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.

1 comment:

Gottagopractice said...

Yes! That's it! Thanks for the additional bow arm analagies. My last teacher said she liked teaching much more in the summer than in the winter, because it was easier to get at the root cause of bowing problems when the students are wearing tank tops.

I haven't seen that film in awhile, but as I recall du Pre and Pleeth were playing one of the early Offenbach duets. Probably Op 49, but I would have to see it again to be sure. "Easy" to play, but rewarding as one adds new layers of technique and musicality.