Interview with Leonard Rose

An Excerpt from
The Way They Play, Vol. 1
by Samuel and Sada Applebaum©
Published in 1972 by
Paganiniana Publications

Leonard Rose, eminent concert cellist, has a great love for teaching. He is affiliated with the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music.

We discoursed on the holding of the bow. Said Rose, "Much is known about the bow position; yet what we find written on this subject is not necessarily applicable to the individual player. The bow position should conform as much as possible with natural law. One should bow as naturally as possible.

"I avoid too much analysis of bow position by simply asking a student to allow his right hand to hang loosely relaxed, and then to let the fingers fall on the bow in as natural a way as possible. The thumb has to find itself between the second and third fingers-nearer to the second than to the third-and should be slightly bent.

"The stick should never go above the second joint of the index finger. Between the first and second joints is, I feel, a good starting point. The cello bow cannot be held like the violin bow," he pointed out.

"There is a new school of thought that cellists, violists and violinists, as well as players of double-bass, should all hold the bow the same way, and that the little finger should be on top of the stick. Do you agree?" I asked.

"No, I do not," Rose answered. "Perhaps violinists may have to hold their bows this way, but not cellists!"

"In connection with the thumb itself, do you advocate a slightly bent thumb in the grip on the bow?" I asked.

"Yes, I feel that strongly. Any locked portion of the hand, or specifically, a rigid position of the thumb, will at some time create physical trouble. More important, it is almost impossible to execute a smooth legato change of the bow with a rigid thumb. This everyone should develop in piano and forte bow pressure. Once the pupil has a good bow grip and a good bow change, the next thing is to develop a proper attitude towards the speed of the bow. The facility to keep the bow moving all the time at the correct speed is a great art. It is one of the very important features of a good bow arm.

"The proper speed of the bow and change of strokes in a relaxed manner should be the aim of all young cellists. The repeat, the basis of a good bow arm is a flexible bow change, without tension, regardless of how loudly or how softly one is playing. I might interrupt myself to say," he put in, "that I was able to improve my playing, even when I was quite advanced, after I began to think about the speed of the bow regardless of what my left hand was doing."

He continued, "We should adjust the speed so as to keep the time alive at all times. Once a player has developed a beautiful bow change, the development of a good spiccato stroke should not be difficult. This stroke I consider next in importance to the bow change."

"Do you feel that a well-developed detache is a requiste for a good spiccato?" we asked him.

"To an extent, yes. But I also feel that they can be developed simultaneously. I never have found the detache so much of a problem as the spiccato. It is easier, in my opinion, to play fairly rapid notes, with the bow clinging firmly to the string, with intensity, and with a good healthy sound, than to master the spiccato stroke. That would, of course, involve a motion from the elbow down-ward, with practically no wrist action. Even though this requires an almost rigid lower arm, one should avoid, as much as possible, the inclination to stiffness, or tightness. I find," he said, "that pupils usually hold the arm at too great an angle."

"Do you feel this also about the wrist?" we wanted to know.

"Yes. Both are usually too high."

"To return to the bow change, if I should ask you for the most important development of it, what would you say it is?"

"The important thing is that one should aim for a slight brush stroke. Too many players try to make a bow change without allowing the natural function of the hand to take place."

"How about the bow change at the frog?" we then asked.

"At the frog, the change is made from the up to the down, by a brush stroke."

"And the tip?"

"At the tip," he replied, "one uses a tiny bit of wrist, with very little finger action."

"What about the amount of hair at the frog in making the bow change?"

"I think it is important that one keep a good proportion of the hair on the string at most times, except when playing very softly. However," he added, "when sustaining a tone, I use the flat of the hair."

Mr. Rose has a beautiful bow arm and plays with such fine ease that I ventured to say that he must devote a great deal of thought to planning the bowings. He spoke enthusiastically.

"I consider it of immeasurable importance to devote a great deal of time and thought to the actual planning of the bow," Rose stated. "No matter how great the artist is," he said earnestly, "this is a definite necessity. As for me, I find it completely necessary when I study a new piece, to carefully plan where I should play certain things, in which part of the bow particular passages sound best, what kind of spiccato sounds best, how much bow to use, etc.

"With students, of course, I have to start their thinking along these lines." Then, "I am inclined to think there is not enough emphasis placed upon singing passages, where conserving the bow is so important. Let us take the matter of making an effective crescendo. Much thought must be given to use the bow in such manner to sound best. I would not hesitate," Rose said, "to incorporate the use of a bow change during a singing passage where long notes are to be played.

"One of the greatest fears an artist has in public performance," he added, "is that of running short of bow. And even if he does not run short, the audience must be made to feel that he has a lot of bow to spare."

"Suppose you give a specific case?" we suggested. Rose looked thoughtful. "There are a few very interesting instances where a skillful use of two bow strokes is musically more effective than too much crowding in one bow. The slow movement of the Boccherini Concerto is one. It opens with the note G, sustianed for one full bar of eight-eight time and held over to the next bar for one and one-half beats. This long note starts piano, with a crescendo on an up-bow. It can be done, but not so satisfactorily as I should like it to sound."

"Where do you start your bow change?"

"This is what I do. I start the long note in the middle of the bow, playing softly down-bow. Then I make an inaudible bow change at the tip, and then a substantial crescendo on the up-bow. Then, you see, I have the entire bow for the crescendo. You realize, the most improtant thing is for the note to sound beautiful. A harmless little bow change, if inaudibly done, will produce more beauty than trying to force the bow to move slowly in making the crescendo."

"As you make your crescendo is the speed of the vibrato increased?"

"I am glad you mention this. The use of the vibrato in planning crescendi is very effective. You see, there is a limit to the amount of crescendo one can make on the cello."

"Not so much as violinists or pianists can."

"That's true. Even the most beautiful register of the cello cannot be so strong as in other instruments. But by thoughtful use of the vibrato one can give the impression of a much greater crescendo. In an intense passage, the vibrato should be at its maximum intensity and speed. In the beginning of the slow movement of the Boccherini Concerto, I start piano with a 'white' tone, no audible vibrato, with a very slow and narrow oscillation. As I make the crescendo and as the tone becomes more intense, I widen the vibrato and increase the speed of the oscillation. So we have a crescendo by using more pressure and speed of the bow, and we have the illusion of a greater crescendo by increasing the intensity of the vibrato."

"Then you do not necessarily believe there should be vibrato on every note long enough to permit vibrato?"

"No. I do not adhere to the school of thought that every note must have vibrato. I think the sound becomes monotonous. Many notes I paly without any vibrato at all."

"You spoke about planning the various types of spiccatos?"

"There are different types of spiccato, we know," he replied. "Some sound much better than others. I mention this because many cellists try to use a very brilliant spiccato. And except in rare instances," said Rose, "I have an aversion to this."

I asked him, "do you mean specifically, a more percussive type of spiccato?"

"Yes, and that is what I object to. The bow space used for this spiccato is so short, and the bow is at such a heightg from the string, that what one hears on teh whole actually is just moise. Certainly quite often it is too percussive. On the cello, with the very thick strings as compared to the violin and viola, the palyer cannot allow himself the liberty of this type of spiccato. What is heard is just wooden noise, which sounds hard and steely."

I asked Mr. Rose to cite passages where this percussive type of spiccato would be permissible, and where he would object to it.

"I like to use this hard spiccato in a very high register," he answered. "A specific case occurs in Tschaikowsky's Rococo passage, and the register. In the low register, it is not practical to use this type of spiccato as it takes so much more bow to make the string vibrate."

"I should like to mention something I feel keenly about," I offered. "Many string players neglect to observe real legato. They fail to play passages with true legato. They make their mistake in the sense that they don't realize that in an entire work of twenty or thirty minutes' duration, they do too much playing in a portato style. Their phrases come in a very wavy line, but never in a true legato. And cellists suffer from this more than other string players."

Rose nodded. "Yes. And then one more thing. Cellists are apt to make a diminuendo on every downbow instead of sustaining the tone evenly with the bow. Of course, to play evenly and smoothly may be an effort, but it would be much easier if it were given early thought. After all, it is just as easy to form good habits in the early stage of development. I am inclined to think that all string players suffer alike in this way." Then, "How important it is to skillfully plan the role of the bow arm in the performance of any work! I do not believe," he said earnestly, "in relying on last minute inspiration in public performance. One should put much effort into the planning of a work, not only musically, but technically. The chances for success are much greater. After successfully planning, one is able to express the emotional content of the work more fully."

Said Mr. Rose, "The beginning of any stroke can be a problem with cellists. I feel it is important that the tone should sound clean and distinct at the very start. For instance, in a rather strong attack, many cellists fail because they start too high from the string. The bow should be very close to the string. Very often, in a strong attack, both hands must work together at precisely the same moment.

"At the very beginnning of the Dvorak Concerto, which is very declamatory, the two hands should work precisely together, the left hand hitting the finger on the string, and the bow hitting the string at the same time," Rose advised.

Rose expressed himself forcefully about tradition. "It is important that young cellists regard tradition. Of course, one does not have to play with the same slides as they were made by the great players of the past, but at least one should have a good conception of past tradition, should know the style of the composers intimately and thoroughly. Often," he shrugged, "a young player picks up a piece by Beethoven and plays it like Brahms. In other words, the works of all the composers are played in too much the same style. Tradition is boldly disregarded.

"Another trend which I find disturbing: too many play string instruments with the idea of making them sound like a trombone or trumpet. One hears so much forcing of tone. Instead of developing control and speed of bow stroke, too much attention is placed on the bow pressure," he sighed.

"Large halls might in a measure be responsible," and he agreed. "Yet if one is sensitive and knows how to creat many different types of sound and tone colors, he can make the audience feel he has a very large tone."

On left hand problems, he said, "One general observation I want to make about cello playing is that players as a rule move too slowly with the left hand. The hand must move in a more cat-like fashion," said Rose graphically. He had his cello at his side and demonstrated. "The shifting should be done quickly, with great agility, and with very little, if any, finger pressure on the finger-board. I am not convinced," he said, "of the necessity of making a diminuendo with the bow at the moment that the shifts take place.

"A most important element of left hand technic is the development of a rhythmic action of the fingers. One should learn this."

"You mean the ability to play evenly?"

"Yes, that in itself is a great achievement. The pupil has to listen very carefully to determine whether he is playing evenly or not. The unaccompanied Bach Partitas are marvelous material for just this type of technical development," Rose recommended.

"What specific suggestions can you make for the development of evenness?" I wanted him to tell us.

"More attention should be paid to the way the finger leaves the string. First, there must be that very skillful pizzicato action. By that I mean the finger is to be removed as though it were performing a slight amount of left-hand pizzicato. Not enough stress is placed on this phase of left-hand technic."

When we talked about vibrato, Rose said, "In my opinion, the vibrato does not come from the finger, though many feel that the vibrato impulse is in the fingers. I feel," he said, "that the finger is just the pivot point and that it moves because the rest of the hand moves."

"Just what do you consider the ideal vibrato?" we asked.

"I feel that the vibrato should be performed with the lower arm, with the pad of the fingers as the pivot, and the upper arm moving only passively. I prefer that on the violin also," he added. "Kreisler plays that way. With the forearm vibrato, one can get many types of color and much subtle variety. If the vibrato is relaxed, one can play with any width and in any speed.

"Another element about a good vibrato," Rose went on, "is that it shoudl be able to be brought to a dead stand-still when desired. That is how controlled it should be. In many cases where pupils have difficulty with vibrato, I suggest practicing in various rhythms. For example, I ask the pupil to set the metronome so that a quarter note equals sixty, and in that speed, to play in triplets of eighth notes, then sixteenth notes, then sextalets.

"While vibrating, the fingers should be kept close to each other. They should support each other. Actually, I feel that the fingers should touch each other. Another thing to remember, is that the fourth finger should not sound any different than the first finger. But above all, the hand must be kept free of tensions when one vibrates."

We talked of Casals' contributions to cello technic specifically, particularly about his theory on finger extension. "Students are inclined to fail because they are prone to anticipate the extension, and consequently, strain the hand. The rule is 'perform your extension by quickly lashing out.' Make the extension, and return back. A correctly performed extension is a splendid asset in one's cello technic.

"Too often, the player is absorbed with the next extension, and consequently, loses sight of the beauty of the note at hand." Rose went on. "He widens his fingers in preparation of the extension, when instead, he should be contracting the hand in a more favorable position for the vibrato and for the expression of tonal beauty."

On the subject of trills, Rose said, "The production of the trill does not necessarily mean, as some might think, a relaxed hand. I feel in order to produce a good trill, tension must be set up. The question is, where should this tension be? Obviously, it cannot be in the finger action itself.

"I suggest that in the performance of the trill, the finger be well-crooked. By bending the finger almost to the extreme, and bringing the insides of the knuckles of the hand so that they touch the neck in the low positions and come close to the fingerboard in the high positions, we are in a happy position for the cultivation of a good trill.

"When I perform the trill, I feel that I am setting up tension in the primary note of the trill. Other players with fine trills do it in another way, but one thing is definite, they have to set up tension. The proof of the fact that tension is a necessary element in the production of a trill is that no one can trill indefinitely without becoming muscle-bound, no matter how fine the trill is. However, with the vibrato," Rose pointed out, "one can vibrate indefinitely without tiring. I will say that the faster the trill, the less distance there should be for the performing finger to leave the string."

Leonard Rose has given a good deal of consideration to the psychology of public performance.

"Performers should realize they not only have to prepare themselves for concert purposes as far as memorizing their programs goes, but for the business of just walking out before the people, for any little surprises which may come up as a result of surroundings, etc.

"Conditioning oneself for public performance must take place during private practice," the artist advised. "It is important to play before an imaginary audience too. Before I play in public I very often play a program three or four times as though I were seated before an actual audience."

A number of years ago Fritz Kreisler was performing his arrangement of the Paganini Concerto at a rehearsal with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski. The arrangement of the concerto included a beautiful cello solo.

When the solo ended, the violinist stopped the orchestra dramatically, looked keenly at the solo cellist and exclaimed, "Bravo! How beautifully you played that solo! Please get up! Please get up!"

Leonard Rose quietly stood up and bowed.

The artist was born July 27, 1918 in Washington, D.C. At thirteen he won the Florida State contest as the outstanding high school cellist. Soon after, he took the first cello seat of the Florida State Symphony Orchestra. When he was sixteen, he attained a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and studied there under Felix Salmond. Two years later, he was appointed assistant to Salmond.

On his graduation from Curtis in 1938, he took the post of cellist with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini. The following year he joined the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra under Rodzinski; here he stayed for the next four years, giving many solo recitals and performing with chamber music groups.

In 1943 he came to the New York Philharmonic Symphony society. The next year Rose made his New York debut with them, performing the Lalo Concerto. The year following, he made his Town Hall debut as cello soloist and became solo cellist of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. He became a faculty member of the Juilliard School of Music in 1946.

When Leonard Rose announced his decision to leave the orchestra a number of years later to devote himself to a solo career, it was a most meaningful cultural lift to the devotees of the cello throughout the world.

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