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Stanley Ritchie has been a highly important figure in period-instrument performance in the USA for approximately 40 years and this book is a summary of his experience in this field, both as a performer and, especially, as a teacher. Before the Chinrest is aimed at modern violinists and viola players who are, ‘curious to learn about technique and style as understood and practised by their seventeenth- and eighteenth-century predecessors’, so it is designed as a practical guide and includes a wealth of information, musical examples and technical exercises. Ritchie’s writing style is lucid and the printing is easy on the eye with footnotes kept separately at the back of the book. There is an index but no bibliography.

Ritchie divides the book into four sections: right-hand technique, left-hand technique, interpretation, and a technique and intonation practice guide. I found myself in agreement with a great number of his points about matters technical and interpretative, and many of his technical exercises would be extremely helpful to those new to period playing. However, I would have expected more information on how the baroque violin differs in its setup from the modern and how the bow developed over the years, as well as some advice as to how to go about getting hold of instruments, bows and gut strings. A list of suggested core repertoire and good editions would also have been helpful. A different way of binding the book would have made it more practical for opening flat on a music stand for those wanting to try out the exercises.

The musical examples concentrate heavily on solo Bach and his suggestions for these are very well expressed. Unfortunately, this means that other composers are neglected and French music is barely mentioned – a rather glaring omission. Reference is often made to the opinions of contemporary musicians, but sometimes when discussing chord playing, for example, no reference is made to contemporary sources. The lack of a bibliography makes it much more difficult for readers to find out how Ritchie came to form these opinions and does little to encourage them to find out for themselves.

Before the Chinrest is highly recommended for what is included, but disappointing as to what is omitted. My recommendation to modern-trained players would be to buy Judy Tarling’s Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners as an ideal reference book for this music and then use this new book for a more detailed practical guide to playing the instrument.

Adrian Butterfield Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing