PART ONE, THE CELLO
The Demands of the Instrument
I do not believe the cello must be played poorly. I will maintain that in the not-too-distant future the standards of cellists, will be raised. I cannot stand idly by and see so much talent and energy wasted. To me every serious-minded, ambitious young cellist is a living reproach: I am talented, I want to work; is it not possible that my talents can be developed?
They say one must be born a musician. Of the cellist one can say one is perhaps born to be a cellist, but one is not born with the possibility to develop oneself fully. Sad, but true. Take your own case. You are talented, you have studied for many years, and you feel you have the right to assume that you are a good cellist. Still, I had little difficulty convincing you, intelligent as you are, that you are unaware of most of the things which go together to make a good musician and a good cellist. You asked me in the lessons and again in your letter why no one had ever taught you to look at things the way I suggest. The answer is that in years of studying with teachers of good standing you have not been led to recognize the simplest and most obvious principles, or almost any principles.
What I have told you is not that you did not grasp the idea in a certain piece or that you played out of tune. Rather I outlined to you your lack of knowledge of 1) how to read music, 2) how to look over a piece of music and recognize its structure and its moods, 3) the physics of your arms and their proper use, 4) difficulties of the instrument and bow and the rules and principles to overcome them, and 5) most important, how to bring these rules and principles to life and how best to apply them to the music.
It is surprising how few rules and principles there are and still more surprising how cbmpletely they change the entire style of playing. Believe it or not, my dear friend, the really outstanding string players, whether Kreisler, Casals, or Heifetz, are similar to each other in the way they use their muscular systems and handle their instruments and bows. The main differences lie in their different personalities, talents, and ideas, and only to a very small extent in their techniques, for which, again, physical differences are accountable.
Very simply, these rules are not demanded of the performer, but demanded by the instrument. Please understand this point thoroughly, because this is the basic fault of your approach. You have to know your in struments-cello and bow-and how to handle them, the demands of the music and your mental and physical abilities and weaknesses to be able to recognize your mistakes, the inadequacies in your playing and to try to correct them. Analysis, patience, and endurance are the main requirements for your development.
One small example: when a cellist plays fast detache notes on the lower strings, you can hardly speak of the sound he produces, rather, you could call it a scratchy noise. The reason? You can only get a good sound from a string if it vibrates. Bring the string to vibration and one of the worst handicaps of the cello disappears. A very simple fact, certainly not a miracle, easy to remedy, yet still not recognized as the source of one of the ugliest and most prevalent ills of cello playing.
Let me try to explain to you what I mean by "approach." Except for groups of fast notes where a given number of notes are one single rhythmical unit, there is not a note in music that should be played without expression or articulation. It can be compared to speaking, in which every syllable has its rhythm and phrasing within a sentence, according to its desired meaning. So, every note must be played according to the intended expression within the musical phrase.