The pedagogical treatise is generally understood to be a manual of singing or instrumental techniques that is largely practical in approach, yet a critique of violin tutor books dating from the early twentieth century, especially those written by the renowned violinists Joseph Joachim (writing in conjunction with Andreas Moser), Leopold Auer, and Carl Flesch, reveals an extensive engagement with a range of wider ideologies. In a bid to trump the supposedly deadening effects of both a historicism resulting from the availability of earlier treatises, as well as the overly scientific approach taken by contemporaneous treatises, these violinist-authors embrace metaphysical ideals of mind or vitality, and the result is a model of violin playing founded on the concept of “singing tone,” an idea developed out of nineteenth-century notions of song/melody as embodying a vital essence. As did Wagner, in his 1869 essay Über das Dirigiren, writers play with the idea that theoretical and performative categories, such as tempo, phrasing, dynamics, vibrato, and types of bow stroke, both conflict with each other and find a deeper unity in a subjectivist ideal of tone. The approach of these texts is not explorative, however, so much as a rather defensive championing of the idea of mind or vitality: ideologies of self, health, and nationalism ultimately prevail over an engagement with historical evidence in Moser's discussion of ornaments, and Auer's intolerance of any mitigating influence that might qualify the artist's final word on aesthetic matters is reminiscent of a reductive, Nietzschean ideal of vitality. Nevertheless, writers struggle to reconcile it with the messier realities of performing, as an embodied and collaborative activity, and subsequently what speaks louder in their texts are anxieties over affronts to notions of self, expressed using pathological notions common to the era. Whereas at times writers encourage students of the violin to share in their lauding of vitalistic ideals, more often than not they try to impose disciplinary measures as a means of inculcating them.
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