9 April 2018 Utrecht
I begin with a few variations on the D major scale, with a repeated rhythm for each note, á la Suzuki. I quickly realise that I simply can’t play where I want to on the string without getting a lot of harsh bite so I decide instead to try to regulate it. This means consciously adding a bit of bite to those notes that don’t seem to have naturally. The effect isn’t good now, but at least it’s even, and so I suspect it will have plenty of musical applications.
In the first movement of the Bach Sonata I am having trouble in first position, moving from fourth finger on D to first finger on A. I solve it partly by setting up the first finger early, which means its contact with the string is very much on the edge of the finger, because the fourth finger is still depressed on the other string. And then a few minutes later I have a problem with popping the A string lightly because I pull the first finger off sideways as I play a descending phrase. To solve this, I need to play that B with more of the pad of the first finger. It seems a bit extreme to have these two first finger positions. Am I taking the search for purity too far? Hard to know. I need a lesson in person with my teacher, rather than one using Zoom, so he can hear the difference, and comment.
One of the difficulties that this Bach first movement shows up constantly is that of playing in tune, across the strings, in the same position. We take for granted that this is really simple, but it isn’t. There are still minor adjustments to be made, or, perhaps I am making minor adjustments which upset the intonation. This is a problem problem I can take over to Dotzauer, so I head there now.
I’m doing the same two lines as yesterday. The sequential passages offer the opportunity to hear that it is indeed my interference with the left hand as I cross the string that is affecting the intonation. But now I must work on the bowing. The different situations for the bowing this passage: different string crossings, moving between different two-finger combinations, different dynamics and different parts of the bow, mean that in my attempt to eliminate extraneous noise, the crotchets are of uneven length.
I decide to tackle this with the ‘stopped’ bowing, and work on each little sequence fragment separately. It takes an incredible degree of concentration, and is very addictive; I could do it all day. What I discover is that it is the up bows which tend to be longer, although it is the down bows which are most likely to have that tiny little ricochet at the end of each bow. And then different notes are smooth, or less smooth to bow, and the smooth ones tend not surprisingly to be longer.
I’m feeling courageous today, so forge forward in the Bach second movement. This is another series of mathematical fingering equations to solve, with yet another descending sequence, but there’s a nice twist in a series of long up-bow phrases. I may well decide to break them later, but for now it’s a good bowing exercise.
After a little Mooney 6th position practice, I return to the opening of the Boëllmann sonata, and play again the game of sevens, to practise the leap up to the high C. I go almost straight through today; it’s one of those rare occasions when you not only believe that practice works, but actually see it in action.
My first finger is healing today, so I am able to tackle the first of Mooney’s Daily Warm-ups Group 5, in his second thumb position book. Here the interesting challenge is to keep the bow smooth when bowing groups of four semiquavers in thumb position, near the bridge, and I suspect it’s a combination of how much pressure on the string with the finger in action, and how I take each finger off. The bow is probably not to blame, but it takes a little mental effort to keep it smooth even when there is disruption with the left hand.
The melody I am doing in this book has a nice little passage on the 3rd string in thumb position, which is a good chance to work on tone up there. As so often, the answer is to play nearer to the bridge, and the transformation in tone is quite startling.
Being unwilling to spend more time working out fingerings today, when it comes to the Allegro in the Boëllmann, I decide to do a different exercise. As I am currently working on the recapitulation of the first movement, I will alternate working in the first section of this, with the opening section of the Allegro. It is interesting to compare them: where they are exactly the same, when and how they deviate, and where the deviations lead. It’s a great exercise in understanding the logic of the structure of the piece, and it is very nice to play the opening with the new-found skills I have developed over the last two weeks: better projection of tone, smoother bow crossings, more colours from having use of a wider number of places in the bow, better intonation, fewer little knicks and scrapes with the left hand. It is by no means perfect, but the improvement is very satisfying.
After a short exercise of playing in sixths, I turn to Couperin. He’s been somewhat neglected lately, so rather than cover most of the pieces, I concentrate on the first one; refining shifts, exaggerating dynamics, playing with tone colours. What a joy to play this music is. Despite not being originally for cello, Bazelaire’s arrangement is superbly cellistic: broad, expressive, making full use of the power of tone, and the variations of timbre. It deserves to be more popular.