Music

The Vibrato Page



vibrato. An effect, once an ornament but now a standard part of tone production, whereby a singer or instrumentalist imparts a throbbing quality to a note by oscillating between it and a pitch slightly below. With singers, the louder the note, the more pronounced, usually, the vibrato—and the oscillation can become so wide that the hearer may be left in doubt as to just which note is being aimed for. If the technique is applied, as it often is, to a fairly rapid passage, the result is quite unnerving and totally unmusical (except, apparently, in the opera house).

The LaRousse Encyclopedia of Music,
Hamlyn, 1971
p. 547


Available topics:

Vibrato in classical violin technique
A constant vibrato is the hallmark of the modern classical violinist. This is the way Beethoven and Brahms intended it. Well, you can find out for yourself by listening to recordings of violin virtuosi of the late 19th century, such as Joseph Joachim (a close personal friend of Brahms), or Leopold Auer (to whom Tchaikovsky's First Violin Concerto was originally dedicated—Auer thought that "in spite of its intrinsic merit, it called for a thorough revision, since in various portions it was unviolinistic"). You can even check out Auer's personal opinion on the subject of vibrato.


More on classical string technique
Additional opinions from various experts.


Vibrato in classical singing
Of course, a wide vibrato has always been the norm in classical singing. If you believe this, read the opinions of soprano Mrs. Margaret Blake Alverson, a leading recital artist and classical voice teacher active in Boston and San Francisco during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


More on classical vocal technique
Additional opinions from various experts. Learn about "one of the greatest disfigurements of modern musical performance".


Flute vibrato
One theory has it that when the modern Boehm system flute was adopted, the sound was so bland in comparison to the old wooden flutes that the players had to do something, and all they could think of was vibrato. French flutist Marcel Moyse called it "worse than cholera". His countryman Georges Barrère said: "For three hundred years flutists tried to play in tune. Then they gave up and invented vibrato." Thanks to the research of Nancy Toff, the whole story is now out in the open!


The Flute Vibrato Forum
The debate rages on at the Flute Vibrato Forum, which also has a number of flute links. This site seems to have vanished. Has the subject finally been resolved?


Classical Recordings without Vibrato
I'm starting a collection of short reviews of classical music performances without vibrato. This is also known as "historically informed performance" (HIP). However, I'm not restricting the collection to the use of historically authentic instruments. I am restricting the time period to be from the Baroque to the Romantic era (roughly 1650-1900). This is the style of music which is frequently played with vibrato by modern performers, although, at the time it was composed, vibrato was used only as a type of ornament.


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