Advice on how to produce effective dynamic contrasts from 120 years of The Strad


Bow speed when considered alone seems to have a linear relationship to dynamics: faster = louder; slower= softer. But dynamic changes often imply colour changed and therefore unexpected solutions can yield the most effective results. For instance, pianissimo is not piano with something subtracted; it is an intensification of the piano gesture. I usually think of piano as a warm dynamic and pianissimo as cool. Therefore, I usually play pianissimo with a faster (and lighter and further-from-bridge) bow stroke than piano.
Gerald Fischbach, The Strad, September 2004

The student must learn that all dynamics are relative; individual reaction to dynamic indications cannot be absolute. Regardless of the dynamic marks, the musically important aspect of each bar(s) must be heard. This may mean playing a “p” solo louder, or a “forte” chord softer. Musical clarity is more important than “correct” dynamics.
John Celentano, The Strad, July 1966

If it’s challenging to maintain dynamic control over a single, long note, imagine how hard it is to master dynamics while changing bows, crossing strings, using double-stops and so on. All technical and musical events contained in every phrase constitute provocations to the player’s capacity to execute a perfect messa di voce. String players who have mastered the messa di voce have mastered its preparation and are therefore permanently ready to execute a crescendo on the down bow or the up bow, at the heel or at the tip, on long or short notes. Let’s call it ‘being ever ready for a change of dynamics that doesn’t disturb the instrumental mechanism and the tone colour it produces.’
Pedro de Alcantara, The Strad, May 2004

A rise in the intensity of the sound (even with a minimal change in volume) creates psych-acoustically the experience of increasing excitement, while a decrease in intensity conveys a relaxation.
Karen Tuttle, The Strad, September 1993

Practise more quietly: it’s important to practise and rehearse at softer dynamics. Save high volumes for the concert and avoid practising in small rooms with hard surfaces – the smaller the room, the greater the risk. We all sound fabulous in tiled bathrooms, but playing in such spaces can be harmful to our hearing.
Janet Horvath, The Strad, December 2003

Different tonal dynamics may be achieved entirely through bow-pace variety, that is, without introducing the complementary factors of pressure and position at all.
A midway bow-position will allow considerable dynamic variety alone.
J. Hullah Brown, ‘The Tiny Violinist’, The Strad, December 1931

The louder the dynamic or the stronger the attack, the more firmly you may need to hold the bow. Holding the bow too tightly causes problems for many players, but again there is nothing wrong with doing this when necessary, as long as it does not become a fixed way of playing.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, February 2009

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