Chapter 4

An Analysis and Comparison of

Feuermann's Filmed Performance


Only one film of Emanuel Feuermann playing the cello is known to exist. Made between 1939 and 1940 for Artists Films, it is a short film, of approximately seven and a half minutes duration, in which Feuermann performs Dvorak's Rondo, Op. 94 and Popper's Spinning Song, Op. 55, #1, both with significant cuts. This film was produced as part of a series of educational films made for music appreciation classes in high schools and colleges, but was later combined with short films of other musicians to create a full length release entitled 'Adventure in Music' [1] . While Feuermann's film is unfortunately short, it does show his extraordinary abilities well, and provides an invaluable view of him playing the cello, showing details of his physical technique that could otherwise never be known.

Since the objective of the study is to find those features which distinguish Feuermann's approach from that of other cellists, it is useful to illuminate these distinctions by contrasting Feuermann's filmed performance with video performances of other cellists. We again consider Casals, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich and Ma, as they cover a broad spectrum of cello performance techniques and musical philosophies, and are the best known cellists of the century.

The particular performances used for this comparison include a film of Casals, of unknown origin, which appears to have been made in the late 40's or early 50's and contains performances of two unidentified works and his own arrangement of the native Catalonian folk song, Song of the Birds. Piatigorsky's performances were taken from a short film for which the original title and date are unavailable, but which has been re-released by Kultur on the videocassette entitled 'Heifetz/Piatigorsky'. Piatigorsky plays several short pieces in this film, which appears to date originally from the 1950's. The Rostropovich performance was viewed on a commercial videotape produced by Unitel, directed by Hugo Käch and copyright in 1976. On the video, Rostropovich performs the Haydn C and D major concerti with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields ensemble, which he also conducts. Ma's performance was taken from the 1993 Sony release 'Dvorak in Prague: A Celebration', in which he performs Dvorak's Silent Woods, Op. 68, No.5 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa and several other short works in conjunction with other artists.

There are some intrinsic limitations in this comparison, since it is impossible to compare the cellists performing the exact same works, and it is not possible to view the cellists from any angle other than those provided in each video, and, hence, not possible to view the cellists from exactly the same angle and distance. The comparison of the video taped performances does provide one advantage over live observation, however, as the viewer can watch each action of the cellists in slow motion, fast motion, frame by frame, as a still picture, or at normal speed, and the segments can be replayed as necessary until the viewer is satisfied with the detail of the observation.

The goal of this analysis is to note physical characteristics of Feuermann's technique that vary from those of the other cellists. Clearly there is much in the technical approach that all the cellists have in common and it would serve little purpose to discuss the basic techniques which Feuermann and all the others perform in the same manner. In addition, not all of the detail in a performer's technical approach can be discerned from observation, even when viewed at the slowest possible speed.

The physical act of playing the cello is accomplished by muscles acting in response to instructions from the players' brain. The technique of playing the cello is less about training our muscles to move in patterns than it is training our brain to instruct these muscles in the correct manner. It is not always possible, merely by observing the exterior physical motions of a player, to know exactly by what technique he accomplishes this motion. For example, when observing the shifting of the cellists, though differences are sometimes apparent, there are types of shifts in which the players seem to have a different mechanism, judging by the sound produced, but in which no major physical dissimilarities are seen. In part, this phenomenon may be due to the fact that many of the factors which affect the sound are not clearly physically observable, such as the amount of bow pressure and contact, the degree of left hand finger pressure and contact during shifts, and other similar small physical gradations which produce effect on the cello but do not necessarily require a readily apparent motion.

In addition, each of these cellists is different in body size and proportion, and often a technique of similar mechanism will look quite different when performed by another cellist with, for example, longer arms. The result of this is that not every characteristic which appears to be similar can necessarily be thought to be created by similar technique, and not all differences which are observable are necessarily the result of a differing technique. Nevertheless, there are differences between the cellists which are clearly the result of differing technical approaches, and they provide an interesting insight into their approaches.

The Feuermann video was produced in an unusual way, as the soundtrack was recorded separately from the film (presumably before.) Feuermann's playing in the film, while quite close, does not always agree exactly with the timing of the soundtrack, and certain camera shots were clearly made separately from the performance. In addition, in at least one section, in the Dvorak Rondo, a passage which is clearly heard to be played on the A string in the soundtrack is fingered on the D string by Feuermann on the film. Some previous commentators on this film have blamed the occasional minor timing differences on the soundtrack being improperly aligned with the film, but this seems not to be the entire story, as the synchronization is accurate in other sections. Despite these complications, Feuermann clearly is playing the instrument as if in concert during the filming, so despite their inconvenience, these problems do not seriously detract from the value of the film as an insight into Feuermann's playing style. It is also interesting to keep in mind Eva Feuermann Lehnsen's remark that, since her husband was made to remove his glasses during the filming and discouraged from his habit of sucking in his cheeks when he played, that he looks almost like 'a stranger' to her in the video.

The Casals tape appears to be taken from a live concert, while the Piatigorsky, Rostropovich and Ma tapes were professional productions, presumably made in a manner which is often typical for video recordings and 'live' performance recordings: The soundtrack and multiple video tracks are recorded at the same time in the original production and then any mistakes are corrected later by splicing onto that soundtrack.

We divide the comparison and analysis into three broad sections: The overall body position, including the head, legs and torso, the right hand and arm (bowing technique) and the left hand and arm (fingering technique).


One of the first and most noticeable differences between the cellists is the differing heights at which they adjust their endpins, which consequently produces differing angles at which the cello intersects the torso and differing locations of the cello neck and scroll relative to the cellists head. Additional variables include the distinct body sizes of the performers and the slightly different proportions of the five different instruments. Feuermann's cello appears to make an angle of approximately 35° with his torso [2], with the end of the fingerboard slightly forward of and a few inches below his ear. Casals has the cello slightly more horizontal, making approximately a 45° angle with his torso, and the top end of the fingerboard and scroll are further back and much higher than with Feuermann. Piatigorsky holds the cello at about 40°, and the top of the cello falls somewhat higher than with Feuermann and somewhat lower than with Casals, but here one must also consider Piatigorsky's extreme height. Rostropovich holds the cello much more horizontally than any of the other cellists, at about 55°, and employs a special bent endpin to do so. The scroll is a little higher and further back in comparison to Feuermann. For Ma, the angle of the cello is average, about 43°, but the cello is held much further forward relative to his body, meaning that the cello seems to intersect his torso somewhat lower on his chest, and the scroll is much further forward than Feuermann's.

If the cello is assumed to be directly straight in front of the observer, than Feuermann's body is angled to the right (the observers left) about 35°, allowing him easy access to the entire cello with his bow arm. Almost all cellists turn in this manner, but the difference is in the degree. Casals makes a similar degree of turn as Feuermann, while Piatigorsky seems to make even slightly more so, but Rostropovich and Ma make a much smaller adjustment, making only a slight turn of the body. While Feuermann and Casals hold the cello so that it is perpendicular to the horizon (i.e. the image of the cello onto the two dimensional screen is vertical, when viewed from directly in front of the cello), Piatigorsky holds it in a manner that it is angled slightly, with the endpin slightly to the observers' lower left and the scroll to the observers' upper right. Rostropovich and Ma angle the cello in this way to a much greater extent, possibly necessary because of the smaller angle at which their torsos are turned to their celli.

Feuermann's' legs are positioned with his right leg forward and his left leg further back, a natural consequence of the angle of his torso to the instrument. The right knee holds the cello below the bout and the left touches the edge of the other bout in the fairly standard manner, and his lower legs are straight down, with the feet placed flat on the floor, though the left heel does raise once or twice in the film, when Feuermann rocks slightly to his right. Casals positioning of his legs and feet is similar, though he rocks his body somewhat more. Piatigorsky, because of his much longer legs, must angle his lower legs backwards but, as with Casals and Feuermann, the right leg and foot are in front of the left. Because of the much higher horizontal angle of Rostropovich's cello, his knees intersect the bouts much closer to the back of the cello. His legs angle back, though not because of their length as with Piatigorsky, and because of the smaller degree that he turns his torso, his feet are almost even behind the cello. Ma's legs are also angled back and again, because of his smaller turn towards the instrument, are also fairly even behind the cello.

Regardless of the angles of their torsos, all the cellists' heads face directly forward. Casals, Piatigorsky and Rostropovich make only occasional, limited motions with their heads, while Feuermann makes almost no motion at all, staring straight ahead in a manner that seems almost eerily disconnected. Given Eva Feuermann's comments and other photographs taken of him in performance, in which his face and head appear less rigid, this is presumably mainly an affectation for the camera, but the mere fact that he was capable of playing in this manner shows a high degree of ability to disassociate his neck and facial muscles from the mechanics of the lower body, and it seems likely that he did play with less head and facial motion than the other cellists. This idea is further reinforced by a famous photograph of Feuermann rehearsing with Heifetz and Rubinstein, in which he has a cigarette dangling from his mouth while playing. This feat (more difficult than one might think) requires a high degree a relaxation in the facial muscles and hence implies no sympathetic facial or neck muscle contractions while playing.

Ma provides an extreme contrast to the others, as he moves his head almost constantly, but it often seems to be more by choice than from involuntary sympathetic muscle contractions. Regardless of any judgments on the desirability of this type of affectation, this much larger degree of movement (which is typical of many contemporary players, not only Ma) brings to mind Sophie Feuermann's quoting of Isaac Stern's comment that with modern players "What they can't get out of their instruments, they attempt to get out of their bodies" [3]


Feuermann's right arm is held in a fairly simple manner. Neither the elbow or wrist is raised, so there is the impression of a straight, smooth descending line. It may be that his shoulder is slightly raised, facilitating the relatively natural position of the wrist and elbow, but it is impossible to be sure from the film. Feuermann's arm is bent at the elbow, as is typical for cellists, but Feuermann maintains this bend throughout the bow, almost never allowing the arm to fully straighten. His wrist raises up and down during the course of up and down-bows, respectively. While the wrist rises gradually throughout the course of the up-bow, it often lowers immediately with the start of the down-bow. This raising and lowering of the wrist is active and noticeable, but never looks unnatural or extreme.

Casals' somewhat shorter bow arm looks quite similar in its general appearance, but straightens when Casals plays in the upper part of the bow. His elbow seems as if it might be slightly lower than Feuermann's and, while his wrist similarly rises up and down during the course of up and down-bows, the movement is somewhat larger than with Feuermann. With Casals, the wrist movement is always after the bow change, during the course of the bow, and not directly on the down-bow change as was often the case with Feuermann.

Piatigorsky's longer arms necessitate more of a bend in his elbow, and the elbow seems slightly lower than Feuermann's, consequently making the wrist seem higher. Whether this is the result of Piatigorsky's shoulder also being slightly lower, as it seems it might, is impossible to say with certainty. Like Casals, Piatigorsky's bowing divides the arm motion in two parts, with the upper regions of the bow played by unbending the elbow and allowing the arm to become straighter. In his up-bow, his elbow dips slightly and his wrist raises, and the overall impression is that his bowing contains more wrist motion than Feuermann's. On his down-bow changes a type of 'kick' is sometimes seen, where the wrist moves first, pulling the fingers after it and momentarily changing their angle on position on the bow. While Feuermann also had a quick wrist motion, his fingers never changed their position holding the bow.

Rostropovich's arm position is, of course, affected by the higher angle of his cello, which means that his arm has less vertical distance in which to descend. Consequently his elbow is lower with respect to the rest of his arm than Feuermann's and, in fact, his entire arm seems somewhat lower and much more horizontal. His wrist seems almost level, with his hand lying in the same horizontal plane as his forearm. Unlike Feuermann, Rostropovich straightens his arm during the course of bowing, as do Casals and Piatigorsky. While his wrist does raise and lower during the course of the bow, it begins in a very flattened position, so by the time he reaches the tip of the bow, his wrist has lowered so much that it is almost at a lower level than his fingers. His bow change involves a similar, but much larger, 'kick', than was described with Piatigorsky, with Rostropovich's entire hand and fingers jerking backwards on the change to a down-bow. This could possibly be an indication that he holds the bow rather loosely with the fingers.

Though Ma's shoulder seems somewhat lower than Feuermann's, his elbow seems relatively higher and his body position, holding the cello further forward, necessitates his whole arm being somewhat higher. His wrist is held high, and lowers only at the tip of the bow, returning to a high position during the up-bow more quickly than with Feuermann. His basic arm motion is strongly in two parts, with a larger portion of the bow played by straightening forearm than with the Piatigorsky, Casals or Rostropovich. With Ma, the 'kick' of the bow change, causing the fingers to reposition is evident not only on the down-bows, but also sometimes on the up-bows.

Feuermann's hand position on the bow remains quite constant throughout the course of he bow. His fingers descend almost directly downwards, with relatively small bends in the knuckles. The hand is turned slightly forward, though often the fingers are quite close to vertical. The first finger [4] is the most curved and also leans forward the most, curling just slightly under the stick below the lowest joint, where it intersects the bow. Separated from the first by a small gap, the second finger is only slightly curled, and its tip reaches just above the hair at, or just slightly forward of, the metal where the hair joins the frog of the bow. The third finger is straighter, almost touching the second and reaching slightly lower, to the bottom of the frog. The fourth finger is slightly more separated from the third than the second and third are from each other, and is much higher on the frog, with the tip near the intersection of the stick and the frog. The third, and especially the fourth fingers, seem to contact the frog more lightly than the first two, and the strongest contact seems to come from the first finger. The fourth finger occasionally lifts from the bow, particularly in staccato and spiccato passages. Most surprising, Feuermann's thumb is straight, almost bending inward as it pushes against the frog. This unorthodox method is in direct contradiction with the technique of almost every modern cellist (with the notable exception of Zara Nelsova.)

Casals bow grip is more variable, changing more during the course of the bowing. The angle of his fingers with his hand is less, as his fingers more rounded. Compared to Feuermann, his somewhat shorter fingers are more tightly bunched as a group and are slightly lower on the bow and frog. The hand is somewhat less turned towards the tip than Feuermann's, and the bow is held slightly further forward on the frog. His fourth finger occasionally loses contact with the stick, but so also do the second and third at different times, and the overall impression is of a greater degree of movement in the hand and finger positions during the bowing.

Piatigorsky's hand is angled very forward towards the tip, and his grip on the bow is also further forward, with the third finger on the metal of the frog. His fingers are slightly more rounded and hence the angle of the first segment of the finger to the hand is slightly flatter than with Feuermann. As mentioned, Piatigorsky's fingers briefly change position on the down-bow change, as if the wrist were dragging the fingers backwards, changing their angle and grip on the bow. The original position is quickly regained, however.

Rostropovich's hand position is radically different from Feuermann's, probably resulting in part from the high angle of his cello. With the strings and consequently the bow at a much higher level, the first joints of Rostropovich's fingers are almost flat with the hand, which is in turn flat with the wrist. The overall effect appears almost as if the arm were hanging on the bow, which seems as if it might be advantageous for applying a large amount of downward pressure to the bow, but seems also to be potentially more restrictive of movement. Rostropovich grips the bow with his fingers bunched together, directly vertical. The grip is forward on the bow, with the third finger near the metal, but the fingers are quite low, so the tip of the third finger is actually below the frog. It looks as if the fingers might grip the bow loosely, since the fingers move a great deal during bow changes, jerking backwards during down-bow changes to a much greater degree than with Piatigorsky and returning to their original positions more slowly. As with the other cellists, the fourth finger occasionally loses contact with the stick.

Ma's fingers are also quite rounded in his bow grip in comparison with Feuermann's, and hence the upper segment of his fingers are more level with his hand. He grips the bow with the third finger on the metal, further forward on the frog than Feuermann, and also grips it somewhat higher on the frog. There are relatively large gaps between his first and second fingers and between his third and fourth fingers, and his fingers change position and readjust frequently during the course of bowing. His fingers tend to curl during the down-bow, changing the relative angles of the hand and wrist, and 'jump' on both up and down-bow changes, changing position on the frog. Like the others, his fourth finger occasionally loses contact with the stick.

Other aspects of bowing technique, such as bow angles and bow distribution, are not discussed here as either the cellists techniques seemed generally similar or the differences were not easily detectable. Despite this elaboration of their technical differences, there is also much in their right arm technique that all these cellists share in common. The factors which seem to clearly differentiate Feuermann, however, are his use of the arm as a 'single unit' -not straightening the arm in the upper half of the bow, his less extreme movement of the wrist up and down, the fact that he does not allow his fingers to change position on the bow in reaction to the movement of the wrist during the bow changes -in particular, down-bow changes, his hand position -slightly further back on the bow, with his second finger on the metal where the others generally place their third, and his straight thumb .


The position of the cellists' left arms is influenced not only by the length of their respective arms, but by the height of their cellos. The left arm must naturally be held somewhat higher by all the cellists when they move into thumb position. Feuermann holds his arm at an approximate 45° degree angle down from horizontal in the lower positions, moving to about a 35° angle in thumb position. His wrist is slightly bent in (downward) in the lower positions, creating an angle rather than a straight line between the forearm and hand. Casals must hold his arm somewhat higher than Feuermann in thumb position, as his arm is shorter and his cello slightly higher. In addition, his wrist is somewhat less bent in the lower positions. Piatigorsky's longer arm is held somewhat higher, and his wrist is straight in the lower positions, and Rostropovich's arm is held in a similar manner, with very little bending of the wrist, higher than Feuermann's. In thumb position, because of the much higher angle of his cello, Rostropovich's arm is virtually horizontal. Ma's overall arm position is also similar, but because he holds the cello more forward and his arms are shorter than Feuermann's, his arm is also more horizontal in the thumb positions.

Feuermann's typical hand position is angled somewhat back towards the nut of the fingerboard in both the vertical and horizontal planes of the fingerboard, and this angling is even more pronounced in the thumb positions. Feuermann's fourth finger occasionally is held away form the other fingers, off the side of the fingerboard and curled, and his third finger sometimes extends straight, especially while held over the fingerboard while the second finger plays. Often when playing the second finger, the third will move together with the second as the second depresses and similarly, the fourth will move with the third when it depresses. This is especially clear on Feuermann's trills, where the upper finger of the trill and its higher neighbor seem to move as a unit. In thumb position, Feuermann's thumb bends back slightly, except when playing octaves, and is held at a small distance from the other fingers. When his hand position is extended, Feuermann has larger gaps between his first and second fingers and his third and fourth, and less space between his second and third.

A crucial difference between Feuermann and the other cellists is that he keeps the hand extended only when required for the upcoming note or shift, and otherwise returns the hand to the 'natural' unextended position, with the fingers together and the hand angled back (in the vertical plane of the fingerboard) towards the pegs. While many of the technical differences that we discuss here are relatively minor and often the result of different physical or instrumental setup rather than different technical methods, this is one clear example of a significant difference between the cellists. Feuermann's hand only extends just before certain shifts or before playing a rapid passage requiring extensions, and it is returned to the 'natural' position whenever possible.

Feuermann's fingers strike from high above the string, especially the third and fourth finger, which are held high when the first finger is played in the 'natural' hand position, with the hand rotating on the axis of the first finger in the lower positions and the thumb in the higher positions. In the rapid fire fingering of the Elfentanz, the action of the fingers striking from above and then immediately rebounding seems almost like the action of piano hammers. Interestingly, Suzette Forgues quotes Feuermann's philosophy of finger action using this same analogy [5]

Casals' fingers are more evenly spaced and somewhat less angled than Feuermann's, and his extensions are more deliberate and held longer than Feuermann's, including the extensions that are involved in the preparation for certain types of shifts. Though Casals' natural finger spacing is somewhat wider and more evenly spaced than Feuermann's, his left hand technique looks the closest to Feuermann's of the four cellists used for comparison. Casals' fourth finger is lifted away from the fingerboard somewhat more frequently than with Feuermann, and his first finger also lifts away occasionally.

Piatigorsky's large hand seems to be more rounded in the lower positions, with the thumb and fingers forming a circle, connecting at the fingerboard. In contrast, Feuermann appears to hold his thumb much straighter underneath the neck in the lower positions and, at least part of the time, his thumb is actually bent backwards against the neck of the cello. Piatigorsky's hand seems to have even more backwards angle (towards the top of the fingerboard, in the horizontal plane of the fingerboard) than Feuermann's, almost taking the appearance of a violinist's hand position, but for Piatigorsky there is no 'natural' position to which the hand consistently returns. Instead there is a slightly different hand position for each finger as it plays, at least during sustained notes. In thumb position, Piatigorsky's thumb is held closer to the other fingers than Feuermann's and is straighter. Like Casals, his fourth finger also sometimes comes away from the fingerboard, and his first finger also often lifts high above the fingerboard.

Rostropovich's hand seems perhaps slightly more angled back than Feuermann's, but less so than Piatigorsky's and, as with Piatigorsky and Casals, there is no 'natural' position, but a somewhat different hand position for each finger. This difference is, of course, mainly noticeable only on slow, sustained notes and it seems to relate to the vibrato motion, as we will discuss further. The one trait of Rostropovich's which is strikingly distinct from Feuermann, Casals and Piatigorsky is that he occasionally allows his fingers to collapse at the third (lowest) knuckle.

If Feuermann's hand positions appear to be the simplest, constantly using the same positions and motions, Ma's appear the most complicated. In the lower positions his hand is quite square (perpendicular) to the cello, but in the thumb positions it is very much angled backwards (towards the top of the cello.) The thumb is much looser in both the upper and lower positions, frequently coming out from behind the neck or even off the fingerboard in thumb positions. Ma's fingers collapse in the same manner as Rostropovich's, but much more frequently, and his hand position seems to change frequently, with different fingers lifting above the rest and fingers alternately spaced apart or bunched very tightly, the second actually overlapping on top of the first in some instances.

While the cellists hand positions demonstrate a variety of approaches, the differences which are most noticeable and significant seem to stem from the cellists different physical approach to vibrato. Feuermann's vibrato seems very much produced by a 'whole hand' motion. While the fingers besides the one stopping the string are raised off the string, they come up only slightly and remain close to each other in the 'natural' Feuermann hand position. When Feuermann vibrates in thumb position, the thumb is not pressed down into the string but remains on top of the string, making light contact.

With Casals and Piatigorsky, one is much more aware of the individual fingers in the vibrato motion, as the other fingers are sometimes lifted away, and the appearance is that the vibrato is produced more by moving a particular finger than by moving the hand as a unit. For example, when Piatigorsky vibrates on the second or third finger, he tends to lift the first finger quite high and vibrates with a wide rocking motion, so that the hand 'teeter-totters' over the vibrated finger.

Rostropovich's vibrato is visibly wider than Feuermann's. When vibrating on the first finger, the second actually overlaps on top of the first, while the third and fourth are raised above, but when vibrating on the other fingers, it is really only the vibrating finger which acts alone, while the others are often lifted quite high , even pointing away from the hand in various directions. As noted before, Rostropovich occasionally collapses his fingers at the lowest knuckle, which would naturally change the sound of the vibrato being produced, and the large number of notes with no vibrato also lends a somewhat 'jerky' impression of the hand's movement when compared to the nearly constant vibrato motion of Feuermann.

Ma's vibrato motion is also visibly wider and can often be seen to start significantly after the note has begun to sound. Ma's hand position for the vibrato varies widely, depending on which finger is vibrated. When the first finger is vibrated, the other fingers are tightly bunched up above it, with the second finger overlapped on top of the first, but when vibrating the second and third fingers, the first and fourth are lifted high. When vibrating the fourth finger, all the other fingers are raised, with significant spacing between them. When vibrating in the lower positions, Ma's thumb can sometimes be seen coming out from behind the neck, particularly in the fourth position and, in all positions, his fingers are frequently collapsed at the third knuckle, more often than Rostropovich's. In thumb position, the large backward angle of Ma's hand position (which contrasts with his nearly perpendicular position in the lower positions) creates a vibrato motion that is almost more side to side on the string than up and down, and this effect is further increased when he raises the thumb away from the strings, as he occasionally does in the thumb position, pointing it perpendicularly back from his hand and upwards.

As with the right arm, other elements of the cellists motion that would seem interesting, such as shifting motion, were either too similar to merit discussion or impossible to discern from the videotaped performances. The most striking feature of left hand technique which distinguishes Feuermann is the simpler appearance of his motions, keeping the hand in a natural, unextended position whenever possible and vibrating almost constantly in a motion which involves the whole hand. It would be inaccurate, however, to say that Feuermann's hand looks 'relaxed.' The most accurate description would probably be to say that his hand looked 'tight' but never awkward or strained.

Casals and Piatigorsky's motions look somewhat more complicated, with the hand more often stretched or extended, and the vibrato motion and hand position varying, depending on which finger was vibrated. Rostropovich's and, especially, Ma's hands look much more complex, as there is a frequent alternation between notes with wide vibrato and notes with none, more extreme hand position changes, more lifting of the other fingers during vibrato on one particular finger, and periodic collapsing of the fingers. That this relative degree of complication in motion corresponds to these latter cellists' relatively more complex and sporadic interpretations (as detailed in the earlier comparison of recordings chapter) seems more than coincidental, particularly in the case of the vibrato motion, which translates directly into an audible result. It is purely speculation, but it seems as if the wider, more complicated vibrato hand positions and motions of Rostropovich and Ma may result from an attempt to increase the degree of musical intensity of a note by increasing the intensity of the actual physical motion.


The most striking differences between Feuermann and the other cellists are Feuermann's somewhat greater angling of the body to the right side of the cello, his rarely straightening his right arm, his more constant right hand position on the bow -not moving much even during bow changes, his holding the bow slightly further back towards the frog, with the second finger near the metal band on the frog, and his straight thumb. With Feuermann's left hand, the major differences are his consistent vibrato usage, usually produced with the hand in the 'natural' position, the fingers close but not tightly bunched, his never remaining in an extended position longer than necessary, and the high striking action of his fingers, with much of the striking impulse seeming to come from the arm rather than the individual finger.

This analysis actually only scratches the surface of what can be learned from these films. Only the most obvious differences are discussed here -necessarily in broad generalities- and the comparisons must make many generalizations. The correspondence between the physical motions of the cellists and their interpretive differences is most noticeable in the case of vibrato, where the clearly observable physical motion directly translates into the sound produced, but what are also striking are the ways in which all the cellists, whose playing is so different to the ear, seem to play similarly physically, with many of their differences explainable by their different body sizes and cello heights. As young cellists we are taught to play the cello by being instructed as to what physical motions we should make -'put this finger here', 'move your shoulder so', 'shift with this type of motion'- and this type of instruction continues even into the highest levels of conservatory training, with students consistently being given the impression that if they will only hold the bow in a certain way or shift with the same motion as their teacher, that all their problems will be solved.

While some physical techniques and motions clearly hinder a cellist, and correcting them would obviously be beneficial, the fact that these five cellists produce such different results, using techniques that in many ways appear very similar, points out the limitation in this approach. One can not start with the 'correct' physical motion and expect, therefore, to produce good cello playing. If one starts, however, by attempting to produce the desired sound and effect, the correct physical technique to do so will inevitably be discovered. How much of our learning is wasted by concentrating on reproducing the methods by which another cellist achieves a result, instead of the actual result? For this reason, we can not take those physical motions in Feuermann's technique which are different from the other cellists' and assume that they are the answer to the question of how Feuermann played. The most significant differences in Feuermann's technique are the things that can be heard -the unique features of his performance that we discussed in the comparison of recordings chapter.

While it has personally been helpful to me to emulate some of Feuermann's physical methods, and I hope that it will be for other readers as well, we must still remember Feuermann's teaching -his repeated rejection of Suzette Forgues' first notes of the Haydn concerto without ever explaining what was wrong, until she finally heard it for herself. The process of learning and correction must begin from the ears, rather than the body. The most important thing that can be learned from studying Feuermann is not how to merely imitate Feuermann, but how to listen and analyze as he did, and only by reaching this level of awareness can we begin to emulate his standards of technique and musicianship, and finally allow the cello to realize its full potential.


1 Jon Samuels, “A Complete Discography of the Recordings of Emanuel Feuermann,” ARSC Journal 12, no. 1-3 (1980): p.67
2 Angle measurements are subject to the distortion of the visual recording and playback systems, and are therefore not absolute measurements, but given as a basis of comparison between the cellists. The actual angles should, however, be within a relatively small margin of error from the playback measurements.
3 P. 145
4 Here we use the same numbering system as with the left-hand of the cello: index finger=first finger; pinky=fourth finger, etc.
5 P. 116