Violin Playing As I Teach It (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Violin Playing As I Teach It (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

by Leopold Auer, Helen Kwalwasser

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Overview

Leopold Auer's book, Violin Playing As I Teach It, should be required reading for every burgeoning teacher and thoughtful student of the violin, whether amateur or professional, whose interest is in gaining more insights into mastering the violin. Whether he wishes to make his spiccato crisper, his trills faster or his double-stops less painful to himself and the listener, he will find valuable information and helpful hints from this master teacher on every page of this delightful "how to" book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781411431256
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 917,843
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Leopold Auer was born in Veszprem, Hungary, in 1845, the son of a housepainter, and became the most charismatic and successful violin teacher of the first half of the twentieth century. He was not only a dynamic force in the teaching studio but made his mark as a concertmaster, conductor, editor, soloist, chamber music performer, and "court musician" in serving three czars: Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II. He died while on vacation near Dresden in 1930. His fame and his mystique as a teacher have never been equaled or diminished.

Introduction

Leopold Auer's book, Violin Playing As I Teach It, should be required reading for every burgeoning teacher and thoughtful student of the violin, whether amateur or professional, whose interest is in gaining more insights into mastering the violin. Whether he wishes to make his spiccato crisper, his trills faster or his double-stops less painful to himself and the listener, he will find valuable information and helpful hints from this master teacher on every page of this delightful "how to" book.

Leopold Auer was born in Veszprem, Hungary, in 1845, the son of a housepainter, and became the most charismatic and successful violin teacher of the first half of the twentieth century. He was not only a dynamic force in the teaching studio but made his mark as a concertmaster, conductor, editor, soloist, chamber music performer, and "court musician" in the service of three czars: Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II. He died while on vacation near Dresden in 1930. His fame and his mystique as a teacher have never been equaled or diminished.

He studied the violin with Jacob Dont in Vienna and later with the famous violin virtuoso, Joseph Joachim. It was not until the early 1900s at the St. Petersburg Conservatory that Auer became the teacher of the brilliant child prodigies: Zimbalist, Heifetz, and Elman. The list of the young children who later became the giants of the music world is endless and formidable. Violin Playing As I Teach It was first published in 1920 by Stokes and was followed by Auer's autobiography My Long Life in Music in 1923. He wrote in order to reach a larger audience and to raise the standard of violin teaching, instilling in the pedagogue "a sense of responsibility in guiding students of exceptional talent."

Auer immigrated to the United States in 1917 and joined the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Institute of Musical Arts in New York. The New Yorker magazine profiled him in 1920 in an article entitled "Master of Masters" and seventy years later the British publication The Strad celebrated the 150th anniversary of his birth with a tribute article entitled "The Great Facilitator."

Because czarist Russia did not allow Jews to live in St. Petersburg or Moscow unless they were students, when Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, Jascha Heifetz, and countless others arrived in St. Petersburg, usually with one parent in tow, they were subjected to unspeakable humiliation. Heifetz's father, a forty-year-old violinist, was able to enroll as a student (in name only) in the St. Petersburg Conservatory thanks to Professor Auer's intervention, thus circumventing the edict. Before this subterfuge, the Heifetzes had taken rooms on the Finnish border, some thirty miles distant. The child Efrem Zimbalist and his mother rented a room for a few days upon their arrival in St. Petersburg, waiting until he could play for Auer and then find permanent lodgings. When they were forced to leave the rooming house for want of bribe money, they spent a night or two on the streets during the cold Russian winter, alternating between walking, stopping in cafes to warm themselves, and then continuing their aimless wandering. In the morning they arrived exhausted at Auer's residence and begged him for help. He was able to procure a pass for Mme. Zimbalist to stay a few more days in St. Petersburg, during which time she did find housing for her gifted son. Auer never referred to his own Jewish heritage.

One wonders whether the plights of these youngsters were reminiscent of his own early career when his father and he embarked on a concert tour of the provinces. The money had run out for this thirteen-year-old boy after two years of study at the Vienna Conservatory. They traveled by wagon, seated on bales of straw. Auer recalled in his autobiography, "At every stop it was necessary to feed the horses, so that the bundles of straw kept getting smaller and smaller as the horses ate them up, and the longer we went on, the lower and harder our seats became."

In his book Zimmy, Roy Malan tells of Zimbalist's first impression of Auer: that he was short of stature, but erect, with a paunch over which was draped a gold watch chain. He had a bald pate, a well trimmed goatee, a prominent nose, and coal-black, penetrating eyes. His clothes were elegant and it was rumored that his heavy winter coat had an ermine lining. One must remember that Auer had always been among the elite of musicians, having a salary of 3,000 rubles at the Conservatory and another 3,000 rubles for his duties as soloist to czars Alexander II and III. Added to this were extra fees paid to him for solo and chamber music concerts. (In 1901 a ruble was worth 50 cents. U.S.)

Zimbalist was impressed with all of his fellow students, but mainly with his teacher, "…the first great violinist I ever heard. The way in which he played the slow movement of the Spohr No. 9 (Concerto) was incredible, unforgettably beautiful." He also commented on Auer's beautiful spiccato, polished sound, and impeccable technical command.

By all accounts, Auer was prone to moodiness - he could be a harsh and exacting teacher and at other times warm and supportive. His students delighted in remembering his advice that they were not to practice long hours, that they were to rest several minutes of every hour, and that they start each practice session with endlessly slow bows on open strings. When I was a twelve-year-old student of Zimbalist at the Curtis Institute, I too was initiated into this regimen. But the master of this was Zimbalist himself who was often asked by his pupils to perform this trick. Living up to his reputation and becoming encouraged by his students as if he were a circus performer, he could draw the bow from frog to point for what seemed like hours. (Try doing this for one minute!) The object was to draw a bow that was seamless without changes of dynamics, without a speed-up at the frog or the point. It has proven to be an appealing and helpful exercise.

Auer held his classes at the conservatory twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. when he was not on tour. Eight to ten students attended class. There were no private lessons given and as a result all the students heard a great deal of repertoire that was not their own. "Volunteers" were asked to play, a system which lent itself to much favoritism. Since Auer did not bring a violin to class he would demonstrate on the instrument of the nearest student. There was seldom an accompanist at these classes and Auer did not play the piano at all.

These "volunteers" during class were, in essence, giving performances and were not interrupted to work on technical problems that would and probably should take enormous amounts of repetition to correct. It certainly was not "hands on" teaching. One wonders whether these wunderkinds had such superb teaching while still in the provinces that they didn't need corrective technical makeovers when they came to Auer.

Auer always insisted on slow practice, but here, Ivan Galamian, who was my mentor over a period of seven or eight years, disagreed. Although slow practicing has its place, Galamian preferred to have students practice in rhythms so that they were prepared to play in the tempo the composer and the piece suggested. With the combination of slow-fast rhythms, Galamian maintained it was possible to hear more acutely, thereby, identifying the technical problems.

During the First World War years and the Russian Revolution, Auer brought his class to Norway where he had previously summered. It was at this point that many international students joined the class. Although he had always intended to return to Russia, it was not politically feasible at that time, so he decided instead to immigrate to the United States in 1917. He left behind his scores, programs, royal decorations, letters, and many friends - a lifetime of memories. His autobiography is all the more amazing for its accuracy in regard to dates, people and their social standing, royal houses where he played, what he played, and even what was served for dinner - total recall!

The list of successful Auer pupils is astonishing. However, Mischa Elman stated at one point that he studied with Auer for only 16 months. Nathan Milstein came very late to the class as did Oscar Shumsky, at a time when Heifetz and Toscha Seidel were already students. Other members of the class included: Poliakin, Michel Piastro, Joseph Achron, Cecelia Hansen, Kathleen Parlow (Auer referred to her as "Elman in a skirt"), Paul Stassevitch, and Matt Rosen. The roots of the violinists' tree sent out more seedlings: Louis Persinger, who went on to teach Ruggiero Ricci and Yehudi Menuhin, and Naom Blinder, who was the principal teacher of Isaac Stern. He also taught many concertmasters such as Richard Burgin of the Boston Symphony, Blinder of the San Francisco Symphony, Mischa Mischakoff of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini, and Alexander Hilsberg of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Boris Schwartz quotes Heifetz, "My old Professor Auer put a finger on me. He said that some day I would be good enough to teach . . . Violin playing is a perishable art; it must be passed on as a personal skill - otherwise it is lost."

Carl Flesch, a most important violinist and pedagogue of the time, said: "One must not forget that in the Russian ghetto, Auer had the best possible choice of pupils at his disposal. Those 'in the know,' therefore, will not be surprised to hear Elman or Heifetz admit in confidence that he came to Auer fully trained, and after a very brief term of study devoted to learning a number of standard works, embarked on a greater career." Yet Flesch does concede that the Auer school exerted a great influence on violin playing.

The chapter on repertoire is of particular interest to the modern teacher and performer. The author lists etudes and the order in which they should be studied and then shares a general outline of pieces to be performed. It is a list that many may find quite dated; it includes several small pieces, "violin-song numbers" which could be programmed so that the recital (or musicale) would not seem too heavy. Special attention was given to the Wieniawski F-sharp minor Concerto, the Ernst F-sharp minor Concerto and a myriad of Spohr concertos that are seldom heard any more. As you might expect, he lists most of the great standard concertos (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bruch, Wieniawski, Brahms, Paganini, and Tchaikovsky). The last-mentioned was written and dedicated to Auer but he thought that some of it was unplayable and unviolinistic. He put it aside for a few years and after Adolph Brodsky gave the first performance of the concerto, Auer changed his mind (and many passages) and taught and played it often. Both the original and Auer's edited version are available today.

It is a bit shocking to note that Mozart did not make the repertoire list at all, nor did the sonatas of Beethoven or Brahms. I have always felt that Mozart concertos (especially the fourth and fifth) were assigned too early in the development of a violin student, but if they could manage to play Beethoven or Tchaikovsky or Brahms concertos, it would seem likely that they would be mature enough to tackle Mozart. Perhaps Auer took too much to heart the adage that Mozart is too easy for children and too difficult for adults. In his autobiography, he pays tribute to Mozart in quoting Rossini who said that "Mozart as a truffle among mushrooms."

When Professor Auer arrived in the United States in 1917, seventy-two students were waiting to study with him and were willing to pay $360 for a series of six lessons. But as stated in The Strad magazine article, "The Great Facilitator," the students were also buying the right to say that they studied with him.

Throughout his entire teaching career, Auer commanded stunning fees for his lessons. It is said that his fee at the Curtis Institute was $102 an hour. When he was asked what the $2 was for, he replied that it was for lunch. And then there is a heart-rending story about a young boy who played only the first and third movements of a concerto for his first lesson because the slow movement would have been too expensive.

Although this book covers most concerns of violin teaching, even tips for dealing with stage fright and a marvelous chapter on nuance, Auer is quite silent about the vibrato and how to teach it. Vibrato is indisputably one of the most important musical functions of the left hand, which speaks to the all-important sound production in violin playing. It is true that in the nineteenth century, vibrato was not used extensively. But by the time Elman and Heifetz became household names, it was part of their communicative arsenal. Did they teach themselves a vibrato by experimentation? Certainly Michel Piastro did, admitting that he spent an entire summer working by himself on a vibrato and "ultimately developing one."

Perhaps Auer did not teach a vibrato because he found the sound of it unpleasant. In 1921 he wrote: "this curious habit of vibrating on each and every tone amounts to a physical defect, whose existence those who are cursed with it do not, in most cases, even suspect. Some pupils of mine have been unable to rid themselves of this vicious habit, and have continued to vibrate on every note, long or slow . . . playing in constant vibrato. Perhaps this was a failing in the teaching of Leopold Auer, but he more than made up for it with his brilliantly analytic insights, his high standards, his step- by-step approach to learning, his great knowledge of music in general and the violin in particular. He was also an enormously supportive and nurturing teacher, a bright and fun-loving man who cared about his students and communicated his concern for them. This concern translated into an energetic and often successful battle to plead for more financial support for young students and gifts or loans of better instruments for them to play early in their careers. Fortunately, his vitality and enthusiasm and his powers of persuasion when he addressed these concerns were often well rewarded.

This eloquent book of Leopold Auer's Method has done and will continue to do much to raise the standards of violin teaching and performing in the United States. Thus, an all-consuming objective of this icon of our cultural heritage has been realized.—Helen Kwalwasser

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Violin Playing As I Teach It (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At no point does this work claim to be a simple how to manual, rather is it treats one to the insights and discoveries borne of a lifetime of violin playing and teaching. There are enough mechanical instruction books already and this work provides clear concise and useful ideas and concepts for all levels of violinist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like the book so much that I told my violin teacher to give me homework about the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was awesome.i actually thought it was a real song book with music notes.hey!if you are nine or older you should read this.bye
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