The Baroque violinist shares her wisdom on how to use vibrato authentically

Leila Schayegh

1. Choose your moments

To say that Baroque repertoire doesn’t require vibrato is rubbish, but it is always just an ornament, reserved for long notes and emotionally loaded moments.

In 19th-century repertoire you can use a Messa di Voce, when you increase the volume of the note and bring it down again. With this increase, you start to move the sound more and then at the peak, you let go of that movement.

But you have to always keep in mind that, while this might sound kind of free, you can’t ever compare it to the type of vibrato used nowadays.

2. Keep more fingers on the board

Modern players have a tendency to leave just one finger on the string, which frees up the hand, and therefore makes vibrato easier.

But in all the treatises of the 18th and 19th century everyone emphasises that you need to leave two, three or four fingers on the string at the same time precisely in order to prevent that same flexibility of movement.

3. Move from the fingers

Unlike with modern vibrato, which comes more from the elbow and shoulder, the Baroque movement should start with the fingers, and taper off towards the shoulders, in order to achieve a more subtle effect.

4. Differentiate between repertoire

There are moments in Brahms, for example,  at the points marked sforzati, when I will use an explosive vibrato: super fast and super expressive. Sometimes, too, there are dolce passages, where you might keep the fingers moving slightly but constantly in order to make the sound more lively, always combined with very light bowing. These are things that I would never do in Bach.

5. Don’t forget about the right hand

Up until the 1750s, right hand vibrato was commonly used. We have proof that Bach used it, for example, in his A minor solo sonata, where there is a wavy line above the third last note, signifying a pulsation. When combined with vibrato in the left hand, it provides a useful way of breathing life into the notes.

Read our review of Leila Schayegh’s new disc of Brahms’s Violin Sonatas.