11—Right-Hand Technique
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100 The final two chapters of this book are substantially identical to material in my previous volume, Before the Chinrest—A Guide to the Mysteries of Pre-Chinrest Technique and Style (Indiana University Press, 2012), but treat much of what has been discussed herein in greater depth. The first book was directed at those wishing to experiment with and become proficient in the use of the earlier instrument and bow, but “modern ” violinists often discover that certain “Baroque” concepts are transferable and actually facilitate technical execution on their own instruments. With this in mind, then, these two chapters summarize ideas that have been discussed or alluded to throughout, or expand them, and I apologize for any perceived redundancy. The Sonatas and Partitas pose challenges that require a special right-hand technique , and I shall devote this chapter to a discussion of specific issues encountered in polyphonic and dance music. First, though, a word about the subtleties of Baroque style: when playing the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whether using a modern or a pre-Tourte bow, one must understand that there is a need for the shaping of individual sounds that exceeds the usual demands of nineteenth - and twentieth-century repertoire. It seems that students today are exhorted to use as much bow as possible, without much regard for subtleties of right-hand expression that are desirable in pre-Romantic music. The elements of what I refer to as the “choreography” of bow strokes—the careful variation of point of contact, the intelligent planning of bow division, the artistic choice of note length, the subtle application of tone colors—all contribute to what is effectively a “spoken” approach to interpretation, as well as to the more usual and traditional “sung.” Awareness of the importance of the alternation of vowels and consonants in the texture, which calls for delicate right-hand control, is another essential ingredient in any successful interpretation in Baroque and Classical style. There is evidently a school of technique that promotes a bow grip with fingers spread apart, claw-like, in such a way that flexible use of the joints is impossible. In my teaching, I stress the need for a loose support of the bow, thumb relaxed, and fingers separated no more than they are when the arm is hanging at one’s side. In that way, the index and fourth fingers can be ready for those moments when inflection or adjustments of balance are called for. In the music of Bach and his contemporaries chapter eleven Right-Hand Technique 101 Right-Hand Technique and antecedents, it is not only necessary to pay particular attention to the variety of bow speed and division but also to the function of the index finger in applying pressure and the little finger in controlling the weight of the bow. Variety of articulation is a critical factor. Just think of it this way: each individual note constitutes a single sound, as do a group of slurred notes—the more notes under a slur, the less energetic that particular sound. I generally apply Leopold Mozart’s dictum: the first note under a slur is the loudest and each successive note softer.1 Obviously, there are qualifications to this rule, which mainly applies to groups of two or more notes moving in the same direction. Personally, I prefer to say that a slur implies a diminuendo sooner or later. That means that notes under a slur may be shaped according to context, but that the last note—the end of that sound—will always be separated from the next sound to a greater or lesser degree. This is an important tenet of Baroque and Classical performance practice and one of the most significant differences between that and “Romantic” style. String players are taught that bow changes should generally be imperceptible, and as students we strive to achieve that aesthetic goal. Granted, the technique is valuable in certain contexts, especially for the sustaining of notes that cannot possibly be played in one bow (a comparative rarity in Baroque music). However, this way of playing is alien to the eighteenth-century concept of articulation, and when applied to Baroque and Classical repertoire only succeeds in making it sound smooth and flattened out, and often—contributing to what is most unfortunate—like weak Romantic music.2 Polyphony It is essential to recognize that Bach is constantly writing polyphonically, even in apparently homophonic passages, and that this is the reason for his assigning individual stems...