The Evolution of Viola Playing as Heard in Recordings of William Walton's Viola Concerto
Barnett, Gregory R.
Doctor of Musical Arts
This document examines the evolution of viola playing as heard through recordings of William Walton's Viola Concerto, written in 1929. The sixteen commercially issued recordings of the concerto, unevenly spaced, offer a variety of interpretative approaches. Its first performers were indebted to a style of performance practice with roots in the Romantic era, which emphasized the individuality of the performer above other considerations. Hallmarks of this style are tonal beauty, overt emotionalism and a freely subjective approach that included alterations to the music. The performers used portamento liberally, not yet demonized as a sign of poor taste, and thus had a uniquely vocal style of phrasing. Early violists' interpretations are striking for their flawed uniqueness, but, as we move toward the 1960s, a more modem approach takes over. It is characterized by fidelity to the score and consistent technical perfection, as well as less use of portamento in favor of continuous vibrato. The personal input of the performer is less pronounced; he is now more a conduit for the composer's intentions. Modern violists thus take fewer liberties and sound more alike, while exhibiting an unprecedented level of technical assurance. The reasons for this increase in homogeneity will be discussed. In addition, violinists' recordings of the Walton will be examined for signs of a violinistic mode of interpretation of the Walton.