Dotzauer Day 4: On Wolf Notes and Phrasing

 

30-4-2018 Utrecht

 

On to the third line of Dotzauer today. It consists of two phrases that rise and fall, both with a crescendo in the middle, so my first issue is what shall I crescendo to? I’m starting piano from the beginning of the last bar of the second line, so I suppose I should come up to about what I consider mezzo forte to be, go back down to piano, and back up to mezzo forte. Looking over the whole study, I think this must be right, because the first notated forte doesn’t appear until the middle of the fifth line; it’s unlikely that Dotzauer meant that these early lines should grow to be so loud.

 

At the top of these crescendos come the highest notes in the piece so far (and in fact, as the piece doesn’t go beyond first position, some of the highest in the whole study). It’s nice to see how much I can make them sing out, without disrupting the overall shape of the line.

 

I’m having some difficulty deciding on the right position of the thumb under the neck. It needs to be further towards the two last two fingers, rather than opposite the second finger, I think, and not too far under the neck, especially as I sometimes like to take it out altogether, if I need to play extensions.

 

The string crossing issue I have had the previous two days now reveals itself to be partly that I am touching the open string with those fingers of my left hand that aren’t being used. It’s particularly difficult on my little English cello, because the strings are closer together than on a modern ‘full-size’ cello. Something which should be easier on this cello, having played a rental full-size in Australia for the three weeks previous to my exam, is the movement from an open string to the fourth finger below, say, open D string to C . I don’t know why I am inconsistent with this. Unlike on the full-size, it’s not a stretch for me, and it’s probably one of the most double-checked finger/string combinations, because on the top three strings, it’s easy to check with the open string below. I suspect I’ve been fudging it, and the simplicity of this etude is showing it up.

 

The addition of an F-sharp to this line, as the study modulates to G major, gives me the chance to discover that the F-sharp on the D string is a mild ‘wolf note’ on this cello. This is not the first time I’ve found particular resistance around the F/F-sharp area on a cello; the one I hired in Australia had this problem, and so does my second cello, ‘Old Scratchy’. I begin to wonder if they are often prone to problems in this area. A little research shows me that this is indeed the case (I found the article below particularly interesting). It is not too bad in this instance, and I find that if I remember it’s there, I somehow make light adjustments which ameliorate it to some extent.

 

I am having a little difficulty beginning loudish slurs at the top of the crescendo, at the tip of the bow. These really do need a little bite, and having discovered it, I play around for a bit, adding the smallest degree of bite possible to all of the notes. Also having discovered it, I decide to tackle the question of how exactly does one play louder? I can use more bow, or faster bow, or more arm weight, or play closer to the bridge, or some combination of these. Each will give me a different tone colour. As in this instance I only want mf, and I do want it to sing, the use of a little more bow, very slightly closer to the bridge, will probably do the trick.

 

I believe it’s very important to consider the phrasing of what one is playing, even in a mundane study like this one. It’s not really much good practising collections of notes in the abstract, without shape, because the moment the musical material is phrased, both the left hand and the bow hand will be having to move differently. Of course, one can experiment with the phrasing, which will raise different problems, with different solutions, but some musical sense is important. If I am convinced by my own musical reasoning, I often find that the technique will follow the musical idea. The mind projects an ideal, and sometimes the body will organise itself to realise that ideal, without needing to plan things, technically. It is this ‘firing of the brain’ that allows those sudden leaps in expertise that make you feel like you can swallow the music whole. Precious moments.

 

In any case it is good to push yourself to make music out of unpromising material. Some of my best performances as a conductor have been those where I had to work hard to make something special. Whatever we do, we should be musical about it.

http://www.aitchisoncellos.com/publications/cello-and-bow-articles/technical-articles-about-the-cello/taming-wolf-notes/

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