Orchestra strings and the vibrato debate

Posted on: August 18, 2010

Tuesday (8/17) on his Telegraph (London) blog, pianist Stephen Hough writes, “Performance practice covers countless topics, most of which have been written about extensively, but there’s one issue which I’d like to raise here: orchestral string vibrato. It has become commonly accepted in the 21st century that until the post-war period string players did not use much vibrato—that wiggle of the fingers on the string which produces a quiver of pitch in the note being played. … But there is a problem with taking that particular historical practice and simply copying it in today’s situation. There are three other, crucial differences in string playing today which have to be taken into consideration. Before the 2nd World War most players used gut rather than steel strings. A gut string has its own internal quiver due to the irregularity of the natural material, whereas steel is naturally clean and ‘cold’ and in need of vibrato to warm up its sound. … As whole violin sections play with a ‘purer’ intonation today there is a reduction in the complexity of colour … There was a time when not only was pitch less uniform in a string section, but shifting to that pitch was less cleanly executed.”

Posted August 18, 2010