Talent: the Scale

As I have said before, it appears that cellists eliminate the mind and ears as soon as they turn to cello playing. That sounds very rude, but I am almost sure that a politician, a singer, or a farmer loving his metier and being serious about it-not just wanting to outshine his colleagues but being confident that the better off his neighbour is, the better off he will be-feel and think the same way about their confreres.

I daresay that it is not any more difficult to play well than to play poorly. Talent plays an important part in how well one plays, but talent alone, unless combined with intelligence, effort, and persistence, is not enough. How often do we meet people, especially in the arts, of whom we can speak as wasted talents. The real talents find their way anyhow. And by these very exceptions, one can say with good conscience that the better balanced one can keep talent and general intelligence, as well as specific intelligence, the better one will play.

Naturally, years of practice will advance a performer, and a certain amount of facility, a beautiful vibrato, and a good tone quality are accomplished by many. I am always struck by the thought of how much better most musicians (who now just get along) would play if they had been led the proper way.

Let us take one example of inadequacy in a cellist for an explanation; from the very beginning to the very end, scales play a big role in a cellist's life. For the beginner the scale is an aid in getting acquainted with notes, intervals, positions, and intonation. After this, scales still remain a daily practice. It is my custom to ask for scales when someone plays an audition for me.

Cellists who play for me are usually considered accomplished, who, as for instance you did, come for some advice, for the "last touch." But not once have I heard a scale played from which I could have assumed that the player knew even in the slightest the fundamentals of the scale. What do I hear-uncertain intonation, uneven fingers, awkward string crossings and position changes. And what do I like to hear? A scale made up of clean tones, the fingers going down in such a way that the unequal strength of the fingers is hidden; a scale in which audible string crossings do not exist and in which the position is changed so quickly that the difference between a finger placed on the string and a change of position can hardly be felt; thus a row of notes of uniform strength, perfect in intonation and without disrupting, extraneous noises, these are the fundamentals of a scale, the ideal!

How does one approach this idea? Just by playing a scale over and over again, believing everything is done if the scale is played fast and approximately in tune? No. By having such an ideal, an imaginary, perfect, bodyless scale in the mind and in the ear, every cellist can overcome the difficulties ot the instrument to a surprising extent.

Musical example: You remember, my dear friend, that you played the Beethoven A Major Sonata for me and that you never had thought it possible that you, a musician with the best of intentions, could be doing the worst injustice to the second theme, which consists of nothing but scales. You must also remember how much concentration it requires, how much careful watching and especially careful connecting of notes to give those "scales," every note, the beauty which lies in the evenness of their execution. I wonder if you can play them now to your satisfaction, after I succeeded in opening your ears a little, now that your demands on yourself have grown so much.



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