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The Art of the Violin

The Art of the Violin

by Pierre Baillot

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Never before available in English, this classic work is a major contribution to the art and technique of violin playing and an important document in the history of performance practice. A contemporary of Kreutzer and Rode, Pierre Marie Francois de Sales Baillot provides in his treatise many insights into the style of nineteenth-century fingering, bowing,


Never before available in English, this classic work is a major contribution to the art and technique of violin playing and an important document in the history of performance practice. A contemporary of Kreutzer and Rode, Pierre Marie Francois de Sales Baillot provides in his treatise many insights into the style of nineteenth-century fingering, bowing, ornamentation, and expressiveness that are not apparent from the directions and markings found in scores of that time. Such information will be invaluable for performers interested in understanding the intentions of composers such as Viotti, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn.
This complete, unabridged translation, which includes an extensive introduction by the translator, Louise Goldberg, and a foreword by Zvi Zeitlin, will be indispensable for musicologists, performers, and lovers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century classical music.

Editorial Reviews

Scholars and performers have long hailed this work by Baillot (1771-1842) as one of the great treatises on the subject of violin playing and an important document in the history of performance. Edited and translated (for the first time into English) by Louise Goldberg from L'Art du violin (Depot Central de la Musique, Paris, 1835). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Northwestern University Press
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The Art of the Violin

By Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot, Louise Goldberg

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 1835 Dépôt Central de la Musique, Paris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-0754-0


Remarks on This New Method


When we were given the task, more than thirty years ago, of establishing the fundamentals of violin instruction at the Conservatoire de Musique, we had previously acquired almost no practical knowledge of the art of studying this instrument; our instruction had never gone beyond vague notions and incomplete traditions: we were obliged to wander or grope for many years before arriving at some of these processes that are called the secrets of the art. To support our special studies, we looked for the most notable elementary methods. We doubtless should have started there, but we lacked the means to do so; there were very few of these works, and they had been written too long ago to help in surmounting new difficulties or in giving the flexibility of resources that modern composers were making more and more necessary.


We were invited to fill this gap by publishing, as an experiment, the result of our discoveries; our love for the art obliged us to do so. Today we consider it imperative that we profit from the lessons of experience and revise this first Method; indeed, a revision after a certain period of time was considered useful, and was accordingly decreed at the time the first Method was adopted.


We have therefore entirely revised that work, although the fundamental principles of the first Method have been retained. We have tried to add to it by discussing a large number of new subjects which have not, at least to our knowledge, previously been applied to the study of the violin.


Almost all the musical examples have been taken from composers considered Classical, since their works can serve as a model in each genre; we believed it was better to proceed in this way — from the known to the unknown — than to offer examples whose application would be less clear, less positive, and consequently less effective. Such examples would not have the authority of time and tradition, nor could they offer, as excerpts can, the advantage of becoming a kind of memory aid if needed.

Moreover, the more variety of resources the violin offers today, the more diversity we have had to put into the examples. It is a basis of sound principle that one avoid the confusion of genres — that one not mix styles, but try to render them in their pure state. It is in the hope of enabling students to attain these goals that we have increased the number of excerpts from numerous composers. We are convinced that in performing the works of these composers, the violinist must use the same means they did if he wishes to create the same effects. In addition, we are convinced that this diversity offers greater opportunity for development of the genius of a young artist who feels in a creative frame of mind. And we are also convinced, finally, that these excerpts will perhaps inspire enough interest in students both to induce them to go back to the source to learn the works from which the examples were taken and also to convince them of the necessity of faithfully preserving the appropriate character for each of the composers.

It seemed to us above all that the primary aim of a method should be to develop the intelligence and to train the judgment in order not to destroy all the efforts of work and the results of patience. Technique today must not lack nourishment: each difficulty has its special studies, but a method must provide guidance in the use and arrangement of these materials; it must make clear the tie that unites these materials with the goal toward which they lead.


Some people have thought that they could hasten instruction by means of shortened methods, confusing them with concise methods. These concise methods must, on the contrary, be so extensive and practical that a less endowed student can quickly and clearly see in them how to progress. We think this is one of the surest ways of permitting studies to progress quickly, and this opinion provides us with an excuse for all the detail into which we have gone.


We also believe that the teaching of the violin, the foremost of all the instruments, should be built on the broadest foundations. It can be seen from the organization of this work that this has always been our intention, and that ever since the founding of the Conservatoire, we have worked sincerely to prevent the students entrusted to our care from becoming prisoners of a set curriculum; we have tried to give the greatest possible breadth to the curriculum itself, and to give the students the greatest freedom to progress beyond it.



If we wish to study an art thoroughly, we must, in order to follow its development, try as hard as possible to learn its origin and to trace all the changes that time has brought to it. It is in this manner that we learn to choose the best route and to measure the distance that remains so that we can reach the highest degree of perfection.


The origin of the violin is still shrouded in darkness. On the basis of some medallions and carvings in which one sees Apollo, Orpheus, and Amphion depicted with a violin similar to ours, it was long believed that this origin was in the very deep past; the antiquity of these medallions is today strongly contested.


A still unpublished work, which is the result of most interesting work done by an admirable professor, Jean-Baptiste Cartier, and for whose publication we call with all our might, offers evidence that the violin is a modern invention, and that the bow was unknown to the ancients.

It appears that in the ninth or tenth century, the rebec was in use — a violin with three strings, played with a short bow; the violin with four strings came into use only toward the middle of the fourteenth century; the violin, therefore, came after the rebec.

The viol was used to accompany singing in the fifteenth century. Since a smaller size of the viol was in use in France at the time, it received the name violino, "little violin," or violino à la française, as we see it designated in old scores.


Duiffoprugcar [Tieffenbrucker], born in the Italian Tyrol toward the end of the fifteenth century, came to France in 1515, and died in Lyon in 1530. He is the first and most famous of the violin makers whose names have come down to us; his instruments are remarkably beautiful and carefully finished. His pupils were Perra, Maggini, Coppa, and Amati. The Amati family worked for several generations to perfect violin making, and Stradivari, who succeeded them, raised the art to its final degree of superiority.


Nothing has changed in the basic form of the violin for three hundred years, but in the past century, its interior proportions have undergone some modifications necessitated by the rise in pitch: tilting the fingerboard back [thereby raising the end near the bridge] and lengthening it, and using thicker strings; these changes follow naturally from a great development in the style of playing. Violin makers have tried different methods of varying the violin's form and proportions; some have made violins with higher or lower arching, or in the form of a guitar or cittern; some have made violins of wood other than maple and spruce; some have even wanted to make them of metal; some have added sympathetic strings of gut which stretched under the bridge and the tailpiece; some have made violins without bass bars, others without soundposts. But up to the present, these numerous attempts have served only to make us appreciate even more the basic form of the violin, and to bring into relief the merit of such simplicity united with such power.


TWO plates and four points of support form the violin's entire framework. Four strings, placed over the fingerboard, are set in motion by a bundle of horse hair rubbed with rosin and fixed to the two ends of a stick. A bridge supports the strings, vibrates first under the bow, and communicates its vibrations to a wooden soundpost hidden inside the body of the instrument. This soundpost supports the arching [of the plates]; aided by a bass bar which maintains balance, the soundpost sets all the parts of the violin into harmony with each other, and, as the center of this harmonic movement, causes the sounds produced by the bow to carry beyond the instrument. This is the construction of the violin.

This construction is nevertheless far from perfect. The field of music has not had a work in which the form of the violin is considered with particular respect to the laws of physics; Savart, a member of the Academy of Sciences, has begun this work, and we hope to have soon the mathematical facts on the construction of the violin, for which we have groped up to now since we have not had definite rules. Since Savart's experiments have confirmed his calculations, the science of acoustics — and especially the acoustics of the violin — should profit greatly from his work.


If we consider the different characters and effects of the violin, we find richness combined with simplicity, grandeur with delicacy, power with sweetness; it can bring joy and sympathize with sadness. Depending on how one approaches it, its response can be common or sublime; any melody is part of its function; any harmony is in its domain; it becomes the most noble interpreter of genius; initiated to all mysteries of the heart by its continuous contact, it breathes and it beats with the heart. Its timbre is that of a second human voice, and by the placing and extent of its pitch, it seems destined to serve as supplemental notes to the natural voice. At the same time, this timbre is so varied that the violinist can give it the pastoral character of the oboe, the penetrating sweetness of the flute, the noble and touching sound of the horn, the warlike brilliance of the trumpet, the fantastic wave of the harmonica, the successive vibrations of the harp, the simultaneous vibrations of the piano, and finally the harmonious gravity of the organ. Its four strings are capable of so many marvels: they produce more than four and one-half octaves from the lowest note to the highest. The bow, which sets this lyre of modern times in motion, brings to it a divine breath and produces its wonders by serving as a vehicle for all affections of the soul and all flights of imagination.


"The violin, by its natural capacity to dominate in concerts and to respond to all bursts of genius, has taken on the different characters that the great masters have given to it: simple and melodious under the fingers of Corelli; harmonious, touching, and full of grace under the bow of Tartini; pleasing and sweet under the bow of Gaviniès; noble and imposing with Pugnani; full of fire, bold, moving, sublime in the hands of Viotti. The violin has risen to the point of depicting the passions with as much grandeur and energy as charm and sweetness."


How sad it is for us to add to the names of the great artists who are no longer with us those of our two colleagues Rode and [Rodolphe] Kreutzer, who were taken from us at almost the same time! Why must we grieve so soon over the loss of these two honorable friends and not be able to hear them again! One's playing, full of charm, purity, and elegance, rendered so well the likable qualities of his spirit and his heart; the other's frank character and ardent imagination were found in the boldness and warmth of his performances! Beloved students of these expert masters, you will try to render faithfully the expression of their souls; you will find them in their compositions — they still live in them! Their talents will live again in you: guardians of their traditions, you will keep oblivion from placing its hand on their works, and you will share their glory by identifying yourselves with their inspiration!


TO inscribe in this work the name of [Niccolò] Paganini [1782–1840] at the moment when the success he has just obtained in Paris justifies his reputation, is for us a duty and an honor independent of the pleasure we feel in rendering him justice.

We saw from the very first that his manner of playing the violin was generally his own, and had but very little resemblance to that of any other virtuoso. This difference gives his playing the zest of novelty, and yet this style is built almost entirely on the use of certain difficulties which had been in use before, such as harmonics, pizzicato, and scordatura, but which had for a long time fallen into disuse. In truth, Paganini has added some new effects to these: he has done so much with double harmonics and with the exclusive use of the G string, that the violin in his hands becomes a different instrument, just as the artist himself has gained a place which is out of the ordinary.


There is an important observation to be made here: for the most part, art loses on one hand what it gains on the other. One loses in simplicity what one gains in elegance; in low sounds what one gains in high sounds; in expressiveness and natural melodies what one finds in passages for effect; in grandeur what one acquires in delicacy. A talented artist, however, can use all of these successfully, provided that he does it with propriety, that is to say, that he does not go beyond certain limits determined by taste.

It is, therefore, the function of genius to create new effects, the function of taste to regulate their use, and the function of time alone to sanction them.

Guhr of Frankfurt has recently published a book in which we find most of the technical feats used by Paganini; this instructive work gives the most detailed explanation of the principal passages and the effects that make his playing so individual. It should not in any way be considered as a continuation of the Conservatoire Method, which is built on a totally different system.


Progress of the Art


We do not wish to undertake here the history of the violin; we must go only so far back as the point where the instrument began to progress in a steady manner.


Corelli was the first to publish a notable work for the violin, in 1700; the charm of the melodies, evenness of workmanship, and purity of style all led to his sonatas being considered the model of this type of composition. The virtuosi who succeeded him and whom we mentioned at the beginning of this work have, each according to his genius, enriched the art of violin playing and contributed powerfully to extending its domain. From this, the need was born not to fix its limits, but to establish the bases of instruction. In order for this task to develop properly, it had to be not the isolated product of the system of a single person, but rather the combined result of the observations of many. It was from this point of view that we were to undertake the writing of an elementary method under the auspices of the Conservatoire, a school whose aim was not only to prepare students but to unite in one body of principles the bases of all the diverse branches of instruction, and, by means of revisions we have already mentioned at the beginning of this treatise, to add constantly to the knowledge already acquired.


NO art can remain stationary; this truth, which has been repeated so often in our times, signifies that human nature always wants to surpass what it perceives; "If man were to last as long as the sun," writes Young, "he would always continue learning some new truth, and would die still yearning for knowledge."

The artist, devoured by the need to produce and animated by the most noble ambition, does not tire of seeking the Best as the object of all his work; he pursues this goal until his death; his imagination goes even beyond life if the hope of a future life leads him to foresee the extension of all the ways of attaining perfection. It is in our nature always to want to extend the power of our senses; it seems to us so beautiful to leave our earthly bonds that our soul, impatient to break its ties, seeks an opening through which it can extend itself into infinity. Imagination, favoring our penchant for the supernatural, lends us its wings in order to elevate us to unknown regions! But alas, we must soon fall back, betrayed by our own weakness; we then feel it necessary to look within ourselves and seek the true domain of art not in the unknown, not in material things or the physical effects of nature, but in our own hearts, in moral order, and in feeling — this sweet life of the soul and this inexhaustible source of happiness.


Excerpted from The Art of the Violin by Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot, Louise Goldberg. Copyright © 1835 Dépôt Central de la Musique, Paris. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Pierre Baillot (1771-1842) was a violinist, teacher, writer, and composer. Professor of violin at the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris for forty-seven years, he toured widely in Europe and Russia; he was a member of Napoleon's chamber orchestra, first violinist in Louis XVIII's string quartet, and solo violinist of the orchestra of the Paris Opera.
Louise Goldberg is Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Sibley Music Library of the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. Zvi Zeitlin is Kilbourn Professor of Violin at the Eastman School of Music.

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