SHINICHI SUZUKI (1898 - 1998)
Suzuki remains perhaps one of the most controversial violinists of the twentieth century, not due to his playing but rather because of his notorious ‘Suzuki Method’, which attracts both passionate supporters and trenchant critics.
He studied violin in Berlin with Karl Klingler (1879–1976), a loyal pupil of Joseph Joachim who formed the Klingler Quartet with the avowed intention of continuing the traditions and practices of the Joachim Quartet. Suzuki thus became a second generation Joachim pupil; he taught Joachim’s bow-hold throughout his life and the rather stiffly-phrased Lully piece referenced here is, for 1938, played with relatively little vibrato and a puritanical style. The Franck Sonata (1928) also sounds rather unadorned and is burdened by some very poor intonation in the finale. By all accounts Suzuki’s playing was not in the first rank, being dutiful and sensible rather than sparkling. His contribution to string playing really lies in the field of pedagogy; in 1930 he became president of the Teikoku Music School and initiated a method of learning that he continued to develop at the Talent Research Institute in Matsumoto.
Suzuki’s underlying philosophy was that musicianship was not innate, but could be encouraged by circumstance; ‘Man is a son of his environment’ was one of his favourite sayings. He taught that, since neither one’s mother tongue nor music are inborn, both can be acquired by the same means. His aims were centred on the ennobling of the human spirit through art; he was interested in educating not the most gifted alone, but all whom he considered to have a potential for music-making. His method involved the learning of instruments by very young children, taught by rote and by ear, usually with parental guidance. The results were spectacular: at the first National Convention, around 1,200 child violinists were heard in unison. In 1975, the first World Convention in Hawaii had 870 participants from Japan, the USA and Australia. At the age of eighty, Suzuki took one hundred Japanese children to the USA and on 9 April 1978 gave a friendship concert at the Kennedy Center to an audience including President Carter.
Suzuki had laudable humanitarian aims and there is no doubt that his system has had remarkable results. Critics have suggested, though, that those taught by his method lack individuality and musical insight and that learning by ear can have a detrimental effect upon musical literacy.
His inclusion in this book is mainly predicated on his fame and the rarity of his recordings which, whilst by no means exceptional in themselves, are a valuable testimony to a remarkable man.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)