A documentary film by Bruno Monsaingeon devoted to the 20th century's greatest violinists, The Art of Violin really cannot be faulted. The same, incidentally, can also be said of the similar volumes that cover the piano an... more »d singing, so there's never been a better time to collect a personal audio-visual archive of some wonderful historical performers. The added dimension provided by the painstakingly collected film material (here featuring no fewer than 20 outstanding soloists) is of exceptional value when observing violin technique, and the diversity of approaches presented here in loving detail is in itself a subject for endless comparison. The material mixes archive performance footage, much of which one might never have dreamed existed, with interviews and documentary commentary. However, rather than turn the project into a museum piece, Monsaingeon includes contributions from contemporary figures such as Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn. An absolute must. --Roger Thomas, Amazon.co.uk« less
"This film (in two parts) succeeds masterfully as both education on the art of violin and entertainment. As a violinist, myself, not only did I gain invaluable insight into the artistic contributions and musical approaches of the great violinists of the last century, I found myself watching the films, or portions of it, repeatedly, all the while mesmerized by such sights as Heifetz's electrifying renditions of Paganini, Wieniawski, and Tchaikovsky or Oistrakh's intense solo cadenza in the Shostakovich concerto. Viewing this documentary is an ennobling experience. The film, however, is less successful as history in that one does not get a real sense of how violin playing changed since the time of Vivaldi. Apart from a superficial mention of Paganini's revolutionary transformation of the violin's instrumental (i.e. technical) capabilities, little appreciation is paid to how dramatic Paganini's contribution to violin virtuosity actually was. Nor does the film really acknowledge the second revolution ushered in by Heifetz who single-handedly set the yet-unsurpassed standard for complete instrumental mastery against which all violinists are judged to this day and who introduced the modern school of violin playing which prizes complete technical command, cleanness of execution, and fidelity to the score. Heifetz and Kreisler represented antipodal destinies for the art of violin, and while there is great nostalgia and respect for the sweetly personalized approach of Kreisler, it is clear that Heifetz's legacy is the one which has carried forward into the 21st century. Nary a mention is made of this historic fact. In short, the film lacks a contextual backbone from which to assess each violinist and his or her contribution to the development of the art. That said, the film is a treasure trove of archival footage which shows each of these great violin personalities at their best. Worthy of special mention is the Mendelsohnn montage at the beginning of the film wherein the entire first movement is heard through interspliced rare film footage and audio of Oistrakh, Stern, Milstein, Menuhin, Grumiaux, and Elman with each actually performing portions of the movement in a sort of tag-team fashion. Heifetz is also included in the montage, but since there is no film footage of him performing the Mendelsohnn, the director has ingeniously superimposed rare unrelated footage of the maestro in his studio and, in an astonishing sequence, in rehearsal at what appears to be the Hollywood Bowl during the 1930s over his famous 1959 commercial recording of the Mendelsohnn with Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The entire montage is a masterstroke of concept and editing that was simply stunning to watch. As for the commentary, particularly helpful is Perlman's contributions in that he explains just how daunting the mechanics of violin-playing can be and why it is rightly deemed to be the most difficult instrument to master. His impressions of several of the profiled fiddlers is quite colorful and illuminating, as well. While some may consider it distasteful, watching a film like this begs the question of who was or is the best of them all. The director Bruno Monsaingeon's seemingly egalitarian sensibilities prevents him from either positing this question outright or directly answering it. It is quite clear, however, who his favorite violinist is: Menuhin. He is treated lovingly and with special respect throughout the film. Indeed, Menuhin bookends the documentary. So this is very much a personal film for Monsaingeon. But all violin partisans have to acknowledge the singular figure of Heifetz who perfected every apsect of violin craft and infused his playing with a rugged and disciplined musicianship and sophisticated artistry. No other field of music has been so decisively dominated by one musician. No other performer has mastered his or her instrument so completely. No other artist has sustained his or her performance standards and musical integrity over so long a period of time and over so vast a repertoire. His unprecedented virtuosity only scratches at his importance to violin art - indeed, to all instrumental art. Yet, in the film, the Heifetz phenomenon is barely alluded to. To suggest that Heifetz is merely one of many noted violinists is akin to saying that Michael Jordan is just another basketball player or that Einstein is merely a great physicist. This may be the film's most glaring omission."
Exciting and Entertaining
Jian Zhuang | Granite Bay, CA USA | 11/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As also seen on PBS, this is a film written and directed by French violinist and film maker Bruno Monsaingeon who also filmed the Goldberg Variations performed by Glenn Gould. Compared to pianists and singers, the number of violinists who have made a unique impact are very limited. This film covered footages of about 20 of the greatest violinists of the 20th Century including Heifetz, Oistrakh, Milstein, and Menuhin. Other great players such as Elman, Francescatti, Kreisler, stern, Szigeti and Ysaye are also included.Itzhak Perlman, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel and Hilary Hahn are among the commentators.Very exciting and entertaining for any classical music fansMost part of the film are black and white. Sound is pretty good. English, French, Spanish and Japanese subtitles are available. For some reason, may be his national pride, Monsaingeon's film always make a few people in the film speak French even they are fully capable of English so you have to turn on English subtitle."
Unique CD filled with rare footage of violin greats
C. Chu | 06/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My main objection is the title to this DVD "Devil's Instrument", because the producers just wanted to use this to get attention. There was exactly one reference to the Devil, in mentioning Paganini's Satanic demeanor. The rest of the musicians played like angels, and the closing number with Menuhin and the Chaconne in D Minor was positively heavenly. Ivry Gitlits said of him "the angel who came down on earth".In general this DVD is worth the money. Nowhere else will you get several hours devoted to the violin greats of the 20th century. In this day of digital videos and recordings, we take for granted that everything from a child's first recital to a debut in Carnegie Hall will be captured in living color, with CD's cut for parents to listen to. But when you look back there are so few films of the greats such as Heifetz, Kreisler, none of Ysaye, and the sound, even when remastered or enhanced, cannot escape the submarine-like feel of the recording capabilities of the early 20th century. However when you see the virtuosity being demonstrated it is still incredible.Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn do a magnificant job of narrating. And since the film was shot shortly before Menuhin's death in 1999, and finished afterwards, it is fitting that the 20th century closed with Menuhin, and this film was kind of a tribute to Menuhin. However in no way was it all about Menuhin, many are covered, even Michael Rabin and Ginette Neveu whose careers were shortened due to tragedy.With all the narrating by Perlman, I was only a little disappointed that they did not feature his playing. But I guess this leaves another DVD for the violin geniuses of today for later."
Worth it if only for the classic clips
Kareem Ismail | Baltimore, Maryland | 06/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this video upon recommendation from my violin teacher and I do not regret it. However as a documentary it is not completely satisfctory due to the focus on very few violinists without really giving sufficient reflection on the individuality of each. Many great violinists were completely left out or barely touched on in the documentary (Grumiaux for example only has a minute long clip in the early mendlessohn concerto panoramic sequence). Also the video completely ignores mentioning the great pedagogues of the violin (Joachim, Auer, Flesch) simply jumping from Paganini (who was only covered in gradiose terms without really giving his contribution much of substance) directly to Elman. The narrative is qute weak and few of the contributors are really able to articulate their mind (Perlman and Ivry Gitlis are an exception here, specially Gitlis who provide some really light hearted feel to the whole documentary). Purely as a documentary about the violin this video does not deserve more than 3 stars. That being said, the video clips of the many great violinists are truly magnificent to behold. Seeing the disciplined fingering of Milstein up close, or the blinding speed yet supreme control of Heifetz's bowing, or Grumiaux's blurring left hand in his signature fast wide vibrato was truly marvelous and insightful to their sound. For that this video derserves a four. I only wish there were more available video sources showcasing the art of these masters."
Captivating and Unique
T. Parmer | 12/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a confirmed violin junky, this was the documentary I had waited my whole life to see. It never could have lived up to my expectations, but it came close. My only real complaints are:
*The emphasis on Menhuin. He was great, sure, but hardly the epoch-maker he is played up to be in this. This is even more annoying considering how little consideration is given to Stern.
*The way Kreisler and Ysaye are glossed over simply because there is less archival footage of them. Surely the director could have cobbled together some still footage and some of their recordings and had a more fair and balanced discussion of their remarkable contributions to violin-playing and literature. Or, for that matter, the fact that it was they, among others, who pivoted the instrument from the 19th to the 20th century.
*No mention of Leopold Auer at all seems inconceivable, but somehow he is omitted from this film!
In short, "The Art of Violin" is more a rhapsody than a sonata-allegro, but it still charms."