starComments On the Cello Repertoire


Hello Tim, My name is xxxxxx and I am a cellist by night. I found you in the ICS newsletter and thought I would drop you a line to ask your opinion on several things. I played the cello all through high school and quit playing around my senior year. I picked it up again about 6 mos ago for the first time in about 8 yrs. I did take up piano though for the last couple years so I wasn't completely out of it. After about 2 mos I decided I definitely wanted to get back into it and began studying with Jim Higgins here in Dallas. I have gained back most of my technique in the last several mos. My goal is to make a modest supplementary income to my day job. I had my first gig xmas eve playing in a xmas service at an episcopal church. We played some ofSaint Saen's Organ Symphony and Handel's Samson. I had a ball and it was pretty descent bread. I had played the prelude to Bach's 1st suite in a church about 12years ago. I am currently studying the Haydn c major, Tarantella by Popper, Etudes by Duport, and The saint Saens a minor. Could you comment on the pieces I am working on and offer any suggestions on areas that I must pay special attention to. I wanted to ask you about some pices also. What is the scoop on the 'other' Saint Saen concerto. I think it is in F major. Also, the 'other' Dvorak concerto. I believe it is in G major. Why are they never played? I just got a recording of Popper's concerto in E minor. Wow! What a grueling piece. Also, what do you make of the Bravura Variations by Paganini? My teacher would like me to play them but they are tricky. How about the Popper double cello concerto? Was David Popper the Paganini of cellists or did such a cellist ever exist? I got Yo Yo Ma at Tanglewood and it was absolutely awesome. What a fabulous player! Anyway, will you comment on the pieces and other things I have mentioned. I would very much like to hear from you. Thanks alot.


You asked an overwhelming number of questions. I wish I could give you detailed analyses on each piece you mentioned. But there isn't enough time in the day to do that, and I'd like to spend some of it away from the computer :) So I'll stick to general comments.

1. Haydn C Major Concerto -- I have performed this several times with a local community orchestra. I remember fearing that I couldn't be heard over the orchestra, so I over-pressed with the bow. I was told later that I could be heard just fine, and that I needed to relax. I learned from that experience that I must always strive for a beautiful sound. Don't let your passion for the music result in slamming of the bow and a scratchy sound. There are many places where this is tempting in the Haydn.

This concerto requires a fluid bow arm and a certain grace. There are a lot of small notes (ie. 32nd notes) that can't be neglected. Make sure you articulate every note. You don't need a lot of bow for these little notes. Less bow results in elegance.

Almost everybody plays the slow movement deathly slow. Don't forget that the piece is in 2/4 time, not 4/8. Be aware of the long musical lines. When you think of the long lines, the little notes are less important than the bigger concept of each phrase.

I hope you've been practicing scales; you'll need them for the last movement. This is a technically demanding movement. Don't forget about the music.

2. Popper Tarantella -- Tough piece. This piece is very demanding in the left hand, so make sure you don't neglect the bow. The tougher the piece is in the left hand, the more you need to distract yourself from your intimidation by concentrating on the bow arm. You definitely need a relaxed left hand for this piece.

3. Saint-Saens A Minor Concerto -- Play in time! Students usually rush the triplets and don't come in on beat two. They are usually late in their entrances. This piece needs some help at times from a musical standpoint. Think drama and elegance.

Don't overpress on the double-stops, no matter how tempting. Practice the triplet passage at measure 297 on open strings first. You need to internalize which string you are playing on before you can play this cleanly.

At measure 440, play the sixteenth notes evenly. Don't let it get "beat-y." At measure 490, articulate cleanly the notes on the C-string with the left hand; they can get muffled easily.

4. Duport Etudes -- Look at each etude before you pick up the cello and try to determine its purpose. For instance, number 8 is not just about playing double stops. It's about the bow, playing smoothly with a sustained sound, beauty.

5. The other Saint Saens Concerto -- This is in D Minor, Opus 119. This concerto is known more for its virtuoso aspects rather than its profundity. Double-stops, chords, arpeggios, artificial harmonics are used abundantly. Because of this, it has never made it into the standard repertoire.

6. The other Dvorak Concerto??? -- I am not aware of another Dvorak Cello Concerto. There is the Opus 104 B Minor Concerto, Opus 94 Rondo, Silent Woods Opus 68, and a couple of smaller pieces. Please verify the existence of another concerto and let me know what you learn.
(But see the other tip on this question--Drcello)

7. Popper Concerto in E Minor -- Very fun to play.

8. Paganini Bravura Variations and Popper Double Cello concerto -- I've never played these. I'm sure they are a handful.

9. David Popper -- David Popper (1843-1913) was considered the "king of cello" in the late 19th century. The comparison to Paganini was inevitable because of his technical prowess and his showy pieces. Some thought he, as a young man, looked remarkably similar to Paganini. Popper denied this, saying that the only resemblance was that they were both skinny. But to call Popper the Paganini of Cello doesn't do him justice, since he was known as a great artist as well.

For more information, there is a book available by Steven De'ak, called "David Popper." It is available at Shar.

Tim Janof

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