Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

School of Music


Ferdinand David: Die Hohe Schule des Violinspiels - Clive Brown, George Kennaway

Ferdinand David’s own copy of his Die hohe Schule des Violinspiels is one of the most fascinating items in the Uppingham collection. Die hohe Schule, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1867, is a collection of twenty items, most of them sonatas for violin and continuo from the Baroque period, arranged by David for violin and piano. The pieces were originally issued as separate volumes, a collected edition following in 1870 (Hofmeister March 1870). The Uppingham copy is of the first edition, with the separate items subsequently bound together.

The Hohe Schule, one of several selections of earlier violin music published during the second half of the nineteenth century, was especially influential, its repertoire taken up by such famous violinists as Joachim, Schradieck, Wilma Norman-Néruda, Prosper Sainton (The Athenaeum reviewed his performance of the Porpora sonata as early as 1868) and Emile Sauret. Pupils of Sainton and Sauret at the Royal Academy of Music learned several pieces from the hohe Schule, and Auer mentions three of them in his Violin Masterworks and Their Interpretation (Corelli’s ‘Follia’ sonata, Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata, and the Vitali Chaconne – although, typically, he refers his reader to his own editions of them), probably works he taught in St. Petersburg. The title implies a pedagogical aim as well as a practical one, made explicit by the statement on the title pages: 'zum Gebrauch am Conservatorium der Musik zu Leipzig und zum öffentlichen Vortrag' (for use at the Leipzig Conservatorium for Music and for public performance). Many of the works selected by David remained staples of the violin repertoire long after his death. He is responsible for the popularity of the so-called Vitali Chaconne, for the Nardini D major Sonata, the Veracini 'Concert-Sonata' in E minor, and the A major Vivaldi sonata (Op 2 No 2), familiar at a time when Vivaldi’s music was otherwise rarely heard. Reviews testify to the broad spread of interest in this repertoire. In 1884, for instance, Handel's A major Sonata 'from Ferdinand David's "Die hohe Schule des Violinspiels"' was performed in Halifax by Mr Edgar Haddock from Leeds (the brother of the well-known instrument collector George), and 'delighted a critical audience, who were not satisfied till he returned and bowed his acknowledgments'. (Musical Standard 26(1884), 375)

David selected the pieces primarily from the Privatbibliothek S.M. des Königs von Sachsen (His Majesty the King of Saxony’s private library). He made use of printed and manuscript sources, but his intention was not to make Urtext editions. Rather, he provided pieces for instructional and concert use, and suggestions as to how they might be performed in the most effective way, in the light of the expectations of the time. From the figured basses, he devised elaborate piano accompaniments, adding octaves to the bass-line at emphatic moments. The violin parts are fully fingered and bowed, and David does not hesitate to change bowings in the sources, or to add slurs where no bowing is indicated. Moreover, the music is elaborated in various ways – cadenzas are added, figuration changed, and occasionally there are passages that are entirely recomposed. This happens at several places in the Biber Sonata (No. 1 in Die hohe Schule) and at the end of the Vitali, where the return to the opening theme is David’s idea. His approach represents a quite different, freer attitude to music of the past than obtains today, but one that violinists were quite happy to accept, in the 1860s and for many years afterwards.

David’s copy of Die hohe Schule contains copious annotations in blue, black, and red pencil, by no means all of which are his own. Regarding fingerings, it is fairly easy to trace which come from Ferdinand himself and which are probably additions by his son Paul (music master at Uppingham 1865-1908) – the two hands have very different ways of writing the numbers 1 to 4. Other additions, such as bowing changes, or words written in the score, are sometimes more problematic. Where the language is English, however, we can be fairly certain that these are not Ferdinand’s annotations. Some of the pencilled changes that do stem from Ferdinand may refer to a projected re-engraving, especially when accompanied by marginal markers; these include corrections of mistakes as well as changes of bowing or fingering. Other annotations give additional information as to the exact bow stroke intended – “spgd” (“springend” or jumping – found, for instance on page 112 line 3 in the Vitali) or “saltato” (in the first section of the Bach E minor sonata, BWV 1023) show he intended a bounced bow. That Ferdinand played from this copy himself is testified by the annotation 'Umwender' (page-turner) at the top of the Vitali (which has no rests in the violin part) and before the Ciaccona at the end of the G major Leclair sonata, no 6 in the collection. In the latter instance there is also a date at the top of the page – 29 Oct. 1870, referring to the performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on that date (the programme included Leclair's Largo and Chaconne, and the pianist was Clara Schumann).

In the finale of the Nardini sonata, No 7, David has added sustained open strings, to create a drone effect (Grützmacher does the same thing with his solo Bach suites), and the second movement of the Handel A major sonata (No. 11) contains one of several instances where the original printed bowings have been scratched out, with new slurs and staccato dashes carefully inserted in pencil.

The annotations for different pieces vary. The Passacaglia in the Biber sonata demonstrates a complete overhaul of the bowing (the many bars of crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver, are changed from down-up-up to up-down-up). David has also taken the trouble to be more consistent about changing the first notes of these bars from crotchet to quaver, followed by a quaver rest. (Initially, he had done this in some bars but not others). In the Vitali, most of the added fingerings simply duplicate the printed ones, enlarging them to make them easier to read, but at the start of the Geminiani (this sonata is taken from MS sources on one of which the spurious attribution to Geminiani is written in the hand of the flautist Anton Berhard Fürstenau) the added fingerings are far more elaborate and expressive, exploiting the different tonal qualities of each string and introducing opportunities for expressive portamenti. In the first movement of this sonata, marginal notes draw attention to the new fingerings, suggesting again that David intended incorporating them in a subsequent reprint. The second movement of the sonata also has pencilled indications for vibrato – such markings are extremely rare. The copy merits close study, for the detailed information it gives of David’s manner of performance, the light it sheds on his conscientious preparation and on an approach that was always ready to question previous assumptions.