entire movement, then the phrases will always grow naturally, with the longer minims having a feeling of unhurried poise instead of the music stopping and waiting. This is why one note must swing towards the next in a succession of circles – the left hand continually moving. Without this, the left hand merely ‘stops’ a note by vertically pressing it: from the moment the note begins, it is dead and the vibrato merely acts to cover this up. When the fingers swing towards the note, with the following finger poised in anticipation, the flow and pulse of the music will be continuous. Playing the violin should feel like walking – even before the foot is near the floor, our next hip has started to set the other leg into motion. It is an overlapping, continuous effect of complete ease which is natural and flowing. In a performance, the goal is to try and keep the pulse flowing from coming out of the silence and the first note of the work to the last!