A French Edition of Leopold Mozart's Violinschule (1756)

Nancy November
Victoria University
Wellington, New Zealand

Deep South v.2. n.3. (Spring 1996)

Copyright (c) 1996 by Nancy November

In 1756, the same year as Wolfgangís birth, Leopold Mozart published his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule with the firm of J. J. Lotter in Augsburg. The treatise probably dates from the 1740s or early 1750s. In the Preface Mozart wrote: "Many years have passed since I wrote down the following rules for those who came to me for instruction in violin playing" [1]. During this time (1743-57) Leopold held a post as fourth violinist in the court orchestra of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. He had been appointed violin teacher to the choirboys of the Cathedral Oratory in 1744. The publication of the Violinschule was probably inspired, in part, by the Berlin music theorist F. W. Marpurg (Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme Musik, 1754 and subsequent years) who deplored the lack of violin tutors, despite the numerous musical treatises that had been published up to that time. Mozart too, believed that nothing had yet been published on the subject of violin playing. His Preface continues:

"I often wondered greatly that nothing had been published as a guide to so popular an instrument as the violin, in view of the fact that a sound foundation, and in particular some rules for special bowings coupled with good taste, have long been needed . . . For the publishing of this book I need hardly apologise, seeing that it is, as far as I know, the first guide to playing which has appeared" [2].

Mozart's treatise was not in fact the first of its kind to be published. He was obviously unaware of Michel Corrette's L'école d'Orphée (Paris, 1738) and Geminiani's The Art of Playing on the Violin (London, 1751). However, given Mozartís comprehensive, systematic approach, attention to detail and wide range of intended readership, his Violinschule can arguably be described as the first major treatise devoted to the violin. It stands alongside the treatises of Quantz (Versuch einer Anweisung die Flo(o,¨)te traversière zu spielen, 1752) and C. P. E. Bach (Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, 1753 - 62) as a major source of information on mid-eighteenth century performance practice. These treatises go far beyond the bounds of simple instrumental 'tutors'. Marpurg wrote of Mozart's Violinschule:

"One has long desired a work of this kind but hardly dared to expect it. The sound skilled virtuoso, the rational methodical teacher, the learned musician; all of those qualities that make a man of worth are developed here together" [3].

Mozart's treatise was written as much for the benefit of the teacher as for the student: numerous hints on teaching and practice are included. The material covered ranges from the most basic rudiments of music theory and violin techniques through to examples involving difficult shifts, positions up to the seventh and double stops. Mozart's underlying aim which surfaces in the many comments on manner of execution, and especially in the final chapter ('Of Reading Music correctly, and in particular, of Good Execution'), was to lay the foundations of good musical style. A solid technique and well developed sense of musicianship were valued more highly by Mozart than feats of virtuosity.

The Violinschule draws heavily on the Italian school - Giuseppe Tartini in particular. The comments on ornaments and on tuning double stops by use of different tones, for example, are taken from Tartini's Traité des agrements which although not published until 1771 must have been circulating in manuscript before that time. Mozart's treatise is particularly useful for an understanding of mid-century musical outlook. It also provides an insight into Wolfgang's early training as a violinist. Writers have pointed out though that Leopold's comments should not be considered as universally applicable to the music of W. A. Mozart and his contemporaries [4].

Mozart's Violinschule enjoyed immediate and lasting success - more so in fact than the treatises of Quantz and C. P. E. Bach [5]. By 1764, the first edition was sold out. A second edition appeared in 1769-70 and Mozart may have lived to see the publication of a third enlarged edition in 1787, the year of his death. As Nannerl Mozart reported, from the early 1760's onwards, Leopold virtually gave up both composition and teaching the violin in order to devote time to educating his children [6]. At the conclusion of the 1787 edition, Mozart repeated his half-promise of another book (which never appeared), presumably to discuss matters of interest to the 'worthy platform artists' not covered in the original:

"Much remains which might be said for the benefit of our worthy platform artists . . . I shall perhaps venture to bestow upon the musical world another book. I should unfailingly have so ventured, had not my travels hindered me" [7].

The fourth edition appeared in 1791 (Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Vienna), and again (improved) in 1800 (Augsburg: J. J. Lotter und Sohn). Translations in Dutch and French were published and Mozart also tried to arrange an Italian edition prior to his visit to Italy with his children [8]. In the early nineteenth century, several revised editions appeared, including those by Joseph Pirlinger (1799 - 1800), Michel Woldemar (1801) and Scheidemayr (1815). Abridged versions were published in Hamburg (1804) [9], London (1812), and Paris (1820). Mozart's principles were taken up in the treatises of Cartier (Líart du violon, 1798) and Campagnoli (Nouvelle méthode de la mécanique progressive du jeu de violon, 1824) amongst others. Several of these treatises included his name as a sales ploy or a stamp of authority [10].

Many of Mozartís own additions are more in the nature of after-thoughts and clarifications, rather than emendations or revisions. However, one trend observable in the editions sanctioned by Mozart is an increasing emphasis on legato (smooth, connected) playing. In the second edition Mozart made the following addition (in italics):

"Now if a string be bowed again and again . . . the stroke must necessarily be started gently with a certain moderation and, without the bow being lifted, played with so smooth a connection that even the strongest stroke brings the already vibrating string quite imperceptibly from one movement into another and different movement" [11].

In this edition Mozart advocated the so-called 'Geminiani grip' for greater left hand facility and good intonation and in 1787 he recommended that each finger be left in place until required to move - a procedure which would also have contributed to a more effective legato. In the third edition Mozart placed emphasis on the freedom of the right elbow and hand, stressing the need to keep the bowing arm low but recommending that the violin be tilted towards the E-string side - thereby allowing for a freer wrist action [12].

Most later revisers of Mozart's Violinschule aimed for a more concise presentation. Some, like the anonymous reviser of the 1804 edition, accused Mozart of long-windedness, inadequate layout, and even incorrect statements [13]. This particular reviser condensed Mozart's three chapters on ornaments into two and completely revised the final chapter on good execution. Nevertheless, despite criticism from some revisers, much of Mozart's original instruction was retained in these treatises; especially the publications which appeared in Germany, and the English source Mozart's Violin School on the Art of Bowing [14]. It is interesting to consider how Mozart's Violinschule fared in France - a nation that was at the forefront of technical and interpretive developments in string playing in the late eighteenth century. The following section looks at a revised edition of Leopold Mozart's treatise, put together by the French violinist Michel Woldemar in 1801.

A comparison of Woldemarís revised edition with Leopold Mozartís original treatise

Mozart provided a substantial two part introduction to his treatise. In the first section, he described the various kinds of string instruments known to him, and discussed the parts of the violin. His detailed comments touch on such issues as choosing the correct thickness for strings and the placement of the bridge and sound post [15]. Mozart bemoaned the lack of fixed principles for violin makers to apply. He suggested that acoustics research be channelled into the practical problems of instrument making, rather than the more abstract issues (today termed psychoacoustics) then under consideration. Mozart gave practical suggestions for further research: What is the best wood for string instruments? How can it best be seasoned? Should the shaping of the back and belly be in relation to each other? And, above all, how should all the parts of the violin be proportioned? [16] The second section of the introduction is on 'The origin of Music, and Musical Instruments'. The contents of this section with numerous footnote references reveal Mozart's knowledge of the Classics and of general literature of his own day. As Mozart himself pointed out, much of this history (based on Greek mythology) is 'more fabulous than probable' [17]. Woldemar's short (one page) preface bears little resemblance to this section of Mozart's treatise. Woldemar simply provided a brief introduction, summarising the principle players and violin schools of the eighteenth century. He acknowledged the violin treatises by Geminiani and Mozart, but considered them inadequate for nineteenth-century usage:

"Several methods for this instrument have appeared up till now. The most esteemed are those of Geminiani and Mozart; but these two elementary works have become insufficient, on the one hand because the method of playing has changed, and on the other because the study which some justly celebrated artists have undertaken has pushed back the frontiers of the violin and offered new possibilities, whether it be in fingering or in managing the bow" [18].

In chapter one, Mozart dealt with musical notation. Again he provided details of the historical context, starting with the staffless neumes of the ancient Greeks, through to modern notation. Woldemar dealt only with the modern system. Mozart's chapter provides a comprehensive treatment of the rudiments with examples and explanations, including the method of execution and points of style. He emphasised the importance of thoroughly grounding the beginner in these basics before moving on. At three pages in length, Woldemar's section on rudiments is far less detailed. He merely gave the terms and signs and a number of examples without any comment. Omissions include explanations/examples of articulation signs, the pause, repeat signs, the anacrusis, double flats and double sharps, simple grace notes and ornaments (included by Mozart in this section), and explanations of the musical terms he lists. The comments on style and hints to the teacher are also missing.

In his 'Instructions Préliminare', Woldemar's first comments concern fingering positions and these are illustrated in a diagram. Woldemar's fingerboard is of modern dimensions, having a range of four octaves and two tones. Mozart does not deal with positions higher than the first until his thorough coverage of the topic in chapter eight. The violins depicted in his treatise have short fingerboards, and his musical examples go no further than seventh position.

Next Woldemar discussed the violin itself, and the bow. He gave a series of crude drawings showing the 'evolution' of the bow. He considered the final bow a Tourte-style bow of the kind of bow commonly used by violinists today to be the 'only one in use' [19]. Every known picture of Leopold Mozart shows him using a pikeís or swanís head bow [20]. This type of bow persisted in Germany longer than elsewhere. However, Leopoldís comments reveal that a variety of bow types were then in use, each requiring different adjustments of technique [21]. Pictorial evidence and the evidence from treatises does not corroborate Woldemarís statement about the absolute supremacy of the Tourte bow at that time.

The method of holding the violin remained unstandardised throughout the eighteenth-century and well into the nineteenth century. Leopold Mozartís comments remained essentially unchanged in the four eighteenth century editions of his Violinschule [22]. He described what he considered to be the two main ways of holding the violin, and provided illustrations of these. The violin could be held on the collar bone with the chin off, slanting 'in such a fashion that the strokes of the bow are directed more upwards than horizontal'. This method was thought by Mozart to have a 'pleasant and relaxed appearance', but did not provide stability for high position work. He then went on to describe a more comfortable method, whereby the violin was placed against the neck with the chin over the E-string side of the instrument.

In his edition of Mozart's Violinschule, Woldemar brought Mozart's technique up-to-date, advising that the chin be supported on the left part of the violin close to the tail piece:

"To hold the violin well, it is necessary that the left upper arm is glued to the body, the hand well reversed, the chin supported on the left part close to the tail piece . . . By this means the left hand can travel freely about the fingerboard while the right arm is employed in bowing" [23].

In fact, most late eighteenth-century writers described a chin position to the left of the tailpiece rather than to the right as Mozart had suggested.

Fingering and shifting technique would seem to be strongly related to the method of holding the violin, since a higher degree of support provided by the chin, shoulder and (in some cases it seems) upper arm against the trunk, permits greater freedom of the left hand. Nevertheless, Walls has noted that there is evidence from the early eighteenth century that virtuoso violin music requiring a fluent shifting technique was played without chin support [24]. These players were obviously skilled at the independent thumb and finger shifting technique described by Geminiani [25]. There is also evidence to suggest that the principles of fingering as applied by Mozart, who codified the practice of some of the most advanced players of the early eighteenth century, remained in use in the latter half of the century [26]. Mozart's rules on where to shift were endorsed by writers such as Reichardt (1776), Galeazzi (1791), Campagnoli (c1797) and Woldemar (1801).

Mozart's Chapter III contains a thorough explanation of major and minor keys and simple and compound intervals. Woldemar omitted this discussion, providing exercises in the first position instead, based on scales. First to appear are the ordinary and chromatic 'Gammes de Mozartí followed by the èGammes de Woldemarí. Woldemar's scales include versions of Mozartís with the fourth finger employed instead of the open string [27]. Woldemarís original contribution to this section consists of a 'scale system' in the most utilised keys based around leaps of a third, fourth, sixth, and octave. He then provided scales involving second and third position. Higher positions are discussed later, after the section on ornamentation.

Woldemar discussed fingering in relation to the modern length fingerboard, which is illustrated with left hand positions up to the tenth, the upper most notes on all four strings being played with an extended fourth finger. Each position (up to the ninth) is introduced via scales based around leaps of a third, fourth, sixth, and octave. Having set out these systematic exercises for the student, Woldemar then went on to give practically all of Mozartís musical examples. As is typical, he omitted the explanatory paragraphs [28]. It therefore seems that, in general, Woldemar adhered to Mozart's principles of fingering, although he left it to the player to deduce these from the examples. The fingerings Woldemar provided are very largely Mozart's own. The few alternatives he gave generally involved shifts of a greater distance (facilitated by the chin support he suggests).

Before giving Mozart's examples in double stopping, Woldemar thought it necessary to introduce the various types of double stopped scales systematically to the student (as with the positions) via two octave major scales up to F major, in thirds, sixths, and octaves. Woldemar also gave examples of double stopped and broken tenths, chromatic scales in octaves, and a double stopped scale entirely in third position intermixed with harmonics. Double stopped scales, especially octaves, would have encouraged Woldemar's pupils to adopt the modern 'frame' approach to left hand technique.

Woldemar adhered exactly to Mozartís rules for bowing. In his revised edition of Mozart's Violinschule he wrote:

"Of all the Artists Mozart is the one who has laid out the best rules for the direction of the bow. So I do not hesitate to recall his principles in preference to those of Tartini". [29]

Woldemar's chapter consists merely of the musical examples taken from Mozart's fourth chapter [30]. Two of Mozart's examples are missing, some are abridged or extended, a couple are added by Woldemar, and a number are not reproduced with exactly the same pitches, note values, articulation marks, or (in a few of cases) bowing directions. More importantly, Woldemar generally omitted Mozart's comments and reasoning on execution and style.

Woldemar's Chapter III is on the subject of Mozart's Chapter VI: the triplet. As in the chapter on bowing, Woldemar lists Mozart's musical examples as a set of exercises, some extended by a bar and a few containing inaccuracies or alterations. Again, Mozart's explanations, recommendations to the pupil, and comments on style are omitted. Similar observations can be made for Woldemar's section on ornaments. Woldemar dealt only with short appoggiaturas: he stated that they could only be worth at most half the value of the principal note [31]. He gave six examples, only one of which is not taken from Mozart's treatise. Leopold Mozart's treatment is far more detailed. He devoted the entire ninth chapter to a discussion of the appoggiatura [32]. Mozart's comprehensive and well illustrated section encompasses descending (long and short) appoggiaturas and ascending (short) appoggiaturas and makes it clear that the duration of the appoggiatura must be judged by the context, including the tempo, style, and harmony. Woldemar discussed most of the ornaments Mozart gave, but some were left out. Perhaps these were obsolete by 1800. Again, most of Mozart's comments were omitted.

It is in the last two thirds of the treatise that a genuine departure from the material in Mozart's treatise is evident. Woldemar discussed the technique of playing in harmonics, including trills and scales. The technique had already been used by earlier players, such as Mondonville, but it was not until Paganini that the full potential of harmonics was realised. Woldemar also provided a section on playing on the G-string - a technique that was increasingly being exploited. He provided a 'Minuetto col Variazioni' on the G string, and wrote that:

"One plays much today on the fourth [G] string and it is one of the most beautiful effects of the violin invented by Lolli and developed by Viotti" [33].

Other (new) topics discussed by Woldemar include the use of ornamental microtonal slides and the performance of a Largo, Adagio, or Romance. Woldemar thought not to revise or include any of Mozart's Chapter XIII 'Of Reading Music correctly, and in particular, of Good Execution'. Instead he concluded with numerous studies by himself, Hyllverding, Leopold Mozart, Kautz, Christiani, Mestrino, Locatelli, and pieces by Corelli and Pagin.


In terms of both content and layout, the opening chapters of Woldemar's revised 'edition' show little originality. In the first third of the treatise, a large proportion of the material consists of Mozart's musical examples. The main differences occur in the preliminary section - on the type of bow (Woldemar championed the Tourte-style Viotti bow) and the manner of holding the violin (generally on the left, with definite use of chin support and the somewhat unorthodox support with the arm against the trunk). Woldemar's section on positions and double stops is more systematic and his èscale systemí is an original addition. Mozart gave numerous examples (included by Woldemar), but these do not provide sufficient practice material. A careful examination shows that the layout of this part follows Mozart's Violinschule closely, and this perhaps justifies the inclusion of Mozart's name in the title.

In the final two thirds of Woldemar's treatise much new material is introduced. This touches on subjects such as playing on the G-string and playing in harmonics - techniques that were starting to be exploited by turn-of-the-century virtuosi. Woldemar's scale system, double stopping exercises, and the advanced études he included explore positions higher than the seventh (the limit of Mozart's fingerboard). The left hand facility that they require suggests that the modern èframeí approach to fingering, coupled with chin and shoulder support, was coming into use. This section bears little relation to Mozart's work, and would more aptly be described as an extension or enlargement, rather than a revision, of his treatise.

Mozart provided much more context for his examples. Woldemar clearly aimed for a more precise presentation - restricting his comments to a bare minimum. By paring the material down to the essential musical examples and exercises, with the occasional remark, Woldemar lost what is arguably the most remarkable feature of Leopold Mozart's treatise. Mozart's comments take us beyond the limitations of the notation and provide an insight into aspects of performance style which are not written in the score. This interpretation over and above the meaning implied by the notation is in line with Mozart's underlying aim of 'laying the foundations of good musical taste'. Woldemar cannot be said to have adhered to this aim. While extending the technique covered by Mozart's Violinschule, his revised edition became, on the whole, a book of exercises, rather than a comprehensive method book, with the subtleties and details of execution largely ignored or assumed.


[1] Leopold Mozart, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, Augsburg, 1756, translated by Editha Knocker under the title of A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, (London: O.U.P., 1948), p. 7.
[2] Edith Knocker. pp. 7 - 8.
[3] F. W. Marpurg. Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme Musik, Berlin, 1754, Preface.
[4] See for example, Robin Stowell, "Leopold Mozart revised: articulation in violin playing during the second half of the eighteenth century" Perspectives on Mozart Performance, edited by R. Larry Todd and Peter Williams. (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1991), p. 128 and Wolfgang Plath, 'Mozart, Leopold', The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 12, (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 677
[5] See A. Einstein's Preface to Mozart, Violinschule, p. xxiv.
[6] Plath, 'Mozart, Leopold', p. 676
[7] Mozart, Violinschule, p. 225
[8] Peter Walls, èMozart and the Violiní, Early Music, XX (1992), p. 28, note 40. Leopold seems not to have known about the French edition for some time. In 1778 he was trying to persuade Wolfgang to send a copy from Paris or to bring one home with him.
[9] According to Einstein in the Preface to Mozart, Violinschule, p. xxvi.
[10] Stowell, 'Leopold Mozart revised', p. 127
[11] Walls, 'Mozart and the Violin', p. 22 and Mozart, Violinschule, p. 99 (see p. 73 also).
[12] Mozart Violinschule, p. 57
[13] See Stowell, 'Leopold Mozart Revised', p.128
[14] Stowell, p. 156
[15] Comments on these topics are similar in the eighteenth-century treatises by Marchi ( his manuscript treatise on violin making of 1786) and Galeazzi (Elementi teorico-pratici di musica, Vol. I part 2, 1791).
[16] Mozart, Violinschule, p. 15
[17] Later editions criticised this aspect of the treatise.
[18] Michel Woldemar, Méthode de Violin par L. Mozart..., Paris: Chez Pleyel, 1801, p.1
[19] Woldemar, p. 5.
[20] Walls, 'Mozart and the Violin', p.14
[21] Walls, p.14
[22] The additions in 1787 and 1806 supplement or emphasise rather than revise the 1756 material.
[23] Woldemar, Méthode de Violin par L. Mozart, "Pour bein tenir le violon, il faut que líarrière bras gauche soit collé au corps, la main bein renversée, le menton appuye sur la partie gauche près de la queue . . . Par ce moyen l'instrument est fixé, et la main gauche peut parcourir librement toute líetendu de la touch pendant que le bras droit déploye l'archet". p.6. Stowell notes that Paganini also appears to have used his upper arm resting against his body to help stabilise the violin.
[24] See Peter Walls, 'Violin fingering in the eighteenth century', Early Music, XII (1984), p. 303.
[25] Geminiani was the only eighteenth-century writer to give a description of the mechanics of shifting positions on the violin.
[26] See Walls, 'Violin fingering'.
[27] Mozart approved of this. See section 7, Chapter III of the Violinschule.
[28] The order of the material is also slightly different. Mozart introduced third position before second, and included a discussion about the use of different tones for tuning double stops - first mentioned by Tartini (Mozart Violinschule, pp. 163-65).
[29] Woldemar, Méthode de Violin par L. Mozart,/it>, p. 20
[30] He also included Mozartís table of examples to go with his chapter. See Woldemar, Méthode de Violin par L. Mozart, pp. 52-3
[31] An appoggiatura is a way of ornamenting a note by approaching it from the note above or below.
[32] Mozart's comments on ornaments follow those given by Tartini in his Traité des agréments de la musique. (1771)
[33] Woldemar, Méthode de Violin par L. Mozart, p. 57. Woldemar noted that the variations could also be performed on each of the other strings.

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