The Second Violins Are Not Second Fiddle!

May 30, 2017

A large orchestra usually has 30 to 40 violinists, divided into two sections. WRTI’s Susan Lewis talks with violinist Paul Arnold about the critical, but often unsung role of the second violins.

Radio script:

[Music: Bach, Chaconne for solo violin]

Susan Lewis: One violin can sound like more.

Paul Arnold:  It is quite a choir of an instrument.

SL: Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Paul Arnold, who talks about his instrument  in very tactile terms. 

PA: The violin makes use of extremely small muscle groups. What we’re doing is such a subtle, almost microscopic parameter, the littlest changes in length and thickness of the neck, or the bouts or tables of the instrument, make a huge difference in the way  the instrument responds and what our hands feel like on the instrument.

SL: He’s also a member of the Orchestra’s second violins—inner voices that often provide harmonic and rhythmic texture—in contrast to the first violins, which play the higher lines.

[Music: Shostakovich, Symphony No. 4]

PA: As a middle voice player, it’s a tremendous insight into how the music is constructed—you’re very inside of the architecture of the music. I have played first violin at length in this orchestra, and I somehow find that when I play second violin I know the piece differently. I seem to know a different sinewy aspect to the music. 

SL: Getting to know the music with an instrument that continues to intrigue him with its mysteries and possibilities.

PA: Nobody knows the violin. It is constantly defining who we are as individuals because there’s no limit in how far you can go in getting better.

[Music: Beethoven, Symphony No. 6]