jan 30

Dancing & shaking around

I was watching Heifetz play on YouTube the other day, and I was reminded how stalwart his composure was. It made me wonder, who was it that started all this dancing around?

I scratched my head for half a day, and for the life of me I couldn’t come up with a violinist who would have got the ball rolling. Indeed. Who was it?

Looking elsewhere

Conducting has its Prometheus shaker; it was Gustav Mahler from a century ago. Mahler would inspire the likes of Bernstein, Dudamel & innumerable others. Quite similarly, Lang Lang comes from a tradition not invented by Glenn Gould, per se, but at least inspired by him. Gould’s inability “to play the piano without gesturing semaphorically toward an imaginary horde of sidemen” — as Gould admitted — must have given others a clue for what was allowed.

So, it seems both pianists & conductors have a long tradition to draw upon. But who were the violinists that burgeoned such flamboyant gestures?

The golden-age players

A swath of excellent players came out of the Russian school which Leopold Auer founded. I ran through the long list of his pupils and found, as with Heifetz, they excelled at many things, but dancing around wasn’t one of them.

Eugène Ysaÿe was father of another major violin school. The franco-belgiums had a distinct approach to the bow & a mystical artistic credo. In this camp, again, it’s hard to pin-point who was shaking around, and who wasn’t. But of the violinists of note, none are remembered for anything other than their inspired sound & artistry.

From there to here

Somewhere along the way, we went from cool-handed to undulating & grimacing. And unsurprising, there is a lineage between those cool cats and the modern shakers. For example, Between Ysaÿe and Josh Bell (a noteworthy shaker), there was Gingold, pupil of the former, and instructor of the later. Similar connections can be made of the Russian school to notable modern-day shakers.

Although the dancing violinist does have roots with the major violin schools, it seems that shaking around is a bit of a modern trend; perhaps borrowed from our conducting & keyboard friends. This surprises me. I’m of the mind that violinists do in fact have a Mahler or Gould who kicked it off for us. But I’m stumped on who that may have been.