Setup and playing of a real baroque violin in modern age – (video)
Review of the Baroque Stradivari violin played by Miriam Fried
Last year I was the director in a recording session for iClassical Academy in Italy, to record violin lessons of the Bach solo pieces to be published on the web. The teacher was Professor Miriam Fried, she is a very renown violinist and professor in the States. She came with the instrument she used to play already for thirty years and maybe more, a genuine baroque Stradivari violin built by the legendary Italian luthier in 1686.
In these pictures, you can see how this beautiful instrument proudly holds signs of the many years of performing.
It lost part of its original glossy painting, then it was restored to bring it back to full efficiency, and at the same time testifying the thousands of hours it was played.
But the real unique feature of this instrument, which makes it different from the other violins from the same luthier, is actually on the player rather than on the violin. Miriam Fried dedicated her whole life to the baroque playing, studying and designing all the possible features that the way of playing baroque sonatas had to be at the time in which Bach lived and wrote his masterpieces; “had to be”, because as Professor Fried tells in her lectures “Bach left nothing written, absolutely nothing, so sometimes we can clearly find the correct way to play baroque, sometimes we just think the way he would have chosen his scores to be played”.
Back to the instrument, it has a modern neck and steel strings, but Prof. Fried plays it with a baroque bow:
As many already know, the baroque bow is about 10 cm shorter than the modern one, and it has a very unique feature in the sound: it sounds thicker and deeper as you play next to the frog, and then it goes thinner and brilliant as you play towards the tip. This, of course, gives the chance to make many variations in the sound as you play, but you’ll have to adapt your technique in order not to “throw” the length of the bow, first because it’s shorter, and then because you have to decide in which part of the bow you will play, because the sound will be different. In the video, at the end of this article, you will appreciate the unbelievable skill and sensibility that Miriam Fried has in mastering this technique. And to tell the very truth, even this bow is a sort of compromise between baroque and modern, because the “real” baroque bow had no adjustable frog, like this one, which Prof. Fried also showed to me.
The little “U” that you see is a little piece of leather put underneath the strings, which in the very baroque era was the only way to increase the tension. So I believe that this instrument, in the hands of Miriam Fried, is probably the closest baroque Stradivari violin setup to the very baroque technique of playing and composing.
By the way, the lessons and lectures that Prof. Fried recorded are published on www.iclassical-academy.com, and it will be accessible for free, so keep an eye on this site, as I thank Miriam Fried for her fantastic playing and for allowing me to take this pictures.