Violin and Viola Playing and Teaching

Violin and viola playing and teaching. By the late 17th century the popularity of the instruments known as viols had been surpassed by those of the violin family (with the exception of the bass viol, which became the modern double-bass).

Violin and viola playing and teaching. By the late 17th century the popularity of the instruments known as viols had been surpassed by those of the violin family (with the exception of the bass viol, which became the modern double-bass). While there is evidence that the fiddle may have originated in ancient central Asia, the modern violin and viola reached the apex of their development during the period 1600-1750, when the master builders of Cremona, Italy - the Amati family, especially Nicolo; the Guarneri family, in particular Giuseppe, known as del Gesù; the peerless Antonio Stradivari; and others, practised their craft. Modern makers, including those in Canada, usually have been content to model their instruments on those of the Cremona masters. (See String instrument making.)

The playing of the violin in Canada dates back to the early days of European settlement. Instances are reported in volume 27 of the Jesuit Relations, which describes a Quebec wedding of 27 Nov 1645 at which two violins were heard. Martin Boutet, one of the players (Amtmann Music in Canada 1600-1800, p 88-9), is said also to have played the violin at a midnight mass at Christmas ca 1645. However, as the viol retained its place of prominence in France (and, by implication, New France) until the early 18th century, it seems likely that in this instance the term 'violin' may have described something other than the modern violin. The Ursuline Mother Superior Marie de St-Joseph (b 1616) brought her viol to the New World, where it was an object of great interest to the Indians (Amtmann, p 74). The presence of some 20 viols under the French Regime has been confirmed, belonging to nuns, high government officials and merchants. The Quebec merchant Dominique Bergeron commissioned a bass violin in 1705 from the sculptor-cabinetmaker Noël Levasseur, the only trace of the building of such an instrument in the colony at this period. About a dozen viols were found again around 1860 in a cellar at the Hôpital général de Québec, probably hidden during the 1759 siege of Quebec; three of them (by makers Nicolas Bertrand, Jean Vuillaume and Cabroly) are preserved in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and one is at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

In the early-18th century frequent references were made to 'les violons,' a collective term for the bowed string instruments played at the entertainments of the upper echelon of colonial administrators and military officers. Among the French, fiddles (sometimes the dancing master's violons de poche, or pocket fiddles) were used commonly to play dance tunes. Many English-speaking sects, notably the Methodists, considered the instrument sinful owing to this association with 'carnal' activity.

Among the first known violin players in Canada were Jean-Claude Baron about 1740, Jean-Baptiste Tardif about 1760 and, about 1780, Joseph Quesnel in Montreal and Frederick Glackemeyer (who supposedly had been a child prodigy in his native Hanover) and Jonathan Sewell, the lawyer and later chief justice, in Quebec City. Other violinist-teachers in Quebec City were the Italian-born Gaetano Franceschini and the Belgian Guillaume Mechtler (who later lived in Montreal), both active during the 1780s. One of the first musicians in the town of York (later Toronto) was a Mr Maxwell, who played the violin at private and public functions.

There were players enough in Quebec during the 1790s to permit the performance of symphonies, overtures, and concertos. Sellers of violins and violin accessories in the late 18th century included Glackemeyer, James Sinclair, and Francis Vogeler in Quebec City; John Smith in Halifax; Frederick Wyse in Montreal; and Colin Campbell in Saint John, NB.

Famous European violinists who gave concerts in Canada during the 19th century included Ole Bull (1844, 1853, 1857), Eduard Reményi (1880), Camilla Urso (first in 1855, at age 13), Henri Vieuxtemps (1858), Henry Wieniawski (1872), and August Wilhelmj (1880). Others resided in Canada, at least briefly. A Monsieur Bley, appeared in Montreal and Quebec City in 1843 and lived in Toronto ca 1845-7. The German Ferdinand Griebel (1818-58) lived and performed in Toronto for a few years. The Belgian violinist and teacher Jules Hone (1833-1913), a pupil of Léonard, arrived in Montreal during the early 1860s; his pupils included François Boucher, Oscar Martel, the German-born Charles Reichling (1854-1922), and the US-born Jean Duquette. In 1865 the Belgian virtuoso Frantz Jehin-Prume (1839-99) made his first visit to Montreal, where he settled a few years later. Jehin-Prume was a pupil of de Bériot, Léonard, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski; his own pupils included François Boucher, Béatrice La Palme (later famous as a singer), Alfred De Sève, and Émile Taranto. J.-J. Goulet, who had studied in Liège with Ovide Musin and Désiré Heynberg, and came to Canada in 1891 as concertmaster of the Sohmer Park Orchestra and also participated in chamber ensembles before continuing his career as a teacher and conductor.

The first Canadian-born violinists of distinction were Joseph W. Baumann of Hamilton, Ont (1847-1905; a pupil of Adolf Brodsky and Joseph Joachim and the teacher of virtuosi George Fox and Nora Clench, who herself later studied with Brodsky and Ysaÿe); and Oscar Martel (1848-1924; a Hone pupil who studied later at Liège and whose pupils included De Sève and Chambord Giguère). Calixa Lavallée (1842-91), though excelling as a pianist, also appeared in public as a violinist in his younger years. It is possible that Evelyn de Latre Street (b London, Ont, ca 1870) was another Baumann pupil, for her early studies were in Hamilton, Ont. Her main teacher in the 1890s was Hans Sitt in Germany. She gave recitals in Canada and the USA but little else is known about her career.

Bertha Drechsler Adamson (1848-1924) studied with Ferdinand David before coming to Canada, where she taught Frank Blachford, Harry Adaskin, her daughter Lina, and others. Reichling after his studies with Hone was named violinist to the households of the Governors General Lord Stanley and the Marquis of Lansdowne and was leader of the Ottawa and Montreal String Quartettes. Jan Hambourg (1881-1947), who had studied with Ysaÿe and Kreisler, and lived in Canada for many years before returning to Europe, was head of the string department of the Hambourg Conservatory of Music in Toronto 1910-20. Among his pupils were Broadus Farmer and Samuel Hersenhoren. Other violinists living and working in Canada in the first part of the 20th century included Roland Roberts of the Toronto String Quartette, Alfred Bruce, teacher at the Columbian Conservatory (Toronto), and Chris Dafeff (1894-1984), among whose students may be counted Steven Staryk, Joseph Pach, and Ivan Romanoff.

Two Montreal-born violinists, François Boucher and Alfred De Sève, had lessons with Jehin-Prume and others (Hone and Martel respectively) before going abroad for advanced studies, Boucher in Liège with Massart, De Sève in Paris with Vieuxtemps. Both men had important careers in the USA. De Sève had several noteworthy Canadian pupils (eg, Alexander Brott, Noël Brunet, Albert Chamberland, Marcel Saucier, Lucien Sicotte, and Ethel Stark) after he returned to his native city.

Émile Taranto (1878-1936) of Montreal, another pupil of Jehin-Prume and later of Ysaÿe, was the teacher of Jean Deslauriers, Marthe Lapointe, and Annette Leduc. Frank Blachford (1879-1957) of Toronto began his lessons with Bertha Drechsler Adamson and continued with Hans Sitt, later transmitting his art to many pupils at the TCM (RCMT). Another important teacher was Camille Couture. A pupil of Jean Duquette and Ovide Musin (the latter in Liège), Couture taught in Winnipeg and later in Montreal; among those who studied with him were Arthur Davison, Jean Deslauriers, and Lucien Martin.

The first conservatories of music in Canada were established during the last years of the 19th century. Teachers at these and at other early institutions included Célestin Lavigueur (Séminaire de Québec), Oscar Martel (Collège de Montréal), Alfred De Sève (McGill), and Frank Blachford and François Boucher (TCM). Among immigrant player-teachers of that era were Heinrich Klingenfeld, first at the Halifax Conservatory and later in Toronto, Max Weil in Halifax and Calgary, and the violist Frank Converse Smith at the Toronto College of Music.

Thus the principal source of artistic violin playing in 19th-century Canada, as in Europe, was the Franco-Belgian school, centred at Liège, with a lesser influence from German teachers. In the 20th century violin playing in Canada grew with the population and with the increase in wealth and proliferation of educational facilities which, in turn, gave rise to orchestras and chamber groups. Other contributing factors were the immigration to Canada of Belgians, Britons, eastern European Jews, Italians, and Slavs, all of whom had strong string-playing traditions, and the arrival of a number of outstanding violinists who were excellent teachers. Among these teachers were Donald Heins (first in Ottawa) and Luigi von Kunits in Toronto, pupils respectively of Hans Sitt and Otakar Ševčík. Drawing on his own pupils, von Kunits built the string section of the TSO into one of the finest in North America.

Important teachers in Winnipeg were Philip Shadwick (d 1932) and John Waterhouse. Waterhouse taught for more than 50 years; among his pupils were George Bornoff (who developed his own teaching methods and founded the Bornoff School of Music in Winnipeg), Frederick Grinke, Anne Pomer (see Winnipeg), and Gwen Thompson. Shadwick's son Joseph (1898-1956), a violinist and composer, conducted theatre orchestras in Winnipeg and later was concertmaster of the Minneapolis Orchestra in the USA and of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Covent Garden Opera Orchestra, and the Sadlers' Wells Orchestra in England.

One of Canada's most significant violinists and teachers during the first half of the 20th century was Kathleen Parlow (1890-1963), who studied in Russia with Leopold Auer, performed in Europe and North America, led the Parlow String Quartet 1943-58, and taught many Canadians, including Victor Feldbrill, Sydney Humphreys, Joseph Pach, and Rowland Pack.

Other violinists who became noteworthy teachers in the years between the two world wars were Saul Brant (who taught André Durieux); Albert Chamberland, a pupil of Jean Duquette and De Sève; Alexander Chuhaldin; Henri Czaplinski, who lived in Canada briefly and taught Harry Adaskin; Mary Fraser of Truro, NS; Gregori Garbovitsky, a pupil of Auer; John Konrad, who took over the Bornoff school and was a pre-Suzuki pioneer in group-teaching methods; Flora Matheson Goulden, a pupil of Ysaÿe; Géza de Kresz, who also studied with Ysaÿe and taught Betty-Jean Hagen, Clayton Hare and Maurice Solway; Maurice Onderet (teacher of Alexander Brott, Noël Brunet, Mildred Goodman, and Lucien Sicotte); Jean de Rimanoczy, a pupil of Jenö Hubay and a teacher of George Bornoff and Cardo Smalley; George Rutherford; Elie Spivak (teacher of John Montague, Walter Prystawski, Steven Staryk, and David Zafer); Ifan Williams; and W. Knight Wilson. Kayla Mitzel (b Winnipeg 1915) studied in Toronto with de Kresz and later in Europe with Ysaÿe, Ševčík and Bram Eldering, and in the USA with Persinger. She performed as soloist, including with the TSO in 1932, and was marked for an outstanding career, but retired from concertizing while in her 20s and settled in California.

From the 1950s on there has been enormous growth and change in the career possibilities related to violin playing in Canada. Colleges, universities, and conservatories have offered full- and part-time positions for teachers, and many more full-time orchestral positions have been created. A proliferation of methods for children as young as three have become increasingly popular (see Létourneau method, School music, Suzuki method). Strings across the Sky, a program which provides children in remote Arctic communities with the opportunity to study stringed instruments, was conceived in 1987 by TS violinist Andrea Hansen.

Among those who have devoted a good deal of their professional efforts to teaching are Francis Chaplin, Jean Cousineau, Raymond Dessaints, Lorand Fenyves, Taras Gabora, Alfred Garson, Marta Hidy, Eugene Kash, John Konrad, Rosemonde Laberge, Vladimir Landsman, Claude Létourneau, Howard Leyton-Brown, Thomas Rolston, Ranald Shean, Gwen Thompson, and David Zafer, to name only a few. It was Rolston, Cousineau, and Létourneau who introduced the Suzuki method to Canada.

Joseph Berljawsky - b Przemysl, Austria-Hungary (Poland), 1911, d Ottawa 17 Feb 1982; a graduate of the Vienna Academy, arrived Canada 1939, founded the Montreal Orchestral Society in 1954 and Ottawa Musica Viva in 1968 - taught in Montreal and Ottawa, for some years commuting between the two cities. A manuscript treatise of his life's work has been issued and published (1987) by former students of Ottawa Musica Viva.

Among other violin teachers across Canada during the second part of the 20th century may be included Peter Gardner in Newfoundland; Martin Foster, Mauricio Fuks, Sonia Jelínková, Hratchia Sevadjian, and Jacques Verdon in Montreal; Victor Danchenko, Isidor Desser, Carolyn and Joyce Gundy, Jack Montague, and Jaime Weisenblum in Toronto; John Gomez, Joan Milkson, and Victor Pomer in Ottawa; Rudolf Kalup in Guelph; Robert Skelton in London, Ont; Richard Seaborn in Winnipeg; and John Loban and Frederick Nelson in Vancouver.

Violinists who have held positions as concertmasters in major Canadian ensembles, many of whom have also taught and performed as soloists or chamber musicians, include Gerald Jarvis and Norman Nelson (Vancouver SO); Hyman Goodman and Jacques Israelievitch (TS); Darren and Malcolm Lowe (Quebec SO); Arthur Polson and Gwen Hoebig (Winnipeg SO); Yaëla Hertz (McGill Chamber Orchestra); Richard Roberts and Calvin Sieb (MSO); and Walter Prystawski (NACO).

Over the years several Canadian violinists have established careers abroad - eg, George Bornoff, Lea Foli, Donna Grescoe, Frederick Grinke, Betty-Jean Hagen, Adolph Koldofsky, Albert Pratz, Steven Staryk, and Albert Steinberg. In somewhat greater numbers, violinists from abroad have pursued careers in Canada - eg, Hyman Bress, John Dembeck, S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté, Lorand Fenyves, Arthur Garami, Ida Haendel, Marta Hidy, Gerard Kantarjian, Frederick Nelson, Norman Nelson, Dezsö Vághy, David Zafer, and others. Of the expatriates, Grescoe returned to Winnipeg; Pratz returned to serve with distinction as soloist, teacher, and TS concertmaster; Staryk later re-established residence in Canada and continued his career at home and abroad as a soloist and chamber musician.

Two outstanding performer/teachers who made a significant contribution to violin playing in Canada into the 1990s were Zoltán Székely and Paul Kling, both in western Canada. Székeley studied violin with Hubay at the Franz Liszt Academy (Budapest), concertized widely in Europe, and was first violinist 1937-75 of the Hungarian String Quartet. He gave recitals with Béla Bartók, who composed the Second Rhapsody, Concerto No. 2, and Sixth String Quartet for him. He became artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1975. Paul Kling (b Czechoslovakia 1928, d 2 Jan 2005; graduate of the Academy of Musical Arts Prague), held concertmaster positions in Europe and Japan before coming to Canada. He began teaching at the University of Victoria in 1976. He gave numerous master classes and lecture recitals in Canada and the US, and many of his students hold positions in major orchestras.

Among Canadian violinists who developed their careers as soloists, chamber musicians, and orchestral players almost entirely within Canada have been Arthur LeBlanc, Berul Sugarman, and Harold Sumberg. Noteworthy players born after 1935 include Adele and Otto Armin, Martin Beaver, Corey Cerovsek, Andrew Dawes, Angèle Dubeau, Catherine French, Moshe Hammer, Chantal Juillet, Marie Lacasse, Annalee Patipatanakoon, Joseph Peleg, Kenneth Perkins (see Orford String Quartet), Victor Schultz, and Lara and Scott St John.

Jean Duquette, Donald Heins, Smythe Humphreys, Otto Joachim, Joseph Mastrocola, and Cardo Smalley have played as both violinists and violists, but numerous others have built their instrumental careers exclusively on the viola, eg, Paul Armin, Steven Dann, Maurice Durieux, Philippe Etter, Rivka Golani, Osher Green, Neal Gripp, Terence Helmer (see Orford String Quartet), Steven Kondaks, Uri Mayer, Nicholas Pulos, Rennie Regehr, Lucien Robert, Ivan Romanoff, Stanley Solomon, Gerald Stanick, Douglas Perry, and Tibor Vághy.

Among other violists/teachers in the latter half of the 20th century have been Ralph Aldrich, Louis Bailly, Yves Bédard, Janos Czaba, Jane Logan, Leslie Malowany, Chantal Masson, Douglas McNabney, Marie Peebles, and Robert Verebes.

The Canadian Viola Society was established in 1978 as a chapter of the Internationale Viola Gesellschaft based in Germany (members in Canada had previously belonged to the US chapter). It began a biannual newsletter in 1978 and had 65 members in 1991. Founding president Baird Knechtel continued in that office in 1991.

Canadian composers have made a significant contribution to the violin/viola repertoire. Murray Adaskin, Archer, Barnes, Brott, Cherney, Coulthard, Eckhardt-Gramatté, Fiala, Freedman, Joachim, Kasemets, Kenins, Klein, MacLean, Morawetz, Papineau-Couture, Pentland, Pépin, Prévost, Vallerand, Weinzweig and others have written works for solo violin and orchestra, while Baker, Brott, Buczynski, Cherney, Coulthard, Fodi, Ridout, and Surdin have composed works for viola and orchestra. (See Rivka Golani for a list of Canadian works for viola which she has premiered). Numerous works have been written for solo violin (eg, Eckhardt-Gramatté's 10 Caprices, four Suites, and Concerto; Rodolphe Mathieu'sDouze Études modernes; Papineau-Couture's Suite; and Somers'Music for Solo Violin) and a few for violin and viola together (eg, Joachim's Music for Violin and Viola and Zuckert'sSisterly Love). Jacques Hétu'sVariations, Opus 11 were designed to be playable by violin, viola, or cello.

The violin is heard widely in country and folk music (see Fiddling) and less often in jazz and rock. Rock violinists of note have included Ian Guenther, a sideman to Fraser and DeBolt, member of Lighthouse, and director of the THP Orchestra; Ben Mink; and Nash the Slash (Jeff Plewman) of the Toronto bands Breathless and FM. Jazz violinists Willy Girard and Sonny Richardson were active during the 1940s in Montreal and Vancouver respectively. Terry King, who replaced Mink in Stringband, worked in Montreal and Toronto clubs with Jane Fair, Claude Ranger, and others before moving to New York. Pierre Bournaki has played with the Montreal jazz-rock band Aquarelle. Others who have been active in the 1980s and into the 1990s have included the jazz violinists Harry Enlow (Montreal), and John McGarvie (Toronto), and the fusion jazz players Helmut Lipsky (Montreal), Hugh Marsh (Toronto), and Lenny Solomon (Toronto). Marc Bélanger in Montreal has experimented with a new instrument, the vitar (a combination violin and guitar), a sort of electronic violin which combines the tone colours of the upper bowed strings with those of the guitar. Richard Armin created the RAAD violin as part of a complete family of electric string instruments.

See also Canadian String Teachers Association


Further Reading

  • Smith Leo. 'The development of string music,' Canadian Courier, vol 12, Toronto 12 Oct 1912

    Berljawsky, Joseph. 'Violin technique, its evolution and pedagogy: a historical and comparative study,' doctoral thesis, University of Montreal 1964

    Trowsdale, G.C. 'Profile of a beginning string program,' British Columbia Music Educator, vol 10, Spring 1967

    Kenneson, Claude. 'String renaissance in Alberta,' CME, vol 12, Summer 1971

    Haydou, Irene. The Irene Haydou Beginner's Method: Violin, ed Frank Radcliffe (Berandol 1972)

    Adaskin, Harry. A Fiddler's World (Vancouver 1977)

    Cousineau, Jean. Méthode de violon: premier cahier (Outremont, Que, 1979)

    Berljawsky, Joseph. My Philosophy of Teaching the Violin (Ottawa 1987)

    Pomer, Vic. Preventing Physical Problems in Violin Playing: A Guide for Teachers (Ottawa 1988)

    Roy, Rob. 'Report on an exploratory study comparing selected aspects of taped-supportive practice and traditional practice with third-year string instrumentalists,' British Columiba Music Educator, vol 31, Winter 1988

    Cox, Yvonne. 'Andrea Hansen, symphony of dreams,' Expression, Jul-Aug 1989

    Cousineau, Jean. De la nature du violon. Le violon nous enseigne (Montreal 1989)

    Gallat-Morin, Élisabeth and Pinson, Jean-Pierre. La Vie musicale en Nouvelle-France (Quebec, 2003)