Over the weekend I treated myself to a repeat viewing of the wonderful film “Nathan Milstein – In Portrait” made by Christopher Nupen some 25 years back. Now, if you haven’t seen it and want to get inspired by wonderful violin playing and great insights into music making, I strongly suggest a visit to Amazon.
Hopefully it is still available.
On the second of the two discs is a live performance of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata,” part of the final recital of Milstein’s career; he was 82 years of age. As Nupen points out, the performance stands as an Acme of Milstein’s musical life, both as an artist/violinist and as an interpreter of this magnificent work.
Now, the sonata opens with a forte chord, followed by a series of quiet, slow, stately double-stops; the piano is silent during this phrase. It is a decptively simple passage to play, requiring great control – especially the move from the forte A Major chord to the following ‘subito p’ double stop on D and F#.
And what Milstein did in that transition inspired me to the subject of this article.
You see, the most common way to play the double stop after the opening chord is by sliding up the second finger from C# to D and playing the F# on the E string with the first finger; staying in position and avoiding any kind of risky hand movements.
Milstein did the risky thing, however. He deftly shifted three positions and played the second beat on the A and D strings, employing the natural harmonic under his 4th finger for the D in the double-stop.
And it is breathtakingly effective, as you can see and hear for yourself.
Which brings me to the 3 ‘must-dos’ in order to carry off such a move, or any significant shift for that matter.
Number one, in advance of the shift one must have a very clear image in mind of the arrival points for each finger; something akin to spotting a landing in a gymnastics dismount.
Number two, the form of fingers and hand must be maintained such that there are no loose or extraneous movements during the move.
And number three, the timing of the movement must be deliberate and confident; not rushed or delayed by anxiety.
Now, all of these items deserve more illustration than verbal discriptions on a page. And though the careful observation of excellent players is most helpful, there are practice techniques and hidden details that a good teacher can provide in addition.
The ‘Allegro Players’ certainly contains this instruction. So if you are up and running as a violinist, yet are challenged to master the skill of shifting, particularly large and awkward ones, this is a course of study for you.
All the best,
P.S. One thing I didn’t mention about the Milstein performance. He was troubled by pain in his 1st finger at the end of his career. This might have been the reason he adopted the ‘riskier’ fingering for this performance. Interesting how a cloud can have a ‘silver lining,’ as the saying goes!