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Baroque Violinist Amandine Beyer on The Pros & Cons of Violin Gut Strings

French violinist Amandine Beyer shares her thoughts on the pros and cons of performing on gut strings

What types of strings do you favor? Metallic, synthetic, gut, or even those infused with rare metals like gold or silver? Whatever your choice, it is almost unanimously agreed upon that gut strings are notoriously difficult to play because of their fragility. Even Eugène Ysaÿe once broke 7 gut E's in a single night! What are the pros and cons that one might expect when utilizing these temperamental strings?

Celebrated French baroque violinist Amandine Beyer shares her expert advice on the topic.

 

Photo credit: François Sechet

Baroque violinist Amandine Beyer on the two sides of using gut strings

The Violin Channel gave me a very interesting subject to think about: "Pros and cons of playing with gut strings." I am very happy to share my feelings about this topic with you. 

There are two things I wanted to say at the beginning:

The first thought is that if you think of "cons" as problems that will lead to a better knowledge of your instrument, your music making, and yourself, then they are really "pros"! Secondly, the guts strings are an amazing surface to play on. It is like a friend, a territory, a spirit, an inspiration, a challenge, and a space for illusion and joy.

Gut playing is like a journey and since I started that journey, my life has been forever changed. You learn so many things such as: 

The gut string is so sensitive and fragile, so that nothing is fixed, safe, or long-lasting.

You need nerves, faith, an adventurous spirit, curiosity, and humility. Nerves to be able to stand every single caprice of the string. Faith in the fact that it is almost always you who can solve the problem, by changing your mind, attitude, vision, and not only by changing the string! Adventurous spirit, because it is a slippery and funny territory... Curiosity because each string is different, because it is an organic material, and you will have to adapt every minute.

Of course, sometimes you almost want to quit!

For example, the sound production changes from string to string (with some you have to be delicate, with others you have to bite it a little bit more). There's a difference in the way she answers, the way she vibrates. That's a super nice thing: the gut string has her own natural and irregular vibration, so you can decide to join and jump with it or swim inside!!...

The string can also begin to whistle like crazy in the middle of a concert if it is too cold, too hot, too humid, or too dry. It can even break and splash your face.

I have many friends and some students that have said to me "I cannot anymore," but then they go on! These strings certainly have a secret!

Many "pros" can also turn into a "con." For example, a gut string is able to learn the piece, because your fingers, bow and heart are teaching her. That is so nice, since you feel how the sound is ready to open on certain strings that you've already played a lot on. However, when it gets old or breaks, suddenly you have to change it and the new string seems to not even know the piece!! 

Another fact is that this proximity to your own stomach, your own gut, makes it like a mirror of your emotions. It can quickly express what happens in you, sometimes before you even know it! And that is fantastic, yet scary!

There is a final and very important point to make, and I'm still struggling with it:

On one hand, a gut string sounds with all kinds of qualities: it can be warm, soft, and impetuous. It has roots, leaves, wind, lakes, rivers, seas, waves, cliffs, and all sorts of spices and stars. These strings also have rhythm, like my friend Clémentine revealed to me! Everything is inside the sound, waiting for a bow to strike it and make them appear. I think that many of the most beautiful qualities of the gut string are coming from the fact that it is gut, animal gut. 

However, we live in a world with a new consciousness about the treatment of animals. I struggle with this myself. I am almost vegetarian, but still not vegan because I play these strings, have some leather shoes, and love honey (and cheese...French or not!!!)

I am completely aware of this huge contradiction, but I realized it quite late, thanks to Naaman Sluchin, my partner in the Kitgut Quartet! Now, it is difficult to think sincerely about it and it is hard to imagine completely changing my job. I can only hope that this gut is coming from animals who were treated in the best possible way. This sentiment comes with effort and until now, I haven't done anything.

The only thing I am doing now is trying to get a life for these strings under my fingers and to teach this attention to dedicated and passionate musicians.

And perhaps one day we will play with silk or gut strings designed synthetically

Or I will be able to go back to metal strings and bring with me what I learned...

–Amandine

 

Do you have an idea for a blog or news tip? Simply email: [email protected]

 

Since some years ago, Amandine Beyer is recognized as a reference in the interpretation of the baroque violin repertoire. Her recording of the Sonatas & Partitas by J. S. Bach in 2012, has been awarded the Diapason d’or de l’année, Choc de Classica de l’année, Editor’s choice de Gramophone, Prix Academie Charles Cros, and Excepcional de Scherzo. 


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