vibrato. An effect, once an ornament but
now a standard part of tone production, whereby a singer or instrumentalist
imparts a throbbing quality to a note by oscillating between it and a pitch
slightly below. With singers, the louder the note, the more pronounced,
usually, the vibratoand the oscillation can become so wide that the hearer
may be left in doubt as to just which note is being aimed for. If the technique
is applied, as it often is, to a fairly rapid passage, the result is quite
unnerving and totally unmusical (except, apparently, in the opera house).
The LaRousse Encyclopedia of Music,
A constant vibrato is the hallmark of the modern classical violinist.
This is the way Beethoven and Brahms intended it. Well, you can find out
for yourself by listening to recordings of violin virtuosi of the late
19th century, such as Joseph Joachim (a close personal friend of Brahms),
or Leopold Auer (to whom Tchaikovsky's First Violin Concerto was originally
dedicatedAuer thought that "in spite of its intrinsic merit, it called
for a thorough revision, since in various portions it was unviolinistic").
You can even check out Auer's personal opinion on
the subject of vibrato.
Of course, a wide vibrato has always been the norm in classical singing.
If you believe this, read the opinions of soprano Mrs.
Margaret Blake Alverson, a leading recital artist and classical voice
teacher active in Boston and San Francisco during the late 19th and early
One theory has it that when the modern Boehm system flute was adopted,
the sound was so bland in comparison to the old wooden flutes that the
players had to do something, and all they could think of was vibrato. French
flutist Marcel Moyse called it "worse than cholera". His countryman
Georges Barrère said: "For three hundred years flutists tried
to play in tune. Then they gave up and invented vibrato." Thanks to
the research of Nancy Toff, the whole story
is now out in the open!
I'm starting a collection of short reviews of classical
music performances without vibrato. This is also known as "historically
informed performance" (HIP). However, I'm not restricting the collection
to the use of historically authentic instruments. I am restricting the
time period to be from the Baroque to the Romantic era (roughly 1650-1900).
This is the style of music which is frequently played with vibrato by modern
performers, although, at the time it was composed, vibrato was used only
as a type of ornament.
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