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Again, the Joachim Bowing.

Among the many letters which I have recently received, bearing upon the mysterious “Joachim Bowing,” one is especially deserving of attention and publication. My correspondent is obviously intelligent and sincere, and, as he has studied the so-called Joachim bowing with a former pupil of the Hochschule, his letter has special value and interest to all readers of The Etude. The letter is as follows:

Dear Sir: As an interested student of the theory of violin-technics, and of the German (Berlin) methods in particular, I am naturally much impressed with your last article on “The Joachim Bowing.”

By careful study of the books on this subject, and through personal lessons from a graduate of the Hochschule, I had supposed myself to have a fair insight into this bowing, and I have been, for a long time, most anxious to get the other side of the case. I have heard numerous teachers quoted as being radically opposed to this method, but I have never been able to get the exact grounds for their opposition. It may be asking too much, yet I cannot help thinking there may be others of your readers who are equally interested and who might get great help from an article by you giving something of an analysis of the Berlin bowing, and perhaps one or two other methods with it for comparison and critical comment.

At the risk of going into superfluous details, I am going to give here my understanding of the Berlin bowing, as well as I may be able.

I am told that this school makes a somewhat radical distinction between those motions that directly produce tone and those that change the bow from one string to another. The tone-producing motions come from the hand (wrist), forearm (elbow), upper arm (shoulder), or from two or all three of these members at a time, according to the demands of the length, quality, style, or power of tone to be made. The string-changing motions come from the wrist and shoulder, according to the distance to be changed. Control of the bow, in general, being centered on the wrist, the hand must be held in such relation to the bow that, at all times, a sidewise swing from the wrist may be applied as the tone-producing motion, and an up-and-down motion at this joint will make the smaller changes of string. Systematic drills for the purpose of differentiating and controlling the two hand- or wrist- motions form the foundation-exercises for all bow-work.

As a theory, all this looks most convincing. It is not unlikely that I have set forth the parts of the theory that are good and worthy of acceptance, without bringing up the features that are found to be unsatisfactory and objectionable. This is what I very much desire to learn, and I think that others will be glad also to get at the truth of the matter. It is truth that we are after, well regarding the fact that it has many forms and faces, but still believing that there must be some solid, scientific basis for teachers of the violin to found upon in their work of instruction, particularly in those many cases where the teacher’s art, and not the pupil’s nature, is the only salvation.

Very truly yours,
H. N. B.

Now, this letter is published in its entirety because, according to the writer’s own statement, he studied with, and obtained his views from, a former pupil of the Hochschule. These views must be of peculiar interest to my readers, inasmuch as they represent the teachings of an adherent to Hochschule principles, even though it cannot be satisfactorily proven that my correspondent has accurately set forth the ideas promulgated by teachers of the Hochschule. And whether right or wrong in his conclusions, we are chiefly interested in the fact that his information has been obtained from one who is evidently endeavoring to impart to his own pupils the knowledge which he acquired at the Hochschule.

To begin with, it must be frankly admitted that this interesting question does not admit of detailed or adequate treatment in so brief an article as the present one. Hampered by the restrictions of space, we must content ourselves with the effort to explain the process in vogue at the Hochschule for the development of the right arm, its merits and demerits, and, above all, its results.

It is my firm belief that, of the many violinists who have been trained at the Hochschule during the past twenty years or more, few, indeed, have so clear a conception of the principles aimed at by the Hochschule pedagogues that they themselves could be considered capable of faithfully propagating these principles. This is not reckless assumption nor the result of deep-seated prejudice. It is simply a belief based upon facts not easily misconstrued by any intelligent observer, but widely ignored among those for whom this question should have peculiar interest. Indeed, it is next to an impossibility that any violinist, trained at the Hochschule, should be able firmly to grasp those principles on which is supposed to be constructed what is known as the “Joachim Bowing.” The whole history of this “Joachim Bowing” is a reflection on the intelligence and abilities of its advocates.

If I have never said so before, I wish now most emphatically to assert that Joachim is not primarily responsible for the “system” of bowing now in vogue at the Hochschule. It is quite true that he has encouraged others in foolish speculations, and has made no effort to dissuade his disciples from their illogical views. It is even true that his encouragement of the “Joachim Bowing” would seem to indicate his belief in its merits, and that nowadays, at least, he sees no good reason for receding from a position which, originally, he doubtless did not intend to take.

For the benefit of all those who may not be familiar with the history of the “Joachim Bowing,” it must be said that, in the earliest days of the Hochschule, nothing was known of this widely-discussed bowing. Had Joachim previously entertained the views which are now attributed to him, he would certainly have been the prime mover in the establishment of the new “system” of bowing. As it is, it is equally certain, from all the facts in the case, that he was a mere looker-on, in later years, when others sought in his art of bowing the principles of a new “school.” It was surely no difficult matter to discover in Joachim’s bowing many admirable features which could be utilized, in some definite form, as part of a system of violin-pedagogics. Nor was it a difficult matter, under the conditions which existed, and still exist, at the Hochschule, firmly to establish a new method which promised mastery of the technics of the bow.

But the ideas embodied in this new method were not the ideas of Joseph Joachim. They were the ideas of overzealous men of whose achievements the world knows nothing. They were the ideas of men who fancied they saw in everything Joachim did definite principles which needed only scientific reduction and application to enable the gifted student to achieve what Joachim had achieved. They were the ideas of men who will never occupy the least respectable niche in violin-history.

I have a distinct recollection of a conversation with Sauret, during which that admirable violinist quizzically requested me to reveal to him some of the mysteries of the so-called “Joachim Bowing.” I remember mow heartily we both laughed when I had to confess that there were no mysteries at all, and that what Joachim’s assistants were trying to grasp and teach was perfectly clear to every gifted and intelligent player of other “schools.” Without entering into unnecessary details, I wish simply to say that every capable teacher recognizes the necessity of training the wrist to the utmost degree of suppleness. It is the means employed by teachers of the Hochschule to attain this end, rather than the central idea itself, that has mystified so many players and has been condemned by the majority of broad-minded artists. Principles that, in themselves, are exceedingly simple and easily understood, have been surrounded with mystery and difficulties by the Hochschule pedagogues. But this is not the worst.

These teachers, peculiarly Teutonic in their admiration of all things German and disdain for what is foreign, first misconceive the underlying principles of Joachim’s own bowing, and then sternly devote themselves to a process of development which finds no justification in the training and achievements of the greatest violinists of the world. That is, the material which they utilize for training purposes is, in the main, unviolinistic. It is not the material which enabled Joachim himself to acquire mastery of violin-technics. It is not the material with which Laub, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Sarasate, Ysaye, and other artists have built their instrumental achievements.

It will thus be seen that the Hochschule pedagogue’s gravest error is his refusal to recognize the virtue of those methods of training which musical history has pronounced to be the best. He glories in Bach and Beethoven, and so do we all, I hope; but the music of Bach and Beethoven was never calculated to develop instrumental ability. He scorns the compositions that were written by able artists who had a keen appreciation of the young violinist’s needs. He cannot understand that musical development and intellectual strength are things apart from purely-violin training, and he consequently ignores the very process of instrumental development to which even the classical violinist, Joachim, owes his greatness as a performer.

And what are the results? What have been the results during the past twenty years? Hundreds of gifted violinists have gone to Berlin in the last two decades, many of exceptional endowments and possessing the attributes of greatness. Where are these men to-day? How many have fulfilled the promise of their youth?

It should always be remembered, in connection with this question of “Joachim Bowing,” that Joachim never teaches, never has taught, its principles. Every student that enters the Hochschule, however great his abilities, is placed in the hands of an assistant of Joachim for an indefinite period. Joachim’s assistants are men who, too frequently, are ridiculously inferior to the students whom they are supposed efficiently to “prepare” for Joachim’s class. The principle adopted at the Hochschule is that every student, however capable in a general way, requires thorough training in the “Joachim Bowing” before he can be admitted to Joachim’s class. Theoretically, such a plan seems just and good; but when it is taken into consideration that the majority of Joachim’s assistants have always been violinists of no recognized merit, the system must be pronounced cruel and inartistic.


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