Diminutions – the Renaissance embellishments that divide or “diminish” long notes into faster ones – were already an important device of both singers and instrumentalists in the earlier Renaissance era. They were developed as a means to embellish the given music. I am particularly fascinated by the different possibilities of improvising diminutions on late Renaissance vocal music. During the transition period, as music moved into the baroque era (circa 1600), these ornamentations were still considered a fundamental part of musicianship, and as we can see, they would be incorporated more and more in the (written) musical score.
Fortunately, we have access to a number of treatises that discuss diminution. Giovanni Bassano, Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Girolamo Dalla Casa, Silvestro Ganassi, and Riccardo and Francesco Rognoni all wrote important documents that demonstrate how ornamentation could be added to the actual, rather blank score. It is indeed most interesting to study their different personal styles.
Below is a short example of some of these improvised embellishments applied to the soprano part of the motet, “Pulchra es, amica mea” (“You are beautiful, my love“), by Palestrina. My colleague, Maria Gonzalez, accompanied me on organ (Haapsalu, 2015).
LOW VIOLIN POSITION
Another part of my research is focused on the low violin position. Before the new french „conservatoires“ started to standardize the violin posture around 1800 there was apparently a great variety of possible violin postures from one geographic place to another and even from one musician to another in the same place as can be seen in many pictures of the time. Although it is not always so clear for us in what kind of position a certain music was played, it opens new technical possibilities to try out different violin positions. The position against the left breast offers a more natural use of the arm-weight for the right hand, but makes it difficult to change quickly from a high to a low left hand position, and at the beginning it is quite exhausting for the left arm to hold the violin for a longer time. The sound gets naturally louder and fuller without destroying your left ear and leaves still more acoustic space to hear better the musicians playing with you. Moreover I feel better rooted with my whole body and I think this has a good effect on my rhythmic feeling.
FRENCH BOW GRIP
Regarding different playing techniques I am also experimenting with the so-called “early French bow grip” with the thumb under the frog and/or hair of the bow. It was actually not only used by the French violinists but also by many german, austrian and Italian violinists above all in the 17th century, but also later on. Not all bow models are appropriate for this bow grip and at the beginning it is not easy to control it, but once you get used to this bow grip it offers a clearer, rather on-the-string articulation. I find it particularly nice in combination with the low violin position for 17th century French music but also some early baroque italian music.
In order to explore the repertoire of the 16th century with its immense treasure of extraordinary polyphonic music I had made a viola da braccio by the Estonian luthier Roland Suits after a woodcut in the abbazia di Santa Maria di Finalpia in Liguria. To make one more step backwards in the time I bought also a soprano rebec. It is an instrument with arabic and eastern european origins back to the 9th century or even earlier. It was widespread from the 10th to 16th century. Still, in some regions such as in south Italy a kind of rebec survived until our times in traditional folk music.
The next instrument will be a viola tenore made by Daniel Frisch.