Senza vib, what an irksome phrase. The very fact it exists assumes that a string player must, by default, play with vibrato, especially as there isn’t really an instruction to the contrary. ‘Con vib’, you’d have thought, but more likely ‘normale’. Or ‘espressivo’, as if musical expression depended on some waggling fingers rather than anything the bow might do.
So entrenched is this habit – although it seems more like a moral obligation – that we are even taught to use vibrato when playing open strings. (I know! Even though it makes the string resonate weirdly! What would Pythagoras say, eh?!)
We are only allowed to stop when the music calls for a particular effect: reverence, holiness or maybe bleak despair. Some crummy state of self-abnegation anyway. Otherwise, it is a given that notes played with vibrato are best. The sound is said to be warmer, richer, more alive. But what if the music sounds better less warm, less rich, less alive? What if it wants to be bracing, tart, direct and to the point, unsentimental, articulated, nude and shapely, clear as a bell, economical with its means?
When it comes to colour, things aren’t black and white, and that goes for music too. You wouldn’t accuse a tree of needless austerity because it doesn’t have leaves in winter: stupid tree, how can you stand there all twiggy and barky, get some bloody leaves on you weird bare freak? Or accuse the artist for drawing a tree rather than painting it:
“Paint it, you arsehole! Everyone knows trees are better in colour.”
“Heifetz didn’t draw trees, he painted them. Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“But it’s possible for the tree to be drawn. It’ll be a drawing of a tree, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Bronislaw Huberman didn’t draw…”
“Bronislaw Huberman? But that was ages ago! And have you looked at his paintings recently? Seriously… Anyway, you can’t stop me.”
“Maybe not, but everyone will think you’re shit. And deluded.”
“I’m not going to draw it with leaves either…”
“Paint! Leaves! Blossom!”
“I’m now shaking with rage at your impudence. You’re a danger to everything I hold dear, even if it’s true that I haven’t thought much about why I hold it dear but it’s what I’ve been told so I’m going with that. I’m going to write a letter to the Strad!”
“Meh, do what you want, granddad. I’ll use paint another time.”
“In moderation, with thought and care and a particular aesthetic result in mind, taking account of the situation but in the spirit of invention and experiment!”