by Charlotte Lehnhoff

On March 3, 1990, the Chicago Cello Society presented a concert at which all forty of the etudes from David Popper's Hohe Schule des Violoncellspiels were performed, in numerical order. This article,originally published in The Cello Scroll, Vol. 8, no. 4, July 1991, is adapted from introductory remarks given before the concert as program notes. The use here of the term "concert" or "the concert" refers to this event.

History of the etudes

Most of the etudes in Popper's Hohe Schule des Violoncellspiels were written during the years 1895-1898 and his students began playing them in his classes long before they were published. According to Stephen De'ak, Popper's biographer, no. 19, the Löhengrin etude, was written while Popper was principal cellist at the Vienna Opera, between 1868 and 1873. For this etude, Popper took "…a fragment from Act Three, Scene Three of the opera…[to help] the orchestra cellists…perform the repeating figure in the first 111 measures in the score with ease." 1

The publishing firm Hofmeister published the Hohe Schule in four volumes in a span of four years, between 1901 and 1905. 2 The first volume was published in 1901 and contains etudes nos. 1-10. It was dedicated to Alwin Schroeder (1855-1920), Principal Cellist of the Boston Symphony. Volume II, dedicated to Bernhard Schmidt, contains etudes nos. 11-20, and was published in 1902. Volume III was also published in 1902. It contains etudes nos. 21-30, and the dedicatee was Edouard Jacobs (b. 1851-d.?) Volume IV, published in 1905, contains the last ten etudes, nos. 31-40, and was dedicated to Edmund Mihalovich (1842-1929).

Popper's intention in composing the etudes in the Hohe Schule was to meet the needs of the virtuoso 3 and to help his students deal with "…the technical problems which Popper had met in the music of…Wagner, Liszt, Berlioz, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, and Volkmann…" 4 (I would add the name of Dvorak to this listing.) Whether or not Popper intended it, the study of his Hohe Schule has now become a rite of passage for all cellists.

Embarking upon the Hohe Schule in a cellist's course of study marks a major turning point. Its being studied makes a public statement: the student has left the realm of beginning and intermediate studies and gives notice of a life-long commitment to the cello. By the time we begin learning the etudes of the Hohe Schule—and in order to begin working on them—we have made a choice that this instrument, the cello, will be our primary means of expression. 5

Students begin looking forward to working on the etudes as their commitment increases, and they know the etudes are difficult. Yet when they get into them, the degree and extent of the difficulty sometimes comes as a surprise. Nothing in the literature seems to offer such a challenge in so little space. The etudes seem so different from the etudes of Duport, 6 Franchomme, 7 or Grützmacher, 8 that students have perhaps already studied. And, they are.

Contents of the etudes

The etudes in the Hohe Schule seem to have no rhythmic variety. Popper uses the same rhythmic pattern all the way through each etude. 9 There are just a few exceptions: nos. 20 and 39. Some might wish to add no. 13. Number 17 is in A B A form. However, the rhythmic pattern within each section does not change internally. The etudes cannot be described as melodic. There is no contrasting thematic or melodic material such as you find in, say, Duport, Grützmacher or Franchomme. The theme, if you can call it that, is repeated over and over, sometimes in bits and pieces, sometimes repeated in full, and also placed in strange and unexpected places. For example, you might find the theme an octave higher or lower, or in a different key.

There is a lot of chromaticism, and our thumbs often feel like ground hamburger meat. I recall from my student days that whenever one of us had been able to play through an entire etude or a particularly thorny section, we were excited or perhaps even jubilant. Oftentimes rather than feel we had done Popper, we felt we had been done in by Popper. In fact, the response of one member of the Society to the idea of the concert when it was still in the planning stages was to exclaim, "That's sick!"

Popper's etudes are virtuoso etudes, as are those of Grützmacher, Duport, and Piatti. Steven De'ak, Popper's biographer, in speaking about the Hohe Schule, says, "For many years preceding the publication of the [etudes] the technique of the violoncello had been passing through an evolution. Much of the fresh material which expanded the scope of cello technique, and which can be found in his most popular pieces are [sic] also discovered in broadly expanded form in the great etudes. His technical principles, innovations, and practical applications of the modern cello technique (of the late 19th century) were put down in these forty etudes." 10

Everything De'ak says—other than the remarks about the "popular pieces" and his references to the time period and the late 19th century—is equally true of all other important sets of etudes, because each cellist-composer, through their etudes, "…expanded the scope of cello technique…" in their own day, respectively. That is, in fact, the mark of the great cellist-composer. Each of them has made an important and significant contribution to the development and expansion of technique.

In his Essai, Duport discusses advances in fingering. He has lengthy discussions about thumb position and double stops, gives alternative fingerings for scale passages, and suggests fingerings to avoid successive notes with the same finger. The material for all of the neck positions and the double-stops are carefully fingered. No other composer, not even Popper, seems to have gone to this kind of trouble. Duport's etudes usually have contrasting thematic material and the rhythmic patterns are often varied within each etude. Musically, the contents reflect his understanding of the extent to which material at the end of the Classical period and the beginning of the Romantic can be pushed.

Duport's etudes may share the same quality of being obligatory that we feel about Popper's etudes. At the preliminary rounds of the 1986 Rostropovitch Competition, in Paris, Duport No. 8 was one of the required pieces. While the Competition obviously could have required something from any other set of etudes, this request did not strike anyone as being necessarily far-fetched, particularly odd, or unreasonable, because everyone basically is in agreement about the importance of Duport's etudes. (The only people who might have felt the piece unreasonable were the judges, who, I have been told, had to listen to 127 performances of the etude during the first round.)

Grützmacher's twenty-four etudes of Opus 38 are uneven. Van der Straeten describes the first volume as being perhaps useful for "…the student of moderately advanced technique…" He says the second volume is "…in many instances overladen with difficulties of a transcendental nature…[with much of the material in it comprising]…Paganini-like feats [useful for] the virtuoso." 11 Grützmacher's later set of twelve etudes, his Opus 72, does not make a contribution to the advancement of cello technique. They are easier than Volume One of Opus 38, and, like Popper's Opus 76, are preparatory for the earlier set.

As far as style is concerned, the second volume of Opus 38 reflects the musical values of the end of the nineteenth century, carried, perhaps, to a degree of excess. His etudes often strike us now as cloyed, full of boring conventions, or just plain old-fashioned. We can get weary of them before we have finished learning them. I know cellists who have put in long hours working on them and claim their work was not wasted. I have also known cellists who have not spent any time with them at all, and I have heard an argument put forth against Grützmacher that the energy and effort needed for his etudes is wasted because they are just too difficult.

By comparison, Popper brought the same compositional gifts for melody, harmony, rhythm, and sense of form and structure in his concert pieces to the organization and development of his etudes. He drew inspiration for his etudes, as he did with his concert pieces, from many sources. De'ak recounts that Popper once told him he got the idea for no. 36 from his many train trips during his touring days. The rapidly ascending and descending scales are a depiction of the train rolling along the track. 12 The rhythmic pattern characteristic of Die Walküre, Act 3, Scene 1, forms part of the basis of no. 5, presented "in an intricate and agitated manner." 13

De'ak observes that Popper, by writing the etudes in Hohe Schule as a response to technical problems which he'd encountered, created works in which the "…technical innovations [required by works from the literature became] firmly established as part of standard equipment…" 14 This observation answered a question I have had for quite some time: I noticed, and perhaps you have too, that on not infrequent occasions within the etudes, the material bears a striking resemblance to something in another work from the cello literature. The resemblance can range in length from just a few notes to a full measure, and I often wondered if I was imagining the similarity. Perhaps I was reading into the etude a resemblance that wasn't actually there? If there was a resemblance, maybe it was just accidental or coincidental? De'ak seems to be saying: No. We are not imagining the similarity, nor is it accidental or a matter of coincidence. Aspects of the literature are embedded within the etudes of the Hohe Schule.

If that's the case, then there is a common pedagogical principle at work, even though De'ak doesn't say so. Often, when we encounter a problem, one of the ways we solve it is by developing little on-the-spot exercises that are yet more complicated or difficult than the original problem. With these etudes, Popper, as a teacher, met the needs of (his) students by going beyond merely writing down short, brief exercises. As composer, he drew upon his fertile musical imagination to come up with full-length, full-scale pieces which have technical problems from the literature embedded within them.

A word of caution here: That an etude contains a particular technical problem does not mean one etude is a better or more appropriate preparation for a concerto or other work than another one. Popper composed no. 19 for the cello section to help them prepare for Löhengrin, yet the effort we put into that etude is applicable to many other situations. It is possible that Duport, Grützmacher, Franchomme, and other composers of etudes, inserted passages from the literature into their etudes. If they did, they probably did so for similar sorts of reasons, although I have to confess I haven't come across such striking resemblances.

It seems to me, moreover, that Popper probably had in mind another goal, which De'ak only hinted at, one more long-range in scope. I think Popper's use of passages from the literature was a device called borrowing, for the purpose of both creating as well as solving new—or newer—problems, problems which he, as composer, could imagine. His rich musical imagination, I think, led him to seek out new problems. Of course, this could also be said of all the other composers of etudes, but Popper was a far better composer, and it is this aspect of his multi-faceted life that is a major factor in trying to make sense of the power and authority of the Hohe Schule.

We all know there is an intimate and intricate interrelationship between what is known to be possible for an instrument and what is then composed, or viewed as compose-able, for that instrument. Most of the great composers, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, had the technique and tone of a particular singer, soloist, or ensemble in mind when composing any given work. As a performer, Popper knew what was possible, because he'd already done it himself. As composer, he had musical ideas requiring new—that is, expanded—technique. De'ak states that many of Popper's concert pieces already expressed or explored his ideas of what we felt was possible, and said that these ideas are to be found in "…broadly expanded form…" in the etudes. 15

Many of us began studying the Hohe Schule around the time we commenced working on our first major concerto, but the etudes were not assigned as adjuncts to the concerto. This presents us with an irony. Since passages from the literature are embedded within the etudes, does it make pedagogical sense to give students the solution to a problem long before they encounter the problem? Can—should—the student view the etude as a solution to a problem if the student has not yet had that problem? Again, think of no. 19, intended to help a cello section contend with an opera they were to perform. I think, in this day and age, that the answer to this question is in the negative. I would also suggest that this may not be the right question!

Popper's etudes serve as what we could perhaps call "preventive medicine," the early preparation of technical health and well-being in the sense that when the student encounters a complicated problem, the left-hand technique has already been strengthened and prepared. The student doesn't really need to know that a group of notes in the etude being studied is identical to a passage in, say, a Wagner opera, a Beethoven string quartet, or one of Popper's concert pieces. But the teacher should know.

When a student comes to the Hohe Schule for the first time, what may be on the student's mind is to get the etude into her/his hands and brain for the student's view of Popper is as pedagogue. That is as it should be. Because students are so caught up with the daunting task of just getting through it all, they often don't think their technique has been stretched, increased, or pushed further along. Students seldom experience growth. The teacher sees it, but not the student. The student's inclination is to try to get the learning of the etude over with as quickly as possible. It is only later, upon reflection, that we come to realize and appreciate what working on the etudes did for us. That is as it should be, and that was the spirit in which our concert was given.

Structure of the etudes

After we have mastered the instrument and come back to old and familiar music, we do so from the vantage point of experience, giving us the capacity to appreciate the ways in which the organization of the piece plays a significant part in how we work on the piece. It becomes possible to see the hand of Popper as composer at work. All those elements that gave us grief as students begin to make sense in a new and important way, and we can understand and appreciate why these etudes, as De'ak said, "…expanded the scope [my emphasis] of cello technique…" beyond what had been known up till then. One of the cellists playing in the concert said he found his technique was expanded and helped by relearning the two etudes to which he was assigned because he discovered a number of things in the etude which he had not noticed when he worked on them years ago as a student.

The etudes are written in standard forms, such as A B A (e.g., no. 9); rondo (e.g., no. 21); song form A A B (e.g., no.4); repeated internal A A B B (e.g., no. 34); something I call modified rondo, with bridge sections and parts of the rondo itself repeated (e.g., no. 15); and free, or fantasia, form, where there are no repeats whatsoever (e.g., no. 2).

Even though each etude individually seems to have too much material crammed into it, they are all really quite sparse and spare, almost spartan-like. There is nothing extraneous about any of them. They have a feeling of openness, of fresh air being let in. No two are alike. For example, nos. 6 and 27 are both velocity studies. No. 27 is scalar, whereas no. 6 has string crossings that alter the effect and intensity of the velocity.

Each etude explores just one problem—and nothing more—(and) not necessarily from the literature. The problem could be one that Popper imagined all by himself, or it might be something he had encountered. This technical problem is always stated in a simple, direct, and unassuming way in the opening bars. Some may feel this statement is inaccurate since each etude seems to be so complicated and intricate. The complexity would seem to argue against my position that the problem is stated simply, and such a position is, indeed, widely held. Yet when we think about the lasting value of the Hohe Schule, if they were only complex and nothing more, they could not have the position of importance that they do, in fact, hold.

Popper devotes the remainder of the etude to a musical and technical development of the problem, seeking out as many ways and places on the cello as he, as composer, could imagine. The "expansion" De'ak refers to is the constant restatement of the technical problem by increasing the musical complexity of the first bars. The compositional development to which Popper subjects his "theme"—I prefer to call it a "problem"—is not dissimilar to the kind of compositional development Beethoven likes to engage in. Especially in his development sections, Beethoven makes his themes ever more increasingly complex and convoluted. Popper is motivated by his own wish to devise all sorts of ways to play the same melodic/rhythmic pattern, in as many ranges and in as many registers as possible. In this regard, the compositional developmental activity is inseparable from the technical problem, and it is this feature which differentiates the Hohe Schule from all other etudes.

Duport perhaps wanted his etudes to be musically interesting, for he gave many of them full-blown and expansive themes, some in the style or manner of a sonata or concerto theme. As I already mentioned, Duport makes use of contrasting thematic material, providing a feeling of variety to the contents of his etudes, but his contrasting material has the effect of diluting or watering down the point he is trying to make. When I play or teach a Duport etude, I sometimes wonder just what the point is he is trying to make. Granted, each etude relates to a point raised in his Essai, but few of us ever read the Essai first and then play the etudes in accord with his commentary and written observations. Rather, we take the etudes at face value, and play them in whatever order of difficulty we decide upon.

As for Grützmacher, perhaps he felt it necessary to write his second volume as full-scale pieces because he may have thought that was the best procedure for putting down on paper what he felt was needed for developing virtuosic command of the cello. Yet, there is a built-in dilemma about Grützmacher's etudes: one cannot really work on them at all until one already has a fair degree of virtuoso technique. Popper, by comparison, wrote the Hohe Schule as a means of acquiring virtuosity. As such, his etudes do not require complete mastery of the cello or of virtuoso technique as a requirement for learning them.

The length of each etude in the Hohe Schule is another factor contributing to their usefulness as training for virtuosity. Inseparable from this aspect of length is the factor of the relentlessness of the etudes. These two traits—the length and relentlessness—are as intertwined as is the rhythmic pattern with the theme/problem. In most works of our repertoire, a specific problem might last one or two bars. Each etude explores, as I have said, one problem, and lasts far longer than any passage in the literature. Table One lists the etudes by the number of bars within the etude. It begins with no. 17 which has thirty bars, and ends with the longest etude, no. 36 with 192 bars.

However, in and of itself, the number of measures is not the sole criterion for determining the length of an etude. Other equally important factors include: how many notes there are in a bar; what the metric and rhythmic values are for the notes—that is, the time signature; and the tempo—whether the etude is to be played slowly, quickly, or somewhere in between. All these elements combine to inform us of the amount of time it takes to play through the etude. (That is, once it is learned! How much time it takes us to learn it is quite another matter.)

Once the etude gets underway, there are few resting or pausing points. A few fermate are written in, as well as some written-in pauses, as in nos. 26 and 36. In addition, there are a few places where a fermata sign might be missing. Pausing points are shown in Table Two. Other than what is shown in Table Two, there is simply no let-up in the etudes. This quality, of not stopping, is doubly reinforced by the absence of contrasting or different thematic material. Not being able to stop, along with the absence of contrast, provides yet another very important contribution to the development of virtuosity, namely, building up the stamina needed to play through an entire work. Witness no. 19—Popper's goal was to help the cellists of his section survive the one hundred and eleven bars of unremitting repetition in Löhengrin.

Popper's bowings and fingerings in the etudes

In virtually all of the etudes in the Hohe Schule you will find literal restatements ranging in size and scope from one to many bars being repeated, and in many different ways. The matter of exact or literal restatement of material is not to be interpreted as being the same thing as the restatement of the problem from the opening bar(s). As I stated above, the increasingly complex exploration of the basic problem is the content of the entire etude. Exact or literal restatements of music is a compositional device from which the procedure we call "form" is derived.

With some of these restatements, Popper leaves the fingerings and bowings intact. There are also places where the bowings are not the same. It seems to me that we should adhere to the slurrings and bowings which Popper gives us, with the exception of an early stage of development when our task is to learn the notes of the etude. We should not change the bowing so it all becomes uniform. Popper, after all, was a careful composer, and I think he served as his own editor.

The slurs, bowings, and fingerings, on the whole, reflect his ideas about how he wanted the music to be played. A change in bowing (and/or fingering) can alter the effect and character of a passage, rendering it less—or more—legato, which is what Popper intended when he altered the bowing. If we keep the bowing all the same, we lose the change in character he was after.

The matter of what fingering to use is a more complicated question to answer than that of bowing. Some of Popper's fingering patterns are no longer in use today, for example 1-1-1, or 4-4-4, because tastes and styles have changed. Popper's choice of fingerings reflects the penchant for slides and portamento prevalent in his time. The practice today is, often, to play minor seconds with adjacent fingers, such as 1-2, 2-3, 3-4. Where the minor second occurs across the rhythmic pulse where the second note occurs on the strong beat, then our usual guiding principle is to shift with the rhythmic accent, such that the shift occurs between the weak beat and subsequent strong beat and during the minor second.

Many of Popper's fingerings do not take into account matters of rhythm. What are we to do? Change his fingerings to reflect current practices and styles? That is what I was taught when I was a student. I would not be surprised if that was the experience many of you had. An argument can be put forth that if we alter Popper's fingerings to be in accord with current tastes, it might seem we are not doing any violation to his intent, which was to develop cello technique further. Consider that more cellists today are able to play music that only a few could play in Popper's own day. This dramatic change in overall facility is due, in no small part, to improvements in teaching methods and pedagogical understanding, and is due also to the efforts of cellists who continue Popper's efforts at expanding technique. It makes sense that we should make as full use as possible of what is currently known.

At the same time, I would like to offer a counter-argument in favor of following his fingerings. Despite the fact that his fingerings may strike us as awkward, old-fashioned, or out of style, the merit of using his fingerings arises out of the need to know where all the notes are on the cello no matter from where or how we approach the note. What is more, if we find his fingerings far more difficult and awkward than current practice, then we are adhering to the pedagogical principle of making something much more difficult than actually occurs in the literature, thus making what is in the literature easier. This way, learning and utilizing Popper's fingerings becomes a useful learning tool.

Fingerings are a highly personal matter, but, since Popper did provide fingerings, the least we can do is try to learn them. Perhaps a two-step, or bi-level, approach to fingerings could be taken. At an earlier stage of development, the student might use modern fingerings. Then, at a later stage, perhaps upon a return to the etude, we could learn Popper's fingerings. In this way, his fingerings would offer a contrast and might even help strengthen the hand in ways that an easier fingering might not offer.

When (we) cellists talk about technical problems of playing the cello, on occasion we resort to the following platitude or generalization: Each area on the instrument has its own particular and unique set of problems. However, we mean two opposing things by this statement. One meaning is helpful, but the other is counterproductive. The helpful interpretation constitutes a recognition, or understanding, that the musculature—the contour or shape of the hand, and the placement and positioning of the arm—required for the various locales, such as high up on the fingerboard, on the neck, in the shoulder area, has to be adjusted accordingly. Many sets of etudes and exercises have been written for effective development of the correct posture and positioning.

For example, Janos Starker, in his treatise, An Organized Method of String Playing, provides exercises designed just for playing in the saddle area, in both closed and extension positions. 16 Such exercises contribute to the student's development of an enlightened and informed appreciation of what is needed to play correctly.

The counterproductive interpretation of the generalization maintains that, by their very nature, some areas on the cello are harder to play and others are inherently easier to play. This perspective works against us, for as soon as we attribute differing degrees of difficulty to one area over another, we give students reason to fear being able to play, let alone play well, in that area or areas. There are non-Popper etudes which have the effect of reinforcing this perspective. In them you will find musical gestures or types of passagework restricted to one locale; the premise underlying them is that a given area can have only one possible function. An example would be to view the function of the saddle area as being used just to pass through enroute from the neck up to the fingerboard in music that ascends, or the reverse, in music that descends. One of Popper's intentions was to make a case against the counterproductive point of view.

In the Hohe Schule a difficult gesture has to be equally transferable and translatable anywhere. You cannot just play it on the neck; you have to be able to do the same thing high up on the fingerboard as well, and vice versa—something we learn to view as being playable on the fingerboard should and can be done in exactly the same manner way back on the neck. This is the reason he restates the problem all over the place, and it is what makes his etudes so difficult to learn as well as to play, for they take us into a new and different realm of looking at the possibilities of the instrument. But his method has the salutary effect of freeing us. I liken Popper's teaching to that of consciousness-raising. He tells us not to be afraid of one area over another. Once we learn his message, we are released from the shackles of constraint produced by fear and apprehension. And, we cannot have mastery over the instrument until we stop being afraid of certain areas.

The structure and organization of the etudes in the Hohe Schule is designed to teach us this message. The melodic and rhythmic contents are inseparable. They demonstrate for us, by Popper's example and by our own experiences in playing through the etudes that technique per se cannot be separated from musical gestures. Technical exercises that are abstract are not easy to apply in real-life situations. Because technique cannot be contemplated, understood, or developed in a musical vacuum, Popper made no rhythmic accommodation to locale. He did not subject any one area to harsher treatment than any other. He also did not treat the matter of changing locales, that is, shifting, with any special deference.

His shifts occur whenever and wherever the melody and harmony require them. There are both physiological—that is, muscular—and rhythmic implications for this. In terms of the rhythm, the placement of shifts ignores whether they occur between a weak beat and subsequent strong beat—for example, no. 37, m. 1, between the eighth and ninth sixteenth-notes—or between a strong beat and following weak beat—for example, no. 14, m. 1, between the first two notes in the bar. If the distance covered is large, the shift will, of course, take more time, and will require different musculature, but Popper's intent is that the connecting of areas, regardless of distance, has to be viewed the same. There are differences between large and small shifts, but the differences are based upon the amount of time needed and the musculature involved.

Hence, large shifts are not to be viewed as being more difficult or easier than small ones. In Popper's day, the large leaps or shifts were achieved by slides that, according to De'ak, "…were accepted by 19th century players as a technical device…as well as for intensely expressive effects, without regard for the distortion of…" the music. 17 This is one of the sources of chromaticism, especially the minor second ascents and descents, which Popper inserts into each and every etude.

You will find a recurring convention in so many of Popper's etudes, because, like most composers, he was fond of certain types of musical gestures that can be found in works throughout his oeuvre. The convention consists of groups of notes on neighboring strings, where the entire group ascends or descends. Some typical examples can be seen in no. 6, mm. 33-38, or in no. 37, mm. 57-58. You will certainly know and recognize many more. These tiny shifts have to be as accurate as the large leaps.

Popper as cellist and his style

Van der Straeten said of Popper that he "…is one of the greatest masters of his instrument of all time." 18 According to De'ak, Popper's bow technique was highly praised and was "…judged to be as remarkable as his left hand technique." 19 Overall, Popper's playing was described as being "…distinguished by its very pure…and clever technique, as well as by a refined and gradeful manner of rendering." 20 However, even in his own day, Popper's style of playing was eclipsed, according to De'ak, by three different yet related factors.

The first has to do with the new types of pieces being composed and developed which expressed a "…new aesthetic language…" 21 Popper found much of it hard to comprehend. In a footnote, De'ak quotes Popper's response to Strauss' Salome: "'It would have sounded just the same if the musicians had the music on the stand upside down.'" 22 The second factor had to do with an attitude which we now all take for granted, and which is responsible for the efforts made today in the move towards what is now called "authenticity." Joachim, Bülow, and Clara Schumann began advocating that the performing artist must sublimate her or his will to that of the composer. 23 This new position meant that slides which distort the rhythm were becoming increasingly unacceptable. The third factor that saw Popper's style of playing eclipsed within his own day: the innovations brought by Casals.

Popper was shaken by Casals' drastic and radical changes. De'ak describes at great length the significant differences in bowing. Casals' bow arm was unlike anything Popper had known or seen. Popper played with a loose wrist and a straight thumb. Casals did not lower his wrist when he played in the upper half of the bow; he kept his wrist straight when playing on the C string, and compensated for a loose wrist by a "…gradual pronation and elevation of his arm…" as he drew out the bow. 24 Casals' left-hand alterations included use of extensions and different fingerings in order to avoid sliding between positions.

I noticed, in reading discussions of cello tutors, that Popper's contribution to the advancement of technique is given scant attention. But something does not fit. How can the Hohe Schule be so important for us today, yet not receive much written notice? I think the answer can be found in that folk wisdom we have all heard, that Casals single-handedly dragged cello playing into the 20th century.

No one will argue that Casals' radical alterations contributed to the style and taste of cello playing by eliminating slides and changing the way we hold the bow, which also affected the tone we produce. But we must give credit where credit is due. The Hohe Schule is, it seems to me, doubly remarkable. Not only did Popper make use of melodic characteristics and harmonies he grew up and was comfortable with, but his etudes are forward looking and not just rooted in the musical materials with which he was familiar. Even though Popper disliked Salome, nevertheless he was open-minded enough to see where music was headed. He would never play Salome, but he knew his students, and future cellists, would (have to), and he responded accordingly. His etudes thus use chromaticism to an extent that no others did. As a result of his musical and technical innovations, his etudes represent the pinnacle of what is possible on the cello. Even the newest concerto written today incorporates aspects of what Popper's stunning foresight envisioned more than one hundred years ago. Without his etudes, cello technique would not be what it is today.

As a composer, Popper's concern was the melody. He felt one's technique has to take second place to the expression of the melody. His (choice of) fingerings reflects this aspect even as it reflects the tastes and styles of his own day. De'ak observes that Popper's fingerings were "…designed to cope with the technical demands of the…music of his time, and [they suited] his artistic purposes…" 25 As teacher, Popper wanted us to not be afraid of any type of technical problem on the cello, and his one underlying principle was to show us how to gain complete control over every aspect of the instrument, in every position, from the top of the fingerboard to the bottom.

In his Preface to De'ak's biography of Popper, Janos Starker shares his deep respect for the etudes when he says, "One cannot truly master the cello without having learned…" the etudes of the Hohe Schule. 26 Casals played practically all of Popper's concert pieces, and said of Popper that, no matter what people think of him, "I will play [Popper's] music as long as I play the cello, for no other composer wrote better for the instrument." 27 The etudes in the Hohe Schule speak to us of the eternal verities of cello playing. As long as we continue the study of his etudes, they will hold the primacy of place they have today.

Author's note: I would like to express my appreciation to Joseph Sciacchitano, former cellist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for his assistance in preparing this article and for graciously allowing me to examine his personal copies of the first editions of Volumes I and II of the Hohe Schule.



# of bars Etude # # of bars Etude # # of bars Etude #
30 17 49 22 76 4
31 3 54 9 82 19
33 2 56 26 84 13 & 37
34 34 59 27 92 24
35 10 61 33 93 31
36 7 65 1 & 6 102 30
38 8 68 25 103 5
40 32 70 16 106 18
41 28 71 40 122 21
42 11 & 14 72 29 126 38
44 35 75 12 132 15
192 36



Etude #Measure number and type of pause
2 m. 18, half note
4 mm. 27-28, 55-56, slower rhythmic value
5 m. 18, dotted quarter note tied to eighth- note plus 2 eighths rests; mm. 33-34, dotted half note tied to quarter note plus rests m. 48, eighth note rest;
9 mm. 20, 31, 39, fermate
13 m. 48, fermata
14 m. 10, dotted half note plus quarter notefermate
15 mm. 18, 47, 86, fermate
16 m. 30, fermata
17 mm. 10, 20, fermate
18 m. 30, fermata
20 mm. 36-37, whole note in each bar
34 m. 25, fermata
21 m. 36, fermata
22 m. 30, half note (highest note in etude)
23 mm. 62-65, whole notes plus half notes
24 mm. 32, 57, 69, fermate
26 mm. 15, 36-37, fermate
29 m. 39, half note and quarter note rest
30 mm. 16 and 32, dotted quarter note octaves
33 m. 37, fermata
34 m. 25, fermata
36 mm. 43-46, 89-91,written out pauses


1. Steven De'ak, David Popper, (Neptune City, N. J.: Paganiniana Publications, Inc., 1980), p. 262.
2. Hofmeister established his publishing house in Leipzig in 1807.
3. This means orchestral players are also virtuosi. Witness etude no. 19, composed for the cello section!
4. De'ak, p. 262.
5. When we refer to the etudes, we almost always mean the forty etudes of the High School of Cello Playing, Hohe Schule des Violoncellspiels, Opus 73. Popper later wrote another set of ten etudes, Mittelschwere grosse Etuden, Opus 76, intended as preparatory etudes for the Hohe Schule.
6. Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819) composed and compiled his twenty-one etudes for the Appendix to his treatise Essai Sur Le Doigte du Violoncelle, et sur la Conduite de L'Archet, ("Essay on the Fingering of the Violoncello, and on the Conduct of the Bow"), published in Paris, in 1810.
7. August Joseph Franchomme (1808-1884). Twelve Caprices, Opus 7; Twelve Etudes pour Violoncelle, Opus 35. [N.b., I have not been able to ascertain the name of the publisher of the first edition, nor the date of publication.]
8. Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Grützmacher (1832-1903). Technologie des Violoncellspiels , Twenty-four Etuden, Zwei Hefte, Opus 38; Zwolf Etuden für Violoncell, Zwei Hefte, Opus 72. [N.b., I have not been able to ascertain the date of the publisher of the first edition, nor the date of publication.]
9. Another set of etudes that seem to share this quality of rhythmic invariance are those by Johann Justus Dotzauer (1783-1860).
10. De'ak, pp. 260-261.
11. Edmund S. J. Van Der Straeten, History of the Violoncello, The Viol Da Gamba, Their Precursors and Collateral Instruments, (London, William Reeves, 1914, p. 430).
12. De'ak, p. 262.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., p. 261.
15. Ibid., p. 260.
16. Janos Starker, An Organized Method of String Playing: Violoncello Exercises For The Left Hand (New York and Hamburg, Peer International Corp., and Peer Musikverlag G.M.B.H., 1965)
17. De'ak, p. 240.
18. Van der Straeten, p. 442.
19. De'ak, p. 293.
20. Wilhelm Jos. von Wasielewski, The Violoncello and Its History, trans. Isobella S. E. Stigand (London, Novello and Company, Ltd., 1894), p. 150.
21. De'ak, p. 241.
22. Ibid., p. 241.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., p. 238.
25. Ibid., p. 261.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid., p. 11

Casals, Pablo. Song of the Birds: Sayings, Stories and Impressions of Pablo Casals. Edited by Julian Lloyd Weber. London: Robson, 1985.

De'ak, Stephen. David Popper. Neptune City, New Jersey, Paganiniana Publications, 1980.

Hughes, Rupert, compiler. Music Lovers' Encyclopedia. Revised and edited by Deems Taylor and Russell Kerr.

Marx, Klaus. "Violoncello." New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Volume IV, pp. 805-814.

Monosoff, Sonya. "Fingering: Bowed Strings." New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Volume I, pp. 751-757.

Starker, Janos. An Organized Method of String Playing: Violoncello Exercises for the Left Hand. Assisted by George Bekefi. New York, Peer International Corporation; Hamburg, Peer Musikverlag, G.M.B.H., 1961.

Van der Straeten, Edmund S. J. History of the Violoncello and the Viol da Gamba, etc. London, William Reeves, 1915; New York, AMS Reprints, 1976.

Wasielewski, Wilhelm Jos. von. The Violoncello and its History. Translated by Isobella S. E. Stigand. London, Novello and Company, Ltd., 1894.

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