Doctoral Thesis

Doctoral Thesis

Marie-Helen Aavakivi

The repertoire and performance style of professor Johannes Paulsen’s violin students in the 1930s Estonia

Mentors: prof Kristel Pappel, prof Urmas Vulp, prof Marje Lohuaru.

Defending was conducted in June 2019 at the Estonian Music and Theatre Academy.
Link at the ESTER library catalogue:*est


Prof. Johannes Paulsen. Photo: TMKK

In this doctoral thesis “The repertoire and performance style of professor Johannes Paulsen’s violin students in the 1930s Estonia”, I have thoroughly reviewed the repertoire of Estonian violinists in 1930‒1940, as well as the characteristics of their playing style. In the centre of the time period in question, we can find several musicians who have been taught under the mentorship of violin professor Johannes Paulsen (1879‒1945). Paulsen was an Estonian violinist and music educator who became one of the most important violin teachers of the Tallinn Conservatoire of the Republic of Estonia as well as one of the founders of the pleiad of remarkable Estonian violinists of the era. Paulsen’s students Vladimir Alumäe, ZeliaAumere-Uhke, Carmen Prii-Berendsen, Hubert Aumere, Evi Liivak, Villem Õunapuu, Evald Turgan, Herbert Laan, Jossif Šagal, Eduard Poolakene, Rudolf Milli and several others, who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of the Estonian concert scene, were taught and active in Estonia during this decade.

In my doctoral thesis, I have taken a more in-depth look at the repertoire and activities of Prof Paulsen’s students Alumäe, Z. Aumere-Uhke, Prii-Berendsen, H. Aumere and Liivak in the 1930s and have summarised their later life and concert activities. I discussed in the thesis the repertoire of Prof Paulsen as a musical interpreter and as a conductor on the basis of concert programmes that have survived. I examined the repertoire choices and playing style of Alumäe, Z. Aumere-Uhke and Prii-Berendesen in more detail, as they were the only musical interpreters whose performances from this decade have been preserved on audio recordings and can be relistened.

The primary aim of this doctoral thesis was to provide an overview of the shaping of the Estonian school of violin playing during the period between the two world wars, to discuss the life and educational activities of one of its primary founders Prof Paulsen, and to take a closer look at the repertoire choices and playing styles of his most remarkable students in the 1930s. The aim of this work was to express the evolution of the Estonian school of violin playing with regard to the international background.

The historical background of this doctoral thesis presented a brief summary of the characteristic traits of playing styles in the beginning of the 20th century and in the 1930s, the beginning of professional education in the field of stringed instruments in Tallinn in 1919, and the activities of Prof Paulsen as an educator, musical interpreter and conductor. Interpretation of the characteristics of prominent schools of violin studies in Europe and Russia during the period between world wars and the participation of Estonian violinists in violin competitions in Vienna in 1932, Warsaw in 1935 and Brussels in 1937 and additional trainings in Europe provide a more comprehensive basis for the thesis.

On of the most important stages of the history of playing string instruments in Estonia is during 1918‒1940, when a leap in the development of Estonian professional violin education took place in relation to the establishment of the Tallinn Conservatory in 1919, which was called the Tallinn Higher Music School until 1923. One of the most important teachers of that period was violin professor Johannes Paulsen, who was German by nationality and had been born in 1879 in the Poltava Governorate in the city of Kremenchuk in Ukraine. Paulsen moved to Tallinn in 1885. At first Paulsen studied the violin privately and continued as a scholarship holder at the Moscow Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1907 with a silver medal in the class of the renowned Czech violinist Jan Hřímalý. In addition, he studied composition at the same place under Sergei Tanejev. Paulsen undertook further studies in violin between 1905 and 1906 in Munich and in Prof Schalk’s conducting class in Vienna between 1912 and 1914. Paulsen was active in Moscow as a violin teacher, conductor and chamber music player. For a short period (1914–1916) Paulsen worked as a conductor of the symphony orchestra of Baku and as a conductor of the Chamber Music Society of the same city. After that Paulsen returned to Tallinn, where he began his educational activities in the Tallinn Conservatory in 1919 as a lecturer in violin studies and chamber music, as well as the head and conductor of the orchestra class. Paulsen became a professor at the Conservatory in 1925 and the head of the strings department in 1935.

Paulsen was also active as a chamber musician and conductor. He was a member of the string quartet of the Imperial Music Society in Moscow and a member of the Chamber Music Society of Moscow. In addition Paulsen conducted symphony orchestras in Moscow as well. In the 1920s Paulsen worked as a conductor and chamber musician in Tallinn, where he for example performed all Beethoven’s violin sonatas along with pianist Oskar Riesemann. In addition, he also performed with various chamber music groups during that period. Paulsen was an active and founding member of the Estonian Academic Society of Musicians, which aim was to promote and advocate chamber music.

Paulsen’s activity as a musical interpreter, educator and conductor can be examined in more detail and interpreted more in-depth thanks to his 27 programme sheets that have been preserved at the Estonian Theatre and Music Museum (TMM), in which Paulsen is mentioned as an interpreter on 9 occasions and has been marked as an academic and conductor on 18 occasions. A more thorough examination of the programme sheets reveals Paulsen to be a broad-minded and diverse musician who also taught and educated students in other classes provided by the Conservatory in addition to violin classes, such as chamber music, orchestra classes, basic music theory and solfeggio.

I analysed the repertoire of all Paulsen’s violin students mentioned in the concert programmes separately by musical style and period. The pieces performed have been classified by era, composer and name. I have used the systematic data gathered to prepare eight individual repertoire tables on Prof Paulsen and his students Alumäe, Z. Aumere, Prii-Berendsen, H. Aumere and Liivak. The repertoire tables have been attached as sequentially numbered annexes at the end of the thesis. In the case of Alumäe, I also included the pieces mentioned in the book “Vladimir Alumäe. Rector, interpreter, pedagogue” (published in 2017 and compiled by Niina Murdvee), which Alumäe performed during the time period in question, but which are not mentioned in the programme sheets of the museum.

The names of Paulsen’s violin students, who are discussed in more detail in this thesis, are presented in the concert programmes of 1930‒1940 preserved at the TMM as follows: Alumäe ‒ 19, Z. Aumere-Uhke ‒ 15, Prii-Berendsen ‒ 11, H. Aumere ‒ 12 and Liivak ‒ 9 on the programme sheet. In the case of Alumäe, it is important to note that the 19 programmes in which he is mentioned also include 5 previously unknown programme sheets from 1938‒35. The forementioned concert programmes were discovered during research carried out at the funds of TMM from the folders of other and unknown musical interpreters, and have not been mentioned in the book “Vladimir Alumäe. Rektor, interpreet, pedagoog” in the programme list compiled on the basis of the family archive and the personal notes of Alumäe and pianistHeljo Sepp, which as I mentioned before, I also used during analysis of the concert programmes of young Alumäe. I shall hereby list the previously unknown performances: 16 December 1935 – Wieniawski caprice “Cadenza”, E. Kapp “Melody” and Estonian dance No. 2, 27 November 1936 – Ravel “Tzigane”, 18 December 1936 – J.S. Bach prelude and fugue in A minor, 13 November 1937 – A. Kapp “Last Confession” and E. Kapp sonata, 18 April 1938 – E. Lalo “Spanish Symphony” part IV Andante.

After this, in addition to collecting data from archives, I moved on to examine the audio recordings of Prof Paulsen’s violin students. Unfortunately, very few recordings from the era have survived. I utilised qualitative research methods for examining the recordings, during which I described, analysed and compared the recordings of Estonian violinists from 1930s with the audio recordings of internationally renowned violinists at the time. Since the quality of the historical recordings that I used in my work varied greatly, I was only able to compare technical violin playing, sound and other musical parameters to the extent that the audio quality of specific recordings allowed.

As a significant personal find, I would like to also specifically mention a recording of Paganini violin concerto No. 1, performed by Z. Aumere-Uhke and most likely recorded in 1941, which was discovered in 2016 among old and unprocessed materials of the Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR). The archive of ERR also possessed a recording of Alumäe performing Glazunov violin concerto in E-flat major (conducted by Sergei Prohhorov), which is likely to have been recorded around 1945‒1960. Furthermore, Mozart’s violin concerto in E-flat major (conducted by Neeme Järvi, Estonian Radio Chamber Orchestra), performed by Prof Paulsen’s student Õunapuu in 1963, has survived in full. The audio recordings of Alumäe and Prii-Berendsen used in the analysis of recordings originate from the anthology “Eesti helisalvestised. Ajaloolised helisalvestised aastast 1939 12-l CD-l koos raamatuga” (compiled by Kadri Steinbach and Urve Lippus), which was published in 2009.

For analysing the playing style of Alumäe, I chose a 1939 recording of “Poem of Love” by A. Lemba. As reference to this audio recording, I chose a characteristically and technically similar work “Melody” by Christoph Willibald Gluck from the opera “Orpheus and Eurydike”, performed by violinists David Oistrahh, Nathan Milstein and Ginette Neveu. The comparisons revealed that the 1939 recording of “Poem of Love” indicates the high technical violin playing skills of young violinist Alumäe as a musical interpreter at the time, when he had graduated from Prof Paulsen’s violin class and learnt under the guidance of Prof Flesch in England. The playing style of Alumäe is characterised by a virtuous tone, clear performance in terms of intonation, varying vibrato, lengthy phrase perception, sensing the piece as a whole and the use of tempo rubato, portato, portamento and glissando, which was characteristic of the time, and are also inherent to the playing styles of Oistrahh, Milstein and Neveu, which were used as reference for the recording of Alumäe.

For the analysis of the playing style of Z. Aumere-Uhke, I used part I of Paganini violin concerto No. 1, which was recorded in 1941, performed by the orchestra of ERR and conducted by Olav Rootsi. In terms of reference materials, I used performances of the same piece in the same era by violinists Yehudy Menuhin, László Szentgyörgyi and Guila Bustabo. The solo of Z. Aumere in Paganini violin concerto No. 1 in 1941 was stylistically similar to the interpretation aesthetics of Menuhin, Szentgyörgyi and Bustabo. The playing style of Menuhin is most similar to that of Z. Aumere-Uhke out of the three reference recordings. The violin play of Szentgyörgyi as well as Bustabo exhibits more tempo rubato. The use of portato and portamento techniques is also more clear in the interpretations of Szentgyörgyi and Bustabo.

With regard to the technical aspect of violin playing, all four performances of Paganini’s violin concerto are clean in terms of intonation and the tone of the violin is even in all registers. In terms of cohesive play, the orchestra in the recording of Z. Aumere-Uhke is somewhat slower in reaction time than in the other three recordings, however, that does not directly impact the effectiveness of the performance, as the role of the orchestra is primarily an accompanying one throughout the work, along with a few tutti sections. All four violinists are extremely technically skilled in violin play and their interpretations leave a mature and believable impression. The primary style characteristics of all four performances include an ample use of tempo rubato, portato and portamento techniques, lyrical tempo rubato phrases and a bearing tone of violin play, which are inherent to the era.

For the analysis of the playing style of Prii, I chose to examine “Last Confession” for violin and organ by A. Kapp and used Jules Massenet’s “Meditation” from the opera “Thaïs”, performed by interpreters Milstein, Max Rosen and Josef Hassid, as reference. Upon analysing the violin playing style of Prii, I found that the performance styles of all four violinists – Prii, Milstein, Rosen and Hassid – have very similar characteristics, the most significant of which is the frequent use of violin techniques such as portato, portamento and tempo rubato, which are also inherent to the general performance style prevalent in the 1930s. Some of the other primary characteristics are, for instance, lengthy phrase perception, clear intonation and beaming and bearing tone of play. In terms of performance style, Prii is most similar to Milstein, whereas Rosen and Hassid resemble each other. The vibrato of both Prii- Berendsen and Rosen is tension-heavy and intense, as opposed to the varying vibrato intensity of Milstein and Hassid. The dynamics of Prii, Milstein, Rosen as well as Hassid are contrasting.

In conclusion, the playing style of Estonian violinists in the 1930s on the example of the preserved recordings of Prof Paulsen’s students Alumäe, Z. Aumere and Prii-Berendsen from this era – in comparison with other renowned violin artists of the same period – can be characterised on the basis of common characteristics and traits as to having similar characteristics with the general playing style that was prevalent in the era. Comparisons of audio recordings reveal that the playing style prominent in Estonia in the 1930s resembled the interpretation trends in the rest of the Europe, and in terms of the technicality of violin playing, the skills of our interpreters did not fall short of their foreign colleagues. Primary style characteristics in the 1930s among Prof Paulsen’s students were, inter alia, intense playing tone, use of high amplitude as well as lower frequency vibrato, i.e. variation of vibrato, frequent use of tempo rubato, intentional embellishment of the musical material by use of portato and portamento techniques, and contrasting dynamics.

I received extremely interesting and previously unknown historical research material through correspondence with the archive of the Berlin Philharmonic symphony orchestra. Specifically, previously unknown concerts of H. Aumere came to light, from when he performed solo before the Berlin Philharmonic on a total of four occasions in 1947. The first two concerts were held back-to-back on 2 and 3 February at the concert hall Titania-Palast in Berlin, which seated nearly 1,924 persons (!) after its opening in 1928. Sergiu Celibidache served as the conductor of Berlin Philharmonic in these concerts, with whom H. Aumere performed Brahms’s violin concerto in D major in the morning of 2 February starting at 10:30 and in the evening of 3 February starting at 19:00. In addition to the violin concerto by Brahms, the programme also included Schubert’s symphony No. 7 in C minor. The other two concerts took place at the City Opera (Städtische Oper, now Deutsche Oper) in collaboration with conductor Arthur Rother on 9 February, the first of which began at 10:30 in the morning and the second at 19:00 in the evening. H. Aumere performed Brahms’s violin concerto once again during both performances with changes being made only to the repertoire of the orchestra: Schumann’s opening to opera “Genoveva” Op. 81, Richard Strauss’s suite “Le bourgeois gentilhomme” Op. 60 and Richard Wagner’s ouverture to opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”.

In addition, I also studied concert reviews of Prof Paulsen’s students from this period, which have been preserved at TMM, in order to gain a more comprehensive overview of the concert practices in the 1930s. The concert reviews showed that the performances and development of Prof Paulsen’s violin students as musical interpreters were covered in Estonian journalism with great attention and support. This is proven by frequent articles in all major press publications.

Notably, the public performances of the young interpreters in the 1930s were reviewed by Eduard Visnapuu, Karl Leichter, Anton Kasemets, Theodor Lemba and Artur Lemba. Concert reviews were at the time usually published in newspapers such as Postimees, Päevaleht, Uudisleht, Eesti Sõna, Uus Eesti, Vaba Maa, and in German newspaper Revaler Zeitung. It also appears that the achievements and further development of the violinists in question was followed with a clear belief that the Estonian school of violin playing had achieved a remarkable position on the international arena by that time. I used a total of 47 preserved newspaper clippings from the funds of TMM, which discussed the concerts of Prof Paulsen’sviolin students in detail.

In my doctoral thesis “Professor Johannes Paulsen’s violin students repertoire and performance style in the 1930s Estonia”, I used historical sources and archive materials to research and analyse a range of topics on the evolution and development of the Estonian school of violin playing in the 1920s and 1930s, which has received relatively little attention until now. The work focused on the educational activities of one of the most important founders of the Estonian school of violin playing – Professor Paulsen – as well as on the repertoire choices and playing styles of his most notable students Alumäe, Z. Aumere-Uhke and H. Aumere, Prii-Berendsen and Liivak. The primary aim was to demonstrate the evolution of the Estonian school of violin playing in connection with the international scene and association with the playing style trends that were dominant in the rest of the world at the time. After thorough observation and examination of the repertoire of Estonian violinists at the time and comparison of playing styles on the basis of preserved recordings with the technical characteristics of violin playing, which were prominent in the rest of the world at that time, it can be confirmed that the Estonian school of violin playing was part of Europe at the time: similar repertoires were performed and similar agogical, stylistic and technical techniques were used in the interpretation of musical works. Following the Second World War, Estonian violinists were more competitive and able to continue their musical career in Europe, America, as well as elsewhere.