VC INSIGHT | Violinist Ann Setzer – ‘The Significance of Understanding Historic Context’ [BLOG]

In a VC-exclusive weblog, American violin pedagogue Ann Setzer shares her perception on the significance of understanding a composer’s historic context – and its software to at least one’s interpretation.


‘Creating an interpretation in music entails a unending seek for expression on the most private degree. An efficient interpretation is a type of magic influenced by the data of harmonic evaluation, historic context of the composer and, in some instances, efficiency observe. Understanding the historic context of a composer’s work nearly at all times heightens your sensitivity and empathy for the composer. For those who mix this data with a radical harmonic and structural evaluation, you possibly can create an interpretation stuffed with ardour and creativeness.

We musicians are delicate creatures. As a instructor, I at all times encourage younger musicians to be affected by phrase endings, phrase route, structural occasions, and harmonic and shade adjustments. Whereas contextual data isn’t any substitute for harmonic evaluation, it permits a musician to create a stronger psychological picture from which to weave a convincing efficiency. The stronger your connection is to what the music is saying, who created it and the circumstances surrounding its creation, the extra intimate your affiliation with the work might be. There are lots of works the place historic circumstances had been a powerful affect on the composer. Mozart’s compositions embodied the beliefs of the Age of Enlightenment. Shostakovich’s works are sometimes reactions to his difficult relationship with Soviet tradition. I encourage my college students to learn biographies of composers and to analysis the historic occasions that occurred through the interval a composer was creating the work. I hear an enormous distinction in these college students who, along with their observe, do their musical homework.

One other factor that issues is the musical context of the composer. What do these dance titles actually imply in works from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras? Understanding how a French Courante is completely different than an Italian Corrente can definitely change our interpretation. Articulation, bowing type and even phrase emphasis fluctuate drastically in works from completely different eras and nationalities. Along with studying concerning the historic and private background of the composer, studying about historic efficiency practices of performers of the interval provides us one other layer of data to distinguish and deepen our interpretation.

Right here’s an instance of what I imply. Once I was a pupil finding out Poéme by Ernest Chausson, I realized that Chausson loved studying Ivan Turgenev. Eugéne Ysaye requested Chausson to write down a piece for violin and orchestra which Chausson initially titled The Music of Love Triumphant after a brief story of the identical title by Turgenev. Regardless that Chausson didn’t intend a direct affiliation with the story, after studying the slightly melodramatic story, I felt a extra intimate reference to the music. I used to be impressed to discover extra shade and character within the sound and alter the pacing of phrases. The harmonic language of Poéme is fantastically complicated however understanding the literary affect deepened my need to create a efficiency that will mirror Chausson’s inspiration.

Learning the rating and studying as a lot as attainable concerning the works you’re performing are simply as essential because the hours you spend training. We musicians by no means actually know what bit of knowledge will spark our creativity and lead us to a deeper, extra private interpretation of a piece.



A graduate of the Juilliard College, the place she studied with Ms Sally Thomas, Ann Setzer at the moment serves a Professorship at Mannes School – and holds college positions at The Juilliard College Pre-School and the Meadowmount College of Music




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