A Question Answered, “Who were the most important teachers to you?”

Not too long ago, Robert DeMaine, the principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic, posted a topic on the Internet Cello Society asking people to reflect on people who were important in their lives. This was my reply.

This is going to be a long one, but I think most of us have long stories to tell of what took us on our journeys. As I have been struggling with some major health issues the last few months, the opportunity that Robert presents with this current topic gives me the chance to breathe and reflect on my path.

My family had settled in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1962. The next fall, Kennedy was assassinated. Shock, grief everywhere. Then came the Beatles. Joy and excitement in something new and thrilling. I started guitar lessons with an itinerant guitar player who came to the house. Then a quartet played in our school encouraging 3rd graders to sign up for violin. I did. The fall of 1964, we rented a violin and and I started in Mrs Virginia Hansen’s class once a week, using the Samuel Applebaum (the Guarneri Quartet’s violist, Michael Tree’s father) books. I went through the 3 books she used for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in 2 months on my own, then had to have my tonsils out. When I came back, she asked me if I would like to learn the cello, as her cello player was going to graduate. She said she could get me a cello and the books, but that she couldn’t teach me to play it. I said that was fine, because I’d “already finished the violin.” (!!!) That summer, I took a week long group class with Professor Harriet Woldt (TCU/ principal of FW Symphony) with a bunch of other new cellists. In the fall, I began lessons with her most advanced student, Ms Linda Ferguson. Progress was fairly rapid, as I took to it quite naturally, and she was a good and charming teacher with a rye sense of humor. Lessons were often in a room where the ancient instruments were kept, and she invited me to play them after we finished our hour. Krumhorns, Gambas, viols of other sizes, she showed me what the notations meant and where the notes were, and we would plow through music. I was too young and naive to understand that I should not be able to do it… Linda went on to graduate school in Michigan but fell on ice and had to give up the cello. She became a musicologist and I heard that she ended up teaching at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

At one point, she started me on the D minor Klengel Konzertstucke. I really liked it. The opportunity came up to audition for a Christmas break string program at Baylor, and I went. There, I was waiting in a hallway to play for the cellist on the faculty, Lev Aronson. I heard some guy screaming, “Beethoven was not some guy from Waxahachie!!!” I thought, hmmm. Then the kid before me came out a bit later in tears. Hmmm, again. I went in, and Aronson introduced himself (very elegantly attired, and with his complicated European manner), and asked what I would be playing. I told him the Klengel and he let out a little grunt and gestured to a chair. As I started to play, he began to weep, copiously. When I finished the exposition, I stopped, and he told me a story about when he went to audition for Klengel, with this piece. Later that afternoon, all of the cello students gathered in a larger room, and Lev entered with his Gofriller and viciously ripped into 4 octave scales with a massive sound. I was stunned and intrigued by this madman. He got me a scholarship for a summer program they had, and there I had more exposure to him and to other faculty. First time I played in a real orchestra (Beethoven!), and chamber music (piano trios, in what would set a precedent for my future career). Because of family issues, it was not possible for me to continue to work with Aronson (I had a brother with schizophrenia and mild retardation, as they described it at the time), so I continued to work with Ms Woldt.

Ms Woldt also taught theory, and was both very funny and a very serious musician. Her husband had been a composition student of Hindemith at Yale, and later studied in Vienna, where he played French horn with the State Opera. I worked with both of them in my musical studies. They were a very unusual couple for that era, they adopted 4 kids that no one wanted, kids with problems. They were big supporters of liberal causes, American Civil Liberties, etc. They put their hearts where their beliefs were, no empty talk, action.

My sisters and my best friend at the time studied with the FW Symphony Concertmaster, Kenneth Schanewerk. Kenneth had studied with the founder of the FT Worth Symphony, Brooks Morris, and later with Roman Totenberg, and he became a very important mentor. He invited me to join the University Chamber Orchestra, though I was but 13 (and playing the cello for 2 years!). We played a lot of challenging repertoire Stravinsky, etc. and I loved it. I joined the FW Youth Orchestra later that year, where the conductor was a brilliant young classical sax player named John Giordano. In 1969, the FWYO went on a 6 week tour of Europe. The culmination of that was a festival in St. Moritz, with an international orchestra composed of members of the various participating orchestras conducted by Stokowski. Our orchestra played a program of contemporary works by local composers, including a massive aleatoric work featuring electronic music from the synthesizer studio at what is now UTNT. It was a big hit. All this while my friends back in Texas were going to the rock festivals of that Woodstock Summer and doing Acid…

Many of my friends were starting bands in those days, and I would get together with them and listen to all kinds of music, jazz, blues, English prog, Hendrix; I brought Stockhausen, Berg, Stravinsky, Debussy… Then we started to jam. We formed a band that became well known in area bars as “Master Cylinder.” Most of the guys were older and in the jazz program and electronic music program at UTNT. Started playing in bars at 15. Met lots of girls. At TCU, there was a very active piano department where Lili Kraus was encamped with a group of marvelous young faculty around her. As the string department was not large, I got to coach chamber music with her several times. A true force of nature, passionate and heedless of convention. That summer, I went with my best friend to Taos, where Schanewerk had founded the Taos School of Chamber Music years before with Chilton Anderson. Kenneth had a wonderful house there on the rim of a canyon that he had built himself. Not the canyon, the house. We went up to work on people’s houses, fixing cracks in the adobe that formed over the winter, and spreading fresh tar on the roofs. We stayed with Kenneth part of the time and camped out part of the time. Lots of chamber music, lots of adventures. I played for Robert Marsh, who was on the faculty at the Taos School at the time and got a scholarship for the following summer there. Went to parties at Georgia O’Keefe’s. This was the summer when all of the folks who burned out in Haight-Asbury formed a commune outside of Taos. It was a different world than we inhabit these days. There once were giants.

Lili Kraus



Back at TCU, I came to the attention of one of the new piano faculty, Luiz Carlos de Moura-Castro, who I had met at Kenneth’s in Taos. I began playing sonatas with several of his students and coaching with him. He invited me to his home, where he had an active salon of visiting artists, local playwrights, authors, painters, and musicians. There I met some amazing people, including Radu Lupu and his wife at the time (her father was the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union), who had studied in Moscow with Rostropovich and was in his class with DuPre. Luiz and his wife had studied at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, in addition to their native Brazil and England, respectively, and had a wide circle of friends.

At Taos the next summer, I met and worked with the Austrian pianist and president of Mannes School, John Goldmark. The first time, I was assigned a sight reading of a Dvorak piano trio. I did not know about the false treble clef, so I played it where I saw it. He was quite amused, and very kind. A wonderful artist. He had a habit of hiking on the weekend and sleeping out under the sky, and was an expert mycologist. If you are familiar with the local mycolological traditions, you might understand what that meant.

I began playing with the FW Symphony around that time, and continued my late nights in bars (i did not drink in those days!). Some of these experiences were unique; we had a steady gig on Sunday nights for a while at a cowboy bar (The Silver Slipper), and we played some pretty wild music, but they listened! We had a couple of other steady gigs, too, a campus joint (The Hop) and a seedy club downtown (Daddio’s). One of the bass players who passed through the band left at the same time I did, he to LA, me to Yale. He became the guy who taught Frank Zappa’s band his music for many years, and later worked with the survivors of the Doors. Here is a tune from that era by Arthur Burrow (late of the Mothers), from a performance when I was back for a visit and sat in one night.

The drummer grew up playing with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Some great players passed through the band over the years, and it was a lot of fun.

In 1974, I was invited to study at Cais Cais with Antonio Janigro. Luiz had arranged to take a group of his students there to work with Yvonne Lafebure, and he managed to get me into Janigro’s class. (If you do not know who this woman was, look her up on youtube, there are some incredible master classes, another force of nature such as we no longer have among us!) It was an interesting time in Portugal, which had been mired in war in Mozambique, and had just had a revolution. As we arrived a week before Janigro was to begin his classes, and Sandor Vegh, the grest Hungarian violinist (and Casals’ favorite) was giving masterclasses, Luiz arranged for me to play in his class. It was amazing. He had not studied the Brahms Sonata that I brought, but it did not matter. He taught me how his mind worked, and how he made music. He had me play a second time later in the week. When my turn came to play for Janigro, I brought the Hindemith Solo Sonata. He listened to the entire work without interruption. He then spent the next hour and more explaining his entire approach to playing the cello, and then segued into how to study music. He demonstrated at the piano. He played some Bach Suite excerpts, and then showed how Schumann harmonized them. He talked about the importance of understanding harmony and form. He demonstrated with my humble (but very good) German cello; how to sit, how to hold the bow, how to balance the left hand on the fingerboard, how to balance the right hand and arm on the bow. It was spectacular. He thereafter used my cello in class that day (I don’t know where his Guad was, he used that later in the week), and I sat behind him and could observe every detail of his bow arm. He taught me the bow hold I use to this day. He taught us all so much, so succinctly.

The next year, back in Texas, I knew that it was time to leave. Janigro had invited me to Salzburg, but family issues (again) and my fear of not knowing the language were problematic for me. I went to Houston a few times to take lessons with Shirley Trepel (Principal of Houst Symphony and a student of Feuermann and Piatigorsky), who was very encouraging in a tough kind of way; I really liked her and she was kind enough to understand that I could no longer remain in Texas. I made a tape and sent it to Aldo Parisot, who got me a scholarship to the Yale Summer program in Norfolk. The program began with a week of instrumental masterclasses before the chamber music and orchestral program got under way. Aldo’s wife, Elizabeth had to leave suddenly for a surgery, and one of her replacements was Thomas Schmidt, with whom I eventually formed the Arden Trio, which played together for 25 years. When Tom and I were about to play the Debussy Sonata in class, Elizabeth arrived and took on the piano part with no rehearsal and was fierce. Incredible. I attended the violin classes of Broadus Erle whenever I could, and I fell under his marvelous influence, as well. Aldo managed to get me accepted into his class at Yale for the fall with a scholarship, and so I finally left Texas for good.

The first time I went to play for Aldo at his home in Norfolk, I did not play a note. He sat me down and told me that he was going to tell me everything he had to say about playing the cello. In the following hour and a half, he started with how to sit, and went from there. There was a theme that ran through it all: balance. Using balance to release tension. Timing. Anticipation. I learned so much, yet to incorporate it all? I am still learning, 44 years later…

That summer, I made a trip into NYC with another cellist, who introduced me to Carlos Arcieri. We hit it off immediately, and when I moved to NYC a couple of years later, it was to an apartment on 57th St, 2 blocks from where he and Bill Salchow had their shop. It was a very sociable place in those days, as it was near some of the busier recording studios, Carnegie, and Lincoln Center, so people would drop by and chat, including players from the many visiting orchestras. And you could watch great artists at work. Bill decided to learn the violin, so he brought his grandsons with him to our apartment for violin lessons with, you know…the one who would become my first ex wife…

The class Aldo had at the time was incredible. Students of almost every major tradition were represented: Starker, Magg, Piatigorsky, Tortilier, Gendron, Siegfried Palm, all with different approaches to style and technique, and master classes on Tuesdays would go on for hours.

I had the opportunity to read string trios with the woman who would one day become my first ex-wife and Raphael Hilllyer, played Shostakovich Concerto 1 with Otto-Werner Mueller, coaching the Brahms Double with Aldo and Broadus and playing it with the Repertory Orchestra, and started a wonderful quartet that worked intensively with Broadus as he was succumbing to lung cancer. The violist of that group, my dear friend and former roommate Jim Creitz, was the son of the cellist in the Pro Arte Quartet. He studied viola with Broadus while an undergrad at Yale, and went on to be Bruno Giurana’s assistant, joining the Quartetto Academica and later teaching for many years in Germany, where he had a quartet with Sadao Harada. Jim and I have remained close though separated by many miles and many years. My family went to visit him and his family a couple of years ago in Sicily, where he spends much of his time these days. It was heaven, and I can’t wait to go back.

Broadus was an extraordinary and largely under appreciated musician, IMO. He was a child prodigy playing in Vaudeville, a typical tiger mom managing his career. He would play poker with stage hands, play some showpiece and come back to his hand while still a child. He then went to Curtis, where he was classmates with some of the greatest violinists America ever produced. He had some great stories of those years, which I have shared elsewhere. He moved to NYC and became one of the city’s great studio players and founded an incredible String Quartet with Matthew Raimondi, Walter Trampler, and Arthur Winograd, the New Music Quartet. Winograd left to form the Juilliard Quartet, and was replaced by Claus Adam, who left to join the Juilliard. He was replaced by David Soyer, who left to form the Guarneri. He was replaced by Aldo Parisot. During WWII, Broadus was a conscientious objector, and spent the war in prison. After the quartet ended, he went to teach at the Toho School in Japan, where his class accompanist was Seiji Ozawa. Broadus recommended him to Joe Silverstein, who got him an opportunity at Tanglewood. And there is another story. When Broadus came back to the US, he brought 2 young violinists back with him, Yoko Matsuda and Syoko Aki. They studied with him after his appointment at Yale and they formed a commune with Richard Stotzman (the renowned clarinetist), Peter Salaff (later second violinist of the Cleveland Quartet), and Jesse Levine (bass player/composer). Broadus was involved in Timothy Leary’s experiments during this time. Can you imagine this in today’s PC world?

Playing for Broadus was like playing for Yoda. He had thick, coke-bottle lens glasses and was surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke from the multiple unfiltered Pall Malls he had going. He would listen with great intensity, and ponder what he heard at length before making very concise suggestions. He had a knack for knowing what you needed to know and giving you just that. I think of him often.

After Broadus passed, Oscar Shumsky came to Yale. My one day future ex to be began lessons with him and he turned her technique completely upside down, which was fascinating for me as there was much to be learned from one of the world’s truly great musicians. He was a student most recently and avidly of Dounis, and to hear of what he learned was most illuminating. My takeaway at this remove of many year comes to this: for the left hand, lifting the fingers is more of the effort to play than merely dropping them onto the strings. If you can’t vibrate, you are too tense. What does this mean? In the context of what I’ve been taught, it come down to to the freedom of motion one can achieve with proper balance of the body’s disparate parts. If the left hand is properly balanced such that the weight of the arm/hand is focused on the notes required, it is free to create tone that is voluptuous, austere, or sinuous, free of tension. If the right arm is properly balanced, the flow of tone is easily shaped with a variety of speed and textures. Greenhouse and Shumsky played together for many years in the Bach Aria Group. That takes me to my next step.

I moved to NYC in 1977, where I came to study with Bernard Greenhouse. Of course, I wanted to be in that wicked city of that time, it was a magnificent fomenting mess of opportunity. When I first played for him, I stayed in the the apartment of Marin Alsop, who was a friend of the woman who would one day be my first ex wife and mother of my first child. Greenhouse was so kind and welcoming, and accepted me on the spot. My first lesson with him, I played a couple of Sarasate transcriptions I had made, and he delighted in them, and told me of other arrangements he knew. When our lessons began, he had me playing Popper Etudes for a semester…. Hmmmm. We formed a wonderful relationship, and as I was pretty well trained by that time, and he was always on the road, I could play something different for him at every lesson thereafter. I was a smoker at the time, and we would smoke and talk and play. I was already working in the studios in NYC, where he spent many years as a freelance studio player, and we knew a number of people in common. He loved to tell stories! Lessons with him were amazing, he would demonstrate phrasing of such intensity and subtlety, the variety of vibrato (and its implementation) was astonishing, and given with such generosity and ease. Funny thing, his approach to technique was also about balance. Balancing the body (large muscles over small, which he got from Casals) in all ways. Another funny thing is that I later made the majority of my career as the cellist in a piano piano trio. One of my first recording sessions at this time was for a record with the great sax player Dave Liebman, who played with Miles Davis. It was his first “solo” album, and the arranger was the cellist/trombonist and jazz great David Baker, who taught for many years at Indiana. The bass player on the dates was another idol of mine from his years playing with Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez. Here is a track originally recorded in 1978.

Around this time, my first ex got a call from a retiring scientist from Bell Labs, who had founded an orchestra in Central New Jersey that was conducted at the time by Oscar Shumsky (the principal strings were what later became the Emerson Quartet). This gentleman had taken early retirement in order to return to his first love, the violin, and his second, tennis. As to the violin, Shumsky recommended, you know…, as a teacher. And so began another adventure in life learning. John Karlin had been a child prodigy in his native South Africa before settling into a storied career as a research scientist, but was a man of broad and deep interests. I loved talking to him about why vibrato made people sound louder, and at one point we were doing some research on the subject when he had to abandon the topic as his obsession with it was undermining his remaining time with the violin and tennis (as he got older, he started to develop both RA and macular degeneration). Anyway, he and his wife, Susan, came into the city often to the Philharmonic and the Ballet, and would take us out to their favorite fine dining establishments. John was a serious wine collector, and I learned so much about cuisine and wine from him. I’d always had a passion for cooking, and we would go visit them at their bayside home in NJ to hike, fish, cook, and drink, with long days of great conversation. I was so fortunate to have known them… Funny thing, John basically invented the field of what the kids today call U/X. The Karlins were de facto grandparents to our son, Noah. Noah ended up going into U/X, and now is Product Owner at Booking dot com and living in Amsterdam with his wife. And he’s a really good cook! That apple did not fall far…

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/busi … -ios-share

While at Manhattan School, I was first assigned to a piano trio with Arthur Balsam. The violinist is now one of the co Concertmasters at the Metropolitan Opera, and we had a lovely time playing together that first year. The next two years of my time was spent playing cello sonatas every week for him. That was another great experience. Balsam’s career began as the child prodigy accompanist of the child prodigy Yehudi Menuhin, and he played with every great cellist of the mid twentieth century. He was a great sight reader, and delighted in listening to us first play whatever we brought in, and then offering a couple of suggestions to the pianist before pushing him off of the bench saying, “I will show you.” Then I got to play whatever it was with him. Playing a different sonata almost every week was a challenge, and I was always (and still am) on the lookout for unusual music, so this experience was absolute heaven for me. And the stories of all the great cellists! Funny thing is that Balsam had a piano trio for many years with the cellist Benar Heifetz. My cello for the last 34 years is a modern instrument modeled on his brothers Amati of 1622. Life offers us much if we choose to observe and learn from it!

I hope that all of this addresses Robert’s mandate in some way. It is important for us to remember those who come into our lives and shed light, and to pass that on to others.

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Updated String Tension Chart

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A demonstration of the Thomastik Versum and Versum Solo strings for cello

A Demonstration of Thomastik Versum and Versum Solo strings for Cello

00:00 Versum A string scale

00:14 Versum Solo A string scale

00:28 Versum Brahms B major

01:26 Versum Solo Brahms B major

02:23 Versum Shostakovich A string

03:02 Versum Solo Shostakovich A string

03:40 Versum D string scale

03:53 Versum Solo D string scale

04:06 Versum Ropartz

04:20 Versum Solo Ropartz

04:35 Versum G string scale

04:49 Versum Solo G string scale

05:04 Versum Beethoven A major

05:12 Versum Solo Beethoven A major

05:23 Versum Prokofiev

05:47 Versum Solo Prokofiev

06:11 Versum C string scale

06:24 Versum Solo C string scale

06:41 Versum Brahms C string

07:02 Versum Solo Brahms C string

07:22 Versum Shostakovich C string

07:37 Versum Solo Shostakovich C string

07:52 Versum Brahms E minor

09:43 Versum Solo Brahms E minor

10:14 Versum Brahms F major

12:05 Versum Solo Brahms F major

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A Demonstration of the HEIMU H800 instrument mic on the cello

The purpose of this demonstration is to give a basic understanding of how this microphone can work in a sound reinforcement (amplified cello) environment. The cello was recorded with the mic in two common placements often employed with the DPA 4099 microphone (a widely recognized industry standard), the first with the microphone about one inch above the bridge of the cello, pointed to the top of the cello. The second placement is about one inch above the top of the cello, pointed at the top of the cello. Both placements were recorded at the same amplification, with no equalization. As the mic has a hypercardioid (narrow unidirectional) capsule, it is subject to the proximity effect, an exaggeration of low frequencies. This effect was corrected after the recording by rolling off the low frequencies in preparation for this demonstration. There are a couple of examples where this was not quite as effective as it could have been (as there are some unnatural peaks that could have been corrected had the roll off occurred prior to the capture of the sound), but it is suitable enough for those interested to form an accurate idea of the performance of this microphone.

The first examples of each mic placement are of two octave scales on each of the cello’s four strings, followed by a short excerpt of the each of these examples combined with a 101dB peak volume excerpt from a Mahler Symphony (measured at the microphone capsule with a calibrated Digital Sound Level Meter). This last is to give an ideal of how the microphone will perform in a fairly loud ambient environment.

00:00 mic at bridge A string
00:14 mic at bridge D string
00:26 mic at bridge G string
00:41 mic at bridge C string
00:57 mic at bridge Brahms
02:44 mic at bridge A string with background
02:52 mic at bridge D string with background
03:00 mic at bridge G string with background
03:07 mic at bridge C string with background
03:14 mic at bridge Brahms with background
03:22 mic at top A string
03:35 mic at top D string
03:48 mic at top G string
04:03 mic at top C string
04:17 mic at top Brahms
06:06 mic at top A string with background
06:15 mic at top D string with background
06:24 mic at top G string with background
06:33 mic at top C string with background
06:42 mic at top Brahms with background

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A Comparison of Three endpins

Comparisons of a New Harmony 19 inch, 10mm, 68 gram carbon fiber endpin, a New Harmony 24 inch, 10mm, 76 gram carbon fiber endpin, and a 24 inch, 10mm, 230 gram RESONANCE Titanium Cello Endpin. Actual length of the shafts are 18.5 inches, 22.5 inches, and 22.5 inches, respectively. All excerpts were performed with the endpin at the same length outside of the cello, 12.75 inches.

There is a good deal of commentary by cellists concerning how different materials change the sound or response of a cello, so I decided to put this to the test. The three endpins compared here were auditioned one after the other in exactly the same position, mic placement, etc., in order to have as true a comparison as possible. All were inserted into a 6-degree down-angled New Harmony plug/bung.

I wanted to compare the exact same length shaft of the two different materials, as I read of an experiment where someone cut off most of the part of a steel endpin that remained inside of the cello while performing in order to save weight. It was reported that this negatively affected the sound of the cello with that endpin in it, implying that the portion of the endpin inside the cello has a positive effect on the sound.

You be the judge!

 

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2 microphone demonstrations

Here is a demonstration of the Shure MV88 stereo microphone for iOS devices

A comparison of Shure MV88 with two professional stereo microphone pairs

 

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Beethoven’s Sonatas for Piano and Cello

Beethoven’s five Sonatas for piano and cello offer a magnificent distillation of twenty years of development as a composer into two hours of listening. His mastery of the conventional musical forms and structures of the time was clear from his earliest published works, and that mastery made it possible for him to subvert the listeners’ expectations in ways that would create a radically new expression of emotion in music.

The “original instrument” and “period performance” movements of the second half of the twentieth century gave audiences and performers alike new insight into and experience of the sound of western classical music as it might have been performed historically. Despite those developments, the solemn ritual of modern concert life has little to do with the manner in which much of this music was presented when new. Small-scale chamber works were not often presented in grand concert halls, but were meant for performance in more intimate environs. The domestic nature of these events was well described by the violinist and composer Ludwig Spohr, and music was often one of many simultaneous entertainments. Conversation, food, wine, card games and music intermingled in the social fabric, and one was free to listen attentively or not, and there could be lively comments made to the players even as they performed.

It was for just such an occasion that the Opus 5 sonatas presented here were written. They were dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm II, a gifted amateur cellist for whom Haydn and Mozart composed string quartets with unusually prominent cello parts. These Sonatas served to introduce young Beethoven to Europe’s influential musical society. Beethoven performed these works with the great French cellist Jean-Louis Duport, the solo cellist of the King’s orchestra. In these two works, Beethoven establishes his mastery of the conventional forms even as he utterly defies their conventions. Most of the sonatas of Haydn and Mozart with which Beethoven’s audience would be familiar were cast in three or four movements, and were typically ten to fifteen minutes in length. Both of the Opus 5 Sonatas are twice that duration, and each consists of only two movements. Even more radical is that each begins with an extensive slow introduction, a feature usually employed by Haydn and Mozart in symphonic literature to signify a particularly serious work. More importantly, that attention is richly rewarded as these works unfold. In these two sonatas, dramatic contrasts of volume and mood, and of sound and silence in the introductions serve the purpose of demanding that the audience pay heed. Not a bad idea for a young composer looking to make his way in the world. The first sonata has another unusual characteristic that Beethoven develops further in his “late” works. Nineteen minutes into the first movement, the tempo changes abruptly three times within a few seconds, first with a sudden slow echo of the introduction, followed by eighteen extremely fast measures before returning to the original tempo. In the second movement, the tempo becomes much slower for just two measures, again echoing the introduction, just seconds before its conclusion. It is both radical and brilliant. In working on such a large canvas for his “domestic” works, Beethoven set the stage for the “heavenly lengths” of the works of later composers.

By the time he completed the Sonata in A major, twelve years after those of Opus 5, Beethoven was at the peak of his fame. The first four symphonies, nine of the string quartets, and four of the piano concertos were before the public, and his growing deafness had yet to keep him from performing. The A major sonata is both the most widely performed of these sonatas, and is, at least on the surface, more conventional than its predecessors. It is cast in three movements, but instead of the expected fast-slow-fast progression, its movements proceed as fast, faster, and fast again. The opening movement has a lyricism and generosity of spirit that is reminiscent of the first “Razumovsky” quartet or the later “Archduke” trio. The middle movement, called a scherzo, is not in the form conventionally associated with that term. In place of the clearly defined scherzo-trio-scherzo one might expect, he presents two alternating contrasting themes, the first of which features a melody that begins (and remains) on the “wrong” beat, while the second is more lyrical and more gracefully comported. The last movement is in “sonata” form rather than a rondo, and begins with a slow introduction that at first hearing could seem to be the slow movement one might have expected.

The two sonatas of Opus 102 came into being after the longest period of compositional inactivity of Beethoven’s career. Crises in the personal, physical and professional realms had combined to affect his creative output for almost two years. When he did return to serious work as a composer, his music was transformed. These sonatas contain many of the hallmarks of Beethoven’s later music: the use of counterpoint, the contrast of ethereal, almost ecstatic passages alongside more agitated ones, sudden changes of tempo, and the use of “cyclic” formal elements are all contained in these two brief works.

The first of these sonatas is cast in two movements, and it is the most unconventional, the shortest, and perhaps the most profound of all the sonatas. The entire sonata is shorter than the first movements of either of the Opus 5 sonatas, yet the materials are so diverse and are so perfectly argued and presented that by its conclusion, one has been taken on an extraordinary emotional journey. Beethoven originally labeled it a “free sonata,” and it opens with a serenely lyrical introduction in C major that leads to an allegro in A minor that is by turns furious and ruminative. The second movement opens with a short Adagio that never truly settles into either C or G major before giving way to a brief return of the introduction from the first movement. Finally, the movement settles into an allegro that is equal parts ecstatic and ebullient music.

The D major sonata is Beethoven’s final accompanied sonata of any sort, and it is the only truly conventional work of this set. Its three movements are in the more typical fast-slow-fast arrangement, although the slow movement does connect to the finale without pause. It is with the finale that Beethoven again upturns convention, as the entire movement is a fugue.

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Wolf Tones

Wolf tones are hyper-resonances that often occur with cellos. On some instruments they present no problem, but on others they make certain pitches difficult to play well. They typically occur in the area of Eb-F# in 4th position on the G string (as well as the same pitches higher on the C string). If you are looking for a cello to buy or rent that has wolfs on the D or A string, just move on, this is not worth it.

With most wolf tones, it is possible to treat the wolf such that it is quite manageable. Recently there have been some new developments in this area.

The most common sort of wolf eliminator fits onto the string between the bridge and the tailpiece. In using these, first try it on the C string and tune it to the pitch a 5th above your wolf tone. You tune it by bowing the string between the bridge and the wolf eliminator. If that does not work, then try a 4th. If that does not work, try the note itself. The further away from the bridge you get, the fewer overtones you kill, which is why it is better on the C than the G. (There are 3 octaves of pitches on the other side of the bridge, BTW). If this is not effective enough, then try the G string.

Many people find the new Krentz eliminator much more effective and less problematic for the sound. Some people have reported that it can actually improve the sound of the cello.

Krenz Wolf Eliminator

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Weight Training

Weight training can hamper your playing. How? Two ways: poor form can cause injury to soft tissues, joints, neck, and spine. Training with heavy weight, even with perfect form, shortens the muscles (that is the principal manner in which they bulk up), which stretches the tendons on both ends of the muscle, putting them on a higher baseline of stress. Stressed tendons damage more easily, and as tendonitis is a common injury among cellists, we need to engage in this activity with some caution.

Do I mean by this that you should not train with weights, absolutely not! The question becomes how should you train. You need to train so that your muscle system is balanced, as unbalanced structures are prone to injury. Weight lifting does not strengthen the muscles of the shoulder capsule (the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff) and building mass all around them makes them more vulnerable. Strengthening the rotator cuff is difficult to do because of its structure, and it really takes expertise that you won’t find in any gym to do this. Absent this expert guidance, the safest thing to do is use lower amounts of weight with higher repetition and great attention to both form and variety. Don’t rely on a gym rat trainer to give you help, most of them I see in gyms are not competent to protect you from injury. Their interest in too many cases is to bulk you up, which is not our best goal.

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Vibrato

Vibrato comes from the elbow, whether it is called arm, wrist, or finger vibrato. These are misleading terms, as people tend to think that they refer to where the vibrato originates. They do not; what the second and third terms mean is that the joint being referred to takes a greater degree of flexibility when employed, producing a varied speed and amplitude particular to that joint’s flexibility. I have seen people demonstrate “wrist vibrato” that was nothing more than the rotation of the 2 bones of the forearm coming from the elbow. Bernard Greenhouse would occasionally employ something close to a true wrist vibrato (moving the hand from the wrist joint) but he employed this very infrequently, only on certain notes of a phrase, and only in lower positions. A very particular color of sound, and not how he normally employed vibrato.

Many other fine cellists often play with the thumb released from the neck, and it is not at all controversial (though some pedants may say so). Look at videos of any cellist whose sound you are fond of. Chances are good that they will release the thumb at least occasionally. The thumb has nothing to do with the vibrato, and it is, if anything, usually the source of trouble when someone has a problem with vibrato.

Vibrato is only very rarely from the rotation of the hand, as the range of speed of oscillation in this manner is very limited. The most flexible vibrato originates from the forearm/elbow, which allows for the greatest range of speed of oscillation and greater ease of connection of the vibrato from note to note. Any forearm rotation that occurs should be incidental. It is always most efficient to use the largest possible muscle for the action at hand, as there is less energy and effort required to move a large muscle by a small amount than a small one a large amount, so by using the forearm to initiate the vibrato, this efficiency is possible. This concept of muscle use is an important aspect of Casals? legacy.

In order to produce a “legato” vibrato, one that continues evenly from finger to finger without interruption when playing a melody, it is necessary to have a very consistent balance of the weight of the arm and hand regarding the finger that is playing. The thumb can be used as a pivot point, or can be released from the neck entirely as one gains greater mastery. Putting the fingers down is not just about using muscles to place the finger, it also includes a slight rotation of the forearm (and hand) so that the arm weight is balanced on the finger that is playing. To include vibrato with this action, one must first have consistent control of this balance. As vibrato is the linear action of the forearm that moves the finger pad down and up the string to change the pitch fractionally, it must be carefully coordinated with the action of placing the fingers. Ideally, the motion of vibrato is independent of that of placing (and displacing) of the fingers on the string such that it can be continued even while the fingers/notes change, creating a consistent quality of sound (and therefore easily varied) through any phrase as desired. The other benefit of this is a very relaxed and flexible left hand, as you cannot achieve this consistency with much tension in the hand.

As arm vibrato comes from the elbow, and pitch change on the cello is linear (following the line of the string), it is necessary that the act of vibrato is also linear. The motion of vibrato is not unlike shifting, in that the forearm moves the hand up or down the fingerboard parallel to the string to effect change in position/pitch. As vibrato is a subtle change in pitch, the motion is much smaller than when changing positions. The basic motion is a slight closing and opening of the elbow that allows for the fingerpad to move slightly on the string to change the pitch. It is most often taught that the finger first establishes the pitch in its initial contact with the string and then descends and returns to the pitch. How wide the change in pitch is is determined by the amount of the fingerpad that comes in contact with the string. Some people have huge fingerpads (like Bernard Greenhouse or Lynn Harrell), so there is not a lot of motion required to accomplish this. Other people have considerably smaller fingerpads, which requires more consideration to create a similar amplitude. In general, having the hand at a slight angle, such that the base knuckle of the 4th finger is a bit further from the string than that of the first finger (this is as opposed to that school which suggests that the base knuckles be parallel to the string) is better. There are a number of reasons that for most people, the former is a superior approach, but I will not get into that here. As regards the angle of approach of the hand to the fingerboard and vibrato, having this angle in place makes a wider fingerpad contact with the string possible. You can start with the edge of the tip of the finger on the string and descend across the fingerpad at an angle across it, maximizing the area of contact and therefore the amplitude of the vibrato. To move the tip on the string, you need both the knuckles of the finger and the wrist to be flexible, as you pull and push the hand from the elbow (NOT the shoulder). This should be done very slowly and sound like a glissando, not 2 distinct pitches, top and bottom. It is a good idea to do this with a metronome to practice this in slow motion (not just slowly). Try the metronome set somewhere between 40-60 bpm and imagine that you are playing half note for the top and a half note for the bottom of the pitch. Bear in mind that you never sit on either the top or bottom pitches, you are always in motion. 4th position is a good place to begin. Remember, you are NOT rotating the forearm at all. You are pulling and pushing the fingertip down and up the fingerboard (?pumping? is how Paul Katz describes it in the video example below). Once you can do this easily on all 4 fingers, then make each pitch a quarter note, then 1/8th note, triplet 1/8ths, 1/16th notes, and setuplet 1/16th notes. There is an exercise in Diran Alexanian’s book (available at IMSLP.org) along these lines, though the explanation is not always the most clear. The thumb cannot be tense or stiff, indeed you can see that Yo-Yo Ma (and many other excellent cellists) often plays without his thumb. The thumb is at best a point of reference for the hand, there to guide the fingers and the rotation of the forearm that channels the weight of the arm into the fingers. Pressing with the thumb will only do harm to your playing and limit the freedom of motion of the vibrato.


In learning to vibrate, it is useful to understand that the goal you are reaching for is a relaxed and balanced left hand, so that as you develop a vibrato motion, one must not lose sight of this.

Vibrato in slow motion
www.thestrad.com/6884.article
I have never seen a study such as this that any real scientist would look at and say that it proves something. From what I have seen, these are all flawed in their design. The current authors in question have published other such “studies” before, and while I am certain they are quite sincere in their intent, the results are problematic to me.

In this paper, the vast majority of the oscillation is below the pitch, and if you were to crunch the numbers of the frequencies for either mean or average frequency, it would be below the pitch center intended, not equally on both sides of the pitch which the authors seem to suggest. As to the cellist in this study, the pitch on every finger but the 4th is placed sharp of the intended pitch in the unvibrated note, but thereafter the range of frequencies within the vibrato has what appears to be the same pattern as the violinist. Because it starts sharp, it appears on the graph as being centered on the pitch. Again, if you were to crunch the numbers, it would have the same effect as with the violin, only it would be sharp to the intended pitch because it started out sharp. While this study intends to prove that vibrato is symmetrical around the intended pitch, it fails to accomplish its aim for these reasons.

In one of David Finckel’s videos on the topic, he slows down Fischer-Dieskau singing to study it for speed, width, and relation to pitch. Sounds pretty awful to me slowed down, kind of nauseating. I personally was more enraptured by his nuance (the variety of vibrato) and “musicality” than by his intonation or tone. I found it interesting that when Finckel demonstrates a vibrato in another of these videos equally on both sides of the note (below), he quickly adjusts his finger such that the top of the oscillation pitch goes down a fraction and THEN sounds in tune (at least to me). He makes the vibrato so that the top is only slightly above the pitch. This is consistent with the observations I made of the study above.

To me the controversy is not so much “is it only below the note,” or “equally on both sides of the pitch,” but where the actual pitch is within the oscillation. In this most recent illustration, it is clear that the vibrato is NOT equally on both sides of the note. I practice vibrato every day I play as part of my warm up, and I focus it on below the note. However, as each person’s hand and finger shapes are different, and each finger does approach the string slightly differently, where the note starts is more dependent on that than anything else (rather than the vibrato’s focus). In my case, my 4th finger curves slightly back, compared to the others, so that when I place that finger on the string it is the upper part of the fingerpad that lands first and the vibrato goes down from there. It may well oscillate slightly above thereafter, but that is the initial action.

Here is a short discussion of vibrato with Paul Katz. He talks about Greenhouse?s approach, which I would amplify a bit. The “angled” approach allows the vibrato to be initiated from the elbow (no involvement of the shoulder whatsoever). Greenhouse used many variations on this gesture to color the sound with variety; more/less flexibility on the finger alters amplitude and speed, as does a more active wrist, etc.
Katz on Greenhouse and hand positions with vibrato:

Another aspect of vibrato involves sum and difference tone math, which accounts for why vibrato makes an instrument (or voice) sound louder. Yes, it’s true! Consider that in the later classical era, when concert halls became more common for the public performance of music (rather than in churches or the residences of nobility), vibrato became much more common because those making use of it were heard more easily. Those singers and string players who employed it projected better into the larger spaces of these new public arenas, and as a result, others soon adopted the practice. The reason that this is so is that the vibrato creates many more complex waveforms in the sound (more ?sum and difference tones?) that literally make more sound, as well as more reflected sound (ambience) in the hall. In stringed instruments, this creation of more sound begins within the body of the instrument itself (more complex waveforms within the instrument) as well as how those more dense soundwaves fill the hall.

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