Moscow Violin methodology

Bogodar Cotorowich under whom I graduated from Kiev Conservatory in 1996 was a student of Abram Yampolsky (Russian: Абрам Ильич Ямпольский; 1890–1956), whose school is famous for developing the Moscow Violin methodology.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917 Moscow and St. Petersburg were undergone serious reformation and in 1932 merged into one Central Moscow School, which provided a direct link to the Moscow Conservatory.

Relatively often I hear positive comments over the violinist from Post Soviet Union Block, though sometimes there is also some criticism.

Brilliant technique, virtuosity, velocity, relaxed playing, self-composure, artistic presentation.

Too much vibrato.

I would say it is much easier to remove vibrato when you are already a formed musician than to start studying a new method which is a complex approach of having your body relaxed, fingers soft, it is mostly about your left hand and not only.

Allow me to take you through a little journey.

While the West of the Europe focuses greatly on preserving the authenticity of performing baroque music and remaining the style, the demand for techniques and developing a violin school in East of the Europe and Russia determined the fundamental necessity of founding a school of developing artistic violin performance by taking into account personal, physical and mental features (components or characteristics) as a powerful source of the achievement of higher level and virtuosity.

In post Russia empire Yuri Yankelevich (Russian: Юрий Исаевич Янкелевич), Abram Yampolsky, Konstantin Mostras and others, who were widely working on fundamentals to improve violin master to enable to play the broad variety of compositions of later centuries as Rococo, Classicism and Romanticism at the time of following Russia Revolution in 1917, were unknown to the west society.

The methodological approach of those violinists has largely remained unknown outside of Russia due to limited communication with the West during the Soviet years. Despite a huge success of many Soviet violinists in international concurs, only a few were allowed to travel freely outside Russia and therefore only little were known of methodology of those playing.

Lacking of information about the ‘’Russia violin school” very often considered as a vague and imprecise in the West.

Y. Yankelevich’s scholarly works shed light on obscure pedagogy in Moscow and Soviet Violin School and reveal a modern analytical and individual approach, which incorporates elements of psychology and physiology as well as detailed , meticulous analyses of the most efficient techniques, to enable to develop artistry and individual expression.

The approach of Moscow scholar could be described as the one with strong stresses on need to discover individualism in the students from musical, technical, and psychological points of view.

No wonder that in the beginning of the 19th century, Russia’s Violin School endured the reformation of Moscow and St.Petersburg Conservatories which in 1920 led to unification of those two schools into the one worldwide recognisable school – Moscow violin school (1936).

Studying through the methodology of those musicians, professors and remarkable personalities in violin mastery could be observed:

Outstanding conclusions like:

  • one should play with the ‘head’ and not with the ‘hands’;
  • relationship between vertical and horizontal movement in the left hand”;
  • if we want to be free as creative artist-musicians, we must be in possession of free and adaptable technique”;

And I would rephrase his next utterance regarding Cross-correspondence between visualizing and reproducing reflexes.

What he meant is before touching a string, to exercise the technique of cross-correspondence between visualizing notes and reproducing, like seeing notes and hearing it first, and only then reproducing it on instrument.

That matters also and passages, and ornaments.

To build up this technique for a beginner, forehand would help:

  • To exercise skim-reading techniques. Would mean going through the notes;
  • To listen to the record with notes in hands. Would mean -studying notes without instrument.
  • And only then to start reading notes with instrument.

The advantages of Moscow Violin school.

  • Highly relaxed hands, no muscle tension, endurance;
  • Complex adaptable techniques;
  • Ability to visual and aural perception;
  • Possessing the necessary skills to enable the violin playing to imitate a human voice.

Yankelevich arrives at the conclusion that every technique must be active, dynamic and adaptable, that it could accommodate the multitude of possibilities that musical interpretation requires.

One important reflex that needs to be developed is the relationship between vertical and horizontal movement in the left hand.

Sounds pretty easy, but is a rather not natural motion for a child hands.

Yankelevich believes that beginners usually spend far too much time playing in first position. The setback is that in this way there is less dynamic progress achieved in a long term and later students facing difficulties to break through the barrier. In fact instead we have fixated the corresponding reflex and it becomes more difficult for the student to move horizontally. This may cause problems in shifting positions that can take years to overcome.

In order to activate the appropriate reflexes for horizontal movement, Yankelevich suggests the following exercise that a student can play even before learning the positions:

The right hand plays open strings, rhythmically dividing the bow into four or six quarter notes (quarter note = 40mm). At the same time the left hand moves along the fingerboard with the same rhythmic pulse, shifting between first and third positions.

This relatively simple exercise allows the student to realize that both the right and left hands are in constant motion, thereby developing the corresponding reflexes.

Yankelevich also advises against practicing scales with just one specific fingering. Carl Flesch recommends learning scales with one fingering because this seemingly facilitates sight-reading – the idea is that one fingering establishes the corresponding conditional reflexes and then the memorized movements are instantly summoned just by glancing at a similar sequence. But, as Yankelevich points out, the problem with this approach is that it is impossible to foresee every possibility that might be encountered, and if the context changes ever so slightly a new fingering is required. This means the player is confronted with the additional problem of cancelling what is already entrenched and sight-reading actually becomes more difficult.

Yankelevich suggests an alternative approach that develops the quickest motor reaction to visual and aural perceptions. He recommends studying scales with different fingerings to activate flexibility and speed in the motor reflexes.

He describes the following useful exercise devised by his teacher, Abraham Yampolsky, ‘Start from any note (say, A, for example) and try to play descending scales in different keys (for example: B-flat major, D major, D minor, etc.)

This is a great exercise to activate the quick reflexes that are needed for sight-reading. If we want to be free as creative artist-musicians, we must be in the possession of a free and adaptable technique’.

Yuri Yankelevich was one of the leading Russian violin teachers of the 20th Century, with 40 of his students winning first prizes in international competitions.


Read also: