Arts & Culture | Amateur Playing | Late Baroque | Classical
As the violin family acquired the musical respectability previously enjoyed by the viols, so the upper-middle classes began to take an interest in becoming amateur players. Accordingly, a market grew up for tutors, or instruction books.
The earliest known volume devoted to the violin was The Gentleman’s Diversion (1693) by John Lenton (d. 1718) and this served as a model for most early eighteenth-century English violin methods. Intended for beginners, they sometimes offered advice of dubious merit. One early authority advised that when tuning a violin, the musician should wind up the ‘first or Treble string as high as it will bear’ and follow by tuning the other strings ‘from the note thus produced’, a procedure that must have broken a lot of E strings.
The initial tutors explained basic fingering and ornamentation to the amateur player, offering guidance on posture and how to hold both instrument and bow. The two publications most frequently consulted by modern players as offering invaluable insight into the thinking of some performers of the time are The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751) by Geminiani and Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (‘An Attempt at Learning the Violin’, 1756) by Leopold Mozart (1719–87). The question is, do these publications reflect what Baroque string players were actually doing, or what their authors hoped to persuade them to do?
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