Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 136

Taming the Cello

A guide to new music for performers, composers and teachers


Gabriel Prynn, D.Mus.


Sincere thanks to:

François Hugues Leclair and John Rea

Table of contents

Introduction: Where do we start? p.6

Chapter 1: Extended techniques p.12

a) Glissandi
i) Notation of speed and range p.12
ii) Intersecting glissandi and wave effects p.14
iii) Technique for high glissandi p.16
iv) Alternative notation p.17
v) Glissandi combined with artificial harmonics p.19
vi) Speed variance and modifications of timbre p.20
vii) Seeking out new ways to create glissandi p.21

b) Percussive effects
i) Col legno – diverse applications of the wood of the bow p.22
ii) Left- and right-hand finger tapping p.25
iii) Percussive effects in both hands simultaneously p.27

c) New variants of the traditional pizzicato – right and left hands

i) The "Half Harmonic" p.28
ii) Pizzicato beyond the bridge and use of the fingernail p.29
iii) Further explorations of the pizzicato and “highest note” sign p.31

d) Beyond ponticello – a new relationship between cello, strings and bow

i) Bowing over and beyond the bridge p.34
ii) Bowing on the tailpiece and on the surface of the bridge p.37
iii) Innovations in bow effects without a defined pitch
– The “bridge clef” notation p.39
– The “pigsty” effect p.39
– Use of the wood and hair of the bow on different parts
of the cello p.40
– Scraping and swishing of the bow p.42
– Col legno on the tailpiece p.45

iv) Left hand mutes the vibrating string from underneath p.45
e) Inversion of left- and right-hand positions p.46
f) Bowing under the strings and the two-bow technique p.47
g) Experiments in sound-producing and sound-modifying accessories p.51

Chapter 2: On rhythm, duration and meter p.54

a) On rhythm p.54
b) On duration p.60
c) On meter p.63

Chapter 3: Microtonal music, harmonics and tuning systems p.72

a) Production of harmonics and microtones from the harmonic series p.72

b) Notation and realization of stopped microtones p.82

c) In practice: microtonal compositions and their execution p.85

i) Natural harmonics and left-hand positions as references p.85
ii) Practicing microtonal music without stable references p.87
iii) Executing microtones in duet with another instrument p.88

Chapter 4: On fingerings in contemporary works p.91

a) Fingering patterns in post-tonal compositions p.91

b) Fingering in microtonal compositions p.95

Chapter 5: Combining the cello with external sound sources

a) Use of the voice while playing p.98

b) Use of electronics and pre-recorded material p.99

Chapter 6: Practical tips for performer and composer p.104

a) Preparing performance materials p.104

b) Rehearsing group works without a conductor p.108
c) For performers: Work with the composer! p.109
d) For Composers: What you should know p.111
e) Building our audience p.114

Chapter 7: Conclusion p.117

Appendix A: Works referred to in this book p.124

Appendix B: The Anatomy of the Cello p.127

Appendix C: Common terms found in contemporary music in four languages p.128

Appendix D: Further reading p.132

Bibliography p.134

Introduction: Where do we start?

During my career as a concertizing cellist specializing in the field of new music, I have
become increasingly aware of how difficult it is to prepare ourselves for the unique challenges
of performing contemporary works, especially when we are catapulted from the cozy setting
of the university or conservatory into the professional world. Many schools today have
contemporary music ensembles and thriving composition departments, sometimes offering
workshops or coaching sessions specifically aimed at interpreting this repertoire. Therefore,
an initial contact with new music may readily present itself. Young instrumentalists and
composers might have the opportunity to experiment and hone their skills in a relaxed
environment. Nevertheless, from the player’s point of view, so many of the technical aspects
of the performance of post-1950 works require specialized, advanced study. Interpreting this
music often demands a radically different mindset from earlier repertoire. It requires
familiarity with new kinds of notation, new techniques or unfamiliar concepts. It may even
rely on us being familiar with elements derived from musical cultures other than our own. All
this can be intimidating.

Composers, for their part, may be looking for ways to refine their writing for the cello,
making it more idiomatic, accessible, or personal. Alternatively, they may be wanting to
discover new directions and possibilities, either in terms of instrumental techniques or in
exploring new sonorities. Perhaps a composer is looking to integrate the cello more
convincingly into a particular ensemble, texture or soundscape, or find ways to make the
instrument project in a given context. Whether we are a player or a composer, practical
guidance on how to enter the professional world when one has a passion for new music may
be hard to find. With all these issues in mind, I decided to write this book, which is informed
by my eighteen years of performing post-1950 composers in a variety of mediums and genres
around the world, and is supported by my doctoral research at the University of Montreal.

I do not consider this book to be an academic treatise, but rather a practical handbook,
an instruction manual for those wishing to expand their knowledge of the cello and the
repertoire of the recent past, providing both technical and practical advice on the execution of
complex contemporary works for the instrument. Performers and composers: you will discover

new ways of playing, new technical concepts, composers who you have not yet encountered.
My wish is that my book will open up new avenues for your future research.

I hope that teachers will want to refer to excerpts of this book in their lessons and
classrooms. As an aid to both teaching and learning, I will be providing a large number of
online video tutorials via a dedicated YouTube channel, which explain and demonstrate all of
the various techniques discussed. Video and audio excerpts of works that illustrate the concepts
raised will also be made available there. I shall offer practical tips to both performers and
composers on a variety of subjects throughout my book, including how to prepare performance
materials from which the cellist can comfortably rehearse and play contemporary works (this
is a particular challenge in the case of pieces to be performed without a conductor), how to
practice new repertoire and rehearsal techniques. I will suggest how we can develop our
audience and foster healthy, productive professional relationships.

To briefly describe my own background, as a young cellist my curiosity about the

classical music of my own era led me to participate in master classes given by one of the
pioneers of new music for the cello Frances-Marie Uitti, at the Dartington International
Summer School in the UK. Uitti had close associations with Ligeti, Cage, Nono, Kurtág, Scelsi
and Sciarrino and my classes with her truly awakened my passion for contemporary music.
Knowing that I had a growing interest in new music, a composer friend encouraged me to
explore Siegfried Palm’s Studien zum Spielen neuer Musik: für Violoncello (published in
1985), which then led me to tackle the Sonata for Cello Solo by Bernd Alois Zimmermann
(composed in 1960). Since that time, I have gone on to forge a varied career as a soloist and
chamber musician. I have premiered over sixty solo and chamber works by composers from
four continents, and gave the Canadian premières of a number of important pieces from the
contemporary modern cello repertoire including Ne songe plus à fuir for cello solo by Richard
Barrett, Gavin Bryars' cello concerto The North Shore, Herz for cello solo by Enno Poppe, and
Advaya for cello and live electronics by Jonathan Harvey. I have also had the chance to
collaborate with some of the most important and original composers of our time, including
Mauricio Kagel, George Aperghis, Pascal Dusapin, Henri Pousseur, Mark André and Michael

Siegried Palm (1927-2005), pioneer of cello in the post-1950 era, seen here in 1964

It was my collaborations with composers that formed the backbone of my playing in

the contemporary sphere. Not only because there can be no better source of information and
guidance on a work than from the creator’s own mouth, but also because that appeared to be
the only way to confidently access the captivating yet often abstract and intimidating world of
new music. It was a thrilling experience for a young musician to be venturing into uncharted
territory where, since a conventional instrumental training focuses on historical repertoire, one
must “go it alone”, relying on one’s wits and instincts. The aim of this book is to offer the kind
of advice that would have been helpful to me when I was beginning my career in new music.

The traditional attitude to string pedagogy dictates that one begins by learning the
music of the Baroque, moves on to the Classical era, then the Romantic, finally graduating, as
it were, with twentieth-century works. In my personal experience, such an approach fails to
take into account the artistic impulses of the young musician, who may naturally feel drawn to
the music of his or her own era. It is a great pity to stifle this. Secondly, perhaps more seriously,
this attitude imprints a hierarchical view of the repertoire on the mind of the student. The

danger is that new music is relegated to an inferior position within the institutional
environment – an interesting but non-essential curiosity. I have myself witnessed aspiring
young musicians refusing the exciting professional opportunities that new music has to offer
because of such prejudices, which adds another dimension to the issue.

Der Zeit ihre Kunst: Der Kunst ihre Freiheit

To each age its art: to art, its freedom

This, the motto of the Vienna Secession, which brought together avant-garde artists in
the closing years of the nineteenth century, is inscribed on their pavilion in the heart of Vienna.
This idea has always inspired me. Music of course made its own particular claims to freedom
during those, with the emergence of many influences, of diverse compositional styles, methods
and schools of thought – an eclecticism that has only multiplied in the years leading up to
today. Technological advances have made the world smaller, allowing us to move with ever-
greater freedom between diverse musical cultures and geographical spaces. If we had to choose
one 20th-century work from the cello repertoire which constitutes a true break with tradition,

which radically prepared the way for innovation and fresh ideas, it would probably be Webern's
Three Little Pieces for cello and piano, Op.11 (1914), of which these are the opening measures:

This extremely brief work – just a few minutes long – employs a mute, natural and
artificial harmonics, and both sul tasto and ponticello effects with the bow, an introduction to
the kinds of extended techniques we will be exploring in this book. Here, as in much 20th-
century music, the meter and bar lines only serve as a reference to the player. Indeed the fact
that there are no attacks at all on the first beats of the measures adds to the sensation of
suspension and instability. Music such as this, which has no real sense of a pulse or of metric
divisions for the listener, was baptized le temps lisse – smooth time – by the great composer
and thinker Pierre Boulez (as opposed to le temps strié, or grooved time). In such a pointillist
texture, one has the feeling of notes suspended in space, evoking stars twinkling in the night
sky. Although not invented by 20th-century composers – free, almost floating textures can of
course be found in plainchant, or in the polyphonic music of the renaissance – the notion of
smooth time, and reinventing or playing with the concept of meter, will all be (re)visited in the
course of the post-tonal era.

Therefore, taking Webern’s lead, we shall begin this study with an exploration of the
main extended techniques – that is to say, extensions of techniques that existed previously, or
innovations in manners of playing the cello that have now emerged. These will include new
and diverse forms of glissandi and associated techniques, percussive effects using the bow and
hands, as well as new ways in which both left and right hands may be employed to stop and
pluck the string. Many works composed over the last fifty years have approached the cello as

a kind of “sound bank”, and we shall look at some of the numerous alternative ways in which
sounds may be produced on the instrument, from bowing on different areas of the cello, to
experiments in bow movement and bow placement.

We shall then go on to discuss the important challenge of rhythmic complexity, both

from the viewpoint of the performer as well as that of the composer who may make these
demands on players. A section of this document shall be devoted to understanding and
mastering modern notions of rhythm, duration and meter. We shall consider microtones, tuning
systems, and the challenge of finding suitable fingerings for post-tonal music, as well as the
emergence of the use of the voice and new technology in works for the cello. I will offer
practical tips.

In my conclusion, I shall comment on some of the important issues concerning the cello
and its repertoire today from a more personal perspective, and suggest what its future may look
like. In the appendices, you will find a complete list of works discussed and links to other
useful reference material.

I should like to highlight the fact that I have personally performed all of the cello music
mentioned in this guide. I chose to draw on works which I believe perfectly illustrate the
specific technique, challenge or situation under discussion, or deserve to be mentioned because
of their pioneering role. I have deliberately featured certain lesser-known works or composers
because I believe they deserve more recognition. Admittedly, since my professional activities
have mainly taken place in North America and in Western Europe, this has inevitably
influenced my choice of examples from the repertoire.

Dr. Gabriel Prynn

May 2019

Chapter 1

Extended techniques

The term “extended techniques” encompasses the whole range of ways of playing the
cello that go beyond the requirements of standard instrumental technique established in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some extended techniques are indeed just that: they
are extensions of past technical innovations, such as the pizzicato (the pizzicato in the opening
of Beethoven’s first symphony, for instance, was radical for its time), scordatura (retuning of
the strings, much used by Biber and Paganini) or ponticello (a metallic sound produced by
playing close to the bridge, employed by Haydn and Schumann among others 1). As the
twentieth century progressed such aspects were expanded upon, diversified and enriched.
Other instrumental techniques and effects are in fact the result of entirely new approaches to
the instrument that have come about in the unique historical context of Western music since
World War II. In this section, the reader will be offered an overview of the major innovations
in sound and timbre production on the cello since 1950, and their accompanying techniques.
Precise examples from the repertoire and detailed explanations shall be provided where
necessary. It is not possible to give a complete picture of every extended technique that the
cellist may encounter, especially since the list never ceases to grow and evolve, but the
principal categories of extended techniques that the cellist is likely to meet will be treated.

a) Glissandi

i) Notation of speed and range

A typical feature of contemporary works for cello is the use of glissandi stretched out
over many beats. Whereas in early works employing glissandi, such as in the music of Debussy
or Ravel, the glissando indication was a way for the composer to call for a sliding connection
between two notes, in more contemporary works glissandi are often used to create continuous
wave effects. In such cases, not only the arrival note is indicated, but also the pitches that the

Please refer to the violin parts in the Adagio ma non troppo in Haydn’s Symphony No.97 (only in editions
respecting the original London manuscript), and the cello part in the first movement of Schumann’s Trio Op.63.

glissando passes through, thus effectively controlling the speed of the slide. A fine example of
this can be found in the cello parts of Xenakis’ orchestral piece Syrmos (1959), beginning at
measure 12 2:

If one compares Cello 2 in the second measure of the excerpt above with Cello 3 in the
second measure for example, one sees that the glissando of Cello 2 covers an octave plus a
perfect fifth over just two beats, whereas Cello 3 has a far slower slide, only covering a major
seventh in the space of four beats. When performing such music without a conductor, the cellist
will need to mentally count the beats during the slide to ensure the correct speed of glissando
is being applied. By combining glissandi in such a way, especially in a large ensemble,
surprising textures can be created. In fact, in this work we almost have the impression of
hearing sounds that are produced electronically since the overall sonority is so different from
what we normally hear from a string orchestra.

In another orchestral work by Xenakis, Pithoprakta (1955-1956), similar glissando

writing is combined with the pizzicato – a texture often employed in post-1950 works. The
cello and double bass are ideal instruments for this effect since their long string length produces
a particularly sonorous sliding of the pitch. Note that for maximum effect a decent amount of
pressure must be applied to the stopped note with the left hand. The overall effect of this
writing is powerful: we almost have the impression that we are listening to sounds produced

An video excerpt of this work may be found at https://youtu.be/PT_g-YiWNaQ

Kottos for solo cello, also by Xenakis and composed in 1977 is also worthy of study. It makes
use of microtonal glissandi over two strings simultaneously, but moving independently.

ii) Intersecting glissandi and wave effects

Günther Becker’s Study to “Aphierosis” for solo cello (1968) offers an early example
of a further enrichment of the glissando: the phenomenon of intersecting glissandi. Here
fingerings are suggested, which is helpful, indicating for example on the first line of the
following excerpt that the cellist should gradually narrow the space between the first and fourth
fingers, finally ending up with the thumb on the D flat:

* Bow changes ad libitum

Noteworthy in the excerpt above is the use of solid lines, which indicate the note
lengths spatially on the page, to be held for a total duration of about fifteen seconds. A
combination of spatially-organized graphic notation and timings will be met frequently in
contemporary works and shall be discussed in more detail in the section On duration on page
55 of this book. Another interesting example of graphic notation in Becker’s Study to
“Aphierosis” is the following, meaning rapid pitch variations within an ascending glissando –
technically speaking, a slow, wide, travelling vibrato in fact:

* A quick and light scurrying movement with chromatic intermediary tones

Jörg Widmann uses the term Zitter-gliss — ‘tremble’ glissando — for the same effect
in the penultimate movement of his 24 Duos for violin and cello (2008):



Another possibility, which Lukas Foss exploits in his ensemble work Orpheus (1972),
is the combination of a glissando and a fixed pitch within a double stop. The thumb must be
employed when a wide spacing occurs between the notes at the extremity of the glissando (the
following excerpt appears in the cello part at Accumulated Time: 18’30”):

Generally speaking, the cellist should be wary of fingerings that may introduce
unwritten slides into a given passage when it comes to contemporary music, especially if
written glissandi appear elsewhere in the same phrase. One must thus adopt a somewhat
different mindset from the Romantic cello repertoire. Connecting certain notes in a phrase with
a small slide may be considered expressive, warm, lyrical or otherwise pleasing to the ear in
the music of Brahms, Dvorak or Tchaikovsky, but will tend to have a muddying effect in
modern works, which tend to be extremely precise in terms of rhythm, duration and timbre. It
is not uncommon for contemporary composers to write glissandi over a very wide register,
which may unfortunately necessitate a change of strings during the slide. In some situations, a
rising glissando may have to begin on a first or second finger in a lower position, but the cellist
would prefer to arrive on a third or fourth finger at the summit of the glissando for what
follows. It is actually quite possible to change fingers during a long glissando without it being
audible – especially if one delicately makes a bow change at the tip of the bow while changing
fingers so as to disguise the finger transfer.

iii) Technique for high glissandi

A problem that can arise when writing extremely high glissandi, beyond the
fingerboard, is that sequences of natural harmonics inevitably sound. This completely changes
the texture of the glissando effect since individual notes in a scalic movement can be detected.
Furthermore, the pitches of the harmonics will of course derive from the notes of the harmonic
series of the string that is being played, which in the context of a post-tonal composition may
not be desirable. High glissandi on the open C string of the cello are particularly problematic
in this regard. Naturally, this may be exactly the color that a composer desires, as in the case
of Tentatives de réalité (Reality Attempts) for cello and live gesture-triggered electronics by
Hèctor Parra (2007):

However, Salvatore Sciarrino, whose music makes great use of harmonics and delicate
sounds at the limit of the audible, discovered that by pinching the string with two fingers while
executing high glissandi no harmonics will result. The integrity of the pure glissando effect is
thus maintained, as in the cello part of his string trio Codex Purpureus (1983), near the
beginning of the work:

* pinch the string with two fingers

iv) Alternative notation

For some composers, the gesture or overall acoustic effect of the glissando is more
important than the precision of the pitches involved. In iv2 for solo cello by Mark André (2007)
for example, graphic notation is used to indicate a sliding movement over the whole length of
the string:

Bow position on string: bottom line=end of fingerboard; top line=bridge

Visualization of whole length of string Placement of left hand

In the excerpt from Mark André’s iv2 above, the composer indicates the string on which
the glissando should be executed (II=D string) as well as the finger pressure: 1/5D means 1/5
of fully depressed finger pressure. The result will therefore be a very diffuse sliding of the
pitch, with some white noise and occasional harmonics sounding.

In the following excerpt from iv2, the capital “R” signals a different notational code
(explained below):

The middle staff still refers to the movement of the left hand over the fingerboard
(hence R for “Region”), but now its movement is limited to the pitch frame indicated on the

lower staff. The result will therefore be a slow glissando from C down to B flat, over a duration
of nine eighth notes. It is as though André were zooming in on the whole-tone glissando
movement with a microscope.

v) Glissandi combined with artificial harmonics

Glissandi may also be applied to artificial harmonics, an early example of which can
be found in Mauricio Kagel’s Sexteto de cuerdas (1953), in the cello part at figure I:

In the example above, the composer has written an artificial harmonic glissando which
covers a relatively large interval, and he has very precisely indicated the pitches through which
the slide passes. The cellist will therefore need to be sure to narrow the space between thumb
and third finger as he or she slides up in order to maintain the clarity and uniformity of the
harmonic. Having said this, if one does not change the position of the hand as one slides with
an artificial harmonic, the same harmonic will periodically sound, creating what has become
aptly known as the “seagull effect”, of which the most famous example is probably from
George Crumb’s work for electric flute, electric cello and electric piano Vox Balaenae (1971).
The use of this technique at this point in the work is dramatically very appropriate since it
occurs following the Sea Theme, played in the cello, and is part of the Variations on Sea-Time.
In the words of the composer: “This [seagull] effect is produced automatically. Begin with
fourth finger (lightly touching the string) an octave above lower note. Keep same spacing of
hand throughout glissandi (the interval thereby diminishing)” 3. It is notated thus:

George Crumb, Vox Balaenae for three masked players. Edition Peters, 1972. p.8

vi) Speed variance and modification of timbre

Also noteworthy in this section devoted to glissandi is the direction to increase the
speed of the glissando suddenly as it rises, such as in Mauricio Kagel’s Sexteto de cuerdas
(second measure of figure I):

* gliss. slowly at first and then suddenly fast

Furthermore, the glissando may be enriched by the addition of certain bow effects, such
as in Luis de Pablo’s chamber orchestra work Radial (1960), where the double-stopped
glissandi which rise and fall over a space of two octaves and a semitone, are executed in
combination with a rapid col legno battuto bow action. The application of the mute makes the
sound world at this point in the work even more mysterious (four measures before figure 27):

vii) Seeking out new ways to create glissandi

Certain composers have actually called upon the cellist to turn the peg of the instrument
to execute a glissando, which sinks below the normal range of the instrument. An early
example of this can be found in Per Norgard’s ensemble work Prism (1964), on page 54 of the
Wilhelm Hansen edition:

Once the detuning has been made, it will not generally be practical to retune the
instrument within the same piece or movement of the same work, since this will involve
manipulating the tuning pegs. This can also be noisy and distracting - unless the detuning is
slow and small in range (a semitone or so), in which case one can use the adjusters on the
tailpiece. The composer should also bear in mind that the smooth and controlled turning of the
peg that is required to make an effective glissando in this way is not possible on all cellos for
purely mechanical reasons. In works that do require detuning or retuning of the cello though,
a second instrument on stage may be used.

Canadian composer Jean-François Laporte took the notion of the glissando in a very
different direction in the opening of his piano trio Êkhéô (2002). Laporte, who has earned an
international reputation for his ingenuity in acoustic sound creation, had the original idea of
actually sliding the cello itself i.e. placing the instrument upside down and pushing the scroll
against the floor, while gradually changing the angle. The result is a distant groaning sound,
rather like the wind, whose pitch fluctuates depending on which part of the surface of the scroll
is in contact with the ground. Superimposed on this shifting white noise effect is the gentle
vibration of the open strings of the cello as it slides along, which have been elaborately retuned
– scordatura. The score at this point is written graphically as follows:

For practical reasons the pianist has been given the role of “cellist” here. We notice that
the graphic notation employed allows the composer to specify the amount of pressure that
should be applied to the cello as it slides (indicated by the thickness of the horizontal black
shading), thereby creating swells in the overall sound. The visual crescendo, from total
darkness (noir) to full lighting onstage (the light bulb symbol), revealing the pianist as he
manipulates the cello in such an unusual away, is highly dramatic. The composer has chosen
to indicate the durations using minutes and seconds – a faculty that musicians performing new
music need to develop and that shall be discussed in more detail in the section On duration
(page forty-seven). Needless to say, as with some of the more extreme explorations of the
sound possibilities of the cello since 1960 which we shall meet later, only an instrument of
poor quality should be used in such an instance.

b) Percussive effects

i) Col legno – diverse applications of the wood of the bow

The use of the wood of the bow to strike the strings – col legno – to create a
characteristic “knocking” sound was exploited as early as the seventeenth century by
composers such as Heinrich Biber, Tobias Hume and Carlo Farina, and famously by Berlioz
in his Symphonie Fantastique (1830). It should be noted, however, that the col legno effect
was rarely employed until the late nineteenth century and has grown to take on several different
forms within contemporary composition: col legno battuto (striking the string with the wood
of the bow); col legno tratto or col legno strisciato (drawing the bow across the strings using
the wood rather than the hair); col legno gettato (allowing the wood of the bow to bounce on
the strings). Some composers, notably Mauricio Kagel, have made frequent use of the
coll’arco giacendo, or “half col legno” technique, i.e. tilting the bow towards the player as one
draws it, to bring both the wood and the side of the hair in contact with the string.

One early example of expanding the simple col legno battuto by combining it with the
ricochet, or natural bouncing of the bow – col legno gettato – can be found in the music of

Ligeti. This is an excerpt taken from measure 29 of the cello part of his work for three singers
and seven instrumentalists Aventures (1962-63):

* Immediately dampen all strings!

Luc Ferrari discovered that by damping the strings with the palm of the hand while
executing ricochet col legno bows, a more “woody” timbre is created, as in his orchestral work
Sociétés II (1967), notated thus (the position of the vertical lines indicates approximate
pitch/left-hand position):

A simple coloristic variation of the classic col legno battuto can be created by playing
it close to the bridge, producing a more metallic sound (sul ponticello), as Mauricio Kagel
requires in his early work for strings Sexteto de cuerdas (fifth measure of figure J):

Or actually on the other side of the bridge, as in the end of the third movement of
Sinfonia for eight voices and orchestra by Luciano Berio (1968) 4:

A video excerpt of this Berio work may be found at https://youtu.be/H21qbg0mKKI

Upon experimentation with the col legno battuto and gettato, one realises that in
addition to the percussive knocking of the wood of the bow against the string, harmonics are
also generated, whose pitch will vary depending on where on the string the bow strikes.
Essentially, as the wood of the bow bounces towards the bridge the pitch rises, and falls as it
bounces away from it. Roger Reynolds makes use of this effect in his orchestral work Quick
are the mouths of the earth (1965), as does Mark André in his solo cello work iv2 (2007), from
measure 186:

In one section in the same work by André, featured in the following example, the
fingernail (FN) plucks the string at the position indicated by the middle staff. The wood of the
bow is then immediately pressed against the string in a sliding motion, which produces an
interesting rattling sound whose pitch quickly rises with the upward movement of the bow:


* dampening effect of wood on string applied to G string, C string, D string etc.

ii) Left- and right-hand finger tapping

Due to the greater size and resonance of the cello, percussive effects on the body of the
instrument produce more satisfying results than on the violin or viola, which probably accounts
for much research in this area over the past fifty years. In Sylvano Bussotti’s Il Nudo for piano,
soprano and string quartet (1964) for instance, the cellist is required to create a number of
innovative percussive effects, including softly striking the body of the instrument with the bow
(excerpt taken from measures 7-8; LB=legno battuto):

There is also tapping of the finger on the body of the cello (excerpt from measures 5-6):

And striking the strings with the left hand with the approximate pitches indicated (excerpt from
measures 5-6):

In Günther Becker’s Study to “Aphierosis” for solo cello (1968), the cellist is required
to tap the strings with the left hand vigorously – forte – but with no precise pitch sounding. A
similar form of notation to that used by Bussotti in Il Nudo is employed:

The cellist will notice that such left-hand percussive effects sound strongest when
applied to the lower (and therefore slacker) strings of the cello, in the middle of the string
(where the tension is least). Hèctor Parra’s work Tentatives de réalité (2007) reveals that the
composer is well aware of this (note the combination of strong finger taps with an ultra-soft
tremolo bow) 5:

A video excerpt of the above work can be found at https://youtu.be/GxvRwMeQxzc

Tapping the strings with the left hand in other regions will give interesting but subtler
sonorities. It would therefore be recommended to bear this in mind when choosing where to
execute such passages (assuming of course that the exact pitches are not indicated by the
composer). Using the stronger fingers of the hand will also naturally make forte or fortissimo
percussive effects easier to produce.

By lightly and rapidly tapping the strings of the cello with the fingertips, in the region
between the bridge and the tailpiece, a very atmospheric effect can be created when a whole
cello section is employed. Penderecki made use of this in his orchestral work Polymorphia
(1961); the numbers here indicate which cellos in the section should play:

The cellist will find that in situations as in the Penderecki work just cited, using a
combination of the first and second fingers of the right hand, in the manner of a trill, will
provide great rapidity, although the use of a single, strong finger will produce greater volume.

iii) Percussive effects in both hands simultaneously

It is of course possible to combine pizzicato and percussive effects using both hands
simultaneously. Mauricio Kagel made particular use of such writing in his work Match for
three players (1964), most notably in the following excerpt (taken from the measure before
figure X):



* Right hand: pizz. with thumb and 2nd finger, ** Left hand: using many fingers tap the strings
no portamento; (4321, 4321, etc.). Stay in first position.

Beat Furrer's ambitious and substantial work Solo (1999) also contains many similar
examples of this type of writing and as such is very worthy of exploration by anyone interested
in a more recent example of extended techniques on the cello.

c) New variants of the traditional pizzicato – right and left hands

i) The "Half Harmonic"

Most cellists will be familiar with the so-called Bartók pizzicato, where the string is
plucked outwards, away from the instrument with enough force to create a snapping or
slapping effect as the string rebounds to hit the fingerboard. Post-1960 composers have
experimented with a number of other pizzicato possibilities on the cello. Isang Yun was one
of the first to make use of the “half harmonic” pizzicato on the cello. Here the left-hand finger
only partially depresses the note at the designated pitch, thus producing a soft, dull “thud”
when played pizzicato, almost without a discernible pitch. This technique is really only
effective in the lower positions (the effect is lost as the effective string length is shortened).
An early example of this technique can be found in his work Images for flute, oboe, violin and
cello (1968), from measures 223 to 225:

* Finger not firmly pressed, more or less half harmonic

The “half harmonic” left-hand stop may of course also be used when bowing normally,
producing fuzzy notes of indistinct pitch. Mauricio Kagel made much use of this in his work
Match for three players (1964), notated thus (excerpt from two measures before figure C):

ii) Pizzicato beyond the bridge and use of the fingernail

A number of composers ask for the cellist to produce a pizzicato using the finger nail
rather than the fleshy part of the finger, such as in the opening of Lou Harrison’s Suite for
symphonic strings (1961) where, in a further exploration of timbre, the fingernail pizzicato is
executed at the other side of the bridge, between bridge and tailpiece, producing a tenser, drier

Jonathan Harvey explores the use of the fingernail further in his solo cello work Curve
with Plateaux (1982). He requires the cellist to first make a pizzicato with the left hand, and
then immediately allow the fingernail of the same hand to rattle against the vibrating open G

string (notated on a second staff), as in this excerpt from the top of page two in the Faber

Kagel also made use of the jangling, distorted “fingernail-to-string” effect in his work
Match, cited earlier, but in combination with a tremolo bow (excerpt taken from the measure
before figure J; Nagel means nail in German):

On a practical note, the cellist will find that this rattling effect will be most easily
obtained when the fingernail in question is applied as far as possible from the point where the
note is stopped. For this reason, the thumb or first finger would be the best choices to stop the
E flat and A in the Kagel excerpt on the previous page, allowing sufficient space for the
fingernail of the third finger to rattle against the side of the string. Experiments in this area
have naturally not been limited to the classical sphere and the reader is invited to explore a
similar effect employed in modern Argentine tango music. Fernando Suarez Paz was the
violinist in Astor Piazzolla's New Tango Quintet and created a variety of distinctive sounds on
his instrument of which the tambor (little drum) technique is of particular interest to us here.
Rather than allowing the fingernail to jangle against the string as in previous examples, it is
placed against the side of the open string with a little more pressure. In this way, when the
string is plucked with the right hand, close to the left-hand fingernail that is lightly pressing
the side of the string, a drum-like sonority is produced 6.

A video demonstration of the tambor technique by Paz himself can be found here:

Some composers have found that gently scraping the length of the string with the
fingernail also produces an interesting effect. One of the first instances of such an effect being
used can be found at measure 98 of Ligeti’s ensemble work Aventures (1964):

* Move the fingernails gently, very slowly and irregularly over the strings, sempre pppp (hardly audible)

The reader is encouraged to consult Witold Rudzinski’s orchestral work Pictures from
the Holy Cross mountains (1965), which employs a number of similar “white noise” effects,
including rubbing the body of the instrument with the palm of the hand in an irregular rhythm.
Although perhaps too quiet and subtle to be effective when used on a non-amplified solo cello,
the effect can be interesting when executed by a whole cello section within an orchestra, as in
the case of the Rudzinski work.

iii) Further explorations of the pizzicato and “highest note” sign

Giacinto Scelsi’s solo cello work Trilogy (The three ages of man) of 1956-1965 is a
seminal work in the modern cello literature. In the context of our research, the opening of the
second movement of the third part, entitled Ygghur (catharsis in Sanskrit) is of particular
interest. We note straight away the elaborate scordatura employed, and typically for Scelsi,
since each string is treated independently, he uses a separate staff for each one:

The indication of a left-hand pizzicato on the top line of the fourth measure of the
excerpt above, with a wavy line below it, means that while drawing the bow on the D string,
the cellist should at this point lightly bow on the A-string (now tuned to a B natural) while
simultaneously executing a left-hand pizzicato. Since the pizzicato note is on an open string
and will resonate freely when plucked, the application of a light bow contact will subtly mute
and distort the pizzicato sound, creating a soft buzzing effect. In addition, the mf dynamic
indicated for the left-hand pizzicato is important since the string must be plucked fairly
strongly in order for there to be sufficient string vibration for the effect to be perceptible.

Also worthy of our attention in this particular Scelsi work is the footnote “the second
piece must be played without oscillation”, which is Scelsi’s preferred term for describing
vibrato. Indeed, it should not be assumed that the uniform use of vibrato that is acceptable –
or indeed preferred – in the performance of classical and romantic works necessarily has its
place in contemporary repertoire. While some composers may find the sonority of a note with
a healthy vibrato pleasing, others are disturbed by such minute pitch fluctuations, especially
in compositions where microtones are employed. Furthermore, using a generous vibrato in
many cases simply does not fit with the musical intention of the contemporary composer,
perhaps even creating a caricature of the Romantic cellist, something undesirably ironic or
even grotesque in the context of a contemporary work.

Composers and performers alike will notice that plucking the strings with different
fingers of the right had produces different sound qualities. The middle finger, since it is the
longest finger, offers a larger surface area than the index finger, thus producing a rounder,
richer sound. Pizzicato using the thumb will produce the richest sonority. Many players find
the index finger the best choice for faster plucking however. When it comes to plucking chords
that can only be executed by arpeggiation (i.e. chords with four notes, or widely-spaced
groupings), unless the composer has specified the direction they should be played in, one can
experiment with either strumming the chord from right to left with the thumb, or from left to
right using the middle finger. The first technique gives a softer, harp-like sound; the latter
produces a sharper, drier attack.

Composers have not limited themselves to the use of the player’s fingers to pluck the
strings if the cello. Frequently plectrums have been employed for example. Sergio Cervetti
requires the cellist to strum the strings using the metallic nut of the bow, a unique sonority, on
page 13 of the Moeck edition his string quartet Zinctum (1967):

Incidentally, the reader will notice in the extract above a symbol which has now become
standard, the highest pitch playable on the string indicated (in this case, the A string), notated
as an arrow pointing upwards on the top of the note stem. This same notation was used for
example to call for a “screaming” effect on page 26 of George Rochberg’s 1968 ensemble
piece Tableaux (T. Presser Company edition):

Also worth mentioning is a similar effect employed by Gorecki in the cello part of his
string trio Genesis I – Elementi (1962), with the “highest possible note” indication arriving at
the end of a long undulating glissando. In fact, it is common to see such notation in cases
where the composer wishes a glissando to end with a very high note of unspecified pitch
(excerpt from page 16 of the score, Polskie Wydawn edition):

Interestingly, Gorecki specifies in the notes accompanying his trio that the highest
possible pitch, as indicated by the arrow symbol, should not sound as a natural harmonic.
Effectively, the sonority of a high harmonic is quite different from a fully stopped note high
up and close to the bridge, and this should be borne in mind when interpreting this symbol in
other works.

d) Beyond ponticello – a new relationship between cello, strings and bow

i) Bowing over and beyond the bridge

The silvery timbre produced by drawing the bow close to the bridge has been used by
Western composers for centuries as a coloristic effect. Modern composers have explored the
phenomenon more deeply, such as Ligeti in his orchestral work Apparitions (1958/1959),
where the cellist must actually shift the tremolo downwards until playing on the bridge itself
(Ganz am Steg), producing a whispering, white noise effect, with almost no audible pitch –
Fast ohne Ton (excerpt taken from measures 18 to 20, cello section):

While early explorations of the ponticello effect were used to create a particular musical
atmosphere – ghostly, veiled, other-worldly and so on – many of today’s composers are more
interested in exploiting the ponticello timbre as a means of expanding the sound palette of their
work, rather like a painter who mixes color pigments on a canvas. For this reason, the cellist
should be sure to play sufficiently close to the bridge when executing ponticello in order to
achieve its full effect, even if molto ponticello is not actually specified. Although the edgy,
metallic quality of the sound produced – maybe even causing the fundamental pitch of the note
played to disappear at times – would probably have displeased early twentieth-century
composers or players, this is generally the type of sonority one should look for in contemporary

Playing beyond the bridge, on the part of the strings that lies between the bridge and
the tailpiece, has become such a common feature of post-1960 compositions that the following
universal symbol has emerged:

= on one string between the bridge and tailpiece

= the same on two strings

= the same on four strings

The particular timbre of notes played thus has attracted the interest of a number of
composers, notably Penderecki in his operatic work The devils of Loudun (1969); excerpt taken
from one measure before figure 22:

In the opening measures of Mark André’s solo cello work iv2 (2007), the cellist is
required not only to play beyond the bridge, but also to actually finger notes in this position.
This is surely one of the very rare compositions for cello where this is required. André indicates
this using a graphic notation (the middle section of the excerpt where there is a change to a 3/8
time signature):
Indicates bow pressure (-5 being the lightest possible, +5 being the heaviest).

Indicates finger pressure

Playing zone: between bridge and tailpiece; Playing zone: between the end of the
the top black note indicates the bow position fingerboard and the bridge.
on the string, the lower diamond-shaped note
indicates the relative position of the finger.

Such writing introduces an interesting chance element into the work since the pitches
of the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece will be different on every cello. Therefore,
the exact pitches produced at this point in the music will vary from one performance to another.
Note that open strings played beyond the bridge might well actually sound lower in pitch than
stopped notes played in normal position, since the latter technique evidently shortens the
effective string length to a greater extent (a common misconception).

ii) Bowing on the tailpiece and on the surface of the bridge

From measure 232 of André’s iv2 (2007), the player must bow on the tailpiece itself
(indicated by the upside-down triangle on the top staff, a visualization of the tailpiece from the
player’s viewpoint), the upward movement changing both the timbre and the pitch of the sound

André goes further than either Ligeti or Penderecki in requesting two specific types of
bowing on the bridge itself. Firstly, bowing parallel with the strings across the leg of the bridge
(the top line is a visualization of the bridge and the bow’s placement on it; the bottom line is
percussive effects and glissandi using the left hand):

Secondly, he asks the cellist to bow horizontally across the broad surface of the bridge,
underneath the strings, the change in bowing position (up and down as the graph on the top
staff in the following extract indicates) creating a swishing sound of varying pitch:

In such a work as André’s quoted above, where the sound world is extremely delicate,
subtle and quiet, great care must be taken when switching from the normal playing position of
the bow to playing on the bridge, even if this means adding time which is not actually written
in the score. In this way, extraneous sounds can be avoided, and the musical ambiance
preserved (this will also prevent any damage to the instrument by the bow as it is being

Playing across the leg of the bridge produces a soft hissing sound

Drawing the bow over the flat surface of the bridge creates a soft swishing sound, which can be varied
according to the exact position and speed of the bow.

iii) Innovations in bow effects without a defined pitch

– The “bridge clef” notation

Helmut Lachenmann’s revolutionary solo cello work Pression, originally composed in

1969 and revised in 2010, can be seen in many ways as the apotheosis of extended techniques
and acoustic effects on the cello thus far. He requires the cellist to produce a multitude of
sounds, many of which were codified for the first time in this work. A combination of what he
terms the “bridge clef” – a graphic visualization of the cello from the player’s perspective –
and pure graphic notation are used to communicate the composer’s wishes, as we shall see in
the following examination of techniques and effects used in the work.

– The “pigsty” effect

For this work Lachenmann “invented” – or it would perhaps be more correct to say
codified for the first time, since the sound has existed in folk music for generations – what he

calls the “pigsty” effect 7. Here the player draws the bow over the cloth-covered part of the
string, very close to the tailpiece, with maximum bow pressure producing a dense squawking,
chirping or grinding sound (page two, second system of the 2010 Breitkopf & Härtel edition):


* Position of the tailpiece ** Fingernails placed on all four strings

The cellist will notice that the effect of sliding the fingernails up the strings as in the
previous excerpt will not necessarily be particularly satisfying since string players tend to
keep their fingernails very short…

– Use of the wood and hair of the bow on different parts of the cello

In the following, the player strikes the leg of the bridge with the bow and then proceeds
to draw the bow over the surface of the bridge in an upward motion molto espressivo (figure
seven in the score):

This string technique is called chicharra – the cricket – in Argentine tango music for example.




* Hit the bridge leg with the wood of the bow ** Surface area of the bridge

*** Chin (damps strings)

In the following section the cellist must alternate between three different sound effects,
all produced with the bow under the strings (excerpt comes from figure nine in the score):

Ricochet Col legno battuto on the strings (from underneath):

Ricochet, hair against the surface of the bridge Also used are ricochet bows, bouncing at
the point indicated (higher up = brighter sound the bow hair against the body/table
[heller]; lower down = darker sound [dunkler]); (Corpus) of the cello, producing a
fluttering sound.

I encourage the reader to try out for themselves the range of different colors that can
be produced from ricocheting the bow against different parts of the bridge and the table.

– Scraping and swishing of the bow

Staying with Pression by Lachenmann, in the following excerpt the player is required
to scrape the bow towards his or her body while damping the strings with the chin (Kinn in
German) – an added challenge that many cellists choose not to undertake in performance of
this piece. The damping of the strings with the chin at various points in this work is actually
remarkably effective, although a composer will want to consider whether it is reasonable or
not to make such unusual demands of a player. In this case, the cellist must very confidently
drag the bow vertically across the strings in such music, even if it may seem unnatural at first
(excerpt from page 2 of the score):

* Midway point of the bow

In yet another example of extended techniques in Pression using the bow in previously
unexplored regions of the cello, the bow is placed at the frog beyond the bridge (and held in
the right hand). The left-hand fingertips then slide across the wood of the bow in the indicated
direction to produce a subtle swishing effect (excerpt from the first system, page 2 of the


* Indicates bow and finger positions ** Right to the tip of the bow

As we have seen in the works of André, Furrer and Lachenmann, many composers in
the modern era have sought to approach the sound possibilities of the cello “objectively”, that
is to say without being limited by the traditional playing techniques inherited from earlier eras.
In particular, the bow may be used to produce a variety of colors that it was not necessarily
designed to produce. One technique that is occasionally encountered is the use of a circular
movement of the bow on the string. Since there is almost no horizontal movement of the bow
across the string(s) in this motion, the predominate sound will be of white noise – a swishing,
or gently scraping sound, with very little audible pitch. We find an early example of such
circular bow motion in Michal von Biel’s string quartet (1964). Here it is notated graphically,
with a circle and two arrows meeting each other (the last symbol in the following excerpt), in
amongst a colorful array of other symbols which indicate the position of the bow relative to
the bridge (excerpt taken from the cello part, page 3 of the score):

Later composers have extended the circular bow motion technique to include more
elaborate swishing of the bow over the strings, such as Nicolaus A. Huber in his piano trio
Silver Silence (2006). As can be seen from the excerpt below, which features the violin and

cello parts, a graphic notation is a convenient means of communicating the composer’s
intention, along with timings to indicate duration (excerpt taken from measure 91 of the score):

Huber’s use above of a graphic notation superimposed on the staff allows him to
determine approximately which strings the circular motion of the bow should pass over – the
bigger the surface area covered by the line on the staff, the larger the physical motion of the
bow over the strings. Once again, such movement of the bow – often moving vertically rather
than horizontally – goes against the nature of the classically-trained cellist, so a conscious
effort must be made to truly execute the required gesture. Another work of particular interest
in this area, making much use of extended techniques to create new sound palettes, include
Inner for cello and piano (2009) by the Irish composer Anne Cleare:

– Col legno on the tailpiece

A variant of the simple col legno battuto is to strike the tailpiece of the cello rather than
the strings, producing a dry, metallic tone, almost like a muffled bell. This sound effect, along
with many others, can be found in Cervetti’s quartet Zinctum (1967), notated with this sign
(excerpt taken from measure 154):

When experimenting with the particular percussive effect mentioned above, one will
notice that the pitch and timbre of the sound will vary depending on where on the tailpiece the
bow strikes. This is an area that would be worthy of greater exploration by composers. A
graphic notation in the manner of Lachenmann and André would clearly be required in such a
case. Worthy of note at the end of the above extract from Cervetti’s quartet is also the
interesting sonority of combining a sliding pizzicato tremolo – using several fingers of the left
hand in the manner of a guitarist – with a col legno battuto stroke.

iv) Left hand mutes the vibrating string from underneath

In the following section of Lachenmann’s Pression, the thumb is placed under the
string at the position indicated by the circles and applies intermittent upward pressure at the
point where the bow hair has contact. This has the effect of gently “strangling” the note, a kind
of very slow timbre-changing tremolo (excerpt taken from line thirteen of the score):

e) Inversion of left- and right-hand positions

George Crumb’s string quartet for electric instruments Black Angels, composed in
1970, extends the possibilities of the traditional string quartet genre into uncharted and
previously unimagined directions. As well as using metal thimbles and plectrums to create
particular pizzicato effects, the players must also play other instruments during the work,
including maracas, tam-tams and glass harmonicas. They are also required to speak and shout
in a number of different languages and create sound effects with their mouths. Noteworthy for
us in this part of our study is the use of what Crumb terms the “sound of viols” sonority, which
he calls for in part six of the work, the Pavana Lachrymae. Here the player draws the bow
across the string on the “wrong side” of the left hand, that is to say between the nut of the cello
and the left hand, holding the bow in the manner of a viol player (gripping the bow from under
the frog rather than over it):

All fingerings will naturally be reversed. This is not an easy technique to master
although the sonority produced is very particular – “a fragile echo of an ancient music” indeed
(this is in fact a paraphrase of the slow movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet).
The composer suggests in his notes accompanying the work that one could put a chalk mark
on the fingerboard to indicate the starting pitch. A more useful aid to the performer would have
been to write out the pitches that the left hand would finger if one were playing with the bow
on the “right side” of the hand (normal playing) as a training exercise. Having memorized this
melodic fragment, by then simply placing the bow close to the nut, on the other side of the left
hand, but fingering the “normal” notes learnt, the desired pitches will be produced, as below
(the fingerings are the author’s suggestion):

The cellist will notice when practicing the passage above that the pivotal note is the A:
since it lies at the midway point on the string, the stopped A will sound as the same pitch
irrespective of which side of the left hand the bow is drawn.

Playing on the other side of the left hand produces a tone reminiscent of the viol

f) Bowing under the strings and the two-bow technique

In addition to seeking out new sonorities on the cello, modifying the position of the
bow relative to the strings can also yield new sonic possibilities. One of the most obvious –
and in the author’s opinion under-exploited – being the placement of the bow under the strings,
the curvature of the bridge allowing the cellist to play both the A and C strings simultaneously.
This technique is not possible of the violin or viola due to the smaller space between the strings
and table of the instrument. One of the earliest examples of such writing the author has found
is in Barney Childs’ ensemble work Jack's new bag (1967):

Barney Childs’ use of the “upside down bow” in this instance is the most effective
since the cellist needs time to slide the bow under the strings from its normal position, and
rapid playing on the two outer strings is not practical. Indeed, such a strong, held bichord is
probably the most convincing application of the technique. In invited the reader to consult
Quebec composer Hugues Leclair’s piano trio An die Nacht, which makes very effective use
of this technique in a melodic context. The extension required from the left hand in the above
excerpt is still comfortably playable. With the use of the left-hand thumb, an interval of up to
two octaves plus a tritone between the lower and upper notes is possible, depending on the
player’s hand size (the space between the notes is of course wider in the lower positions). I
would encourage exploration of using natural harmonics when playing the two outer strings
using the under-the-strings technique.

The bow placed under the strings allows the cellist to play both outer strings simultaneously.
The fascinating “two-bow” technique, developed and perfected by the cellist Frances-
Marie Uitti, is certainly worthy of exploration. The underlying principal is that the cellist
places one bow under the strings as in the previous example, but also draws a second bow

above the strings, in the same hand. In this manner, the player is able to execute two-, three-
or even four-part chords, as well as play on any individual string. In addition, one string can
be played sul ponticello, the other sul tasto, and a certain amount of independent dynamics and
contrasting articulations can also be achieved. A number of major composers have dedicated
works to Uitti which make specific use of the two-bow system, including Nono, Kurtág, Scelsi,
Klarenz Barlow, James Clarke and Richard Barrett.

Despite all the merit that Uitti’s deserves as a pioneer of this technique 8, the author’s
impression – having heard her in performance – is that writing for the two-bow system remains
fairly limited in terms of tempo; indeed, fast music appears to be almost impossible to execute.
Furthermore, unlike many of the new and extended techniques mentioned here so far,
mastering this radically new bowing system is extraordinarily difficult, requiring extraordinary
dedication from the player over a period of months if not years. Since Uitti is one of the very
few artists to have successfully presented these works in public, as beautiful as they are, it
appears difficult to imagine that they will endure. Having said this, if the two-bow technique
were to be integrated into an institutionalized pedagogical setting, forming part of a specialized
new music training program for cellists perhaps, Uitti’s initial research could be guaranteed a
future as part of the concert repertoire. 9

The reader may wish to consult her article on the subject in the Cambridge Companion to the Cello, p 222;
A video of Uitti performing using the two-bow technique may be seen at https://youtu.be/4JPmy4vyc04

Uitti using her signature two-bow technique

g) Experiments in sound-producing and sound-modifying accessories

John Cage’s prepared piano. How can such ideas be applied to the cello?

How might the cello be modified to open up new sound possibilities, without resorting
to actually redesigning the instrument in its construction? John Cage’s invention of the
prepared piano dates back to the 1940’s. Such experiments in bowed string instruments have
been slower to emerge. A number of composers have called for the use of guitar slides (metal,
glass or plastic) to stop the strings as a way to find new colors, or plectrums for pizzicato. The
reader is encouraged to seek out Matthias Pintscher’s Study I for Treatise on the Veil for violin
and cello (2004), in which large paper clips are attached to the strings. When bowed, these
modified strings produce sonorities of a raw, otherworldly character. The composition is
inspired by the American painter Cy Twombly’s works of the same title, but the Veil (velo in
Italian) was in fact a device developed by Leonardo da Vinci to assist in detecting and
analyzing perspective. The transforming effect of the paper clips is thus not a gimmick, but
part of a wider musical discourse concerning line and perspective. When performing the work,
it would be advisable to have spare paper clips on hand since they can become detached while

Preparation of the cello using paper clips in the music of Matthias Pintscher

One idea proposed by Canadian composer Jean-François Laporte is to attach a piece of

fishing line to the string, fairly close to the bridge, lightly pinch the string with rosin-powdered
fingers, and then draw the fingers outwards along the length of the fishing line. The friction of
the rosined fingers as they slide up the fishing line sends vibrations to the string to which it is
attached. By using the fingers of both hands in alternation, the result is a constant, mysterious
reedy tone, reminiscent of an ancient woodwind instrument. Laporte has made much use of
this effect in the cello part of his piano trio Êkhéô (2002). Graphic notation is used here to
indicate the string to be activated (upper or lower). The speed with which the fishing lines are
drawn will determine the volume of sound created, thus making a crescendo-decrescendo
effect possible, as indicated:

Laporte himself does not offer any explanatory notes to accompany this work however,
preferring instead to communicate the necessary information orally to his collaborators. The
author would caution composers against this however, since this is impractical, limits

performers’ access to the work, and could even result in a work becoming unplayable at a
future time when the composer is no longer with us.

Nicolaus Huber has experimented with using metal and glass guitar slides in
combination with pizzicato in his works for bowed stringed instruments, which deserves
greater exploration.

Guitar slides produce interesting glissando effects when used to stop notes on the cello in combination with
pizzicato. Slides made from different materials produce different timbres.

It should be noted that many extended techniques have the potential to damage a bow,
instrument or strings. In addition, the body positions that they may require from the player in
their execution may be physically or psychologically uncomfortable, even having the potential
to lead to injury in some cases. It would be both wise and courteous for composers and players
to discuss such issues at the outset, and have a problem-solving meeting if considered
necessary. An alternative instrument or bow may be needed for the performance of such works.
While a performer should of course remain open-minded, willing to experiment, and be
proactive in finding solutions, the composer ought to give consideration to his or her players’
legitimate concerns.

Chapter 2

On rhythm, duration and meter

a) On rhythm

Although the purpose of this book is primarily to deal with issues specifically
concerning the cello, it is clear that the rhythmic intricacy of modern works is often one of the
first obstacles one meets as a young performer of new music. For this reason, in the present
section we shall dissect the types of complex rhythms frequently encountered in new music.
Our aim is to develop a practical strategy that will allow the performing musician to execute
such complex rhythms accurately and efficiently. Any composer who uses complex rhythms
in their music should arguably be able to coach less-experienced musicians on how to perform
them, so this section will be of interest to them too.

The notation of pitch, even when involving microtones, can be clearly communicated
to the performer using traditional notation, or logical extensions and variants thereof. The
challenge with much 20th- and 21st-century music however, is that when it comes to rhythm
and pulse, composers are often confronting the limitations of what conventional notation can
express. Musicians who are familiar with the late works of Brahms will have encountered two-
against-three rhythms, typically a 6/8 measure divided as two dotted quarter notes in one
instrument, and simultaneously three quarter notes in another. We know that a particular
feature of Stravinsky’s music is the way in which irregularly placed accents, which have the
effect of shifting meters, accumulate in multi-layered textures to create complex polyrhythmic
structures. In the more abstract world of post-1950 works however, especially in the music to
have come out of the so-called New Complexity movement, spearheaded by Brian
Ferneyhough, the player is required to individually deliver far more complicated material with
pinpoint precision. It is true that many of today’s composers have strongly rebelled against
such music, likening it to something almost computer generated, accusing it of being cerebral,
overly intellectual or conceptual. It is also true that some such rhythmically dense and intricate
works are, to put it bluntly, almost unplayable. Nonetheless, the sheer poetic impact of the
music of composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, Enno Poppe, James Dillon and Richard
Barrett has silenced many critics, and the finest works in the genre in fact have great expressive

power. Furthermore, the influence of the new complexity movement on composers around the
world – not least because Ferneyhough himself has been a highly sought-after pedagogue for
many years – is undeniable. From the performer’s point of view, as musicians working in the
early twenty-first century with a serious interest in the art of our time, we cannot simply put
our heads in the sand like ostriches and hope it goes away! It would be far better to tackle the
challenge head-on.

Subdivision is the technique whereby we mentally divide note values into smaller units
in order to execute them with exactitude. The reader should take note at this point: one may be
tempted into thinking that in a solo work it is not a serious problem if a rhythm of, say, four
notes in the time of three, or of five notes in the time of four, is not executed precisely. Apart
from the fact that such imprecisions are quite obvious to the listener, performing contemporary
chamber music (or even works with conductor) precisely will be an almost impossible task if
one relies on instinct alone. Although seemingly highly mathematical at first, subdividing
rhythms is the key to accurate performance of complex contemporary modern works and as
such will bring with it a great deal of musical satisfaction – not to mention the admiration of
our composer colleagues. Subdivide and conquer!

Instead of relying on one’s ears and pure instinct, as we can do with the works of
Brahms, let us start by applying the subdivision technique to the two-against-three rhythm we
mentioned earlier. In a 2/4 measure, we have two quarter-notes, which may be subdivided into
two triplet groups, producing a total of six triplets. By mentally counting these triplets while
playing, but dividing the six triplets into three groups of two, rather than two groups of three,
we can execute the rhythm with complete accuracy (please note the 3:2 notation, meaning
“three notes in the time of two” of the value notated, which in this case is a quarter note):

Let us say now that the composer requires us to play four notes in the time of three. In
modern notation, this will generally be expressed as a 4:3 indication above the notes in brackets
i.e. four notes to be played in the time of three, with the units of time being quarter notes in
this case. In a 3/4 measure, we have three quarter notes, which may be subdivided into three
sixteenth-note groups, producing a total of twelve sixteenth notes in the measure. By mentally
counting these sixteenth notes in one’s head, but grouping them into four groups of three,
rather than three groups of four, we can accurately execute the desired rhythm:

In the same way, we can execute a three-against-four rhythm, be subdividing eighth-

note triplets, thus:

The same method can be applied to the more challenging rhythms of five in the time of three
(5:3) and five in the time of four (5:4). In a 3/4 measure, we have three quarter notes, which
can for our purposes be subdivided into three groups of sixteenth-note quintuplets. This means
that we have a total of 3 x 5 = 15 sixteenth-note quintuplets in the measure. By grouping these
fifteen sixteenth-note quintuplets into five groups of three, rather than three groups of five, the
5:3 rhythm can be accurately produced thus:

The same technique can be applied to the even more problematic 5:4 rhythm. In a 4/4
measure, we have four quarter notes, which may be mentally subdivided into four groups of
sixteenth-note quintuplets. This means that we have a total of 4 x 5 = 20 sixteenth-note

quintuplets in the measure. We can now group these twenty sixteenth-note quintuplets into five
groups of four, rather than four groups of five, and thereby execute a perfect 5:4 rhythm:

The skeptic will point out that the subdivision method is ideal for slow to moderately
fast tempi when small units can – with practice – be counted mentally while playing. However,
what if the composer demands the above 5:4 rhythm at a much faster tempo? In such cases one
must rely on a highly developed internal sense of pulse certainly, but one also notices in the
previous example that in fact the second of the quarter-note quintuplets (upper line) lies a mere
sixteenth-note quintuplet before the second downbeat of the 4/4 measure. Additionally, the last
of the quarter-note quintuplets is placed just a sixteenth-note quintuplet after the downbeat of
the last beat of the measure. Therefore, if one is “locked into” the basic pulse, one can then
learn to position the second and fifth quintuplets relative to the downbeats and, with practice,
place the intervening quintuplets evenly, as the following diagram indicates:

For teachers working with a group of students: it can be fun to divide the group into
three parts, the first group will clap the beats, the second the small divisions of the beat (triplets,
sixteenth-notes or quintuplets as appropriate), while the third group marks the three-against-
two, four-against-three, five-against-three or five-against-four rhythm. Next, the groups can
swap roles.

In certain cases, the rapidity of the notes is such that no exact placement can be
expected. In such a situation, the written notes should be played as evenly as possible within
the prescribed unit of time, as in this excerpt of Ferneyhough’s Time and motion study II (page

three, second system, Edition Peters), where fifteen sixty-fourth notes must be played within
the time of three sixteenth notes:

Rhythms in the time of seven – 7:3, 7:4 and so on – will certainly be encountered in
contemporary repertoire. The subdivision technique will be of limited help to us here though,
since subdividing a note into sixteenth-note or thirty-second note septuplet subdivisions is
impractical even at moderate tempi. The best practice method with music in seven is to begin
be “redividing” the septuplet grouping into easily manageable units of regular triplets, eighth
notes or sixteenth notes. Let us take an example from the repertoire in the form of an excerpt
from Enno Poppe’s solo cello work Herz (2002), the first measure of the tenth system, first
page (edited by Ricordi):

Therefore, following this advice, a possible initial practice version of the above could be:

In time, one will be able to even out the notes in order to obtain the true and equally-
spaced 7:4 that the composer desires.

Before moving on to the subject of durations, it is worth mentioning the following
notation, which appears in Barbara Kolb’s ensemble work Trobar Clus (1970), from the C
sharp onwards:

This method of notation, now fairly standard, was developed in response to the
composer’s need to write a very localized but very rapid accelerando, only effecting one
instrument and not the basic tempo of the ensemble: the single beam gradually enlarges into a
thirty-second note beam, thus creating the required accelerando. This could also be reversed
of course, to produce a ritenuto across the beamed notes. The reader is invited to consult R.
Murray Schafer’s ensemble work Requiems for the party girl (1967) for further examples of
such notation. Klaus Huber also made much use of this system in his work for large orchestra
Tenebrae (1966/67):

In a similar vein, beaming is frequently used in modern works in order to group together
notes in a phrase, motif or musical cell, rather than following the classical rules of joining
notes in a single beam according to their metric divisions within the measure. An early example
of this notational approach, which may be called “phrase-beaming”, can be found in the first
movement of Bartók’s String Quartet No.5 (1934). Let us now consider a more recent example,

found in the cello part of the last movement of Brian Ferneyhough’s Fourth String Quartet of
1989-90 (measures nineteen to twenty-one):

When such “phrase-beaming” is used, as with other situations found in modern

repertoire that shall be discussed later, the bar-lines only serve as a reference to the player –
an organizational tool if you will. There should definitely not be any discernable sense of a
“downbeat” communicated to the listener in such cases, contrary to how one would normally
interpret classical repertoire.

b) On duration

Musicians interested in new music will soon come across a more specific notation of
the fermata (or pause sign) than found in earlier repertoire, which is worthy of mention here:

And for a very long pause:

Earlier in this text, we came across Jean-François Laporte’s use of seconds and minutes
to indicate duration, and it was recommended that musicians of today seek to develop an
“internal stopwatch”. Moreover, twentieth and twenty-first century composers often use
timings locally, to indicate the length of a note or a fermata, or globally, to fix the overall
duration of a section, movement or perhaps even a whole work. Let us consider some examples
from the repertoire.

In order to create music with a free, floating atmosphere, many composers opt for a
spatial notation, which is to say that the notes or groups of notes (sometimes framed in boxes,

for example) are arranged on the page spatially: the more space between the notated events,
the more temporal space should be inserted by the player. In such cases, the composer may
choose to have greater control over the duration of the events (or the spaces between them) by
indicating timings. The first movement of Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell’s evocative
piano trio Phénomènes (2008) is a good example of this; dotted lines and arrows have also
been added to clarify the order of the musical events:

In similarly free writing, minute or second durations may be applied to larger units, as
in Fortner’s seventh string quartet (1968); the following excerpt appears at figure P in the

Or in the opening of Jonathan Harvey’s Advaya for cello and electronics (1994):

Skeptics will be quick to point out that Bartók gives extremely precise timings for his
Mikrokosmos solo piano works – down to the second in fact – while these are not respected in
the composer’s own recordings of the pieces. While it is true that large-scale timings are almost
impossible to respect totally without the aid of a stopwatch on the music stand (which is not
unheard of by any means), shorter durations of, say, up to forty seconds can be comfortably
integrated into a performance with reasonable accuracy with sufficient practice. With regular
practice one can also integrate metronome marks, which is a similar task for the brain, at least
to the extent of being able to execute music at, say, quarter note=40 beats per minute, quarter
note=60, quarter note=80, quarter note=100 and so on. Quarter note=60 is normally fairly easy
to establish since one only has to click seconds away in one’s head. It is of course easier to
integrate tempi in more melodic writing, when the melodic lines can be fixed in the ear. One
interesting technique that is worth exploring consists of referring to melodies or rhythms from
the repertoire which are particularly memorable, such as the opening to Stravinsky’s Petrushka
(quarter note=116) or Ravel’s Boléro (quarter note=72), which can then be mentally accessed
in practice – and eventually in performance – as a guide.

When it comes to integrating tempi indicated with metronome marks, the cellist has an
advantage since he or she will have a physical connection to tempo felt through the speed with
which the bow is drawn. In the same way that a singer will feel short of breath if the tempo is
too slow, the cellist will feel somewhat cramped in the bow arm – it will be physically difficult
to sustain the music if the tempo is wrong. Conversely, music that is too fast will be felt in the
cellist’s bow stroke. The player must therefore seek to develop this “body-tempo” connection
when practicing with the metronome in order to integrate tempi in what could be termed a

holistic approach. Learning precise tempo indications thus ceases to be an abstract, theoretical
notion divorced from the cellist’s musical instincts and becomes instead a process in which
both mind and body jointly participate. Such work will be enormously valuable since timings
and metronome marks have become the standard indications of tempo and duration in the
contemporary composition.

c) On meter

A unique feature of modern music, which first appeared in the early part of the
twentieth century, is the use of rapidly changing meters, often combined with a fast tempo in
music of a driving, rhythmic character. The pioneer of this type of writing was of course Igor
Stravinsky in his Rite of Spring. Interestingly, as Kurt Stone points out, in Stravinsky’s 1943
version of the score of the Rite of Spring, which is not widely available, many sections of the
work underwent a process of notational simplification from their original form, notably with
major changes in beaming and barring 10. I invite the reader to observe that when we compare
the original and revised versions of the "Sacrificial Dance" in particular, an excerpt of which
is presented here in a piano reduction, the 3/8 meter becomes a 3/4, and the 2/8 meter becomes
a 2/4. The doubling of the note values facilitates reading, as does the additional removal of the
beaming across the measures:

Stone, Kurt. Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook, pages 88-89

Of particular interest to us then is Stravinsky’s realization that by choosing longer note
values, the player has less information to process, which makes the performance of such high-
speed material easier to accomplish. When approaching such situations in contemporary
works, we should therefore consider mentally (or literally) “rewriting” the score at certain
points in the same fashion in order to facilitate their execution. It is also noteworthy that Elliott
Carter’s music composed from the 1980’s onwards features simpler rhythmic notation than in
his earlier works, which arguably contributed to an increase in performances of his music11.
Even Pierre Boulez, one of the most exacting and uncompromising composers in many ways,
undertook revisions for practical reasons. Notably, he was faced with the practical limitations
of rehearsal time with orchestras, particularly during his tenure as music director of the heavily
unionized New York Philharmonic in the 1970’s. The most well documented of Boulez’s
revisions for the sake of ease of execution being the removal of the quarter tones from Le
Visage nuptial, and the elimination of chance elements in Pli selon pli by establishing a fixed
order of the movements, rather than letting the conductor decide. 12.

Let us consider two excerpts from the solo cello part of Cello Counterpoint for
amplified cello and CD by Steve Reich (2003). One of the main influences in Reich’s music

Elliott Carter Studies by Marguerite Boland and John Link, Cambridge University Press, p.43
Pierre Boulez Studies by Edward Campbell and Peter O'Hagan, Cambridge University Press, p. 99

is the highly sophisticated polyrhythmic drumming music from Ghana, and this work bears
witness to that. In the words of the composer himself: “Cello Counterpoint is one of the most
difficult pieces I have ever written, calling for extremely tight, fast moving rhythmic
relationships not commonly found in the cello literature.” 13 In addition, the pre-recorded
music on the CD, with which one must be synchronized, is of course inflexible. In the first
instance, we notice that the second and third measures of the excerpt below, and the sixth and
seventh measures of the excerpt, can in fact all be played as regular 3/4 measures (the 6/8
measures thus become measures of 3/4):
3/4 3/4

By mentally “rewriting” the measures indicated in the previous extract, we alleviate

the need for what is in fact an unnecessary shift of meter in the mind of the performer. Another
useful technique consists of combining two short measures to make one longer one. In this
way, rapid counting can be avoided. In the section below for instance, the two 5/8 measures
can be combined into single 5/4 measures:

5/4 5/4

One could even go a step further and mentally rewrite the 6/8 measures into 3/4
measures in the passage above, thus simplifying the act of reading to an even greater extent by
maintaining the slower quarter-note pulse for longer:

3/4 5/4 5/4 3/4

Taken from Steve Reich’s notes on the work, available from the publisher: Boosey & Hawkes

The application of the above method will be extremely useful when it comes to tackling
fast music with frequent changes of meter. Evidently, this will not be desirable in cases where
the musical phrase or intention are adversely effected by such a mental “rewriting” of the score.
This approach may also not be applicable in the context of an ensemble work in situations
where the cellist must coordinate his or her part with another instrument that shares the same

In some modern music, as noted in the introduction to this book, the meter only serves
as a reference to the instrumentalists (or the conductor). Here the listener has no real sense of
a pulse or of metric divisions. One of the first works to make striking use of such a pointillist
texture in the cello repertoire, where one has the feeling of notes suspended in space, would
be Webern's Three Little Pieces for cello and piano, Op.11 (1914), which we have already
encountered. The reader will note that the fact there are no attacks at all on the first beats of
the measures adds to the sensation of suspension and instability:

I invite the reader to explore the opening of Harrison Birtwistles’s Wie eine Fuge for
cello and piano (2009) for a more up-to-date example. Here, the attacks in the cello part occur
on the 16-note triplet after the downbeat, creating a similar effect of instability as in the
Webern, albeit in a very lively, almost brutal character in this case.

Floating, pointillist textures may also be achieved by abandoning conventional notation

altogether, in favor of what the American composer Earle Brown termed time notation. One
of his most evocative works, which makes use of this system, is his Music for cello and piano
(1955). Here pitches alone are indicated, arranged spatially on the page, and note lengths are

controlled by using solid horizontal lines (excerpt from the second system of page fifteen of
the work in the Associated Music Publishers edition; the top staff is the cello part, the lower
two the piano):

In such writing as featured above, the performance of the work will vary greatly from
one player to another since what Brown terms time sense perception is both variable and
subjective. The composer is seeking to distance himself from “a strict, rational metric system
of additive units” 14.

Many composers do wish to maintain fairly strict control of pulse and rhythm however,
even within floating textures. A contemporary example of such writing can be found in the
beginning of Georg Friedrich Haas’ solo cello work ... aus freier Lust ... verbunden (1996):

A detailed explanation of Brown’s notational approach at this period can be read on his website:


As instrumental voices are added to such floating textures in the context of music for
chamber ensemble, which must be performed without a conductor, synchronization problems
can arise. The opening section of the third movement of Jonathan Harvey’s Piano Trio (1971)
for instance features much music of a floating character. We notice though that the challenge
of coordinating the instruments is greatly helped in this particular case by the fact that there is
always at least one person playing on the downbeat. It will therefore be important for each
member of the ensemble to be aware of who plays on the beat, and when, in order to maintain
rhythmic precision and clarity:

Also of interest is this passage from the first movement of Mauricio Kagel’s last work,
his piano trio composition Trio in zwei Sätzen (2006-2007), yet more challenging than the
Harvey work:

The main challenge for the performer in such ensemble works, to be performed without
a conductor, is clearly the coordination of the instrumental voices in a situation where no
obvious pulse is in operation, and no one plays on the first beat of the measures. Moreover, we
note in the extract of music by Kagel above that there is even a change of tempo to be executed
during the passage, adding to the ensemble’s difficulties. In such music, the only reliable
method is for each musician to play from the score, which will also save many hours of
rehearsal time. Unlike pianists, cellists will generally have less experience in score reading, so
a certain learning curve should probably be anticipated. Having said this, how best to present
and use scores and parts in order to maximize both precision and practicality is a serious issue
for all concerned; a separate section shall therefore be attributed to this later 15.

Apart from rapid changes of meter occurring within a piece, another unique feature of
modern repertoire is the frequent changes of tempo that may occur within a work, or movement
of a work. Some composers today do still make use of the traditional Italian terms to

Kindly refer to the section Preparing performance materials on page 104 of this book.

communicate the tempi they desire (Allegro con moto, Largo etc.), or use a textual description
in their own language. Nevertheless, the majority of composers will tend to opt for using
metronome marks for greater precision and compositional control. We have already discussed
the importance of integrating the metronome into one’s daily practice in order to faithfully
interpret contemporary works. The American composer Elliott Carter introduced and made
great use of what might be considered a more musical method of controlling tempo changes
within a piece than simple metronome marks, that is to say through metric modulation. Here
the tempo of a new section is established in relation to a specified metric unit appearing in the
previous one, just as harmonic modulation allows a logical transition from one key to another.
An excellent example of this can be found in Carter’s String Quartet No.4 (1986), where the
cello continues its thirty-second notes into the new section, where they now become thirty-
second note septuplets, the metronome mark being added only as a reference:

Looking slightly later in the same Carter quartet, we see that it is now the turn of the
second violin to give the new eighth-note tempo, which is derived from its triplets in measure
174 (the first measure in the excerpt below). The metronome mark of “half note equals fifty-
four” is once again added solely as a supplementary guide:

Chapter 3

Microtonal music, harmonics and tuning systems

As composers at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth sought to find
new methods of tonal organization, it was surely inevitable that some of them should
eventually experiment with new ways of dividing the octave than the equally tempered
chromatic scale that had been in use since the time of Bach 16. The dawn of the twentieth
century was also a period when many composers were brought into contact with music from
other cultures for the first time. We know how impressed Debussy and Ravel had been with
the Javanese music that they heard at the Exposition universelle in Paris in 1900. However, if
Pagodes from Debussy’s 1913 piano work Estampes evokes the gamelan, the microtonal
Javanese modes slendro and pelog were remodeled into simple pentatonic scales for Debussy’s
purposes – the black notes of the piano in fact. As the twentieth century progressed however,
an increasing number of composers made serious explorations into the field of microtonality,
and stringed instruments were naturally favored due to the ease and flexibility with which they
can execute microtones. In this section, we shall consider how microtonality and alternative
tuning systems have been employed in compositions for the cello by looking at examples from
the repertoire, and discuss how to approach their preparation for performance.

a) Production of harmonics and microtones from the harmonic series

The most obvious and accessible way to produce microtones on the cello is through the
use of natural harmonics. Even very young cellists, experimenting with their instrument, will
discover that by gently touching the string at certain specific points, the uniquely silvery, bell-
like sonority of the natural harmonic is produced. In invite the reader to consider the following

A closer examination of the various tuning systems employed by Bach and others during the 18th century -

Werckmeister III, Temperament ordinaire, septimal meantone, etc. - is beyond the scope of this study.

As Caroline Bosanquet has shown us in her book The secret life of cello strings, from
which the previous diagram is taken, by effectively dividing the string in ever-decreasing
proportions, higher and higher natural harmonics are produced 17.

Later the student will learn that when arranged in ascending order according to pitch,
these harmonics follow what we call the harmonic series. Indeed, this natural order applies to
all acoustic instruments. The young cellist with a good ear will notice however that some of
those harmonics sound “out of tune”. The reader is invited to consider the following natural
harmonic sequence, to be executed on the open C string of the cello (the C thus being our
fundamental). The deviations from equal tempered pitch have been indicated in cents (a
hundred cents being the equivalent of a semitone):

We notice that the notes that most radically deviate from the equal tempered pitches
are the intervals of a major third, a tritone, a minor sixth, a minor seventh and a major seventh
above the fundamental. As instrumentalists, we probably tend to think more in terms of
proportions of a semitone rather than in cent measurements. So let us say rather that the major
third harmonic will sound a seventh of a semitone flat, the triton half a semitone (or a quarter-
tone) flat, the minor sixth two fifths of a semitone sharp, the minor seventh a third of a semitone
flat, and the major seventh will sound a tenth of a semitone flat.

As far as the history of Western music is concerned, it is worth bearing in mind that it
has mainly been philosophical or aesthetic considerations that have guided experiments with
tuning systems. Subjective judgements of taste, often defined by the idiosyncratic thinking of
specific eras, have also governed their subsequent adoption (or rejection). Until the late middle
ages, the Pythagorean tuning system suited composers well because it was directly linked to
the notion of “perfect” ratios (thus Plato’s “Harmony of the spheres”), which when transferred
to the strings of the lyre produced the intervals of the perfect fourth, perfect fifth, octave and

Bosanquet, R. Caroline, The Secret Life of Cello Strings: Harmonics for Cellists.

double octave. Other harmonic intervals, including the third and the sixth, were considered
dissonances at that time. As composers from the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance
sought to expand their harmonic resources, and more complex polyphony became desirable, a
number of different tuning systems were explored, notably meantone temperament. Just
intonation was found by many to produce the most “satisfying” major thirds and sixths. In
order to move freely from one key to another however, while uniformly maintain “pleasing”
pitch relationships, the system of equal temperament was developed. Here, instead of tuning
intervals through ratios of string lengths as in previous systems (2:1 = halving the length of the
string to give an octave; 3:2 = taking two thirds of the length of the string to produce a perfect
fifth, etc.), now the octave was divided into twelve precisely equal semitones. Indeed, we can
say that the introduction of such a system was essential, as composers in the post-tonal era
have frequently favored a “democratized” approach to pitch. The notion of a tonal center and
of a hierarchical relationship between tones (tonic/dominant in particular), so fundamental to
the music of the so-called common practice period (1600-1900), has been questioned or
outright rejected.

While it is true that equal temperament has largely become the norm for Western ears,
we are not obliged to see this as the end of the story. Most of us are familiar with the
phenomenon of beating: when two notes are combined, one can often discern that a regular
pulsating or wavering of the sound is taking place. A cellist who plays a minor second interval
in the low register will even feel this pulsation moving through the whole instrument. In just
intonation however, harmonic intervals have been tuned so purely that they do not beat.
Melodic intervals may also be derived from that arrangement. The freshness of this “revisited”
approach has inspired many composers, most notably the American composer La Monte
Young (born in 1935). His monumental improvisatory piece The Well-Tuned Piano is a classic
in the genre, but cellists will want to seek out his work Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic
Chord (2002-2003), for cello, pre-recorded cello drones and light projection.

Exploring the rich possibilities proposed by systems other than equal temperament,
notably by using pitches derived from the harmonic series – and combining them – has led to
many fascinating compositions covering a broad range of styles and esthetics. I propose to
begin with a relatively simple example, taken from the cello solo at the opening of the second

movement of Michel Gonneville’s Quatuor Rosemont for piano trio (2007). Here the composer
has even indicated the actual sounding pitch of the harmonics as fractions of a tone (Harm.
nat. de Do = Natural harmonic of C):

I should interject a note on the execution of harmonics at this point. As a rule, playing
with the bow close to the bridge – almost ponticello – produces the strongest, clearest
harmonics since this placement of the bow relative to the bridge excites the string to such an
extent that it readily produces overtones (a good tip for the opening of Shostakovich’s second
piano trio also!). Having said this, regarding the example above, experience has taught me
(having played the work a number of times in concert) that the thickness of the C string and
the inevitable presence of rosin so close to the bridge, make the high B natural harmonic (the
fifteenth harmonic) particularly difficult to bring out clearly. For this reason, it would be
preferable to make use of an artificial harmonic on the G string in this situation, in the position
indicated below:

Although the slight change of timbre caused by switching strings is admittedly not
ideal, this choice of fingering for the artificial harmonic on the G string produces a note that
fairly closely resembles the color of the C-string harmonic, while at the same time being far
more stable. In fact, it will be found that such a solution, i.e. replacing certain natural
harmonics by artificial ones, can help make potentially unstable - or even almost unplayable
passages - in new compositions musically very convincing, and more satisfying to play.

When it comes to playing fast music where artificial harmonics are inserted into a
moving line, it can be awkward and inaccurate to switch in and out of thumb position.
Therefore, I would recommend stopping the base note of the harmonic with the first finger and

using the extended fourth finger to create the harmonic, as in this passage from the second
movement of Mirror Image for cello and piano by George Tsontakis (2008):


The above stretch can be a challenge for some people. Practicing octave double-stops
with the first and fourth finger will increase one’s left-hand stretch, but also, very importantly,
bringing the left elbow forward will help the little finger to reach the desired position. In
addition, one must swivel the first finger forward too, sliding onto the flat, fleshy part of the
finger and not on the tip. This position of the left hand may feel very odd at first, but the value
of this technique is huge for various situations in both new and standard repertoires and is
worth developing.

The limit of the left-hand stretch with arm in normal position

Greater extension of the left hand when left elbow brought forward

For the less experienced cellist, it is also worth considering how the alignment of the
instrument can affect our ability to reach certain notes. Namely, if the cello is angled too far
away from the player’s neck, in a diagonal line going towards the player’s right foot, the
fingerboard is actually being steered away from the third and fourth fingers of the left hand.
This makes wide stretches much harder to reach and higher positions less accessible.

NB: It is difficult to make large stretches with the left hand and find comfort in the upper positions if the cello
neck is angled away from the player

There are several ways to notate harmonics, whether natural or artificial. The composer
will use a diamond-shaped note head to indicate a light left-hand finger, placed at the specified
pitch, which produces whichever natural harmonic naturally occurs when the finger is placed
there. An example may be found in the closing measures of the first movement of the Prokofiev
Cello Sonata, or in this example, taken from the Cello Concerto Grosso by Peter Eötvös of
2011 (the composer has very usefully added the sounding pitches in brackets to avoid any
possible confusion):

Alternatively, a normal note head with the circle harmonic sign above or below it means
that it is the written pitch that we should hear, but played as a harmonic. In this case, unless
specified by the composer, one may use one’s own judgement as to whether a natural or an
artificial harmonic sounds most appropriate. In the following excerpt, again taken from the
Cello Concerto Grosso by Eötvös, all of the notes can comfortably be played as natural
harmonics. Indeed, the cantabile and molto cantabile indications would clearly suggest that
the full, open resonance of natural harmonics is desirable:

In some contemporary ensemble compositions, natural harmonics sound in one

instrument in combination with stopped or fixed pitches (such as on the piano) in another. This
creates microtonal dissonances. Thanks to the chart on page 66, we know for instance that the
thirteenth harmonic sounds as a minor sixth interval above the fundamental, plus almost a
complete quarter-tone higher – in other words, very “out of tune”. It could therefore be
tempting for string or wind players with stopped notes sounding against such a natural
harmonic to adjust their tuning to make the overall chord sound “in tune” – or vice versa.
Composers are encouraged to make a point of instructing the player regarding this natural
tendency to adjust – one that a good ensemble musician develops very early on in the course
of his or her practice. Even when one is familiar with post-tonal and microtonal music, in
certain cases “out of tune” harmonics do not seem “right” and clarification from the composer
would be helpful.

Let us now consider the following excerpt from Ligeti’s Cello concerto (1966), which
begins at measure 51 of the first movement – one of the most dramatic moments in the work.
A massive crescendo of tremolos in the strings suddenly falls away, leaving the solo cello and
divisi double basses holding pianissimo notes in widely opposing registers:

(translation given below)

We immediately notice Ligeti’s use of the infamous thirteenth harmonic (13. Oberton)
in the solo cello line in measure four of the above excerpt, played on the A string, which sounds
more-or-less halfway between an F natural and an F sharp. The indications gefährlich dünn
(dangerously sparse) and tenuto, sehr gleichmässig (held very steadily) accompany the solo
cello line. Since the double-bass part is holding an A at this point, the solo player’s natural
tendency might be to apply a little more pressure to the high harmonic, thereby slightly
sharpening the pitch and creating a true major sixth interval in relation to the double-bass note.
Ligeti’s footnote is very clear regarding this however:

“*) Vcl.-SOLO: Very soft changes of note so that the pitches remain covered by the crescendo
in the orchestra. Only after the fff in the orchestra has cut off will the thirteenth harmonic in
the cello be audible. NB. Do not correct the pitch (also valid for the following fourteenth and
fifteenth harmonics). Change notes without changing bows!”

Sometimes one is required to find high natural harmonics without prior left-hand
preparation. A very useful visual aid is taking note of the fact that this high E harmonic on the
A string:

can be found by placing the third finger at more-or-less the end of the fingerboard from the
players viewpoint, thus:

Finding the high E harmonic on the A string – at the end of the fingerboard

Obviously, the same applies to the natural harmonics sounding A, D and G, which are
produced by placing the third finger at the same point on the lower strings:

Before leaving the subject of harmonics I would like to draw the reader’s attention to
a technique called subharmonics, which has been pioneered in the violin by violinist and
Juilliard School faculty member Mari Kimura. She discovered that by drawing the bow slowly,
with more pressure than one would usually apply, a “scratchy pitch generated one octave
below” is produced. With practice, a clear tone sounding an octave below the open string can
be produced. The reader may read more about this technique through her website, and begin
experimenting on the cello!

b) Notation and realization of stopped microtones

Let us now leave the realm of “naturally produced” microtones through harmonics, and
enter the world of stopped microtonal pitches. Composers since 1950 have earnestly and
actively sought to exploit the cello’s capacity for producing intervals smaller than the
semitone, creating new challenges both for performance and for notation. A universal system
for the notation of quarter-tones was actually proposed in the mid-seventeenth century by
Giuseppe Tartini 18 (the French terminology has also been added in brackets since it is both
logical and delightfully simple):

= Quarter-tone sharp = Standard sharp = Three-quarters of a tone sharp

(Monèse) (Dièse) (Trièse)

Since the so-called “Tartini sharp” proposed in 1756 is so logically designed and
visually unambiguous, it has survived as a fairly standard notation for quarter-tones until today.
Although no entirely universal standard exists for the notation of the quarter-tone flat, the
following “backwards flat” symbol is the most frequently employed (the simpler French terms
have again been given):

= Quarter-tone flat = Standard flat = Three-quarters of a tone flat

(Démol) (Bémol) (Débémol)
So, if we were to apply these notational systems to a rising quarter-tone scale, the result
would be as follows:

Stone, Kurt. Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook. p.68-69

And a descending quarter-tone scale would be written thus:

A rising or descending quarter-tone scale can usually quite comfortably be played using
a pattern of four fingers within a whole tone, thus:

4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1

The cellist will discover (with perhaps a little frustration!) that there are many
exceptions to these notational conventions in contemporary music however. Georg Friedrich
Haas in his solo cello work ... aus freier Lust ... verbunden (1996) for example, makes use of
sixteenth-tone alterations. He notates them using the following system, which is somewhat
imprecise and confusing given the fact that composers of the so-called Spectral School (Grisey
et al) have used this type of notation in quite a different way:

Having said this, some composers have understandably found it more productive to opt
for their own personal methods of notation, as Nicolaus A. Huber indicates in his Der Ausrufer
steigt ins Innere for solo cello (1984), which makes use of eighth-of-a-tone alterations:

Also of interest in this area is the work of Maurice Ohana (1913-1992). He was a French
composer of Spanish descent and one of the leading independent figures in French music
during the second half of the twentieth century. His contact with the microtonal melodies of
the Berbers of Morocco was important in his development as a composer, and he came to
devise a system of micro-interval scales based on thirds-of-a-tone – so a ternary rather than a
binary division of the whole-tone interval.

We will conclude this section by discussing the pitch system devised by American
composer Michael Harrison, specifically in his composition Just Ancient Loops (2011), for
cello and pre-recorded accompaniment of multiple cello tracks, reaching a total of twenty-two
individual cello lines at the work’s climax. He provides us with a tuning chart, which explains
how his material has been drawn from combining chains of pure (un-tempered) fifths and
thirds, following the principles of just intonation discussed earlier. The interval ratios (e.g. 5:4
= major third; 3:2 = perfect fifth) as well as the resulting deviations from equal temperament
(expressed in cents) are indicated:

The reader will notice that many of these deviations from equally-tempered pitches are
very slight, and the composer requests that the performer use minimal vibrato when performing
the piece for this reason. Indeed, as a rule, vibrato should be used rather sparingly in microtonal
works, so that the listener can clearly register the desired interval relationships. I invite the
reader to listen to the Harrison work, and judge for themselves to what extent these subtleties
of tuning are perceptible, and consider their effect on us as listeners.

c) In practice: microtonal compositions and their execution

Adjusting to different forms of pitch notation is a necessary part of the budding new
music specialist’s training. Aside from this specific hurdle, the obvious challenge for the cellist
that encounters microtones for the first time is integrating them into his or her aural vocabulary.
Since in Western cultures we become accustomed to the equally-tempered chromatic scale in
our childhood, this can be a challenge, especially for those of us with perfect pitch. A string
player learns about the subtleties of pitch production at his or her disposal fairly early on.
Minutely raising a major third to accentuate its luminous or optimistic effect on the listener,
very slightly lowering the flattened seventh in a dominant seventh chord so as to highlight its
harmonic function – such possibilities open themselves to us fairly early on in our studies of
the tonal repertoire. Clearly, such practices may help us to “fine tune” our ears, but becoming
comfortable with microtonal music requires a leap of aural sensitivity that goes far beyond
this. In practical terms, this means that even those with an excellent ear will at first have
difficulty in precisely executing microtones without some form of reference point.

i) Natural harmonics and left-hand positions as references

Composers have understood the need for a pitch reference when microtones are
employed, and the opening of Jonathan Harvey’s Curve with Plateaux for solo cello (1982) is
a case in point:

The quarter tones above are fairly easy to execute since the open C string and the
repeated D natural serve as a reference. The same is true of the following example, taken from
line seven of page four of the same piece (Faber Music edition), where the unaltered A recurs
frequently within the phrase:

The A in the example above is furthermore familiar to even young cello students as a
natural harmonic, which is a useful guide when learning the piece. Evidently not all repertoire
for solo cello is so straightforward though. In Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s Sonata for Solo Cello
(1960), the cellist is confronted with a series of quarter-tone alterations without the unaltered
pitch references found in the examples given so far (excerpt taken from page three of the score,
Edition Modern):

When learning and performing such a passage as the one cited above, the new reference
point becomes the position on the fingerboard. In other words, muscular memory becomes an
essential element, supporting the ear. A B-flat in fourth position on the D string should be solid
for any cellist, so the A-quarter-tone-sharp in the Zimmermann passage can be found fairly
easily in relation to that – especially since semitones are still fairly wide in this position. It is
equally unproblematic to find the A-quarter-tone-flat in the fourth measure of the previous
excerpt when measured in relation to the first finger in fourth position on the D string. The
following example, taken from the first page of influential Quebecois composer and pedagogue
Gilles Tremblay’s Cèdres en voiles (Thrène pour le Liban) of 1989, is yet more complex:

The above excerpt of Tremblay’s Cèdres en voiles, which evokes the chant of the
Muslim imam and all its subtle inflections, must be played on two different strings (A and D),
increasing the difficulty. The “stable” note of this passage is the C sharp/D flat. The ear and
mind must latch onto this pitch throughout the passage in order to play it accurately. Third
finger in first position is an obvious physical guide. In this case, cellists with perfect pitch will
probably have an easier time of it.

ii) Practicing microtonal music without stable references

One significant development in post-tonal music is the use of microtonal systems

originating from non-Western musical cultures. German composer Enno Poppe, for instance,
makes frequent use of the Arab maqams – microtonal modes, to use Western terminology – in
his works, and the results are extremely colorful and evocative. Below is an excerpt of Herz
for solo cello (2002), from line six of page two (Ricordi edition):

The uniqueness of Poppe’s cello writing is definitely worth exploring. A cellist who
has not already gained a fair amount of experience in this genre of composition will certainly
find learning such a piece as Herz intimidating however. In the first instance, the author’s
advice would be to mentally prepare (or even notate) a simplified version of the piece,
temporarily removing the quarter tones. So a “practice version” of the excerpt of Herz shown
above may look like the following (the circled notes indicate pitches that have been “re-
tempered” from their original quarter-tone states):

Once the student is comfortable with playing the piece in its simplified form – and it
would be a mistake to wait too long before taking the next step – quarter-tone alterations can
be added progressively. So the next phase in the preparation of this passage of Herz could be
to work from the following practice version (here the circled notes now indicate the quarter-
tone additions that have been made to the initial practice version):

iii) Executing microtones in duet with another instrument

South African composer Robert Fokkens incorporated elements of the tuning system
of traditional Zulu music into his violin and cello duo Tracing Lines (2007). The extract of
this work shown below illustrates how the presence of another instrument can add yet another

layer of difficulty when performing microtonal works (the reader will notice that the circled
pitches are unisons at the octave, demanding great skill on the part of the performers).

Since both the violin and the cello easily lend themselves to the execution of
microtones, an acceptable result can be obtained in the Fokkens piece with sufficient
rehearsing. When it comes to performing works that involve an equally-tempered instrument
such as the piano, in combination with microtonal writing on the cello, the results can be very
interesting. A good example is Giacinto Scelsi’s work for cello and piano To the master (1974).
In this composition, the quarter-tone alterations in the cello part actually have the curious effect
of making the piano sound “out of tune”, as though the piano were playing microtones against
the “stable” pitches of the cello. Here is an example of such a case, where the flat sign in the
circle in the second bar of the cello part (top staff) means that the A should be played a quarter-
tone lower, sounding against the A natural in the bass of the piano:

The secret here is to “switch off” the sensitive cellist’s unconscious tendency to adjust his or
her pitch to the piano.

As with any new language, it will take time and perseverance before becoming
comfortable with complex microtonal works. In the first instance, the player may find it useful
to practice with an electronic tuner, checking desired microtones with the machine and trying
to integrate them aurally. Despite the challenges involved, once the notational vocabulary and
aural recalibration start to become incorporated into one’s practice, the cellist will find even
the most challenging music more and more approachable and enjoyable to perform. Although
the subject of this research project concerns the needs of the cellist in particular, it has become
apparent to musicians generally that our diatonically-based solfège and ear-training systems
may have served us well up to now, but we shall soon have to expand such methods to
incorporate microtones. Analysis of ear-training methods used in non-Western musical
cultures, which already contain extensive microtonal elements (Morocco, India, Java…), could
well be of interest. Our concern here is to find ways in which we can remain connected to the
musical creations of our own era which make use of microtones, whether harmonically or
melodically. A fresh approach to ear training therefore seems to be an important element in
this endeavor, so that musicians and audiences alike feel equipped to tackle avant-garde works.

Chapter 4

On fingerings in contemporary works

a) Fingering patterns in post-tonal compositions

Most composers active today that produce music for the concert hall in the classical
tradition write post-tonal music. One of the problems that this poses the instrumentalist is the
fact that melodic lines or groupings of notes do not necessarily lie well under the hand. The
sight of a forest of accidentals on the page, affecting notes that at first glance do not appear to
have any logical – or indeed musical – order or system, can be very intimidating. How does
one go about finding good fingerings for such modern works, which allow us to both learn and
perform them efficiently? Before tackling the subject directly, let us first take a step back and
consider the question from a historical perspective.

Many cellists are familiar with Louis Feuillard’s method entitled Daily Exercises for
Violoncello, first published in 1919. The excerpt from that work which follows offers the
student a fingering system that renders possible the execution of scales in all tonalities, with
the same fingering:

The attractiveness of such a system is obvious: firstly, practice time spent preparing
scales in different keys can be greatly reduced; secondly, scales in remote keys (such as the C
sharp major scale featured above) become suddenly much more accessible; and thirdly, once
thoroughly studied, the exercise will serve as a very useful tool when confronted with scalic

passages in the actual repertoire. Even within post-tonal compositions, clear patterns do exist,
so the same principle can be applied. In other words, by isolating patterns that are repeated in
transposition, we will be able to use identical fingerings, thereby greatly simplifying both the
learning process and their final execution. In reality, many rising scalic lines, even if they are
non-tonal, can often be fingered with a repeated 1-2-3 fingering as one would for scalic runs
in a tonal work. Consider this excerpt from the first of Jonathan Harvey’s Three Sketches
(1989) for example, with fingering suggestions (the arrow pointing downwards on the first E
means a quarter-tone flat):

1x2 4 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3

As with the classical cello repertoire, one should aim to reduce position changes in
rapid music whenever possible in order to maintain clarity and solidity in execution. We can
use the following measures, taken from French composer Pascal Dusapin’s cello work Immer
(1996), as an example (third movement, measures 39 and 40). The tempo is quarter note equals

½ position

½ position 3rd position 2nd position

When we learn works from the classical cello repertoire, we choose fingerings for
musical as well as technical reasons, and we should also do so in contemporary pieces. It makes
musical sense, for instance, in the following passage from measure 306 of Maxime McKinley’s
piano trio Mauricio (2010), to shift up with each new slurred three-note grouping to begin
with. Then one can remain in fourth position on the third beat so as to be able to pluck the open
D string with the left hand in the middle of the string for greater power (tempo is quarter note
equals seventy-six):

Let us now consider the following excerpt, which comes from the cello part of Denis
Gougeon’s orchestral work À l’aventure! (1990), which I performed while preparing this book:

Our first task when tackling the Gougeon excerpt is to analyze the pitches structures
and attempt to find repeated patterns. How do we spot such patterns? One should start by
looking for larger intervals to begin with, since these are easier to identify visually. We notice
that the first six notes of the section are made up of a descending minor third, a descending
major third, and another descending minor third. The second beat of the first measure of the
section begins with a three-note chromatic cell, and then ascends leading back to a G and an
identical repetition of the twelve-note motif of the first two beats of the measure.

Upon closer examination, we see that in fact measure 167 is repeated exactly,
transposed up a tone, in measure one 169, and again in measure one 171. Therefore, in reality
we have one fundamental twelve-note motif, or basic series of pitches, which we will call X:

Once a satisfactory fingering has been found for motif X, it can thus be applied to the
transpositions of X appearing in measures 169 and 171. As we continue our analysis of the
pitches and intervals, we notice that the twelve-note motif in the first half of measure 168,
repeated identically twice in that measure, has a different form. However, this new pattern is
also repeated in transposition in measure 170, up a tone. This is our motif Y:

As before, we will be able to apply the same fingering pattern for motif Y in measure
168 to its subsequent transposition in measure 170. The author recommends the following,
which the reader will notice makes frequent use of the thumb, which is always advisable in
rapid chromatic passages since it reduces the need for shifting and, as the arrows indicate,
provides a pitch “anchor” for the left hand (particularly useful in post-tonal writing!), hence
reducing the chance of poor intonation occurring:

2 Ϙ 1 3 Ϙ 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 Ϙ-Ϙ

Return of motif X

3 1 2 Ϙ 1 3 Ϙ 1 3 Ϙ 1 2 Ϙ 1 2 2 Ϙ 1 3 Ϙ 2 etc.


Although some works will of course be less straight-forward, if the same guiding
principle is applied when studying new pieces – looking out for larger intervals that can then
help us to isolate repeated patterns in transposition – the cellist will be able to much more
quickly find fingerings which are both comfortable, and easy to remember. In the process, one
will also be gaining a deeper understanding of the structures at play in the music.

b) Fingering in microtonal compositions

British composer Jonathan Harvey was himself a professional cellist in his youth, and
as a result adopted a somewhat practically minded attitude in his many compositions for the
cello. In the passage below, taken from Harvey’s Three Sketches for solo cello (1989), he even
adds fingerings. One could certainly transfer this type of fingering pattern to other microtonal
compositions. Note that this work requires the G string to be replaced by a second D string,
rendering the parallel major seconds in quarter-tones relatively easy to execute:

In his solo cello work Independence: Part 1 (1998), British composer James Clarke
frequently combines microtonal glissandi on two strings simultaneously, and his use of
extremely swift microtonal arabesques creates a vertiginous effect. Nonetheless, the cello
writing is well thought-out in this work, and if the cellist is open to experimenting with
different fingering possibilities, it will be discovered that most of the rapid microtonal
groupings lie well under the hand. Here is an excerpt from measure twenty-eight of the work;
fingering suggestions have been added by the author (small, narrow fingers will also be an
advantage when it comes to microtonal writing!):

1 (2) 2 1 43 2 1 4 2 1 4 2 1 2 3 4 2 3 2 2 3 4 Ϙ 1 2 3 1

1 – 1 2 0 1 23 4 4

The point here is to draw the reader’s attention to a more general issue concerning how
we approach learning a challenging new work in a post-tonal language. As performers, we
may – and indeed should – be required to attend classes in analysis. When we reach an
advanced level, we learn to analyze pitch structures in twentieth-century works. This will
normally mean constructing a matrix in order to analyze a 12-tone composition by Schoenberg.
We will normally go on to apply some of the techniques proposed by set theory so that we can
analyze a given aggregate (non-tonal chord) or motif, such as putting the pitches into their
normal order (i.e. it’s most compact form, regardless of octave transpositions), or considering
the pitches in terms of interval class vectors (which classes of intervals are present, and
expressing that numerically). Moreover, the response of the performer may well be “this is all
very interesting, but it’s of no use to me!” Well, what I have tried to illustrate here, in the
specific area of finding fingerings in post-tonal pieces, is that in fact being comfortable and
confident in analyzing pitch structures is a very powerful tool for us as players. It gives us
exactly the tools we need to overcome the practical and technical challenges of this repertoire,
and go on to interpret it with authority.

Before leaving the subject of fingerings, cellists may meet double-stops in perfect fifths
in new music more frequently than in the classical repertoire. In higher registers, the “bar”
technique of stopping strings, as used by guitarists, where one finger stops both strings
simultaneously, is uncomfortable, difficult to tune, and produces a rather dry sound, with
limited ability to add vibrato for warmth and richness, for example:

For a double-stop such as this, I would strongly recommend the following fingering,
which requires some twisting of the hand to bring the second and third fingers into alignment,
but one quickly becomes accustomed to the hand position, and the improved sound and
comfort make it the better option in many circumstances:

The fifth is therefore executed thus:

Execution of a high double-stop of a perfect fifth, using the 2nd and 3rd fingers aligned

Chapter 5

Combining the cello with external sound sources

a) Use of the voice while playing

Many composers from 1960 onwards require the cellist to hum while playing (as in
Roger Reynolds’ 1969 orchestral work Quick are the mouths of the earth) or to even recite a
poem while effectively accompanying oneself at the cello, as in Peter Eötvös’ Two Poems to
Polly for a speaking cellist (1998). Here Eötvös uses both scordatura and a similar division of
the cello strings between several staves as was seen earlier in Giacinto Scelsi’s solo cello work
Trilogy (The three ages of man) of 1985:

Needless to say, the cellist is not necessarily used to singing and playing at the same
time, particularly in a work where the cello part alone is challenging enough, such as in
Mauricio Kagel’s work SIEGFRIEDP’, written in 1971 for the legendary German cellist and
pioneer of contemporary music Siegfried Palm. Having to sing or hum a melodic line
independently of the line one is given to play is in fact extraordinarily good as a form of ear
training, and will also help the cellist to develop the kind of multi-tasking frequently required
in new music. In the Kagel work mentioned above, the sounds the cellist must produce are not

limited to sung pitches, but also include audible inhaled and exhaled breathing, as indicated in
the passage below (Ein=Breathe in; Aus=Breathe out):

The cellist may find that singing in tune with one’s instrument is not as easy as one
might think – particularly if one has not had much vocal experience or training. One should
avoid “hiding behind” the played material while singing or vocalizing. Singing with
confidence will allow the performer to identify specific areas of poor intonation. To begin
with, one can take the example of pianists in an early stage of development, who practice each
hand separately before putting the two together: one should practice the sung/vocalized and
played lines independently at first. Once the cellist is able render both parts confidently, he or
she can attempt to combine the two.

b) Use of electronics and pre-recorded material

A number of post-1960 composers have revisited the traditional form of the cello
concerto in an avant-garde manner by writing works that place the live cellist in the foreground
as the soloist, with an accompaniment – or musical complement – conveyed through a sound
system and speakers. The musical material or soundscape that accompanies (or complements)
the live cellist may have been pre-recorded, or may be produced in real time on stage thanks
to modern technology. Such a work is Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint (2003), which
involves an amplified solo cello performed on stage live, in combination with seven pre-
recorded cellos to be diffused from a CD. Music for cello and tape written in the analog age

can easily be updated to suit modern digital equipment, as can works that require simple reverb,
looping, filters or chorusing effects that were originally made using Digital Signal Processing
(DSP) units or tape delays. A cellist will also have the option to record their own version of a
tape part themselves (assuming that there are in position of all the necessary information in
order to do this). Today, the live treatment of sound as it was practiced before the arrival of
computer-based systems can easily be reproduced using a laptop computer, equipped with the
appropriate software, and set up in the concert hall. Some of the more adventurous works of
the past forty years present us with a particular challenge however, and we shall now take a
moment to consider this particular issue.

In Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and motion study II (1978), the cellist is required to use
his or her voice to produce vowel and consonant sounds while playing, in a similar way to the
works mentioned in the previous section. Such a passage may be seen here (from page thirteen,
first system of the Peters edition):

Elsewhere in Ferneyhough’s piece, pre-recorded audio material is also played in

combination with live sounds, which necessitates amplification both of the cello and of the
cellist’s voice. Since the sounds produced by the instrument and the voice must not only be
heard distinctly, but are to be modified by use of a ring modulator and an analog tape-delay
system independently from one another, a contact microphone must be used to capture the

sound of the cello, and a throat microphone in order to pick up purely the sounds of the voice.
The reader is invited to consult the technical set-up for the work:

Upon consulting the technical requirements for performing Ferneyhough’s piece, one
is immediately confronted with a serious logistical problem: while ring modulators are still
available on the market (R.M. on the above diagram), who in the early twenty-first century has
access to the kind of large magnetic tape recorders required for the tape-delay system outlined
in the middle of the diagram above? While delay pedals, which replicate the effect of the “old
fashioned” tape delay can be found (at great expense), a fully integrated computer-based
system would clearly be preferable. Composers and computer musicians Paul Hembree and
James Bean, based in California, recreated the effects using the Max/MSP computer program
(first developed at the IRCAM studios in Paris). It is true that Max/MSP is perfectly able to
reproduce all the desired effects in this work from one single laptop, but preparing a computer-
ready performance version of such a piece was surely a considerable undertaking, and as far
as the author is aware, there is unfortunately no official version available from the composer
or the publisher. The case of the tape delays – used here, and a common feature of pre-laptop
era works involving electroacoustic elements (Jonathan Harvey’s Ricercare una melodia of
1984 for trumpet and electronics, existing in versions for flute, trombone, cello and oboe being
another well-known example) – is a tricky one. In addition to the looping effect itself, as sound
is entered into the tape delay system there is also an effect of compression and warping of the
sound, as sounds build up and the magnetic tape itself physically stretches. A Max/MSP object
therefore needs to be tailor-made to reproduce this, perhaps somewhat crudely.

The fact remains therefore that an increasing number of compositions – even those
written in the 1990’s (Helmut Oehring’s powerful work for piano trio and sampler Prae-senz
(Ballet blanc II) of 1997 for example) – are almost unplayable today since the type of machines
required for reading and playing the featured sounds and sound samples (generally stored on
some type of floppy disk) are simply not available. The software may also not be accessible to
the public.

The Roland RE-200 “Space Echo”, the type of machine for which Ferneyhough’s early mixed
acoustic/electronic works were conceived.

It is true that the Max/MSP computer program has become a universal standard for the
performance of works using live electronics. Since there has long been a political will in France
to adequately fund the IRCAM studios that developed it, works conceived for, or employing,
this computer platform have a good chance of surviving long into the future. Pierre Boulez and
Jonathan Harvey in particular collaborated with IRCAM technicians throughout their careers,
largely in order to ensure that their works would remain accessible and playable well after their
lifetimes. The technical requirements for Harvey’s work for cello, live electronics and sampler
Advaya (1994), for instance, were entirely updated ten years later to alleviate the need for the
rather outdated and cumbersome technology for which it was originally composed. One hopes
that specialists in the field will continue to be undertake such work in the coming years, in
order to resurrect some of the now unplayable or impractical – yet extremely interesting –
pieces for instruments and live electronics from the recent past.

Chapter 6
Practical tips for performer and composer

a) Preparing performance materials

In the section On rhythm, duration and meter, we came across works by Webern,
Brown, Haas, Harvey and Kagel whose main feature is a character of suspension. The listener
– indeed the performer – has no real sense of a pulse or of metric divisions. We remarked that
the absence of an attack on the first beats of the measures in particular adds to the feeling of
suspension and instability, and consequentially can be very challenging for the synchronization
of the instrumental voices, especially if the work is to be performed without a conductor.
Playing from the full score is recommended for such cases.

Playing from the score is of course not always practical and both the player and the
composer are encouraged to be creative in finding solutions. Sections of the full score, or
certain instrumental lines extracted from it, may be inserted into the cello part at strategic
places for example. Cues can also be added by hand or better still in the printed score, which
provide rhythmic references – when the pianist changes from quintuplets to sextuplets, when
the cellist’s eighth-note triplets must coincide with the flutist’s quarter-note triplets, or
situations of that kind. In the third of the Fremde Szenen (1982-1984) for piano trio by
Wolfgang Rihm for instance, the cellist needs to know when to change the held harmonics to
fit with the piano, so adding the piano’s rhythm by hand will be essential. Here is an example
of how this may be done, in an excerpt taken from measure 173 of the piece:

Similarly, in Linda Bouchard’s Réciproque for violin, cello and piano (1994), the
sixteenth-notes in the cello must fit precisely with the violin’s sixteenth notes (indicated by
vln), and as a reference, the interjection of the piano chords can also be noted (pno):

It will be noted that one may write the cues either above or below the staff. Indeed, in
the previous Bouchard excerpt, it makes sense to write the violin rhythm on top of the staff
since the eye is already focused on this area due to the high notes in the cello part. When cues
for two different instruments need to be added, one should notate one part above the staff and
the other below it to make it easier to read while playing.

Many musicians find it useful to add vertical lines above their part when notes are
grouped in twos, or triangles when grouped in threes. When music is syncopated, or where
rhythmic patterns are irregular, the standard technique of drawing vertical lines to divide up
the beats within the measure makes the music much easier to read and learn, such as in the
opening measures of Ivan Fedele’s Preludio e Ciaccona for solo cello (2010):

The young American composer David Clay Mettens has provided the players with
excellent parts for his work Into the empty sky for sextet and live electronics (2016). Indeed,
his parts for this work serve as an excellent model for any composer wishing to prepare
instrumental parts that make the performance of his or her music a straightforward endeavor.

As one can see from the excerpt of the cello part below, Mettens has clearly indicated the
necessary cues for the different instruments 19:

Although somewhat time-consuming, producing user-friendly parts such as this (or

what is in effect one’s own edition of the piece, if the player does the work), will greatly reduce
rehearsal time. Page turns are also reduced, and we are all painfully aware of the extent to
which page turns can be stressful in the performance of difficult works – as well as being
disturbing for the audience, particularly in quiet music, and sometimes noisy enough to ruin a
recording. Not only composers but also performing musicians active in new music will find it
worthwhile to obtain and learn how to use score editing software too. In this way, one’s own
personal editions of pieces can be printed or displayed in professional quality, and easily sent
by e-mail to colleagues.

On the subject of page turning, in the early twenty-first century, we are fortunate in that
innovations in technology offer musicians alternatives to the paper score. Of particular interest
is the emergence of electronic tablets, especially those of large format, which have now come
onto the market. Scores in various formats can be brought up on the screen, and Bluetooth
technology allows the player to turn pages using a wireless foot pedal. An electronic pen can
be used to add notes or corrections to the score, just like a conventional pencil on paper. More
and more professional musicians, ensembles and orchestras now use this technology. The
system is not exempt of problems: pages can freeze or not turn when prompted; the battery of
either the tablet or the foot pedal can fail; in fast and challenging music, one may forget to
trigger the page turn, or double click. One main drawback is the screen format. The
conventional tablet size probably means having to turn every two lines when playing from a
score, which seems to defeat the object from the point of view of the performer working in

Reproduced with kind permission of the composer

new music. Even if one is ready to invest in a large-screen tablet (and the price will be
prohibitive for many of us), one does not have the comfort of being able to see the score of an
entire section of music spread out before one’s eyes, which may be both musically and
technically desirable. At the time of writing, a new design of tablet, with just the kind of two-
page (double screen) format we would want, will shortly be coming on the market thanks to a
Japanese firm. Sadly, the very high cost of this new type of specialist product will make it
unaffordable for most musicians I suspect. As the technology evolves and improves however,
and becomes more affordable, such digital display systems for score reading are sure to
become a regular fixture in concert life.

If one wishes to stick to the traditional printed score, it is strongly recommended to

play from a part that is printed on one side only of the page, never a double-sided copy, and
preferably loose sheets (unbound). Firstly, this allows the player to turn wherever and
whenever he or she chooses, not simply where the editor has put the page turn. Secondly,
sliding a sheet of paper is an easier, quieter and faster action than turning it over. Thirdly, if
one has loose sheets that are printed on one side only, the player can arrange three or even four
pages on the music stand at a time – using a second stand if necessary – which can often
alleviate the need for page turning entirely in a large section of the music, or even in a whole
movement. It should be noted that unlike a violinist or wind player, cellists have less mobility
while playing, which means that using more than two music stands at a time is not very
realistic. Furthermore, the use of two stands, particularly the large, heavy metal type found in
many concert halls, will block both the sound and the view of the cellist from the audience’s
perspective. Once again, the cellist must be creative: many different formats of paper exist
which can be of use in such situations. The legal format (8 1/2 inches by 14 inches) is of
particular interest since its height allows a large number of staves to be inserted on a single
page, without taking up much room on the music stand. For the same reason, composers and
copyists should most certainly avoid printing scores in a landscape format, i.e. lengthwise,
which is a very inefficient use of space on the music stand.

Performing from memory of course alleviates the problems associated with playing
from a printed score. The memorization of complex new compositions – indeed the full score,

in the case of ensemble works – does not seem practical in most cases however. Furthermore,
the high level of detail found in many post-1950 works is such that the risk of forgetting
important elements when playing from memory in concert is likely to be great.

Composers: it is your responsibility to provide clean scores and parts, prepared by

computer, in a timely fashion. One month prior to the performance for a seasoned, professional
group should suffice. Anticipate more lead time if it is a less experienced ensemble. As we
have seen, score formats can be a tricky issue. Ask what the musicians would prefer. This will
make your bond with the individual musicians of the group tighter, and will contribute to
greater efficiency rehearsals.

b) Rehearsing group works without a conductor

The author strongly discourages the use of a conductor in the performance of small
ensemble pieces, which is both distracting for the audience and destroys the sense of the piece
being true chamber music. However, in a particularly challenging section of the music a
member of the ensemble could discretely conduct for a short period of time in performance,
although this should be considered a last resort since it is also very distracting for the public.
As a rehearsal technique, this may be helpful though, as the players familiarize themselves
with the work at hand. Playing from a personalized edition or score, whether printed or on a
screen, will certainly help, but may not always be sufficient to ensure exactitude in complex
contemporary ensemble playing. Consequently, it may also be necessary to devise a system of
visual cues between the players in order to achieve precision of execution. Musicians who are
used to playing together will find it easier to subtly communicate using visual cues, in a
professional manner, without disturbing the atmosphere that the composer and performers and
trying to create. Most importantly, a common sense of pulse will develop between the
musicians of a permanent ensemble over time. For this reason, trios, quartets and other smaller
ensembles that have been working together on a regular basis over a period of some years will
be able to deliver performances of rhythmically intricate, avant-garde works with great
accuracy – the kind of solidity that is hard to achieve in a one-off or short-term collaboration.

In complex sections, it will be useful for one or two members of the ensemble to listen
to the others while following with the score. Musicians can thus exchange roles as “rehearsal
coach”. If the composer is present, he or she could also assist. As a performer, you may not be
comfortable with a composer getting so closely involved with the preparation of his or her
piece however, and the composer should respect this. It is both courteous and desirable for the
composer to be invited to at least one or two rehearsals. Performers are usually not comfortable
with a composer being present early in the process (especially for the first rehearsal), and the
composer should respect this also. At the same time, where possible, the first rehearsal with
both composer and performers should not be the dress rehearsal, or only a day or two before
the performance. This is because the players will need time to integrate the composer’s
comments, and in the case of a new work, the composer may want time to make some
adjustments to the score or parts. Younger composers in particular sometimes feel the need to
micromanage their musicians, especially if they wish to overcome the perception that they are
inexperienced. This can lead to a tense atmosphere in rehearsals and causes undue stress for
all concerned. Composers: trust in your musicians.

The metronome is an essential tool for the preparation of ensemble works, especially
in new and unfamiliar repertoire. The metronome may be connected to a sound system so that
the clicks can be heard clearly by every member of the ensemble, even in loud passages. As
discussed in the chapter On rhythm, duration and meter, it is important to develop a sense of
different metronome marks, since these have become a fairly universally acknowledged
method of indicating tempi. Since many works change tempo frequently, methodical practice
and rehearsal with the metronome is vital if one does not want to fall into approximations.

c) For performers: Work with the composer!

Composers – even famous or well-established ones – are usually thrilled if a musician,

especially a young one, is taking an interest in their music. Make every effort to work with
them in order to deepen your understanding of their aesthetic and polish your interpretation of
his or her piece. Do not be shy to ask for clarification if you are not certain of the composer’s
intentions, or how to interpret something in the score. In some cases, works were written for a

specific performer or ensemble, or for a particular occasion or venue, and so a certain technique
or approach may have been mutually developed when composing the piece. As players, we are
not always equipped to convincingly interpret such a work if we are coming from the outside,
so seeking advice from the composer (or, failing that, someone close to the composer) is
essential. Apart from learning a lot form working the composers, both in terms of getting a
complete image of their individual musical universe and familiarizing yourself with current
trends and thinking, collaborations with composers can lead to all kinds of performance,
recording and teaching opportunities. The author feels that his collaborations with composers
over the years have definitely made a huge contribution to his development as a well-rounded
musician. For all these reasons, composers will undoubtedly be a strong ally to the young

What if something seems unplayable? What if a written tempo seems unrealistically

fast? Or slow? A certain amount of patience is required from the performer in this regard. With
practice and experience, one can come to find solutions, and with slow and diligent practice,
even passages that seems impossible at first can be successfully rendered. Speed of execution
can be increased to a surprising extent over time, as one comes back to a piece time and time
again. However, there may be ways to modify the writing – changing an articulation, adding
some octave transpositions, using harmonics (natural or artificial) to avoid leaps to and from
high notes, sharing material between two instruments – that can allow the music to be played
at the desired tempo without negatively impacting the sonorities that the composer had initially
imagined. As a player, allow yourself to experiment, and share your ideas for possible solutions
with the composer if possible. He or she will normally take this as a sign of your commitment
to the work, and will be pleased to explore ways that can make his or her music more
approachable. If the composer is young, be patient. Understand that they are finding their feet
too. It can take years for a composer to be comfortable writing for certain instruments. It
requires much time and experimentation for composers to find out how their personal musical
voice can best to resonate through a specific instrument. As players, we must be open to joining
them in this research. It is a fantastic learning process for us too, and if we admire the musical
mind of a composer we are working with, we will be nurturing an artistic bond that may lead
to exciting projects in the future.

Always get a professional-quality video and audio recording of any new work you
perform. There may be things you are not satisfied with in the première, so try to schedule
further performances, either in concert or in studio. Such recording will be invaluable as you
seek to promote your work and gain financial support for your future projects. It should be
noted that today one is pretty much “off the radar” if one’s recordings are not accessible
through the Web on recognized platforms …

d) For composers: What you should know

We have already discussed the important issue of producing user-friendly parts. When
invited to attend a rehearsal, I recommend that composers respect the pace and structure that
the players or conductor have established for the rehearsal. Be discrete, but be ready to assist
and explain as needed. Knowing the background of a piece – how it came to exist, its sources
of inspiration or influences – is very valuable to the players as they seek to offer a convincing
interpretation of your music. Finally, as a composer make it clear that you are available to help
the musicians in any way you can as they prepare their performance of your piece and follow
through with that commitment. Provide recordings of previous performances to the performers
where possible – assuming of course that they are of acceptable sound quality and are faithful
enough to your musical intentions that they can serve as a model.

All composers want to be played, but how do we go about it? As a composer, you
should always be on the lookout for performers or conductors that you think would be
interested in presenting your music. Attend their concerts. They may not know anything about
you, but if they sense you have a sincere interest in their work, they are more likely to take an
interest in yours. If a musician feels that a true collaboration – both artistically and
professionally - is what is on offer, that is far more interesting than an “instrumentalist serving
the composer” dynamic. Find ways to introduce yourself and your work confidently, but
without being pushy. Ambushing performers directly after a performance as they come out of
the dressing room may not be the most advantageous approach, but a polite and friendly e-
mail to them the following day, saying how much you enjoyed their performance and sharing
your work with them, would be.

Clearly, an internet presence is essential these days. Your website or blog is likely to
be someone’s first port of call, so make sure you are accessible and that you contact details are
up to date. Look for any way to get exposure: competitions, masterclasses, and workshops.
Consider offering workshops or giving conferences on your music to schools locally or further

I hope that this book will have given you some new ideas your compositions. Nothing
is more frustrating for a composer than to be told that something they have written is
unplayable. So, try to find musicians that can assist you in determining whether something you
have in mind is truly possible or not. Asking advice from musicians that you are composing
for - or would like to composer for – is perfectly legitimate. Do not be shy. Sometimes
composers – even experienced ones – do not take into account how sound changes in a different
physical space and when a living, breathing musician is performing their music. For example,
tempos that may seem right on paper may be too fast in realty. Try to experiment in different
acoustics and work with more than one musician on a problematic passage. Attending concerts
and rehearsals of all kinds of repertoire is an essential part of a composer’s training. Apart
from allowing you to become more intimately acquainted with a given instrument and its
repertoire (both recent and historical), you will learn much about how musicians work, their
concerns, how they go about problem solving. When writing for orchestra or large ensembles,
consider sharing material between different players in the section (divisi or soloists within the
section) to make it easier to execute – or even sharing notes in a passage between different

You will have become aware when reading this book how large the range of the cello
is. Feel free to exploit it and not limit yourself to the lower registers, especially if you want the
sound of the cello to penetrate, to come out of the ensemble texture. Remember that the outer
strings offer more power than the middle two since we can fully apply the weight of our bow
arm there without fear of touching the other strings. Higher pitches naturally attract the ear
more than lower ones, so the A string is the string of choice if you want the cello to project
(this fact clearly demonstrated by the historical solo cello repertoire). We should remember
that unlike the piano, two sounds played together (i.e. a double stop) will usually sound a little

weaker than a single note, since the weight and pressure of the bow is spread across a larger
surface area and the instrument is more sensitive. Avoid adding bowings or fingerings unless
you are looking a specific effect, (e.g. bariolage, a swell beginning on an up bow, consecutive
down bows for power and bite, the color of an open string) and make sure that a proficient
musician as tried them if you are not in a position to test them yourself. Depending on the
ensemble you are writing for, consider the resulting dynamic you are looking for: if you want
the cello(s) to be heard when brass instruments are playing, or clarinets are in their strongest
registers for example, dynamic indications should be adjusted accordingly. It may not be
obvious to conductors or instrumentalists which line(s) should predominate in the texture at a
given moment in a musical language that is unfamiliar to them. This is after all why the
Viennese composers of the early 20th century introduced the terms Hauptstimme (for main
voice, symbol: ) and Nebenstimme (for subsidiary voice, symbol: ). These historical
indications may still be employed, as well as terms such as solo, en dehors, or an equivalent
term of one’s own.

A composer would benefit from considering the physical and psychological demands
they may be putting on a musician when they write a piece. For instance, is it respectful to ask
an accomplished cellist to hold a note for eighty bars? Could playing in a certain position or
using a particular technique expose them to injury, like playing trills or tremolos for a long
time without a break, or only playing in the highest positions of the cello for extended periods?
Are they comfortable incorporating theatrical elements into the performance, if that is what
you wish? Note that some extended techniques – especially col legno, or slapping the
instrument – may be risky if a bow or instrument are valuable. Warning should be given in
advance in this case so that the player can make appropriate arrangements. Offer to help n such
a case. If you are writing for a specific musician or ensemble, it is important to establish in
your own mind what their strengths and weaknesses are. Some may be perfectly comfortable
with microtones for example, others not. Giving thought to such aspects will help maintain a
warm and friendly relationship with your players.

Finally, although some composers do not follow this rule, it is advisable to stick to
metronome marks as they appear on the traditional metronome, not marks such as “quarter-

note equals 61”. Of course, your music may be the product of mathematical structures that
require such tempo relationships, but conductors in particular may be irritated by this, and you
want them on your side.

e) Building our audience

One of the main challenges to the health of classical music practice today is the decline
in music education at the primary and secondary/high school levels in recent years, at least in
the public school system. Despite the fact that all scientific research ever undertaken to study
the impact of musical training on children has demonstrated what an enormously positive
impact it has on the development of their brains and their social skills, this decline appears to
be a global phenomenon. In countries where Western classical music occupies a smaller place
in the mainstream culture this challenge us particularly thorny. In the light of a diminishing
commitment from government agencies and the shift in media focus – notably with the near
extinction of the permanent, classically trained concert-going music critic in many areas - it
therefore falls on us, the performing musicians, to be proactive in raising the public’s
awareness of new music and educating our audiences. We should seize any occasion we have
to talk directly to people, such as giving pre-concert talks, talking about the works that we
choose to play and that inspire us during our concert, putting out self-produced video clips
promoting our events or projects and posting them on suitable websites and through social
media. We must find new platforms from which to diffuse our work. I encourage artists to go
into their communities – schools, libraries, places of worship, hospitals – and let people know
that new music is a product of our own time; it connects to our reality and our preoccupations
like nothing else. You will be nurturing your own following and be making a valuable
contribution to the continuity of the art form. When it comes to where you perform, think
outside the box.

You have surely seen videos of professional classical musicians playing in trains, in
train stations, or shopping malls and the like. Such a thing would have been unthinkable a
generation ago. We live in a rapidly changing world and we have to find new and innovative
ways to reach people. The nature of social media, for better or for worse, is poorly suited to

in-depth explanations and sophisticated analysis of a given subject. It favors concise, punchy
headlines. It is possible to find ways to adapt one’s publicity strategies to suit this environment
while still giving a faithful representation of the work we do.

The author performing contemporary works for new music lovers and curious passersby alike at the main train
station in Berlin in 2010

The value of a composer explaining how his music works, what inspired him or her to
write, what one should listen for etc. should never be underestimated. If you are asked to talk
about your music, whether in a pre-concert talk, in an interview, or during a concert or
workshop, do not hesitate. You may not enjoy it (artists are notoriously bad at self-promotion),
but it is extremely meaningful for people to hear composers speak about their work, what it
means to them, their sources of inspiration, and concerns – be they musical, philosophical,

political, social or personal. When we feel a human connection with a performer or a composer,
we inevitably feel closer to their musical creations. We should not be under any illusions: even
highly educated people do not necessarily realize that there are still living, breathing
composers walking around. Many will be surprised to learn that there have been composers
since Stravinsky and Ravel. Those who have not had the chance to get to know classical music
may well not know what a composer – or indeed a conductor - actually does. Who writes the
music? What does an interpretation of a piece of music involve? How do we make artistic
decisions when we interpret music? What does a conductor actually do? Indeed, people may
not know – or have never reflected on the fact – that Western music in the classical, concert
hall tradition is a written one and not an oral one. This makes it pretty unique and worthy of
discussion. Of course, it can be intimidating to speak in public, especially if as a young
musician we are feeling insecure about what we are presenting, but the more we do it, the more
we feel at ease, and everyone involved will enormously appreciate our openness and
willingness to share our time and passion. I will continue to discuss the subject of building our
audience further in the following conclusion to this book.

7. Conclusion

During this study of the contemporary cello, we have focused on music composed for
the concert hall, bringing a microscope up to such compositions and discussing many of the
myriad technical challenges that they pose the young cellist and the new possibilities they offer
composers. At this point, it seems appropriate to take a step back and look at the “big picture”:
what can we conclude about the nature of the cello today, and what might its future look like?

When we consider the cello and its repertoire, it may be said that three works, all of
them composed around 1915, set the cello and the cellist on the path towards modernity:
Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Webern’s Three Little Pieces, Op.11, and the Solo
Sonata by Kodály. The atonal writing and the use of ancient modes and innovative scale
systems prevalent in these works, together with ingenious exploration of new sounds and
textures, and the pushing of traditional technical boundaries, collectively marked the beginning
of a new era for the instrument. However, in the course of this study the reader has perhaps
come to be aware of another, possibly more profound change that the cello has undergone in
recent times. We have witnessed that the archetype of the cellist, essentially inherited from the
Romantic era, has to a large extent been turned on its head. Few would deny that the seductive
qualities of the traditional cello sonority, so close to the human voice, and its warm, soulful
yet noble character continue to inspire new music today. Yet, as composer Jonathan Harvey
states in the program note on the title page of his Three Sketches for solo cello: “The cellist
assumes several roles, mostly distant from the high-art lyricist of the nineteenth century: rough
rhythmicist, folkloric peasant, baroque viol, ethereal spirit, gourmet of acoustic curiosities”.
This can indeed be said of so many contemporary works for the instrument and, as we have
seen, this transformation of the cello’s persona has in turn greatly influenced and shaped the
evolution of cello technique itself. This is something we should all embrace.

In terms of its actual fabrication, unlike the majority of wind instruments and the piano,
the cello has undergone very little significant change since the early eighteenth century.
Scientific study has revealed that while it may be generally recognized that Antonio
Stradivari’s standardization of the cello (the ‘B’ form, introduced after 1707) comes as close

to the ideal as one could hope for, the modern cello is in actual fact too large to achieve its
maximum acoustic potential in the higher registers. Indeed, American instrument maker
Carleen Hutchins’ creation of the Violin Octet in the 1950’s and 1960’s, where each bowed
stringed instrument is constructed to perfectly sound within a determined register, collectively
covering the entire range of the piano keyboard, is a fascinating experiment.

Carleen Hutchins with her Violin Octet

Nevertheless, in order to pursue the project to its logical conclusion, a large body of
new works would have to be composed for it, which has proven to be impractical 20. The desire
thus seems to be stronger to expand on the construction of the standard cello, either by adding
strings (commissioning new works for the five-stringed baroque cello is an exciting
development proposed by Canadian cellist Elinor Frey), experimenting with new materials, or
in other ways making it ready for the technological age. Since high-quality wood is in far

The reader may consult the chapter Cello acoustics in the Cambridge Companion to the Cello, published by
Cambridge University Press, for more information on Hutchins’ research.

shorter supply than in earlier times, and through our natural urge to experiment with new
materials as they become available to us, carbon fiber cellos are becoming increasingly
popular. Traditionally manufactured wooden cellos can be fitted with carbon fiber endpins.
This has the potential to produce a fuller sound, since a metal spike can restrict the instrument’s
vibrating capacities. The birth of the public concert hall tradition in the eighteenth century,
involving professional musicians performing in a specially built auditorium before a paying
audience, drove the need for more powerful instruments. As the era of electronics continues to
cause radical changes in performance environments and to the artist/audience relationship, we
can expect to see technology play a role in the equation in a similar way. For instance, Eric
Jensen, the innovative American luthier, has been producing both five- and six-stringed MIDI-
compatible cellos since the 1990’s, and a number of soloists in both the classical and pop
spheres appear regularly with them. The body of high art compositions for these instruments
is as yet very small. Time will tell how such developments may take shape in the future.

A five-stringed electric cello by Eric Jensen

It is obvious to us all that the human condition has undergone profound and previously
unimagined change over the past century, and at incredible speed. Artists in every field have
responded to this in their own ways. A number of modern composers have striven – be it

consciously or unconsciously – to push the cellist to the limits of what is humanly possible in
terms of multi-tasking, manual dexterity and endurance, notably Iannis Xenakis, John Cage
and Brian Ferneyhough. The natural reaction to this New Complexity has been a New
Simplicity, or New Spirituality movement, of which the music of Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Pärt
and John Tavener are examples. In another important trend, American composers John Adams,
Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass created what has become commonly known as
minimalist music, a term borrowed from the visual arts. Nourished by the Californian
counterculture of the 1960’s and the desire to achieve greater accessibility, minimalist music
essentially draws its inspiration from non-Western cultures, as well as jazz and rock. Such
music – the works of Philip Glass in particular, as well as those influenced by the movement
including Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman – has gained great commercial success. Some
may say that what this music has gained in accessibility it has lost in terms of a more profound
musical message or subtler structural or harmonic interest (in the words of an uncharitable
colleague, after seeing a production of Philip Glass's opera on the life of Gandhi Satyagraha:
“I only wish it would modulate from time to time!”). At any rate, if living composers writing
for the concert hall are able to achieve such widespread popularity this has to be a good thing
for all of us. Indeed, from a more analytical perspective, the minimalist phenomenon is
undeniably important because it has forced us to reassess our categorization of musical genres,
and reconsider what and how music should have its place in our concert halls and opera houses
and indeed its role in our society generally.

Taking into account new music’s reception historically, it seems probable that much
truly innovative and adventurous music may never be of genuine interest to a mass audience –
at least not immediately. Schoenberg took the view that judging the value of a work of art, an
idea or a performance, now as in the past, should logically be left to those who are truly
informed in the field – the specialists in other words. 21 One thing has become apparent in any
case, and that is that as regards to the avant-garde music of the past fifty years, it is a genre
that often seems to mainly appeal to a relatively small number of highly educated, highly
cultured individuals with a fairly specific background. While it is true that society has

Please refer to Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg. (University of California Press,
1975), p.375

developed in such a way that the highly intellectual and musically passionate middle class of
the Germanic world that Brahms and Wagner new may never return, it also looks as though
the ordinary, concert-going public, and an increasing number of musicians themselves, have
become alienated from the classical music of their own time. It is perhaps too early to judge,
but it seems as though many of the more experimental works, such as John Cage’s Études
Boreales (1979) for example, which requires “monk-like dedication” to learn (to quote cellist
Francis-Marie Uitti, with whom Cage collaborated), are being taken up by fewer and fewer
artists. If this proves to be the case moving forward, then the immense technical demands that
such music makes on the player appears to be a major factor, as well as the concert producer’s
inevitable “what we perform versus what audiences want to hear” paradigm. We notice also
the inherent danger in composing works for a specific, individual artist. However, if the public
and performing musicians, especially in the context of North American music making, may be
moving away from daring experimentation at the present time, it is logical to assume that the
pendulum will swing the other way at some point in the future …

Interestingly, recent North American composers have been very active in seeking,
through their compositions, to create a dialogue between the music of the past and that of our
own time, not without a touch of irony in many cases 22. A number of European composers
also followed this path to a certain extent, notably Mauricio Kagel and Alfred Schnittke. Such
compositions present the music of the past, or traces or fragments thereof, through the prism
of the modern mind. This phenomenon is generally referred to as post-modernism, since
chronologically speaking it emerged after the thinking of the modernists (Pierre Boulez, Luigi
Nono, et al). In actual fact, both modernist and post-modernist musical philosophies currently
coexist. It is noteworthy that the composers of the New World often feel the urge to maintain
a bond with older European musical traditions. Most interestingly, the post-modern approach
to musical composition proposes a kind of crossroads, where extended instrumental
techniques, the music of the past and even music from other cultures can meet, blend and cross-
fertilize. Such ideas are not new, but rather are finding a new freedom, new forms of expression
and above all new meaning for audiences. Haydn already gave us a taste of this by employing

Quebec composers such as John Rea, François-Hugues Leclair and Maxime Mckinley can all be considered
to belong to this movement, and I believe deserve wider recognition for their talents.

Turkish instruments in his Symphony No.100. The contrapuntal writing found in such diverse
composers as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky certainly seems to hark back
to the musical art of the Baroque. Debussy and Ravel both incorporated elements of the
Javanese gamelan in their works, and in Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, the use of the
mixolydian mode and of parallel fourths and fifths clearly evoke medieval organum. However,
of particular interest to us are the early twentieth-century compositions of Charles Ives, Bela
Bartok, Heitor Villa-Lobos and George Antheil, among others, which created a fresh and
surprising dialogue between the art of the concert hall, popular genres and folk music
traditions. I would suggest that such dialogues befit the nature of life in the 21st century, and
therefore seem our best bet in combatting the potentially negative aspects of elitism in the field
of classical music performance and its reception.

The author has observed a painful twist of irony for the modern musician: despite their
apparent potential, technological advances over the last twenty years have tended to
consolidate mainstream tastes and habits, rather than open up new intellectual horizons. The
challenge for artists and arts organizations is therefore to harness new technologies in the
future, and opt for innovation rather than to lean on outdated strategies. We are faced by
cautious conservatism on the part of many media outlets globally. Therefore, we must let our
own individual entrepreneurial spirits take flight, and show a willingness to take risks and
experiment when it comes to reaching out to new audiences. Perhaps now, more than ever in
our history, we need to devote time, thought and energy to bridging the gap between musician
and (potential) music-lover, so as to allow classical music composed in our own era that we
believe in to resonate as it deserves.

Although the ever-growing presence of technology in all spheres of human life may
appear inevitable, it is quite possible that a counterculture may materialize at some point. In a
similar way to the Slow Food movement, which emerged as a result of an awareness that
centuries-old culinary traditions were being lost, and due to a growing concern about how
consumers’ food choices can affect the rest of the world, both musicians and their audiences
may demand a return to the performance practices of earlier times. The Schubertiades of the
early nineteenth century, for example, were informal, minimally advertised gatherings, held at

private homes. In the future, the human contact, immediacy and possibilities for direct
intellectual exchange that such intimate gatherings propose – and that a live internet broadcast
or a recording can never quite achieve – may become a favored platform for new classical
music once again.

Appendix A
Works referred to in this book

Mark André: iv2 for solo cello (2007).

Béla Bartók: Mikrokosmos for piano (1927-1939).
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No.5 (1934).
Günther Becker: Study to “Aphierosis” for solo cello (1968).
Allan Gordon Bell: Phénomènes for piano trio (2008).
Luciano Berio: Sinfonia for eight voices and orchestra (1968).
Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (1830).
Michal von Biel: String quartet (1964)
Harrison Birtwistle: Wie eine Fuge for cello and piano (2009)
Linda Bouchard: Réciproque for piano trio (1994).
Earle Brown: Music for cello and piano (1955).
Sylvano Bussotti: Il Nudo for Piano, Soprano and String Quartet (1964).
Elliott Carter: String Quartet No.4 (1986). Sergio Cervetti: Zinctum for string quartet (1967).
Barney Childs: Jack's new bag for ensemble (1967).
James Clarke: Independence: Part 1 for solo cello (1998).
Anne Cleare: Inner for cello and piano (2009).
George Crumb: Black Angels for string quartet of electric instruments (1970).
George Crumb: Vox Balaenae for three masked players (1972).
Claude Debussy: Pagodes from Estampes for piano (1903).
Pascal Dusapin: Immer for solo cello (1996).
Peter Eötvös: Two Poems to Polly for a speaking cellist (1998).
Peter Eötvös: Cello Concerto Grosso for cello and orchestra (2011).
Ivan Fedele: Preludio e Ciaccona for solo cello (2010)
Brian Ferneyhough: Fourth String Quartet (1990).
Brian Ferneyhough: Time and motion study II for cello & electronics (1978).
Luc Ferrari: Sociétés II for chamber orchestra (1967).
Louis Feuillard: Daily Exercises for Violoncello (1919).
Robert Fokkens: Tracing Lines for violin and cello (2007).

Jack Fortner: Seventh String Quartet (1970).
Lukas Foss: Orpheus for two violins and orchestra (1972).
Beat Furrer: Solo for cello (1999)
Michel Gonneville: Quatuor Rosemont for piano trio (2007).
Henryk Gorecki: Genesis I – Elementi for string trio (1962).
Denis Gougeon: À l’aventure! for orchestra (1990).
Georg Friedrich Haas: ... aus freier Lust ... verbunden for cello (1996).
Lou Harrison: Suite for symphonic strings (1961).
Michael Harrison: Just Ancient Loops for solo cello and pre-recorded cellos (2011).
Jonathan Harvey: Piano Trio (1971).
Jonathan Harvey: Curve with Plateaux for solo cello (1982).
Jonathan Harvey: Three Sketches for solo cello (1989).
Jonathan Harvey: Advaya for cello, keyboard and live electronics (1994).
Klaus Huber: Tenebrae for large orchestra (1966/67).
Nicolaus A. Huber: Der Ausrufer steigt ins Innere for solo cello (1984).
Nicolaus A. Huber: Silver Silence for piano trio (2006).
Mauricio Kagel: Sexteto de cuerdas (1953).
Mauricio Kagel: Match for three players (1964).
Mauricio Kagel: SIEGFRIEDP’ for solo cello (1971).
Mauricio Kagel: Trio in zwei Sätzen (2006-2007).
Barbara Kolb: Trobar Clus for instrumental ensemble (1970).
Helmut Lachenmann: Pression for solo cello (1969, rev.2010).
Jean-François Laporte: Êkhéô for piano trio (2002).
György Ligeti: Apparitions for orchestra (1958/1959).
György Ligeti: Aventures for three singers and seven instrumentalists (1964).
György Ligeti: Cello Concerto (1966).
Maxime McKinley: Mauricio for piano trio (2010).
David Clay Mettens: Into the empty sky for sextet and live electronics (2016)
Per Norgard: Prism for instrumental ensemble (1964).
Helmut Oehring: Prae-senz for violin, cello & sampler (1997).
Luis de Pablo: Radial for chamber orchestra (1960).

Hèctor Parra: Tentatives de réalité for cello and electronics (2007).
Krzysztof Penderecki: Polymorphia for orchestra (1961).
Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun: Opera in Three Acts (1969).
Matthias Pintscher: Study I for Treatise on the Veil for violin and cello (2004).
Enno Poppe: Herz for solo cello (2002).
Maurice Ravel: Boléro for orchestra (1928).
Steve Reich: Cello Counterpoint for cello and pre-recorded tape (2003).
Roger Reynolds: Quick Are the Mouths of Earth for ensemble (1965).
Wolfgang Rihm: Fremde Szenen for piano trio (1982-1984).
George Rochberg: Tableaux for instrumental ensemble (1968).
Witold Rudzinski: Pictures from the Holy Cross mountains (1965).
Giacinto Scelsi: Trilogy: the three ages of man for solo cello (1956-65).
Giacinto Scelsi: To the master for cello and piano (1974).
R. Murray Schafer: Requiems for the party girl for ensemble (1967).
Robert Schumann: Piano trio No.1 in D minor, opus 63.
Salvatore Sciarrino: Codex Purpureus for string trio (1983).
Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka for orchestra (1911, rev. 1947).
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring for orchestra (1913).
Gilles Tremblay: Cèdres en voiles (Thrène pour le Liban) for solo cello (1989).
George Tsontakis: Mirror Image for cello and piano (2008).
Anton Webern: Three Little Pieces for cello and piano, Op.11 (1914).
Iannis Xenakis: Pithoprakta for orchestra (1955-1956).
Iannis Xenakis: Syrmos for string orchestra (1959).
Isang Yun: Images for flute, oboe, violin and cello (1968).
Bernd Alois Zimmerman: Sonata for Solo Cello (1960).

Appendix B
The anatomy of the cello 23

Taken from the chapter The cello: origins and evolution, from The Cambridge Companion to the Cello.

Appendix C
Common terms found in contemporary music in four languages

English Italian French German

La corde/les
String(s) La corda/le corde Die Saite(n)

Endpin (of cello) Il puntale La pique Der Stachel

Ribs (of cello) Le fasce Les éclisses Die Zargen

Table/Sounding La table
La tavola Die Decke/ Der Korpus
board (d’harmonie)

Tuning peg Il pirolo La cheville Der Stimmwirbel

Tailpiece La cordiera Le cordier Der Saitenhalter

La vis/le bouton Die Stellschraube (des
Nut (of the bow) La vite
(de l’archet) Bogens)
La bacchetta
Bow stick La baguette Die Bogenstange
(il legno)

Bow hair Il crine Les crins Die Bogenhaare

Le bout des
Fingertips Le punte delle dita Die Fingerkuppen
Les articulations
Knuckles Le nocche Die Fingerknöchel
des doigts
With mute Con sordina Avec sourdine Mit Dämpfer

Near the bridge Sul ponticello Sur le chevalet am Steg

Over the
Sulla tastiera (sul Sur la touche am Griffbrett
Hinter dem
Au-delà du
Beyond the bridge Dietro il ponticello Steg/ausserhalb des

Play in the ordinary

(Modo) Ordinario (Mode) Normal Gewöhnlich
way (after special
Artificial harmonic Armonico artificiale Künstliches Flageolett
Natural harmonic Armonico naturale Natürliches Flageolett
harmonique (un
Half harmonic Mezzo armonico Halb Flageolett (Finger
peu plus de
(finger touches the (premendo piuttosto berührt die Saite starker
pression avec le
string a bit more fermamente con il als bei einem
doigt sur la corde
firmly than for a dito la corda contro gewöhnlichen
que pour un
normal harmonic) la tastiera) Flageolettgriff)

At the frog Al tallone Au talon am Frosch

At the tip of the Alla punta À la pointe an der Spitze


Ricochet bows Gettato Jeté Ricochet

Cambio d’arco ad Changements
Bow changes ad Bogenwechsel ad lib
lib d'archet ad lib
Pression exagérée
Excessive bow Pressione eccessiva Übertriebener Druck des
de l’archet sur la
pressure dell’arco sulla corda Bogens
Strike the string Frapper la corde
Mit der Bogenstange
with the wood of the Col legno battuto avec le bois de
bow l’archet
Draw the wood of Tirer le bois de
Col legno Mit der Bogenstange
the bow across the l’archet sur la
tratto/strisciato ziehen
string corde
Con il legno e il
½ Col legno – Bow Le bois et les
crine dell'arco Bogenstange und -haar
stick and hair crins de l’archet
simultaneamente berühren die Saite
touching the string en contact avec la
(Coll’arco gleichzeitig
simultaneously corde
Bartók pizzicato – Il pizzicato alla
Pizzicato Bartók
pluck the string Bartók si ottiene
– pincer la corde Pizzicato Bartók – Saite
outwards with tirando in verticale
avec autant de auf das Griffbrett
sufficient force to la corda e
force qu’elle zurückschnellen lassen
allow it to snap back lasciandola battere
frappe la touche
onto the fingerboard sulla tastiera
Pizzicato with the Pizzicato con Pizzicato avec Pizzicato mit dem
fingernail l’unghia l’ongle Fingernagel
Mute string with Étouffer la corde Saite mit dem Finger
Smorzare col dito
finger avec le doigt dämpfen
Frapper les
Strike strings with Battere sulle corde Mit flacher Hand auf die
cordes avec la
the hand con la mano Saiten schlagen

Strike the indicated Frapper les
Battere con le dita
strings with the cordes indiquées Die notierten Saiten mit
sulle corde indicate
fingers avec les doigts den Fingern anschlagen

Au-dessous des
Under the strings Sotto le corde Unter den Saiten

Highest possible Il suono più acuto La note la plus

Höchstmöglicher Ton
note possibile haute possible

Indefinite pitch Suono indefinito Unbestimmte Tonhöhe
Il più veloce Aussi rapide que
As fast as possible So schnell wie möglich
possibile possible
Senza vibrato/non
Without vibrato Sans vibrer Ohne Vibrato
Vibrato Langsames/schnelles
Slow/rapid vibrato Vibrato lento/rapido
lent/rapide Vibrato

Exaggerated vibrato Vibrato esagerato Vibrato exagéré Übertriebenes Vibrato

Quintuplets Quintine Quintolets Fünflinge

Septuplets Settimine Septolets Septimolen

Quarter-tone Un quarto di tono Un quart de ton Ein Viertelton

Appendix D
Further reading

This guide to contemporary cello is by no means exhaustive. I would therefore

encourage those who are interested in exploring the subject further to seek out the following

Fallowfield, Ellen. A handbook of cello technique for performers and composers (Doctoral
Thesis, University of Birmingham, England, 2009). Available online at: www.cellomap.com
 This is in effect a database of the full palette of sounds that can be produced on the
cello. For each sound, the corresponding instrumental technique is examined and
explained. No musical examples are offered here since the focus is on the science of
sound production, and as such, it is an extremely complete and highly technical
document that will be of great interest to the specialist.

Knox, Garth. Viola Spaces - Contemporary Viola Studies. Schott Music, 2009.
 Although written for the viola, this series of pieces that explore extended techniques is
certainly worthy of cellists’ attention. Each piece focuses on a specific string technique,
e.g. Sul ponticello, “Beside the bridge”; Sul tasto, “Ghosts”; Glissando, “One finger”;
Bow directions, “Up, down, sideways, round”, etc.

Palm, Siegfried. Studien zum Spielen neuer Musik: für Violoncello. Breitkopf, 1985.
 Although representative of older currents in contemporary music, namely major
composers principally active in the period 1960 to 1980, this album of cello studies,
which includes personal insights from the great German cellist Siegfried Palm who
commissioned them, is a monumental achievement and was truly ground-breaking in
its day.

Read, Gardner. Contemporary Instrumental Techniques. New York: Schirmer Books, 1976.
 Despite its age, this vast survey of modern instrumental techniques remains of
enormous value to the practicing musician. The book codifies these techniques for each
type of instrument, explains their production and effects, and offers musical examples
from a range of international composers.

Shin-I Su, Elizabeth. Innovative use of technique in Benjamin Britten’s cello works: the
inspiration of Mstislav Rostropovich (dissertation for Doctor of Musical Art, 2003). Available
online at: http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/59/1/dissertation.pdf
 Russian cellist Rostropovich worked closely with a number of major composers during
the twentieth century. This document considers how his influence on the cello music of
Britten led to innovations in the areas of multiple stops, drones, pizzicato, harmonics and

Zimmermann, Bernd Alois. Four short studies for solo cello. Breitkopf & Härtel, 1970.
 These very brief but ingenious studies offer a foretaste of the cello music of the late
twentieth century.



Adeney, Marcus. Tomorrow’s cellist. Oakville, Ontario: Frederick Harris Music Co., 1984.

Adler, Samuel. The Study of Orchestration. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1989.

Bosanquet, R. Caroline. The Secret Life of Cello Strings: Harmonics for Cellists. Cambridge:
SJ Music, 1996.

Campbell, Murray. The Musicians’ Guide to Acoustics. London: Dent, 1987.

Colwell, Richard J. & Goolsby, Thomas W. The Teaching of Instrumental Music. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 2002.

Duport, J. L. Essai sur le doigté du violoncelle et sur la conduite de l’archet. Paris: A.Cotelle.

Eisenberg, Maurice. Cello playing of today. London, England: The Strad, 1957.

Homuth, Donald. Cello music since 1960 : a bibliography of solo, chamber & orchestral works
for solo cellist. Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf Press, 1994.

Mantel, Gerhard. Cello technique. Cologne, Germany: Musikverlage Hans Gerig, 1972; Eng.
Trans., 1975 by Indiana University Press.

Markevitch, Dimitry. The solo cello: a bibliography of the unaccompanied violoncello

literature. Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf Press, 1989.

Mills, Janet. Instrumental Teaching. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Palm, Siegfried. Studien zum Spielen neuer Musik: für Violoncello. Breitkopf & Härtel, 1985.

Read, Gardner. Contemporary Instrumental Techniques. New York: Schirmer Books, 1976.

Romberg, Bernhard. A Complete Theoretical and Practical School for the Violoncello.
Berlin: T. Trautwein, 1840. Eng. Trans., 1880 by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston.

Stone, Kurt. Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook. W W Norton
& Company Incorporated, 1980.

Stowell, Robin et al. The Cambridge Companion to the Cello. Cambridge University Press,

Straeten, E. Van der. The Techniques of Violoncello Playing. London, England: The Strad,


Askenfelt, Anders. Measurement of bow motion and bow force in violin playing. Journal of
the Acoustical Society of America / Volume 80 / Issue 4, October 1986.
Hulen, Peter Lucas. A Musical Scale in Simple Ratios of the Harmonic Series Converted to
Cents of Twelve-tone Equal Temperament for Digital Synthesis. Department of Music,
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana USA, 2006.

On-line documents

Stephen Bonta, et al. "Violoncello." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed September 16, 2013,

Leon Botstein. "Modernism." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.

Oxford University Press, accessed April 2, 2014,

David D. Boyden. "Col legno." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed June 27, 2014,

David D. Boyden, et al. "Scordatura." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed October 20, 2013,

Johnny Farraj (specialist in Arab music), articles on the Maqam World website,
accessed October 11, 2013,

Carleen M. Hutchins. "New Violin Family." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed April 7, 2014,

Eric Jensen. Jensen Electric Cellos. Accessed February 27, 2014,


Ronald Lewcock, et al. "Acoustics." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed April 7, 2014,

Keith Potter. "Minimalism." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed May 4, 2014,

Jean-Michel Nectoux. "Fauré, Gabriel." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed September 5, 2013,

Caroline Rae. "Ohana, Maurice." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed April 14, 2014,

Fritz Reckow, et al. "Organum." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.
Oxford University Press, accessed April 14, 2014,

Syllabuses of the the Associated Board of the Royals Schools of Music, U.K,
accessed September 9, 2013,

Website of The Earle Brown Music Foundation,

accessed February 1, 2014,

Website of the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia: The Vienna Secession,

accessed May 3, 2014,

Website of the Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, É-U,

Introduction to Javanese Gamelan. Accessed October 12, 2013,