Three Tips From Violin Master Lorand Fenyves (1918-2004)

February 22, 2022, 1:31 PM · Legions of violinists and musicians worldwide have studied with or have crossed paths with the legendary Hungarian-Israeli-Canadian violin pedagogue Lorand Fenyves (1918-2004).

I count myself fortunate to have been one of his many pupils throughout my studies at the University of Toronto as well as during summers at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Orford Arts Centre in Canada.

Although Mr. Fenyves never published any books (he revealed to me that he didn’t have interest in writing or publishing), he did leave behind several recordings documenting his interpretive intelligence, as related to various works of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, in addition to his concertmaster work with Orchestre de la Suisse romande under Ernest Ansermet (among them, Rimsky Korsavakov’s Scheherezade).

At his 80th birthday concert, Mr. Fenyves performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and that night, was awarded Hungary's Cross of the Order of Merit. At intermission, wearing his medal of honour around his neck, Mr. Fenyves chuckled with amusement as I (still a cheeky violin student) walked up to congratulate him, calling him the "birthday boy."

Marking his 80th birthday, on February 20, 1998, the Globe and Mail dubbed Mr. Fenyves as "one of the greatest violin teachers in the world" . At his memorial concert held in Toronto in 2004, musicians flew in from around the world to honour him and his contribution to Classical music. In 2012, the documentary film, Orchestra of Exiles, featured Mr. Fenyves’ story detailing his participation in Bronislaw Huberman’s orchestra of Jewish musicians, which later became the Israel Philharmonic.

Despite the accolades, Mr. Fenyves, a man of utmost integrity, never allowed ego to pollute his art nor stand in the way of the growth of his many students worldwide. For this, Mr. Fenyves cultivated many loving disciples on multiple continents. To this day, his photo holds a special place on my piano looking out at me as I practice.

In honour of this great pedagogue and musician, I’m sharing three of the most important violin tips and lessons I learned from my years studying with Mr. Fenyves at the University of Toronto:

Violin Tip #1 - Practice for Quality

Practice with quality, so that you're not ingraining poor habits. One never wants to repeat mindlessly for the sole purpose of doing "repetitions".

Repetitions, when done with quality in the mind (and ear), can lead to greater consistency and accuracy under pressure, whereas repetition done without intentional listening or without a fully aware mind can be detrimental to one’s progress.

Though Mr. Fenyves never used the term "neuro-plasticity," this is what he preached: to never cement undesired results into one’s neural pathways.

Practice slowly enough to ensure that only quality in every note and phrase is being ingrained into your neural pathways.

Doing so prevents hours of future practice that would be needed to unlearn and correct any mistakes or bad habits ingrained during inattentive practice.

Violin Tip # 2 - Practice from the Full Score

As a violinist accustomed to playing and perfecting a single melodic line, it is easy to forget that the symphony, sonata, concerto, etc. that we are playing is an entire work with multiple lines and layers of harmonies, and not just one single solo line.

Studying, listening with, and playing from the score provide insights into the piece that contribute to a more informed and intelligent interpretation of the music. Seeing the score while studying your individual part provides insight into the other instruments, as well as the moving lines, textures, and harmonies.

Practice from the score to give you a shortcut to improving your phrasing, pulse, rhythm, and understanding of the harmonies and colors. Your musical interpretation will be much more intelligent and informed as a result.

3. Violin Tip # 3 - Sing Your Music

Shape your music exactly how you would hear it in your head and sing it out loud.

In one memorable lesson on the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Mr. Fenyves assigned me the homework of singing the opening phrase in my head until I had decided on my exact dynamics, phrasing, inflections, and timing - and mentally rehearsed it all in great detail. He encouraged me to be able to repeat exactly what I heard in my head with my instrument, down to the details in my left hand, vibrato, bow articulation, and dynamic swells. No small detail was overlooked and every nuance of my singing voice was to be faithfully recreated in the bow or left hand.

Sing your repertoire with as much emotion and expression as you hear inside your head. Then faithfully recreate every detail technically with your instrument with as much accuracy as you can.

These three tips are only some of the greatest lessons that I retain decades later after studying with Mr. Fenyves. I hope they are as insightful and inspiring to you as they are to my own playing and teaching.

Mr. Fenyves’ wisdom continues to live on in many generations of musicians whom he guided all over the world. I feel fortunate to be able to remember his words of advice and pass them onto future generations of musicians.

* * *
For more information on my teaching based on Lorand Fenyves’ pedagogy, please visit my websites, to learn more about my Violin Bootcamp and my Violin Ninja courses.


February 22, 2022 at 08:35 PM · Valuable advice Lynn. Thank you for sharing.

February 23, 2022 at 12:52 AM · My pleasure, Richard. It is my honour to pass on Mr. Fenyves’ wisdom, which he derived from his great teachers from the ‘Old World’.

Every year around his birthday, February 20th, I try to post a tribute to him in some small way knowing that I’m not the only one who has benefited from his guidance but that younger generations many never have encountered him or his teaching.

February 23, 2022 at 09:37 AM · Thank you for this!

February 23, 2022 at 12:58 PM · Its wonderful to see a picture of Mr.Fenyves again.He was my teacher at Western in the mid 1980s.Mr.Fenyves has had a profound influence on my music career to this day.They were not easy lessons but he never wavered in his conviction to not let my bad habits lead me on.There are three( of many hundreds) points I remember well.1) As a teacher he said the greatest gift he could give me was honesty.

2) Practise makes, it is the other way around according to Mr.Fenyves.You perfect the given passage, technique etc.and then you practise the perfected idea.Practising is similar to a photocopier.If you learned something correctly you reinforce it with perfect copies.If not, you keep running off flawed copies.

3) Practicing should accomplish various things.It should never be "things just kind of came out this way".

Mr.Fenyves was very much the consummate psychologist, disciplinarian and profound teacher.

February 25, 2022 at 03:54 AM · Peter, thank you for sharing! I’m glad to read that you got the same lessons as I did!

And Jean, you’re most welcome!

I try to post a small tribute to Mr. Fenyves on my social media channels every year around his birthday on February 20th.

He deserves to have his legacy live on.

And I love how many responses I read that come from his loving students.

February 25, 2022 at 01:22 PM · You' re welcome Lynn.I left out one of Mr.Fenyves' most poignant lessons , which happened to be my first one with him.He carefully said " I will teach you how to teach yourself".

Since I was spoon fed with all my previous teachers, I had a lot of growing up to do...and quickly!

February 25, 2022 at 03:28 PM · Peter, that’s an excellent maxim!

February 25, 2022 at 03:42 PM · He was an intellectual giant Richard.He took me to the limits if my musical and cognitive abilities and pushed me beyond them.

When things became intense in a lesson, as was often the case, Mr.Fenyves would recognize that things weren't going any further.He would light up these beautiful European mini cigars and with a little oxygen deprivation we would both relax and the lesson would resume.

February 26, 2022 at 05:10 AM · Haha, yes! I remember the point of saturation when he loaded my brain with as much wisdom it could stuff in one day.

He would gesture to his own head and make the shape of an exploding balloon with his large hands. Haha

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