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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
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."
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.
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
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
University, 215-574-0523. Philomel inaugurates its three-concert
series. $13 to $21. Monday, November 30, 8 p.m.
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