An interview with Bronislaw Huberman
The material on this page is derived from several interviews that can be read in full in the Articles section.
Mr. Huberman; to which school would you say you belong?
I wish I knew myself. As a boy of ten I spent eight months with Joachim; but as he was absent from Berlin most of the time ... I might truthfully say that I am as much a pupil, or more, of Jean de Reszké or Caruso as I am of Joachim. Take Caruso, for instance. He pointed one great lesson which every violinist might follow. In spite of being none too economical in using his voice, in producing his tone, he had developed a great reserve of strength, a natural reservoir of power and expression, and showed wonderful ability in building up an aria to its natural climax. This ability I have made it my business to develop with regard to my own instrument.
What do you consider the basis of musical expression?
Rhythm there you have it. Rhythm is the soul of music, and the characteristic rhythms of each country are built on the physical movements of its dancers ... You should hear a German orchestra trying to play a Strauss waltz. The beats are square and unvaried; the whole thing completely dead. It is not a waltz at all. But the humblest Viennese, who has grown up with the real waltz rhythm surrounding him on every side, reproduces it by instinct. So, wherever I go, I dip into the folk-lore of that place. That is why I claim to understand the English composers and few Continentals can say as much. Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams all of them have the English folk idiom in their blood. Unless one has studied that idiom at its source, how is one to interpret their music with insight?
But how does folk music relate to classical music?
The study of folk rhythms carries itself over into the region of classical music. An instance will show you what I mean. In New York some years ago, a young violinist told me he thought I played the last movement of the Tchaikowsky concerto too fast. I had a bet with him. Come with me to a Russian restaurant which has an orchestra, I said. If within two hours we do not hear the principal phrase of that last movement, or something very like it, I will pay you ten dollars. He agreed. And it was I who received the ten dollars. For I was able to point out that the native players enunciated the theme at exactly the same speed as I had done, though it occurred in music of a completely different sort. The point is that Tchaikowsky had not borrowed the motive directly from folk music. It occurred in his concerto simply because he had steeped himself in the characteristic Russian national melodies. Because I, too, had acquired that melodic scheme as a background, I was able to give his musical thought exactly the shape and expression it required.
How much practice a day is necessary?
Well, for a violinist studying with a master, or a professional violinist, at least four hours a day, and not more than six are necessary. I should not want an artist pupil studying with me to practice more than five hours a day. As to the virtuoso, he should never look at a watch ... On tour I practice regularly on the train in my stateroom. I know that some violinists do not believe in daily work while on tour. But listen to their playing, especially toward the end of their season!
What exercises can you recommend for students?
I hesitate to prescribe exercises, because what one practices is less important that how one practices it. However, I can recommend playing scales in double stops in thirds ... Nor do I hold greatly by etudes. They are good to lay a foundation, to supply the elementary ground for the higher virtuoso technique. But from the standpoint of virtuoso playing the spiccato, the vibrato, etc., can never be acquired by the study of etudes. It is possible on the piano, perhaps, in such etudes as those by Chopin and others, to develop finish, but not on the violin.
What is the most difficult bowing?
To judge by the number of times I have seen it missing in other violinists I should say the spiccato. Ninety-five out of a hundred violinists and I do not exclude the greatest instead of a rounded, springing spiccato, use a species of nebulous détaché.
And turning to the left hand, what are your thoughts on vibrato?
The vibrato, to begin with, is one of the greatest of violinistic effects; but most violinists use it as Rembrandt does his dark yellow backgrounds. I look on it as an accessory of expression, which has to be carefully graduated in its use, like the crescendo, forte or accelerando ... It is best to think of the vibrato as a graduating means of expression. Then its occasional use for contrast is very effective, and much to be preferred to the terrible continuous vibrato which irritates the nerves.
Finally Mr. Huberman, what does all this hard work and practice let you achieve?
Truth, rather than mere beauty, and its perfected expression in playing is my idea of violin mastery. And the truth cannot be expressed without a perfected technical base.
Huberman discusses technique, practice, and the key to violin virtuosity.
The teaching of music
The importance of amateur music education and the dangers of mechanized or recorded music.
Interesting problems in music making
Every country has the government it deserves; every man has the friends he deserves; every artist has the technic he deserves - no better, no worse