Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Observations on du Pre's playing

I don't know that watching and listening to du Pre will give me any insight into her psyche, but she sure is fascinating to watch.

Duets with her Teacher

One short section of the documentary shows du Pre playing duets with William Pleeth, with du Pre playing a relatively easy 2nd part. This part was apparently filmed sometime after 1967 (when she was 22) because du Pre is wearing a wedding band.

Du Pre engages in exaggerated body movements, up and down, side to side, and twists, with very strong, forceful bow strokes. She appears to bounce off the seat; her cello a moving target. It brings to mind Horst's words, "... she played with brute force, sacrificing sound quality and technical precision." I'll say!

Pleeth seems to be completely at home with this behavior. I have to wonder, were these motions her idea, or did Pleeth have her do this as a way of warming up? Might this have been Pleeth's instructions to students to prevent tentative playing?

I have to think so, because most teachers with any sort of pride are not going to want their students seen doing something wrong. I have to think this is part of exactly what Pleeth taught her to do, and this was something they had done many times before.

Then there's that distinctive left hand position. Both Pleeth and du Pre often have the left hand base knuckles slanted out from the side of the fingerboard at about a 45 degree angle, even in first position. The hand is at the same angle to the fingerboard at 1st position that it would be at mid-string or further. And so, du Pre often extends 2nd finger forward rather than 1st back, even in 1st position, although she does extend 1st finger back on occasion.

I can see how it is helpful in large shifts; her hand simply falls or lifts with no change in orientation to the fingerboard. But she sure has to move a lot to get 4th finger back into the game. No wonder she engages in such wild body movements!

Du Pre's Bow Changes

Zambo, at one point, writes "if you know well how to throw, then you know well how to make an excellent bow change!"

I'm not so sure that's completely true, but in watching the du Pre DVD one can see elements in common; especially if you put it on slow motion. Du Pre curls in tight for the wind-up. Shoulder, elbow, and wrist bend and fold in close to the body. Then wham, she punches it all back out. It all unfolds, from the torso out like a horse whip uncurling, until it hits the end, bounces back and comes rolling in tight again. Hypnotic to watch.

My teacher once told me her quickest learning adult student had been a boxer. I can see the similarities there. See, I should've paid more attention to those late night boxing bouts my dad used to watch when I was a kid.

Latissimus Dorsi

When I first started cello, I didn't understand at all how back muscles were relevant. In the last year, I can't understand how I could not have understood.

One of the things that make watching women cellists more interesting than men is the relative lack of clothing. Now here me out on this. With a sleeveless gown one can easily see the lattissmus dorsi muscles, which insert into the upper part of the humerus (just beyond her underarm), become taut and then loosen. Constantly working. The Elgar portion of the video provides some especially good views from, what in the Navy we would call, her Port Quarter: From behind on her left by about 45 degrees. One can easily see the muscle under her arm extending down to where her bra comes around the back, alternately tighten hard and then release. I think if you wanted to explain to someone what the back muscles do on cello, this would do it for you.

So, maybe someone here can see the video or the Schubert Quintet video (I've yet to see it but intend to soon) and provide some additional comments, if not soon, in the next few months or whenever.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jacqueline du Pre In Portrait DVD

(This was also posted at CBN, with minor changes.)

I’ve rented the 2004 DVD “Jacqueline du Pre In Portrait” from Netflix. It is a combination of two BBC films, both produced by Christopher Nupen in the late 1960’s, and both with recently filmed introductions by Nupen describing the circumstances of the films.

Knowing virtually nothing about Ms. du Pre, I’ve always skipped over the JDP Wars of the past on Cello Chat. I thought maybe this DVD would give me some insight into why du Pre is so greatly admired, and, so intensely disliked.

Well, the book certainly fulfilled Part I, that is, I can clearly see why she was so popular and is still fondly remembered. On Part II, i.e., why she is so intensely disliked, it failed completely. So, I still don’t get it.

I’m not complaining. To be sure, Nupen’s DVD is completely pro-du Pre. None of those sordid details of her personal life are mentioned, and I’m just as glad they aren’t. Instead, the DVD celebrates her accomplishments and is an entirely pleasant way to spend an evening. Other than introductory and background information, the bulk of the DVD is du Pre playing the Elgar Concerto with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and du Pre with Barenboim and Zuckerman playing the Beethoven “Ghost” trio. I’m not as big a fan of most classical music as many of you, but I liked the DVD so much I’ve ordered a copy from Amazon.com.

Nupen’s opening remarks to the Elgar Concerto documentary describe how du Pre fit in very well with what the BBC was looking for at the time. The documentary was an opportunity to use a newly invented silent 16mm camera. For the first time a cameraman could film very close to musicians without camera noise. The extreme close-in shots of du Pre playing the concerto photograhed from within the orchestra, and various other scenes taken within tight places, such as her playing in a train, and in duets with William Pleeth, would not have been possible before.

And, well, du Pre is fascinating to watch: Whole body motions, facial expressions, distinctive and graceful arm flows. Soon, maybe tomorrow, I hope to describe describe what I observed about du Pre’s playing.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Links to my last reference

Sorry Seylan, I seemed to have foolishly assumed that everybody would know what I mean by CBN - the Cellists By Night Board maintained by the Internet Cello Society. I meant to put the links in.

The posts in question are Beginnings of a Musical Theory Board Game? and Herr Bach's Wild Ride.

My best writing yet?

Perhaps inspired by Peter Schickele, and after a week and a half of sorting and clarifying things in my mind, I made a couple of humorous posts on CBN regarding a "Transit Map" illustrating normal and alternate chord progressions. The first post displays and explains the map, the second uses the map to walk through the Prelude of Bach's 1st Cello Suite.

Even if no one ever reads and understands them, I'm really pleased with those posts. Maybe the best writing I've done on those boards since starting over 3 years ago.

Yes, I know, they are really difficult to read. I'd guess it would take someone over an hour to absorb them, and that's only if they already have enough musical theory background.

And yes, it was a lot of effort, not in the writing but in the thinking --- away from the computer. But I wouldn't have gone through the thinking if I wasn't intent on writing it down, and I wouldn't have been intent on writing it down unless there was the possibility someone out in cyberland would read it and taste the same little hint of insight I feel I had.

The need to share ideas, even wacky home-brewed ideas, is a powerful thing.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Road to Cello - Chapter 5

Yes, we are finally approaching an end to this terribly long-winded story.

After hearing Barry Phillips' cello on that CD, I became more aware of cello on a few other tapes my fiance had: Barry Phillips on Northern Lights and Orison, and a few a couple of other tapes with other cellists.

Then, about one month later, my fiance and I attended a Chieftains concert. Before the concert I was aware of that fact that Derek Bell, long-time harpist with the Chieftains, had passed away the preceding October. The Chieftain's U.S. concert tour went on without that formerly crucial member.

When we arrived I was surprised to discover that, for the most part, a cellist substituted for Bell --- Caroline Lavelle. Ms. Lavelle did not play in everything, but in quite a bit of the Chieftain repertoire. She also sang a few solos accompanying herself on cello, standing, with an exceptionally long endpin.

She played pizzicato bass, bowed bass and middle harmony lines, and even fast melodies. I was particularly struck at how she played Give the Fiddler a Dram (sort of a Chieftains' "theme song") with them, at tempo (which is very fast), zipping up and down the fingerboard with apparent effortless. Hey, I thought, fiddle tunes that go beyond 1st position can be done at tempo!

As you might imagine, the typical crowd at a Chieftain's concert is more, ummm, expressive than the genteel, well-heeled audience at a typical Classical concert. As the concert develops, both audience and performers get caught up in the excitement. As part of that, the cello rocked! While flute and Uillean pipes and fiddle player made great sounds but, as seen from a distance, hardly moved, Ms. Lavelle physically propelled the band "Down The Old Plank Road".

Ok, maybe fate was telling me something here. I had to at least try the instrument out, even though I doubted I could sustain the effort for more than a few months. I visited a few music stores, not knowing which stores carried cellos, and didn't see anything appropriate. Then I looked on Ebay and saw slews of cheap cellos. Since I couldn't imagine that I would keep it up more than a few months, maybe weeks, and if I did keep going, I could get a real instrument without losing much of an investment, I bought cello and bow on Ebay for $139 + $40 shipping. Of course, at the time I realized I should get a teacher, but I had no idea where to find one. Later.

I know, I know, I did exactly, PRECISELY, what scores of Cello Chatters warn NOT to do! At the time, I had no idea Cello Chat existed. Shucks, I didn't know anything at all when that big box landed on my front porch.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Houston, We Have a Problem!

First, I want to say: Hi Maricello, Wecome. I want to get back to Maricello's question of ornament in accompaninent. I'm thinking the answer is mostly no, but maybe we can think of some exceptions. Maricello has her own blog, Cello Centered, at maricello.blogspot.com.

Ok, as promised, I have seen Peter Schickele's DVD, Houston, We have a Problem! Yes, there are quite a few lame gags and excessively silly spots. But for me, there's also quite a few worthwhile laughs, too.

Professor Schikele, while also a serious composer, has been a major recording artist in the field of musical satire for 40 years. His shtick, in case you've been living under a rock those 40 years, is as the discoverer, biographer, and researcher of the previously unknown 18th century composer P.D.Q. Bach, love child of Johann Sebastian.

The DVD is of a recent concert in Houston. The orchestra that participates and plays along with Schikele's merry antics is identified only as Orchestra X. Except for the conductor, and an elderly beret-ed accordian player, the orchestra is all college kids. Clearly, they are having a blast. It's all the more enjoyable to remember being that young and having that much enjoyment out of band. Ah, to be young, with boundles energy, a sense of humor, and no pretensions of maturity to maintain.

For me, the best part of the DVD is the Unbegun Symphony, which only has a 3rd and 4th movement. P.D.Q. is alleged to have never written an original note in his life. While some composers are known to have stolen a theme or two from other composers, P.D.Q. is the only composer to have composed major works entirely on tracing paper. The Unbegun Symphony is a sophisticated pastische of well-known classics and popular songs of the past. It opens by interweaving a section of the Mozart Jupiter symphony; Du, Du Liegst Mir In Herzen; and Cieito Lindo all together. One of my favorite spots is when the the horns are playing that well-known part of the 1812 Overture while the lower strings are playing Schubert's 9th Symphony and the high strings are playing You Are My Sunshine. Smultaneously. Great stuff.

Also a treat were the vocal duets and trios in Odden and Enden on the bonus features portion of the DVD. Also, the interview of Schickele on KUHT. Schickele relates how he started these shenanigan's in college as a composition student, such as discovering that a part of the Bach cello suites goes together perfectly with the then-popular pop song Brazil.

The New Horizon's in Music Appreciation skit, however, along with other portions of the DVD, get just too silly. Sight gags were added that wouldn't have made sense in an audio recording, but are just too much over the top for my taste.

Below is a list of the pieces on the DVD:

“Desecration of the House” Overture

Schleptet in Eb major, S. 0
- Molto Larghissimo—Allegro Boffo
- Menuetto con Brio ma Senza Trio
- Adagio Saccharino
- Yehudi Menuetto
- Presto Hey Nonny Nonnio

Iphigenia in Brooklyn, S. 53,162
- I. Trumpet Involuntary
- II. Aria: “When Hyperion”
- III. Recitative: “And Lo!”
- IV. Ground: “Dying”
- V. Recitative: “And in a vision”
- VI. Aria: “Running”

“Unbegun” Symphony
- III. Minuet
- IV. Andante—Allegro

New Horizons in Music Appreciation
- Allegro con brio from Symphony No. 5 in c minor (Beethoven)

Fuga Meshuga, from The Musical Sacrifice, S. 50% off

The Seasonings, S. 1 1/2 tsp.
- Chorus: “Tarragon of virtue is full”
- Recitative: “And there were in the same country”
- Duet: “Bide thy thyme”
- Fugue
- Recitative: “Then asked he”
- Chorale: “By the leeks of Babylon”
- Recitative: “Then she gave in”
- Aria: “Open sesame seeds"
- Recitative: “So saying”
- Duet: “Summer is a cumin seed”
- Soloists and Chorus: “To curry favor, favor curry”

With DVD Bonus Selections:

- “Unbegun” Symphony with Theme Identifications

- Odden und Enden
- The Mule
- Three-Step Crab Dinner
- O Serpent
- Johann Sebastian Bach (Prof. Schickele)
- Please, Kind Sir, from The Art of the Ground Round

- KUHT interview with Peter Schickele

Or look at http://www.schickele.com/shoppe/houstondvd.htm for more info.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Addendum from Maynard

Maynard Johnson, in reply to my email asking him how he decided what and how to play, added some additional thought which I pass on below. I'm especially amused by his second quote from C.P.E Bach down at the end. Well, I guess if an expert such as C.P.E. Bach can say that, maybe we should not be so hard on ourselves that we also have those troubles.

"One of the things that I forgot to mention in terms of technique is my sources for 18th Century technique. The Scottish Fiddle School that we work with (Jink & Diddle, after a Robert Burns poem) emphasizes Scottish 18th Century, including a few things that are probably counter to modern practice.

"Open strings are not bad. There are many times when you want to play a note with an open string and not the same note higher up on a lower string.

"Vibrato is an ornament, to be used as an ornament and not on every note that is long enough to vibrato. As I recall, the modern heavy use of vibrato did not really come into vogue until the early 20th century.

"Music is frequently not played quite the way it is written.

"A lot of the repertoire is dance music, or began as dance music, and has a pulse - emphasis and the first beat of each bar.

"Another one that I have liked is Francesco Geminiani's "Art of Playing the Violin". Geminiani was a student of Corelli who moved to England, and I tend to think of him as, like Handel, English, though he was not born in England. His 1751 book was published in English and was one of the foremost technique books of its time. Early in the book he says that it may have some value as well to those who play the cello. IF you can find a reprint in a library, take a look at what he says about playing, and about ornaments. He lists and discusses the 14 Ornaments, one of which is holding the pure note - not shakes, no trill, no vibrato (close shake).

Geminiani’s 14 Ornaments

1 Plain Shake Trillo semplice

2 Turned Shake Trillo composto

3 Superior Appogiatura

4 Inferior Appogiatura

5 Holding a Note “It is necessary to use this often, for were we to make Beats and Shakes continually without sometimes suffering the pure note to be heard, the Melody would be too much diversified.”

6 Staccato “Rest, taking Breath, or changing a Word…..where it may not interrupt the sense.”

7 & 8 Swelling and Softening the Sound

9 & 10 Piano and Forte – “..to produce the same Effects that an Orator does by raising and falling his Voice.”

11 Anticipation

12 Separation – designed to give a variety to the Melody…it will not be amiss to add a beat, and to swell the note, and then make the Appogiature to the following note…

13 Beat

14 Close Shake – Tremolo, or perhaps what we would call extreme vibrato

Then there are some nice quotes from others:

Music is invaluable where a person has an ear. It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us throughout life. – Thomas Jefferson, 1818

Every melodic piece contains one phrase at least from which the variety of tempo of the music can be clearly recognized. This phrase…often compels one into its own natural speed. Leopold Mozart, 1756

…certain deliberate disturbances of the beat are extremely beautiful…certain notes and rests should be prolonged beyond their written length for reasons of expression (1753) The attempt should be made to hold the tempo of a piece just as it was at the start, which is a very difficult achievement. (1787) C.P.E. Bach