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Although the first movement does not feature the intricate juggling act of the second movement or the pyrotechnics of the third movement, there were several moments in the first theme group that I had to decide on fingerings, as well as several position changes that I had to negotiate. There are a few factors that go into determining a fingering. The most obvious is what ends up being the most comfortable for each person’s hand. I have relatively small hands and short fingers, so a compact arrangement of the hand that avoids stretching or shifting is often more comfortable for me, but might be less so for a person with larger hands. The musical style may also dictate the kinds of left hand configurations that will be used. In this sonata the nondiatonic harmonies and large intervals mean that the left hand will not be able to play in the major and minor mode arrangement in which the left hand usually finds itself. Finally, in my discussion of left hand solutions I have provided not only the solution that I ultimately chose, but also those solutions that are playable but that did not feel the most comfortable for me. I believe that part of learning any piece of music is trying to work through as many solutions as practicable, not only because it will lead to the best possible solution, but it may also come in handy to have multiple fingerings should a memory lapse occur.
Measures 5-11 (Figure 14) present the first instance in which I had to make a decision about a fingering. There are few options when it comes to picking a fingering in these measures.
I begin m. 5 with first finger having played the preceding A harmonic with my thumb. At first I
convenience and accuracy of intonation, I find it best to choose a fingering that requires the least amount of shifting, or at the very least, shifts of smaller intervals such as semitones. Instead of using first finger throughout the passage, it is much simpler to shift to C♯ in m. 6 with first finger and keep the thumb fixed on B for the remainder of the passage. The only caveat is that arrival on the F♯ (m. 7) and E♯ (m. 8) occur via a stretch of the hand rather than a shift. The distance of a fifth in this position is not difficult to reach, and it is only one whole step higher than the span of the left hand in thumb position. This is one such example of a non-diatonic arrangement of the left hand that although idiosyncratic, works well.
Figure 14: mm. 5-9. Fix thumb on B and reach for F♯ and E♯.
The first position change in thumb position occurs between the pickup to m. 9 and the downbeat of m. 10 from B to C♯, the most intense point of this phrase. I experimented with several possible solutions all of which involved an anticipated shift with the thumb to a note from which the hand will open in order to arrive on the C♯. The most effective solution for each individual will likely depend on which one is most comfortable for the left hand. The first solution (and the one that works best for my hand) is to shift from B to E with thumb and open the hand and reach for C♯ (Figure 15).
Although I have small hands and this solution requires me to reach the distance of a major sixth, it is easier for me to vibrate the third finger when my hand is open. The last joint of my third finger does not bend easily and when my hand is in a more closed position (as it would be if I shifted to F♯ with thumb) my third finger tends to feel a bit stiff.
The second solution is to shift from B to F# with the thumb. The distance to C♯ is reduced and the hand (now in a more closed position) is perhaps in a better position to play the descending passage that follows. I could certainly adapt to this solution, but I prefer my hand to be more open in this situation, and I feel my left hand is a bit cramped in this position. The third solution is to shift from B to C♯ with thumb and reach for the C♯ harmonic an octave above. This option is playable for me, but a stretch of that distance is not terribly comfortable for my hand or my thumb, especially when playing at a faster tempo. However, it does leave the option for using the harmonic C♯ which is usually a good backup plan. All of these solutions are playable and should be experimented with during practice. The most comfortable option will likely depend on hand size.
In mm. 10-11 (Figure 16) the descent from C♯ was always a bit precarious. Here the difficulty is not the distance between notes, as A to F♯ is only a minor third, but the fact that I
finger on A to E using an anticipated shift. This will put first and second fingers in position to play E and F♯ in m. 11. For the shift from F♯ to C♯, I use the second finger playing F♯ to make an anticipated shift down to C♯ on second finger in m. 11. Of course, the most important part of the process is building the anticipation into the actual phrase rather than it being limited to a practice technique.
Figure 16: mm. 10-11. Establishing new positions with anticipated shifts. Target pitches E and C♯ are marked with an “x.” In addition to hearing the target notes of E and C♯, I also practiced integrating the preparatory motion of my left arm into the process. This requires that I release the weight of my left arm and raise it from the elbow while still playing the A. The same motion has to take place when shifting from F♯ to C♯ in m. 11. Figuring out which finger should go where was almost always the easiest part of the process. It was building the physical motions of preparing and shifting into the phrase that took the longest for me to learn.
With regard to the use of the bow in this passage, the rule of higher note getting the most bow will apply. For the shift from B to C♯, starting at the tip and using the least amount of bow possible for the B will allow me to use nearly the entire bow for the C♯. The bow will need to be
C♯. This will ensure that the relative bow speeds for the B to C♯ shift will match the musical gesture (i.e., a tossing off of the C♯).
A descending sequence occurs in mm. 14-20. Measure 14 (Figure 17) presented a problem immediately for my left hand when on beat two I had to go from fourth position to thumb position. The most viable option is to find the harmonic A with thumb and then find C# with second finger. I prefer this option because this particular hand shape feels more comfortable. The thumb-second finger configuration felt more secure perhaps because there is always an audible articulation when I find second finger via the thumb. The security may simply be psychological, but the result is more often in tune for me.
Figure 17: m. 14. Find second finger in thumb position via an anticipated shift with thumb on the A harmonic.
Scenarios in which the choice of one fingering feels better than others, often boils down to that fact that some connections in the left hand are simply more comfortable or natural than others. Once a cellist becomes familiar with the geography of the instrument certain left hand decisions become almost instinctual. The relationship between my thumb and second finger is one such example. The distance between thumb and second finger in thumb position fits the diatonic arrangement of the pitches, and my left hand feels the most balanced between these two
The second theme group begins in m. 32 and provides a drastic contrast to the first theme group. This section presented me with more difficulties for the bow in the sense that the phrases are now much more lyrical, but with a large dynamic range that requires sensitivity to bow speed, pressure, and distribution. The challenges in this section have to do with not only finding the right bow speed at the beginning of a phrase, but also matching bow speeds so that bow changes are smooth and the musical gestures are effectively expressed. Much in the same way that we prepare for position changes by preparing the left arm and hand, changes in bow speeds must be prepared as well. In a position change that uses an anticipated shift, the left hand should arrive before the change of bow. Similarly, the bow will need to accelerate or decelerate (whichever is appropriate given the situation) prior to the change in bow so that the speed at the end of the previous bow matches the speed of the new bow.
The second theme group can be broken into three parts: mm. 32-43.1, mm. 43.2-63, and mm. 64-79 and each section has its own set of difficulties. The first section begins pianissimo on an up bow with a crescendo to forte in m. 34 on the B♭, and is sustained into m. 35 on the arrival of the C. Determining the bow distribution and ideal bow speed is essential as soon as the second theme group begins. In order to go from pianissimo at the tip of the bow to forte the bow must travel slowly so as not to run out of bow, then accelerate gradually over the course of the G in mm. 32-33 and reach a speed at which at least half of the bow can play each group of notes in m.
34. Not only does the bow have to travel slowly enough to not run out of bow, but the speed of the bow has to be comfortable enough to sustain at pianissimo. The same must happen when the phrase repeats itself in m. 36 (Figure 18).
As for the ornamental arpeggios in mm. 35 and 37, the problem I faced here was the series of rapid string crossings. String crossings should be executed with the whole arm rather than with the wrist or fingers in order to maintain a consistent contact point and thus a consistent sound. String crossings that are initiated by the wrist and fingers will cause the contact point to change and the sound will suffer as a result. The extent to which the entire right arm moves will depend on how close to the frog or tip the string crossing occurs. If the string crossing is nearer to the frog, the motion of the arm will be less visible and will be assisted by turning at the waist.
The further away from the frog, the motion of the arm will be more visible. In the case of mm.
35 and 37 these arpeggios were easier to play and sounded cleaner at a point in the bow further from the frog. I got the best results when I used the entire arm and when I turned at the waist when executing the string crossings despite the fact that I was already in the upper half of the bow. In going from m. 34 to m. 35 the bow speed will have to be maintained in order to get to at least the middle point of the bow for the first arpeggio. The opposite is true for the arpeggio in m. 37 since it starts on an up bow (i.e., the tip). The bow will need to have enough speed on the last beat of m. 36 to get to the tip, but slow down on the D♭ sixteenth note so that the bow can be saved while at the tip and remain in the upper half in m. 37.
The next point of difficulty I found was getting to the B♭ major chord in m. 43 and adjusting the bow speed and left hand position as it leads into the second section this group. In
awkward position on the fingerboard: not in fourth position, but not in thumb position either.
Unlike the chords in the first theme group that are more effective when rolled, this chord works best when broken not only because the bottom of the chord is not sustained, but because of the way the chord has to be played by the left hand. Because of its location on the fingerboard and its shape, this chord is not comfortable for my hand to find all at once. I have to play the bottom and top notes as separate sets of double stops. Playing the chord this way ends up making more sense in the long run since only the top note (B♭) is sustained.
In m. 42 (Figure 19) there is a fermata on E♭ on beat three which I play with second finger. This is followed by a shift down an octave to E♭ using the same finger and an arrival on D on the down beat of m. 43. It is at this point I have to figure out how to get from first finger on D to first finger on B♭ and F on the two lower strings. The best solution to this problem was to find the D harmonic on the D string with second finger in order to help me find B♭ and F. The benefit to this is that the two lower notes of the chord are only one semitone behind my second finger, and by finding the D with second finger, the B♭ on the A string is all I have to find for the two upper notes of the chord. Once the D harmonic is located the left hand and arm have to come around the upper bout of the cello in order to get the first finger in the optimal position to bar the B♭ and F. This double stop should be released rather quickly and the left arm should then return to its previous position which will place second and third fingers at a better angle to play the D and B♭ on the upper half of the chord.
Alternately, the cellist could find the D harmonic between the E♭ fermata and the octave shift and play the low E♭ and D on the D string. One potential problem with this solution is that the intensity of the phrase is heightened by the brighter color of the A string and concluding this statement on the significantly duller D string might result in a weak or muffled ending to the phrase.
For the remainder of the second theme group the bow has to alternate between sustained notes and a moving line, the first two statements of which presented problems simultaneously for both my left hand and the bow. Following the chord in m. 43 there is a B♭ above harmonic A that is sustained for two measures (Figure 20). The best option here is to slow the bow immediately following the initial attack of the chord, and allow the B♭ to settle while simultaneously preparing the left hand for m. 44.
Figure 20: mm. 43-45. Transition in left hand from B♭ major chord to B♭ octave. The C♭ creates a non-diatonic arrangement of the left hand.
The tricky part is maintaining the correct spacing between thumb and third finger while playing C♭ with first finger. The typical configuration of the left hand when the thumb and third
finger, and a semitone between either second and third fingers, or third and fourth fingers.