Christian Tetzlaff talks about his experiences of performing Mozart on the birthday of the composer
“There is so much debate about historic style that it has become less easy to perform Mozart; violinists don’t want people to question why they are using so much or so little vibrato, or why they do or don’t sustain the sound. However, the historical awareness that has happened in the last 40 years has made music more joyful. It has opened up vast possibilities for expression; the use of different bow strokes, vibrato and articulation.
In the past, there was a certain streamlined, cut-glass sound and a reserved beauty of expression. Now, many of us allow ourselves to regard Mozart as an opera composer, whatever music he writes, and play his concertos as opera.
For example, there are recitatives and surprising situations where the music changes suddenly – as if someone is opening a door to come on stage. Every line we play is an utterance that can be connected to words. It has high points and low points, and there is articulation just like consonances and vowels. As violinists, we modify our speech with each harmony just as a good singer does, using body language, dynamics and all the tools we have to communicate.
This is the same with any music that has been written in the last 400 years. For example, the Berg Violin Concerto is also opera. There are stresses and releases, and the physicality of being human – weeping usually has a sighing, falling quality whereas joy has a sense of motion and jumping. Emotions don’t change across history, and the composer’s devices are the same in any good piece, even if there are different levels of complexity.
I always hope I sound completely different in Mozart and Shostakovich, though. You have to go into the emotional world of each composer, to understand where their work is going, but that means that someone who plays a good Mozart concerto is likely do play a Shostakovich concerto well, and vice versa.”