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Before the Chinrest

A Violinist's Guide to the Mysteries of Pre-Chinrest Technique and Style

Stanley Ritchie

Publication Year: 2012

Drawing on the principles of Francesco Geminiani and four decades of experience as a baroque and classical violinist, Stanley Ritchie offers a valuable resource for anyone wishing to learn about 17th-18th-and early 19th-century violin technique and style. While much of the work focuses on the technical aspects of playing the pre-chinrest violin, these approaches are also applicable to the viola, and in many ways to the modern violin. Before the Chinrest includes illustrated sections on right- and left-hand technique, aspects of interpretation during the Baroque, Classical, and early-Romantic eras, and a section on developing proper intonation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Publications of the Early Music Institute


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Preface and Acknowledgments

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p. xi-xi

Louis Spohr (1784–1859) is credited with the invention, circa 1820, of the chinrest. The popular explanation for its introduction is that virtuoso repertoire by that time necessitated a more comfortable and secure means of supporting the violin. This opinion, . . .

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Introduction: How to Support the Pre-Chinrest Violin

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p. xv-xv

Learning to support the violin without the aid of a chin or shoulder rest can be frustrating at first— many times I have had a modern violinist come to my studio from practicing virtuoso repertoire and say, “I feel like a beginner!”—but patient . . .

Part 1. Right-Hand Technique

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General Observations

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p. 1-1

Baroque and Classical music requires great subtlety of nuance and tone color and a consequent delicacy of bow control that differs in some ways from that called for in much Romantic music. There are also bow-strokes to be mastered that are especially . . .

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1. Tone Production

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pp. 3-5

Two words that should never, in my opinion, be used to refer to the contact between hand and bow are “hold” and “grip,” as both suggest some kind of effort. Ideally, in my view, one should balance the bow in the hand as lightly as possible, exerting no . . .

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2. Bow-Strokes

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pp. 6-14

The term “bow-stroke” has different connotations according to the context. In its simple form it defines the various ways in which the bow can be used: détaché, sautillé, legato, martelé, and so on. It can also refer, however, to the passage of the bow . . .

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3. Chordal Technique

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pp. 15-19

In 1933, in an article in the Musical Times, Albert Schweitzer promoted the idea, originally conceived by musicologist Arnold Schering at the beginning of the twentieth century, that there had once been a bow that could play chords in the Bach solo . . .

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4. Bow Division

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pp. 20-21

“Choreography” is a comprehensive term that I use in my teaching to describe the artful use of bow-strokes to shape a musical phrase. According to Michael Vernon, director of the Ballet Department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, . . .

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5. Swift-Bows

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pp. 22-24

Here are two exercises that are very useful for developing the ability to pass lightly and rapidly from one end of the bow to the other. This is an invaluable skill in Baroque interpretation: one often encounters a passage in which a light, unaccented . . .

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6. Combination Strokes

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p. 25-25

A characteristic style of Baroque articulation is one in which slurred and separate articulations occur. In such cases the swift-bow techniques described above come . . .

Part 2. Left-Hand Technique

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7. Position-Changing Exercises

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pp. 29-34

Position refers not to the hand but to the arm. Hence “First-position” is that configuration of the arm that allows the fingers to fall naturally, without extension or contraction, on all the notes between G-sharp on the . . .

Part 3. Interpretation

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8. Expression

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pp. 37-53

If there is one clue that should help us understand the rarity of dynamics and other indications of expression in much of the music composed before the end of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the nineteenth, it is that musicians of . . .

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9. Dynamics and Nuance

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pp. 54-60

Until the second half of the eighteenth century expression marks of any kind were relatively rare. Dynamics were limited mainly to the indication of echoes or the use in cantatas and concertos to alert the accompanying instruments that the solo voice . . .

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10. Tempo

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pp. 61-66

As early as the sixteenth century Galileo was experimenting with ways of keeping time in music, and before the invention of the metronome in 1815 other means were employed to calculate and indicate appropriate tempi. For the modern player, . . .

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11. Ornamentation

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pp. 67-75

Baroque ornamentation can be classified in three categories: symbolic, notated, and spontaneous. I do not propose to provide an exhaustive catalogue but only briefly describe and illustrate those most frequently encountered in . . .

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12. Baroque Clichés

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pp. 76-82

The literature of Baroque music contains certain melodic and rhythmic patterns whose occurrence is so frequent that they are considered to be clichés. I devote this chapter to revealing several of them, with correct and incorrect ways of interpreting . . .

Part 4. A Technique and Intonation Practice Guide

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13. Tuning

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pp. 85-92

Intonation is certainly one of the more contentious and complex issues in music-making. Over the centuries theorists have wrestled with the problem of the distribution of the “comma”—the amount by which the octave is exceeded when one tunes . . .

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14. Exercises Starting with the First Finger

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pp. 93-116

Use the first finger as the “guiding finger,” keeping it down as long as possible. Play the exercise legato, varying the number of notes under a slur but usually no more than four and at a moderate tempo, slurring over position changes and string . . .

15. Exercises Starting on G

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pp. 117-135

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16. Half-Position

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pp. 136-137

When playing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, one frequently encounters passages such as the excerpt below, from the final chorale of Cantata 138, that require the use of half-position, or at least fall more readily under the fingers when . . .


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pp. 139-141


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pp. 143-145

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001115
E-ISBN-10: 0253001110
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253223180

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 260 music exx. and 1 b&w illustration
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Publications of the Early Music Institute

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Violin -- Performance -- History -- 18th century.
  • Violin -- Performance -- History -- 17th century.
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