I will keep this post active while I add updates. Latest playing at the top of the page.
September 15, 2019
I’ve had a disruptive time over July and August, but now I should have a clear run to Christmas, and will hopefully make more progress. Yesterday I made my first public performance! It was at a meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society in Edinburgh, where I’m more known for playing lute, theorbo or guitar. It’s a wonderful society where amateurs are as respected and as welcome to perform as professionals. So, in that spirit I played three short pieces, including the item in the above video. It went down well – see the report HERE.
Today I started trying to read the alto clef, which is something I can put off no longer. It really is a struggle for me, though I’m perfectly happy reading bass or treble clefs. But the treble and alto clefs are so close, mistakes are inevitable. For instance a “b” in the treble clef is a “c” in the alto clef. The fact remains, though, that the alto clef features a lot in bass viol scores, it really is essential to learn it. Well, I can at least try.
July 16, 2019
First video after the restoration of the bow with re-hairing and straightening, and some work on the bridge: lowering the action, better-spacing of the string grooves, and a slight shift of the sound post. The result is that I can play with a bit more confidence on the first string, and also strings 6 and 5, which are not as close together as before.
Criticism: my bow arm is still stiff, but I’m working on it with open-string exercises. Also, the bow wanders about without control. I don’t mind purposeful movement up and down the strings – as each string has its own sweet spot – but am not happy with that aspect of my technique yet. Sometimes I go nearer the bridge when on the first string, which is a good thing, but too often I’m just sawing away.
This piece by Hely uses the first string a lot, and I am at least now extracting a better sound from it, though there is much room for improvement again.
July 3, 2019
Here I have a bow on loan while mine is off getting new hair. This bow is by Gerhard Landwehr [ website ] but seems to be a Renaissance bow, with no screw for tightening the hair. Despite that, and despite feeling a bit too light, I get a decent sound from it – relative to my usual playing, that is. Hopefully my re-haired Roger Rose bow will be as helpful.
If this piece sounds more like cello music, that will be because it IS cello music, for two celli – you are only hearing the top part – by Joseph Reinagle (1762-1825). It appears in Pieces for the Bass Viol Lesson, Book 1 (Beginner) from Edition Güntersberg (G221), which I highly recommend. After initially being drawn to the bass viol because of Marais and the gang, and the English consort repertoire, I find myself more and more attracted to the post baroque period of Abel (1723-87) and CPE Bach (1714-88). The Reinagle duets are from the time of Beethoven (1770-1827 – compare with Reinagle’s dates above).
My bowing wrist is clearly still stiff, and might take a few years to loosen up. I can get it a bit looser when playing open-string exercises, but that all goes out the window when I launch into a real piece. Time. Patience.
June 29, 2019
The most recent video is of another piece from Dunford’s Method, this time an Allemande by Nicolas Hotman, alleged teacher to Sainte-Colombe.
I discuss “notes inègales”, something I find essential to the performance of 17th-century French music. Hotman reminds me of Robert de Visée, theorbo and guitar player to the Sun King, whose music I have played on theorbo and baroque guitar. Here is an allemande, La Royalle, by de Visée, played with inegales on a smallish theorbo strung as for a French theorbe des pièces:
Back to my Hotman performance. I enjoy playing without the bow, especially for a new piece I am learning, as I can then get closer to the heart of the piece much quicker than if I only use the bow from the start. Once I have the feel of the piece, I then try to persuade the bow to render a similar interpretation, but as you will hear, the two performances are like night and day! I look forward to the day when I can articulate the music with as much subtlety as I can with my fingers. Currently, that seems many years off.
Again this piece is too hard for my bow technique, so I am now giving myself homework of single-note lines from the collection of Ricercare by Angelo Bertalotti, his 21 Studi facile (Bologna 1698), where I have time to concentrate on tone production and the difference in bow pressure for each string.
In the video, I push my chair back before playing with the bow. I did not spend enough time getting myself into a proper position, with the result that I am holding the bow too far from the frog, and the instrument is not sitting comfortably on my legs. Lesson learned, I hope – take your time (something I often tell my students!).
The piece has quite a few non-adjacent string crossings, something I am only now beginning to study in my daily practice. I have two contradictory methods on how to do this effectively. The Dunford book talks about lifting the bow OFF the string while moving, whereas the Panofsky Method says never let the bow leave the strings. I’m experienced enough in classical-guitar and lute tuition to know that differences of opinion on such fundamental matters is not unknown or even unusual. At the end of the day I will have to adopt one method or the other, but in the meantime will have to study both ways.
So, while to non players my progress might seem good, I know that I am going too fast, trying pieces that are beyond my level of bow accomplishment. Back to basics, Rob lad!
June 27, 2019
I’ve been playing for about six weeks, with a week off in there while away in London. I made a few videos for my regular youtube viewers, who are more used to seeing me play lute and guitar. One of the main reasons this blog exists is to inform and enthuse for those people who don’t know much about the viol, but would like to know more.
Every now and again I’ll make a post about my own progress, in the hope it will encourage others to take up the viol. If I can do it, you can too.
I started with a video where I played two Scottish lute pieces I know well, performed on the viol without the bow. This video is featured in its own post: 6. Two Scottish Lute Pieces played sans bow
The next video showed me playing my first Sainte-Colombe piece, the so-called Little Piece from Jonathan Dunford’s Parisian Method for the viol, “The purpose of this tutor is to teach you viol technique as it was practised in Paris at the time of Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais.”
Here I am playing a piece that is too difficult for me. Who among us hasn’t done that?! My bow is wandering all over the place, and my bowing arm is stiff. The left hand is not bad, and despite squeaks and scrapes, the piece is recognisable.
One of my main problems is in moving to a new string, either above or below. I often do not make the pass cleanly, or with sufficient – or too much – bow pressure. Each string requires a subtle difference in bow pressure, something I am not fully cognisant of yet, especially when performing to the red light of the camera!