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Volume 10 • Number 1

Spring 2003



Beethoven in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:
The Violin Concerto on Record

by Mark Katz

When scholars study canonic compositions of the Western tradition, individual performances are generally not considered relevant. Under scrutiny is a work, not any particular instance of it. Yet, clearly, any two performances of a piece can sound dramatically different. And these differences are far from trivial. A well-placed accent, the presence or absence of vibrato on a given note, a sudden tempo change, an unexpected slide—all can alter the shape and expressive impact of a phrase, a movement, even a whole work. Such details not only affect our understanding of a particular piece; they form part of its reception history and, more generally, can tell us much about the musical traditions and aesthetics of a given time. As I hope to show in the following pages, a close study of recordings of one such canonic work—Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, op.61 (1806)—can lead us to a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the Concerto and at the same time reveal how both the reception of the piece and violin performance practice in general changed over the course of the twentieth century.

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