Music

The Role of The Performer ~Hillary Hahn

Introduction

I am going to be talking about Hillary Hahn, one of the most amazing violin performers alive today. Her hard work and dedication to music is greatly noticed and expressed through her performing.

I will be explaining a bit about her early years and where she is today. Then, we’ll be digging into two of her performances.

Hillary Hahn was born on November 27, 1979. She began playing the violin at 4 and was touring the world by 11. She is most definitely the definition of a musical child prodigy. Her musical abilities are uncanny and I look up to her immensely as a performer.

“At 16, she had completed the Curtis Institute’s university requirements, but she remained for several years to pursue elective courses until her graduation in May 1999 with a Bachelor of Music degree.” (Wiki, 2020)

Today, she lives as one of the greatest violin soloists and still tours on occasion. Visit her website to see when her next tour will be! Hillaryhahn.com

Here is a recording of her performing at age 15. Notice the immense skill in her playing.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

Composition Country: Germany

Recording Released in: May 24, 2017

Composition Title: Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, part one

One thing that is very prominent in Hillary Hahn’s playing is her attention towards her playing. She is almost always looking at her bow while she plays. Her sound is so perfect and this is definitely due to the fact that she watches where her bow is going.

There is a sound difference when your bow moves around on your violin. The closer to the bridge, the louder it gets, the closer to the fingerboard, the softer it gets. Depending on the pressure of your bow hold, the sound can be scratchy, or thick, or airy. It also depends on your bow speed as well. And the placement of your fingers on the fingerboard! So many variables and things to think about when playing the violin. Hillary Hahn demonstrates a mastery of all these things. Just listen to her sound and watch the adept control of her bow.

The dynamics in the piece above are wonderful. The rise an fall in the intensity of the sound is wave like and dramatic. When the sound gets louder, notice her bow speed. It goes a lot faster when her sound is loud. While not all loud sounds on the violin are produced when the bow is going faster, it certainly helps to put some more “umph” into your sound if the bow is going a little faster.

At minute 2:27 Hillary demonstrates incredible ornaments called trills. Even more impressive is that she is doing a majority of them with her fourth finger, the weakest finger. When playing the violin, the fourth finger is the hardest to maneuver with. It is the shortest and buckles a lot making it difficult to help produce a good sound on the violin.

Hilary Hahn album cover pic - click on pic to see a full ...

Musical Focus

When people hear of Hillary Hahn, they most often think of or remember her for playing pieces by Bach. This is rightly so as she has dedicated most of her life to mastering Bach’s compositions.

“Hilary Hahn has lived and breathed Bach’s music for more than 25 years. She’s recorded 4 Bach albums and given thousands of performances of Bach around the world for a huge range of audiences.” (Apple Music, 2020)

I personally remember listening to her many years ago and I latched onto her Bach performances the most out of any other compositions she has performed. There is something about Bach compositions that you just have to love.

Hilary Hahn - Hilary Hahn Plays Bach (2016, Blu-spec CD2 ...

“At 17 she made her recording debut with Hilary Hahn Plays Bach, consisting of three of Bach’s pinnacle works for solo violin.”(IMG, 2020)

Even her performance playing from when she was young is so controlled and crisp. I find it hard to pick between her performances now vs. when she was younger. They are all so good!

Hillary Hahn has taken great leaps in the preservation and recording of Bach’s compositions. Here is one recent recording of her that is among some of my favorites.

Composer: J.S. Bach

Piece Title: Partita for Violin Solo No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002 – 4. 

Composition Origin: German

Recording Released in: Nov 15, 2018

The phrasing within this piece is so clear and controlled. The little pauses, how very brief they are, help to pull the whole thing together.

The vibrato in this partita is almost nonexistent. It is good to know that you don’t need vibrato for a violin to sound good. While it is a beautiful addition to the violin’s overall sound, vibrato isn’t needed to demonstrate mastery. Here, Hillary’s fingers are moving incredibly fast that there isn’t much time to add vibrato. (the piece is written this way of course) I spotted three places where vibrato was used very noticeably. Can you find them?

Lastly, can you find the beat? It is very fast. I found it after two tries and it just amplifies the impressiveness of her playing all the more!

Conclusion

In conclusion, Hillary Hahn will always be my favorite solo violin performer of this age. While there are many others to choose from, she is unique and shows an incredible amount of dedication to her work compared to other professionals. Some people dislike her style of playing because of her expressionless face as she plays her incredibly moving pieces. I on the other hand, look past that because I believe she has discovered a technique to keep her playing consistent and controlled; watching her bow as she plays.

I hope you will find Hillary Hahn’s playing as inspirational as I do and maybe, you’ll be inclined to start playing the violin. The world can always use another violinist!

Sources:

Wikipedia contributors. “Hilary Hahn.” Wikipedia, 26 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilary_Hahn.

“Hilary Hahn.” IMG Artists, 20 Mar. 2020, imgartists.com/roster/hilary-hahn.

“Hilary Hahn: Calming Bach by Decca Classics.” Apple Music, 22 July 2019, music.apple.com/gb/playlist/calming-bach/pl.260357d16af546318aafaa2dd33b659c.

3 thoughts on “The Role of The Performer ~Hillary Hahn

  1. This was such a fantastic look at not only the role of the performer but also the violin! I’ve never stopped to think much about this particular instrument. It is widely played, but so few can play it as well as Hahn does. It’s wonderful to see someone with such skill bring the violin to life, it encourages me to appreciate its true potential and brilliance as an instrument!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually learned a lot about the violin from reading your blog post and from watching her performance videos. Learning to play the violin is a hard skill to master and Hahn certainly has. You can tell she becomes truly immersed in her performance by the way she always is watching her bow. I would be like to know if every violinist has their own technique.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree, she is an incredible performer! It must take an immense amount of focus to play like that. No wonder her face is expressionless, all of her expression is coming out through her violin! One thing I would add is that she has really mastered the rhythm of the music she plays, which can be a hard thing to do with faster pieces. I think it is important to have talented musicians like Hahn who spend so much time preserving Bach’s compositions through recordings and performances. This is such a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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