Milsom, David (2013) The Franco-Belgian School of Violin Playing: Towards an Understanding of Chronology and Characteristics, 1850-1925. Ad Parnassum, 11 (21). ISSN 1722-3954

The term ‘school’ is often used, in various contexts, as a means of trying to understand
different strains of performance style and practice. Sometimes the word suggests a literal
association with a particular institution, sometimes a set of genealogical relationships between
teachers and pupils, and sometimes in the manner of musicological terms such as ‘Classical’ or
‘Romantic’ — as a way of generalising chronological and characteristic parameters. In violin
playing the term has been used with varying degrees of effectiveness and the need to try and
examine such terms critically (or at the least to define their usage) is of obvious relevance
and importance. This article, taken from a keynote presentation, attempts to look at the
notional ‘Franco-Belgian School’ of violin playing. It aims to ascertain the basis of the term by
examining chronological aspects — when it might be said to exist — and what appear to be its
characteristics in terms of style. The ‘Franco-Belgian School’ was cited towards the end of the
nineteenth century mainly, it would seem, as a means of differentiating it from the so-called
‘German School’; certainly, there are clear distinctions to be made between those trained in
Paris and Brussels and those trained, for example, in the cultural milieu of Leipzig and (via
Joachim’s activities there) at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. This paper will attempt to trace
the development of a ‘Franco-Belgian School’ by looking at critical reception and the writings
of contemporary observers, as well as examining key aspects of performance style (such as
forms of portamento) which might be said to create a clear ‘Franco-Belgian’ performance
identity. The paper will conclude by musing upon the changing trends in violin performance
and the extent to which the ‘Franco-Belgian School’ contributed to later, twentieth-century
trends in style

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