Monday Morning Post–The Power of Music

I was listening to and watching Itzhak Perlman on PBS, and I was marveling over this man’s ability to make the violin sing. As best I can remember his remarks, he said he was attracted to the violin because he heard in his young mind the sound of the music that it made. It was not the same sound produced by Jascha Heifetz when he actually played the violin. It was a sound in Itzhak’s head of what the music should sound like.

He admitted that teaching has informed his playing; in his later years, it is as though he is teaching himself along the same lines as he teaches others.

About an hour into the program, he said: “The violin is a fantastic instrument. It is a replica of the soul.”

He followed this remark with an anecdote about Marian Anderson. She was singing a spiritual on the radio while he was driving his car. The music so affected him, he nearly had an accident.

Of course, this got me to thinking about why we listen to music, how we come to appreciate music and the effect that music has on our lives. For each of us, the type of music may be different, but the effect is the same–we hear great music with our soul, not our ears.

Then another thought came to me. It had to do with Itzhak’s style of violin playing. Over the years, the initial virtuosity has been partially replaced with more emotion, more feeling, which reflects his maturity as a person. Perhaps, the tempo is a bit slower, and there is a bit more emphasis on the vibrato. And this thought drove me back to the beginning of modern violin playing in the late 18th Century. The following is repeated from the Cultural Influences section of our website, but it helps us to understand how a nomadic people from Northern India, known as the Romani, taught Itzhak Perlman how to play the violin.

“A nomadic people from Northern India (known as Romani) traveled as far west in Europe as Ireland and acted as entertainers and tradesmen.  Their dress and traditions may have differed from area to area, and they may have been known by different names, e.g., tinkers or travelers in Ireland, Romany in Scotland, Gypsies in England.  (As a side note, you may want to watch the Katharine Hepburn movie, The Little Minister (1934), an adaptation of the 1897 J.M. Barrie play of the same name, in order to understand how the Scots felt about the Romani.  However, what you will also hear is a beguiling score, written by Max Steiner for the movie, interlacing traditional Scottish airs, such as “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond,” “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” and “House of Argyle,” in with his own music.)

“In Spain, the Romani are known as Gitanos and have contributed significantly to the Andalusian musical tradition known as flamenco.

Donát Bihari, Hungarian Violinist

Janos Bihari

“In Hungary, Janos Bihari (1764-1827) was a virtuoso violinist of whom Franz Liszt said: “The tones sung by his magic violin flow on our enchanted ears like the tears….”  It has been said that Bihari’s melodies were used by Liszt, Ludwig van Beethoven and others.  He was born in the city of Nagybony, a Hungarian settlement that is now part of Slovakia.  Bihari was an accepted classical musician, but he was also Romani and an interpreter of verbunkos, a Hungarian dance and music genre.  It was said that under Bihari and Jozsef Kossovits verbunkos were interpreted with characteristic Gypsy style.”