The issue of vibrato's presence in the nineteenth-century orchestral string section has become controversial, with musicians often asked to accept the proposition that vibrato existed rarely, if at all. Fortunately an extensive, hitherto overlooked, body of primary source material exists that goes straight to the heart of the matter, offering a definitive answer to the question of whether or not vibrato was an intrinsic component of period orchestral string sonority. It comes from the organ literature and from the history of the instrument's evolution over the course of the long nineteenth century. A group of artists and artisans, working from approximately 1830 to 1930, documented the importance of vibrato to any attempt at reproducing, or at least approximating, the authentic timbre of the orchestral string section. Organ builders and performers noted vibrato's use both as an intrinsic constituent of string tone and as an actively applied expressive device. They discussed it extensively in their literature, gave their instruments the capacity to simulate its effects, and specifically notated its presence in their transcriptions of orchestral music. The information they have left behind dispels the modern myth of ‘pure’, vibratoless orchestral string tone as a timbral norm, and provides a truer sense of the era's prevailing aesthetic.
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