Imagine the violin in a world that did not yet know Tartini, Paganini, Tchaikovsky, or even Vivaldi. This was the theme at a master class on 17th-century music given on February 23 by Enrico Onofri for the students of the Historical Performance program. Onofri, one of the world’s foremost Baroque violinists, has had a long association with the early-music ensemble Il Giardino Armonico and has performed and recorded with such historical-performance luminaries as Jordi Savall, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, and Cecilia Bartoli. He is also the conductor of the orchestra Divino Sospiro and is on the faculty of the Conservatorio Bellini in Palermo, Italy.
The first violinist to perform at the master class was Liv Heym playing a sonata by Heinrich Ignaz von Biber with Jeff Grossman on harpsichord. Onofri was most concerned with maximizing the contrasts between affeti (affects) using a wider palette of sound, articulation, dynamics, and tempos. He referred to 17th-century treatises on articulation for recorder and cornetto by Bartolomeo Bismantova and others that call for an unequal, varied articulation quite different from anything in use today. Onofri also said the articulation most similar to modern double tonguing on brass instruments, written as te-ke te-ke in Baroque treatises, was referred to as “disgusting.”
Next violinist Tatiana Daubek performed Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi’s “La Biancuccia” Sonata with Fernando Aguado on harpsichord. Onofri continued to encourage an articulation palette suited to the 17th-century style that existed before the more violinistic instrumental style that would debut in the 18th century. To develop this palette he suggested using less hair of the bow, refining the grip, turning the bow nearly two-thirds of the way toward the scroll and maintaining a wrist that was as “flexible as a squid.”
When violinist Joan Plana, cellist Ezra Seltzer, and harpsichordist Jeff Grossman played a sonata by Giovanni Battista Fontana, Onofri compared it to a sacred canzona and began singing phrases with texts superimposed from other pieces, such as Josquin’s Mille regretz. Then he pointed out that in a modern edition of the sonata, the original, special black-note notation that indicated an accentual pattern directly from the Renaissance galliard was missing. With Onofri’s explanation of the original notation, the student group performed the section again in a much more lively and syncopated way.
The class concluded with violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova and harpsichordist Elena Zamolodchikova performing Pandolfi’s “La Cesta” Sonata, which was dedicated to Antonio Cesti, a 17th-century opera composer and student of Monteverdi. In contrast to the sacred canzona style that Onofri was suggesting in the previous piece, this one had parallels to early Italian opera including an opening recitative followed by an allegro sung by a buffo character and a chromatic passacaglia. Because of this, Onofri advised, “you must make theater [instead of] playing the violin.”
Throughout the class Onofri deftly showed that a technique and palette informed by the vocal and wind treatises of the 17th century could be enormously exciting, expressive, and convincing for this earlier repertoire. Within the realm of this style, it was the contrasts that Onofri was most concerned with, saying, “Don’t be afraid to be exhilarated when changing the affect. Monteverdi says it is the most important tool we have for moving the emotions.” The coached student performances and Onofri’s performances were certainly moving and exhilarating when informed in this way.