Evolving interpretations: The long and winding road

Bronislaw_Huberman Library of Congress's George Grantham Bain Collection

The development of the great violinists from fresh young artists to profound musical thinkers can be charted through their recorded interpretations. Nathaniel Vallois uses his time in lockdown to examine changes in the playing style of some of the best-known names

The past several months of lockdown have seen the cancellation of a vast amount of musical activity. Musicians have felt obliged to find other outlets for their creativity and experience: my own seclusion at home led me to listen again to the myriad voices of historical artists as they were immortalised through their recordings. I found myself musing on their distant cultures and styles, the flavour of their sound, their technical idiosyncrasies and musical inclinations – all aspects that form an indelible artistic stamp. The unearthing of radio archives and film footage – as well as the wonder of YouTube – has enabled them to speak ever more vividly to us. It also allows us to consider how they evolved: for some, change was radical, through conscious choices or inner compulsion; for others, it was scarcely noticeable, even studiously avoided. To what extent did this reflect their often rich and complex lives? Which artists adapted to wider cultural developments, changing tastes and stylistic approaches? Did personal crises reverberate in their playing? Listening to a selection of especially fascinating violinists through the prism of such questions brought into clearer focus aspects of their personalities, artistry and legacies.

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