Happy Birthday, Carl Flesch

violinist and pedagoge Carl Flesch (1873-1944)
violinist and pedagogue Carl Flesch (1873-1944)

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the birth of influential Hungarian-born violinist and pedagogue Carl Flesch (1873-1944). As a teacher, Flesch produced some of the twentieth century’s most notable violinists, including Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid, Ivry Gitlis, and Ida Haendel. His book, Art of Violin Playing and his Scale System are still used today.

Boris Schwartz, a student of Flesch and the author of Great Masters of the Violin, writes:

His dominant quality seemed German, marked by a classical approach to music based on scholarly study, purity of style devoid of showmanship, a sturdy sense of rhythm tending toward slow tempos, and a deliberate objectivity of interpretation.

Schwartz stresses that Flesch’s approach to playing and teaching was deeply intellectual, often at the expense of “emotion” and “impulse”. “Use your head for your technique and your heart for your music” was one of Flesch’s mottos. He modernized violin technique, helping students to analyze their own problems and develop solutions. A master of well-thought-out fingerings, Flesch collected and catalogued possible fingerings for various passages in the violin repertoire.

In the final years of his life, Carl Flesch fled the Nazis, and settled eventually in Switzerland. In 1931, following the stock market crash of 1929, Flesch was forced to sell his 1725 “Brancaccio” Stradivarius. He replaced the Strad with a fine Petrus Guarnerius violin.

Here is Flesch playing Paganini’s Caprice No. 20. The piano accompaniment was written by Polish pianist Ignace Strasfogel:

Here is a singing, Romantic 1936 performance of Handel’s Violin Sonata in A major:

Flesch called the Beethoven Violin Concerto,

One of the most difficult works because it is built on introspection. The first movement consists almost entirely of embellishments, of passing notes into which one must put expression and life. Most of the time one hears it played like an etude-there are not three or four violinists in existence who play it well.

Here is his 1943 recording with the Lucern Orchestra:

Here is Jota by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla:

Josef Gingold on Violin Playing and Teaching

Recently, I found a few interesting links relating to Josef Gingold, the legendary violinist and teacher who died in 1995. If you’re not familiar with Gingold’s legacy, this short video offers insights into his life, distinguished career and great humanity.

Having studied with the nineteenth century Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye, Gingold was one of the last links to an elegant earlier style of violin playing. Here is an excerpt from his 1976 recording Josef Gingold Plays Fritz Kreisler, featuring Kreisler’s Aucassin et Nicolette. It showcases his golden tone and the warmth of his playing:

[quote]No matter what you do, always con amore, always with love. You never play dutifully, you play beautifully.[/quote]

Gingold has many interesting things to say in this interview, conducted in the last years of his life by Kim Markl. He talks about the importance of constantly learning and changing throughout life. Despite his age, he exudes a love of the violin and a joy of discovery that suggests an amazing youthful vitality. He discusses the way styles of violin playing have changed over time, demonstrating in the style of Ysaye. He believes that the most fundamental aspect of good tone production is good intonation, which allows rich overtones to ring. When asked about teaching, Gingold stresses the importance of a student’s first teacher in establishing the correct foundation. He says that a good teacher must have patience and must recognize that each student is unique.

It’s also fascinating to hear Gingold’s thoughts on violinists of the past. In this episode of Music for the Fingerboard Gingold takes us through recordings of significant violinists of the past including Joachim, Sarasate, Auer, Kreisler, Huberman, Ysaye and Heifetz. Students of Gingold, such as Joshua Bell say that listening to recordings and studying the way legendary violinists played was an important part of their lessons with Gingold. Indeed, it’s important for all violinists to know the playing of the great violinists of the past. (Here are Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Music for the Fingerboard).

Here is a recording of Josef Gingold playing Henryk Wieniawski’s Capriccio Valse. Wieniawski was a Polish violinist and composer who lived from 1835-1880: