Opening the study book today, I feel daunted. It seems a minefield of string crossings, tone consistency problems, bow management issues, and potential disasters with dynamics. They all work together: if the dynamics are right, but I haven’t followed the bow placement instructions carefully, then I am not learning to have that degree of tone production in that part of the bow, so half the point is wasted. String crossings feel and sound different in different dynamics and my self-imposed goal of, in general, playing nearer the bridge, makes both issues more interesting.
I decide to dedicate myself today to just the first line, which is effectively a glorified C major scale. This line alone contains nine different indications of which part of the bow I should be using. I have to remind myself that while, if I were to mark U.H. on my part, I would be telling myself to play in the Upper Half of the bow (nearer the pointy tip), the markings in this book are in German, so U.H. stands for ‘Untere Hälfte’, and should therefore be played in the lower half.
Starting loud, forte, so I give myself a great big meaty open C string. And immediately run into difficulties on the next note. I have, as instructed, used the ganzer Bogen (full bow) down bow, for my meaty C, so now I need to start an equally meaty D, forte, at the tip (or Spitze). This is the ‘weaker’ end of the bow+arm combination, with the arm extended away from the body, and the bow at its lightest, without the benefit of gravity from the arm. It takes a certain amount of leverage to get the thick C string in motion, and the problem is how to get it going without grunting. This is going to take some work. I also find it hard to hit the string with the first finger of my left hand on a sweet spot, without either making two sounds (string contact, then string down) or pushing the string slightly sideways. The thickness of the string, and the fact that it is the furthest from the left arm, tend to make me grab at it, with the side of the top of the finger.
The next two notes, half notes (minims), in the lower half of the bow are probably among the easiest to make sound well, so for now I move through them to the crotchets (quarter notes) that follow, am Frosch (at the ‘frog’, the part of the bow near the handle) in the following bar. The string crossing from the C string to the G string, between the bars, is relatively easy, but it is really difficult to play so close to the bottom of the bow without grunting, especially on the down bows. At the moment I am getting two sets of two notes, down bow-up bow: grunt-smooth, grunt-smooth. I experiment with using an altogether more courtly bow, with a little more elegance in the right wrist, and it seems to help. I need to play into the string, somehow, and listen carefully to the ends of notes.
I’m pleased to hear that the crotchets two bars later, at the point, are much more even; a nice sound, and nicely shaped. I attribute this fact to a tip I picked up on www.celloprofessor.com, in his article on Right Hand and Arm Position on the cello, about raising the right elbow, in order to get more power at the tip. This is an excellent website, by the way; excellent articles and a thorough analysis of the playing mechanism. I do however run into grief in the last note of the bar, which is to be played in the O.H. or upper half, and have the same problem when moving from the middle bow to using the lower half in the following bar. The fact is, I have been using rather less bow at the tip and in the middle, and now the instruction to use a whole half bow, as it were, has resulted in an elongated final note in each passage. I don’t mean that it takes more time and disrupts the rhythm, but rather that it is more legato than the other notes, the sound occupies the full crotchet time allotted. I need to ponder as to whether it would be better to play the other crotchets with more bow, or to try to glide the bow slightly for these notes in order to cover the ground (bow length) quicker.
The whole exercise shows me something I needed to know about how I rarely use a truly full bow, how I rarely play at either extreme, point or frog, and, more surprisingly, how I hardly ever play in the middle of the bow. The bow arm has a feeling of unfamiliarity in all of these positions, although in theory I play in all of them during scales and warm-ups.
The implementation of the decrescendo at the end of the line causes a further difficulty, especially with that half bow indication on the penultimate note. For starters, I realise that through the whole section at the point I haven’t really been forte, but have dropped to mf. I need to bring that up, in order to come down, and then I need to consider exactly how I want this decrescendo to work. Should each note be exactly the same degree softer than the last, or should I increase the degree of softness as I descend the scale? How soft is soft, in a piece that goes no softer than piano? How softly can I play the two first notes of the following line, given that I must use a whole bow to play them? These are considerations that apply to any piece, and now I must move on to the other works and exercises that need to be covered today.