THE TIMBRAL REVOLUTION
The violin is arguably amongst the most important instruments to have ever graced the concert stage. The immense popularity of the violin owes a great deal to the early 17th century composers, who where first to utilize the violin’s technical and emotional prowess in western European music. As composers in the 17th century were actively searching for an instrument which would be equally at home in both a solo and ensemble capacity, so too were professional concert violinists attempting to establish the violin as an acceptable alternative to florid vocal passages in instrumental music. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was the first noted composer to “dare introduce a violin in classical music”1 with his Orfeo in 1607. Since then, countless composers have preferred the violin as a vehicle of choice to communicate their musical ideas to the world. When looking back into the famous relationship between composer and violinist, it is astonishing to see how they have kept up with each other.
The violin is unique in that it has an exceptional ability to produce extremely broad varieties of sound, which range from the hideous to the sublime. This is a possible clue as to how the violin has managed to remain the darling of almost every stylistic trend since its inception into the tradition of western music. This relationship has been paramount to music, whose composers have pushed the technical possibilities of the violin, and violinists who have ceaselessly interpreted the music with unparalleled artistic expression and virtuosity. Within the last fifty years, the world of classical music has been undergoing a timbral revolution, where a huge number of new and exciting sounds and timbres have been uncovered. These new possibilities have added to the sonic pallet of violin music to no end. This revolution has largely been the product of the noise orchestras of the early Dadaist movement in Italy and France during the early 20th century.
The noise orchestras brought about by Dadaist composers sought to expand the pallet of orchestral timbre, by implementing non-musical objects such as typewriters (Erik Satie’s [1866-1925] Parade) and airplane engines (George Antheil’ s [1900-1959] Ballet Mechanique). In an attempt to remove the timbral biases that accumulated throughout the history of music, the Dadaists considered “found objects” as fair game to feature in both orchestral and solo concert music. Shortly after the Dadaist movement, electronic and acoustic media began to merge. The presence of these new electroacoustic music modes created a climate for change, enabling composers and performers to seek out new ways to augment the sonic possibilities of the violin. No other period in music has seen such a development of new performance resources. Traditional eighteenth and nineteenth century performance techniques now represent only a small fraction of the instrument’s sonic possibilities.
This paper will attempt to outline a small number of these exciting new techniques, and perhaps offer some insight as to how they might be used in a musical context. These advances will include bowing techniques, right and left percussion developments, and new harmonic innovations.
Length: 14 pages