Schroeder’s Performing Style

Schubert CD

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Mr. Baroque Plays & Conducts with Philomel

This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

November 25, 1998. All rights reserved.

Violinist Jaap Schroeder gets around. His main


are an apartment in Amsterdam and a house in the Loire Valley in


He is a regular participant in the summer music festival at Skalholt,

Iceland. A few times a year he gets to Stockholm, Helsinki, and


His annual path of migration includes stays in the United States each

spring and fall. His travels are global. He also gets around


Although Schroeder is renowned as "Mr. Baroque," he ventures

into the 19th century in his latest recording, a two-CD set of


complete music for piano trio. His monumental discography includes

music by Beethoven, Debussy, Dvorak, Hindemith, and Mendelssohn. He

says that he likes to bring modern chamber music to the United States

from Europe.

Active in public since 1950, Schroeder notes in a telephone interview

from Washington D.C., that mostly he gets invited to teach and perform

baroque music because the baroque cuts a wide swath in his career.

"After a certain time you get a certain label," he observes.

He makes a typical baroque appearance in Richardson Auditorium as

Philomel’s guest artist on Monday, November 30 at 8 p.m. The


launches a three-concert series which brings the Philadelphia-based

Philomel to Princeton for its first season. Schroeder solos in Bach’s

Violin Concerto in E major, and, following baroque practice, plays

as a member of the orchestra in the remainder of the program.

Schroeder was born in Amsterdam on the New Year’s Eve preceding 1926,

the only child of a musical father who was a mathematician, and a

mother whom he describes as "a very good pianist, but not a


At 72, Schroeder answers the phone with energy and enthusiasm. He

is one of those retirees who, forced by regulations beyond his control

to retire from institutional appointments, devotes himself to doing

what he wants to do professionally. "My health is good," he

says, " and I still enjoy traveling."

About to enter university, Schroeder’s original


was to study musicology or classics. However, he graduated from


when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, and required a loyalty oath

of all entering university students. "I didn’t want to promise

loyalty to the German occupiers, so I went to the conservatory,"

he says. "I guess they thought that musicians were less dangerous

than university students." He earned a soloist diploma at


Sweelinck Conservatory in 1947, and went on to study in Paris at the

Ecole Jacques Thibaud and the Sorbonne.

His first performing commitment after completing his studies in Paris

in 1949 was as concertmaster of the Radio Chamber Orchestra in


the Netherlands. By 1960 he had added conducting to his musical


but conducting in the baroque manner. "When I work with chamber

orchestras I work with my violin in my hand, and stand in front of

the orchestra," he says. "I lead as the concertmaster, and

recorded all the Mozart symphonies for Decca with the Academy of


Music in this way. I was rather in charge standing up. I do not


like the modern conductors."

Simultaneously with his orchestral performing and conducting,


was a member of the Netherlands String Quartet from 1952 to 1969.

"I was the youngest member in 1952," he says. "The other

members were 20 years older. It was my debut in chamber music


In the early 1960s, Schroeder began blending performance with an


career. There was no problem of making a transition to academia, he

says. Teaching was a natural outgrowth of his interest in the baroque.

"My most important message," he says, "is that modern

conservatories should not only concentrate on the 19th and


literature, but should make time for early music. It’s important to

know baroque performance practice. Every student should distinguish

the styles of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries."

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Schroeder’s Performing Style

In Schroeder’s mind, performing style is more important than the


of the instrument a performer uses. "I think it’s fine for


to include early music with modern instruments. We cannot require

that all students have a baroque instrument. But we can bring an


of styles. I work to influence the style of playing. Baroque music

has its own kind of vibrato, and its own tone production with the

bow that brings clarity and articulation."

Schroeder’s insights about baroque violin will appear in a book,


in preparation. The two-part volume, devoted to Johann Sebastian


solo sonatas, is being edited at Yale. "The first part," he

says, "is a general approach for modern players. It discusses

how to tackle baroque performance and the importance of getting a

certain tone quality. The second part of the book discusses the


with a view to performance. Baroque music is geared to the


instrument of the period, the harpsichord. The appropriate violin

sound must be compatible with the harpsichord sound."

About the use of the left hand on the violin, the hand that presses

on the strings to alter the pitch, Schroeder says, "the sound

should be made clear and open, to make it compatible with the


The performer should use more open strings and more low positions

than for romantic or modern music." In other words, he advocates

either allowing the entire string to vibrate, without shortening its

vibrating portion by placing one of the fingers of the left hand on

the string, or allowing as long an expanse of string as possible to


The right hand, the hand that handles the bow, says Schroeder "is

even more important. The bow is the tool that makes the music. You

can lend a person an older bow, and they will experience the way the

music was made. The music of the baroque is like speech. It has an

articulated sound, and lots of rhetorical elements. In the Romantic

period there developed long, legato lines to express the sentiment

of the music. Of course, you can make a compromise. But ideally, you

should get a copy of a baroque bow, and study baroque music with the

older bow. It involves a change of mind and a change of technique

with both hands."

After establishing himself as an expert on the baroque, Schroeder

began exploring the sonorities and styles of the classical period.

In 1973 he founded the Esterhazy Quartet, which devoted itself to

the performance of the music of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn,

and others on the instruments of the time. The "classical


which he uses for this music has gut strings, rather than the modern

metal strings. "The gut strings are much more flexible," says

Schroeder. The "A" of classical string instruments is tuned

to a frequency of 430, instead of the modern pitch of 440, to match

the pitch of classical pianos. "It gives the music slightly less

tension," Schroeder says. The early 19th century bow is lighter

than present-day bows. However, Schroeder uses a conventional bow

with his classical violin.

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Schubert CD

Schroeder’s recent Schubert recording with the Atlantis

Piano Trio of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the Wild Boar label, reveals

the music exactly as he describes it. The mood is gentle and amiable.

Penelope Crawford’s nimble playing on an 1835 Graf fortepiano is


by the contributions of Schroeder on violin and Enid Sutherland on

cello. There is a comfortable homogeneity to the whole.

For performing baroque music, Schroeder uses a Dutch violin from about

1700 made by Willem van der Syde of Amsterdam. For later repertoire,

he uses an Italian instrument of the same period, modified to suit

classical music-making. Its maker is Matteo Gofriller of Venice, who

made the cellos played by Pablo Casals and Janos Starker. "I have

a number of old bows," says Schroeder. "They’re not named,

they’re not even dated. It’s difficult to authenticate bows."

He describes choosing a bow as a trial and error process. "You

play with the instrument and the bow for a couple of days to see if

it does what you want. You consider the elasticity and the weight.

Not all violinists like the same bows. We have different builds. A

stronger person would have requirements for a bow different from those

of a weaker person."

While the baroque provides a fixed point in Schroeder’s life, his

family keeps him in motion. He returns frequently to Amsterdam, the

milieu of his youth. Often he alights at his country house in the

Loire Valley, where he lives with his wife, Agnes, a doctor.

Schroeder’s oldest daughter, Laurance, lives in Madrid and is married

to a Spanish diplomat she met after completing studies as an Arabist

in Amsterdam. They are the parents of two. His second daughter,


a doctor, like Schroeder’s wife, lives in the north of Holland with

her husband, a cardiologist, and their three children. Cecile, the

third daughter, is an Amsterdam-based singer. She sings in a chamber

choir and teaches privately. Her father says that she is very


in early music.

All of his family-hopping must be made to dovetail with Schroeder’s

annual visits to Iceland, which is beginning to occupy a special place

in his heart. This past summer he recorded the Bach violin and


sonatas there with harpsichordist Helga Ingolsdottir, organizer of

the Skalholt Bach Ensemble. The Skalholt Festival takes place in a

church established about the year 1000. The festival includes baroque

music with period instruments and modern Icelandic music. Schroeder’s

Icelandic connection dates from 10 years ago when a student from


turned up in his class at the Schola Cantorum in Basle, Switzerland.

"I go there every year," Schroeder says, "for its


and quietness."

Normally, Schroeder says, each year one European city is designated

as the cultural capital of the year. In the year 2000, Reykjavik will

share the title with eight other European cities. Reykjavik’s


project for the millennium will be the recording of the cantatas of

the baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach. Jaap Schroeder is ready.

— Elaine Strauss

Philomel Baroque Orchestra, Richardson Auditorium,


University, 215-574-0523. Philomel inaugurates its three-concert


series. $13 to $21. Monday, November 30, 8 p.m.

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