Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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II. Bowed strings

Fingering on string instruments involves the stopping of the strings and is therefore more closely allied to intonation, tone-colour and expression than it is on keyboard instruments. Fingering systems and conventions have changed from one period to another in response to other changes: in the instruments themselves, in the material out of which strings are made, in the manner in which instruments were held and in musical taste (see also Position).

1. Viol family.

2. Violin.

3. Violoncello.

4. Double bass.


Fingering, §II: Bowed strings

1. Viol family.

Early viol fingerings are based on the left-hand technique of the lute, whose strings are tuned mainly in 4ths, like those of the viol, and whose fingerboard is similarly fretted. Among the earliest treatises dealing in detail with viol fingerings is the second volume of Ganassi dal Fontego’s Regola rubertina (1543) in which some of the examples are written in Italian lute tablature (for an explanation, see Tablature, §3(ii), esp. fig.5

), and fingering is indicated by the placement of dots in four different positions around the fret number (fig. 4). Ganassi’s fingerings are remarkably flexible and farsighted, and include advice for playing in high positions above the frets (for examples see Viol, §3).

One of the most distinguished 17th-century books on English viol playing was Christopher Simpson’s The Division-Violist (1659). In his important advice on fingering Simpson suggested using 3 or 4 for the highest note when playing above the frets; in his exercises (but never in his pieces), he also gave specific fingerings including ex.56; the asterisk above the 4th finger on the d' points out to the beginner that this is an alternative fingering (the note could be played on an open string), a technique later known as ‘creeping’ (in this case the substitution of 3 for 4 on the second C). He advised that fingers should be allowed to remain on the strings as long as possible during playing, both for the ‘better ordering of fingering; that the Fingers may pass more smoothly from Note to Note … as also, to continue the sound of a Note when the Bow hath left it’. The concept of the ‘hold’ or the tenue was extremely important to viol technique and is mentioned in nearly every treatise concerned with the viol.

Jean Rousseau’s Traité de la viole (1687) is very detailed in all aspects of technique. With his contemporary Sainte-Colombe, there began a line of composer-players whose musical works are carefully marked with fingerings, bowings, dynamics, ornamentation signs and precisely written-out embellishments. The pièces de violes of Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray, with their meticulously worded prefaces, constitute a precise school of viol playing unsurpassed in virtuosity. In his five books of viol pieces (1686–1725) Marais insisted that the performer follow his fingerings exactly, and the fact that so many notes are fingered leaves very little possibility of confusion – or even of choice. John Hsu categorizes the possible finger placings as shown in ex.57.

Practice and most sources bear out Hsu’s analysis that the fingering system on the bass viol generally requires one finger for each semitone, with occasional extensions of a tone, almost always between 1 and 2. The treble viol, however, being half the size of the bass, is sometimes played with one finger for each tone. Danoville mentions such differences in fingering in L’art de toucher le dessus et basse de violle (1687/R) and Corrette devotes several chapters to fingerings on the pardessus in his Méthod pour apprendre facilement à jouer du par-dessus de viole (1748).

Two important fingering signs used by French viol masters are shown in ex.58 and demonstrated in context in exx.58 and 59: the sign for the tenue is shown in ex.58a. Another important fingering, allied to the principle of tenue, is the doigt couché, mentioned by Marais in the avertissement of his first book of pièces de violes (1686), for which he used the sign shown in ex.58b (Ganassi and Simpson also described it but did not use this term). Derived from lute technique (see Barré), it involved placing the first finger, or very occasionally the fourth, across two or more strings, allowing the other three fingers to remain free to stop other notes. This is often needed when playing chords and arpeggios, and also in certain other passages in order to maintain the tenue principle. Another sign sometimes used by Marais to clarify fingering consists of a number of dots arranged around the finger number) indicating which string to play the note on: for example, the f that opens ex.59 should be fingered by 4 on the 4th string and the g at the beginning of ex.60 should be fingered by 4 on the 2nd string. Bol (1973) summarized the fingering rules of the period as follows: (1) in broken chords, the lower and upper notes are held as long as possible so that the sound may continue after a note is no longer bowed; (2) if possible, the same finger should not be used for two different notes on the same fret (except in le doigt couché); (3) a change of position is rarely made during a single bow stroke except by means of an open string, extension or ‘le système-reptiles’ (creeping); (4) in a shift which moves by step, the finger which was used last in the position the player is leaving is used first, if possible, in the new position (see ex.59); (5) if two or more fingers are placed on the same fret, the lowest numbered finger normally plays on the lowest string.

Modern tutors for the viol, with instructions on fingering, have appeared in response to a revival of interest in early instruments. However, many players today continue to base their fingerings on Simpson, Marais, Forqueray and their contemporaries.

Fingering, §II: Bowed strings

2. Violin.

(i) To 1800.

(ii) After 1800.

Fingering, §II, 3: Bowed strings: Violoncello

(i) To 1800.

The conventions for indicating fingering in violin, viola and cello music were not completely standardized until well into the 18th century. Nevertheless, the basic system (unlike modern keyboard practice) has always involved numbering the fingers from 1 for the index finger to 4 for the little finger. As with so many questions of performance practice, the most obvious sources of information regarding fingering systems in violin music from 1600 to 1800 are instruction manuals. For the second half of this period, these may be usefully supplemented by marked fingerings in printed collections of violin sonatas.

The earliest instructions for violin fingering are found in Mersenne's Harmonie universelle (1636–7). Mersenne marked the notes assigned to each finger in 1st position, advocating the use of the same finger for any note and for its chromatically-altered version (i.e. 2 for b and b on the G string, 3 for g' and g' on the D string etc.). The primary function of the little finger (except on the E string where it has a greater role) was to produce the flattened version of the notes available as open strings (d' etc.). Although he did not attempt any explanation of shifting, he indicated that the range of the violin extended to d''' on the E string. Many later publications are less sophisticated, none more so than that most amateur of all violin treatises, John Playford's Introduction to the Skill of Music (7/1674) which recommends that beginners fret their instruments and place one finger behind each fret (thus giving semitone fingering). Not until the great violin treatises of the mid-18th century (Geminiani, Leopold Mozart, Herrando, and L'abbé le fils) is a more advanced picture of left-hand technique promulgated. The advice given by both John Lenton (The Gentleman's Diversion, or the Violin Explained, 1693) and Michel Corrette (L'école d'Orphée, 1738), for example, is essentially the same as Mersenne's (though Corrette does describe positions up to the 7th and acknowledges the possibility of shifting on all strings).

The general acceptability of the timbre of open strings is one of the most obvious ways in which 17th-century performance practice differed from othodox modern playing. The preference for a fingered alternative to the open string emerged as an important new refinement early in the 18th century. Roger North commended this practice as the most important of ‘certein late manners of touch introduc't – the result of the nicest skill and ability’. François Duval (Les idées musiciennes, 1720) and Pietro Castrucci (Sonate, op.2, 1734) specified fourth fingers where no player trained in 20th-century technique would think of using anything else. F.M. Veracini (Sonate accademiche, 1744) marked fourth fingers while leaving far more difficult technical problems unaddressed. By the second half of the 18th century (when Sir John Hawkins could refer to ‘the disgusting clangor of an open string’) good players tended to favour stopped notes. Leopold Mozart said that open strings were ‘too loud compared with stopped notes and pierce the ear too sharply’ (Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, 1756). Fourth-finger extensions were also noted in treatises and specified in printed music. Gasparo Zanetti, whose rather crude tablature in II scolaro … per imparar a suonare di violino, et altri stromenti (Milan, 1645) depends on the use of fingering numbers, used the figure 5 to indicate occasional extensions to c''' on the E string. This stratagem was adopted (coincidentally) by Castrucci, who used 5 to indicate an extension for the highest note in what is otherwise a passage to be played entirely in 5th position (ex.61). Later, composers showed extensions by fingering both the note of the extension itself and the note immediately following to re-establish the basic position (ex.59d). L'abbé le fils (Principes du violon, 1761) placed the letter e above the number for the finger involved to indicate an extension (ex.62).

2nd position (referred to as ‘half-position’ by Mozart, Herrando and others) was also specified in sonata collections, whereas 3rd-position passages (considered less remarkable) were often left unfingered. Piani's sonata collection of 1712, the earliest to contain printed fingerings, is a case in point. Likewise, Jean-Baptiste Miroglio (op.1, before 1750 and op.2, 1750) provided fingerings only for 2nd position passages. J.-A. Mathieu introduced the second and fourth sonatas of his op.4 (1764) with a rubric saying that they can be played in 2nd position. Less is said about what we now call ‘half position’. Leclair le cadet indicated it in 1739 (ex.63). L'abbé le fils was the first to discuss the concept properly in his Principes du violon. He introduced it by showing that keys on sharp tonics (G minor, F major etc.) often call for ‘borrowed fingers’, meaning that these fingers are applied to notes other than those ‘normally’ assigned to them in 1st position. He stressed that in playing passages of this type the hand should not be shifted (i.e. half-position should be regarded as an extension backwards from 1st position).

The problem of how to finger passages in upper positions and, more particularly, how to shift to and from these positions was one which Mondonville ruefully admitted in his preface to Les sons harmoniques (1738) ‘often discourages most of my followers’. Geminiani (The Art of Playing on the Violin, 1751) was quite systematic in his treatment of the difficulties of shifting. His scales utilising only a pair of fingers (especially one based on fingers 1 and 4) help develop a very flexible hand. Altogether, his instructions emphasize the independence of the thumb and fingers. He maintained that the thumb should be left behind, so to speak, as the hand moves into upper positions while, for downward shifts, the fingers should move first with the thumb following: ‘it must be observed that in drawing back the Hand from the 5th, 4th and 3rd Order to go to the first, the Thumb cannot, for Want of Time, be replaced in its natural Position; but it is necessary it should be replaced at the second Note’. No other writer was quite so helpful in dealing with the mechanics of shifting. Herrando (Arte y puntual explicación del modo de tocar el violín, 1756) gave eight pages of scales and exercises for playing in higher positions (including 2nd position, which he regarded as of crucial importance). The English edition of Carlo Tessarini's violin method (c1765) contains a few basic ‘lessons for the whole shift’ etc. The full title of L'abbé le fils's treatise Principes du violon pour apprendre le doigté de cet instrument emphasizes his concern for the question of fingering. The treatise includes a number of useful studies in which fingerings are marked and shifts are indicated by the letter D (for démancher). Corrette's first treatise, L'école d'Orphée, contains two short fantasias for practising in upper positions, but his later volume, L'art de se perfectionner dans le violon (1782) is, in fact, an anthology of difficult passages from well-known virtuoso works such as Vivaldi's Four Seasons with fingerings added. Corrette stressed in his preface to the latter volume the importance of ‘being conversant with all the positions of four strings, having facility in shifting, and playing cleanly and distinctly’.

Leopold Mozart gave recommendations for planning shifts in the most manageable and musically-discrete ways. Downward shifts, for example, could be smoothly executed by waiting for a note which could be played as an open string, or for a repeated note, or for a dotted group where the slight lift of the bow on the dot allows time for a noiseless descent. He also pointed out that ‘it is … easy to descend if similar passages are played with similar fingerings’ (ex.65) Mozart's very orderly exposition of the principles involved in playing in upper positions is, in fact, a codification of the practice of the best violinists of the preceding generation. His rules match perfectly the fingering markings of players like the Leclairs. In the preface to his Premier livre de sonates (1723) Leclair l'aîné explained that he had ‘taken care in certain positions or where the performer might find particular difficulty to mark in the figures for the fingers that should be used’. It is striking how often his fingerings serve as a warning that a shift to a particular position is needed to cope not with an immediate difficulty but with one that is coming up a bar or so later. Several of his fingerings are of the kind that encourage the performer to think beyond the concept of positions (or to use what Mozart termed the ‘mixed position’).

Leclair le cadet's Premier livre de sonates (1739) is full of virtuoso passages, for many of which the composer offers fingerings. These often show a way of shifting down from a high position where the ascent has not been fingered. Leclair was particularly fond of sequential fingerings, often giving an easy descent in small stages from a high position (ex.63a). There is a striking economy about his fingering indications. He inserted fingerings for passages which, though at first appearing to require shifting, could in fact be played in one position (ex.63b). Often a fingering shows the smallest possible shift: in ex.63c the performer can get through to a rest – a natural place to make a large descent – simply by moving the second finger back a semitone. Similarly in ex.63d an extension is specified for the one note that lies outside 5th position and an open string is used for the descent to 1st position. In this case an open-string trill is acceptable. (Later Tartini was to advise Maddalena Lombardini to begin perfecting this ornament by practising first-finger trills on open strings.) Elsewhere a change of position is marked for the sake of a trill on e'', but this is to accommodate a turn at the end of the ornament (ex.63e). In the same year, Geminiani brought out the revised edition of his op.1 with added ‘graces for the Adagios, and numbers for the shifts of the hand’. The copious fingerings cover every conceivable type of shift (though they still do not solve all the problems in the difficult fugal movements). The closing bars of the first sonata are fingered with a shift up to 2 on d''' (thereby avoiding a fourth-finger trill) followed by a descent in three stages where two would be possible. The last part of this move back implies the use of an open E string immediately before the first finger marked on f''.

Fingerings which indicate that string crossing is intended are almost as common as fingerings for upper positions and shifts. The few fingerings in Leclair l'aîné's Troisième livre de sonates (1734) are all concerned with showing that a particular effect is to be achieved through string crossing. In Sonata VI there are several chords notated in a way which shows that they should be broken downwards; one of these has a fingering added to remove any possible ambiguity about the effect intended (ex.66). There is a particularly interesting example in the second sonata of Jean-Baptiste Cupi (i)'s op.1 (1738), in which a third-finger extension is marked (ex.67) where an open string would disrupt the bowing pattern and where a fourth finger would disturb the ‘frame’ the left hand has adopted for the figure.

There is little specific guidance in the treatises on the fingering of double stops, chords and arpeggios. L'abbé le fils dealt with ‘crossed’ fingering for diminished and augumented 5ths, and later gave exercises for fingering arpeggios on three and four strings which stress the usefulness of extensions – especially backwards with the first finger – for changing position in sequential passages (ex.67). This strategy is indicated in some of the fingerings given by Leclair l'aîné (Premier livre). Leclair le cadet's Premier livre is one of the more interesting sonata collections for its treatment of double stops. He was one of the earliest composers to mark 3rds with adjacent fingers, one of them extended. (ex.68a). Etienne Mangean used the same fingering in several sonatas of his op.3 (1744) and Mozart acknowledged the possibility of this fingering in one of his examples. One of Leclair's passages in 3rds has an extraordinary fingering that seems designed to ensure an audible slide between some of the slurred pairs (ex.68b).

In contrapuntal passages, fingering indications can be used to clarify voice-leading. Mozart illustrated how backward first-finger extensions could be used to ensure that a suspension was properly sustained (ex.69). A fingering for a fugal movement in Geminiani's op.1 (1716) suggests that violinists should not necessarily try to sustain all the notes in contrapuntal passages for their full written value; the notation is designed first and foremost to make the voice-leading clear rather than as a literal instruction to the performer (ex.70a). In several other instances, however, he advocated finger substitution on a sustained note precisely so that it would continue to sound against new notes in another voice (ex.70b).

One rather bizarre approach to the ‘fingering’ of chords in the early 18th century was the use of the thumb, as specified by Louis Francoeur in his Premier livre de sonates (1715); (ex.71) The device was adopted by Leclair l'aîné and was one of the features of his playing commented on in the Mercure de France in 1738:

He is the first Frenchman who, imitating the Italians, played double stops, that is to say, played chords of two, three and even – by means of the thumb – up to four notes; and he has taken this kind of playing so far that the Italians themselves acknowledge that he is one of the first in the field.

Leclair marked a passage for the thumb in Sonata XII of his Premier livre (ex.72). The technique was only possible if the violin was held so that the thumb sat well up over the fingerboard, a position which, however unnatural it might seem to modern violinists, seems to have been endorsed by a number of early 18th century paintings and engravings.

The art of fingering is primarily concerned with being able to play as many notes as possible on the fingerboard. However, string players constantly face choices between alternative fingerings. The choice may be a matter of convenience, but is equally likely to be one of colour (notes played in 1st position on the upper strings have a much brighter, clearer tone quality than those fingered in the higher positions on the lower strings). Consideration of tone colour does not seem to have played much of a part in 17th-century fingering, when the practicalities of being able to negotiate a passage efficiently were the overriding concern, but this was to change in the 18th century. Leopold Mozart urged soloists to consider playing entire passages on one string ‘in order to produce consistently the same tone quality’, and in discussing the use of 2nd position he gave an example in which the highest note f'' was to be played on the A string, explaining that ‘in slow pieces the fourth finger is often used, not from necessity but for the sake of equality of tone and therefore also for the sake of elegance’ (ex.73). 18th-century sonata collections occasionally specify fingerings for their particular colour. In Sonata VIII of Leclair le cadet's Premier livre a shift to 4th position a little earlier than strictly necessary corresponds to a change from a section marked ‘fièrement’ to one marked ‘gracioso’ (ex.74).

The use of harmonics seems to have met with limited approval in the 18th century. Pincherle (1955) speculated that Vivaldi's direction ‘violini in tromba marina’ indicated their use. Mondonville gave a thorough explanation in the preface to Les sons harmoniques though, on the face of it, he recommended them not as a special tone colour but as a way of avoiding difficult shifts when playing high notes. Leopold Mozart scorned their use saying that they resulted in ‘a really laughable kind of music … owing to the dissimilarity of tone’. L'abbé le fils systematically explained the production of natural and artificial harmonics. At about the same time in Paris, Carlo Chiabrano published, under the name Charles Chabran, his Six sonates à violon seul et basse continue op.1, containing instructions for playing harmonics, which are then exploited in two of the sonatas. One of the main concerns in the second volume of Ignaz Schweigl's Verbesserte Grundlehre der Violin (1795) is the use of natural harmonics; like Mozart, he refers to these as ‘flagoletti’.

The bowing techniques Bariolage and ondeggiando have implications for fingering; more often than not, in fact, it is through marked fingerings (rather than any explicit verbal direction) that these devices are indicated. Guillaume Gommaire Kennis (c1740) provided an early instance of this (ex.75). Haydn used bariolage to quite whimsical effect in several of his quartets.

Fingering, §II, 3: Bowed strings: Violoncello

(ii) After 1800.

The 19th century brought a demand for bigger sounds and greater virtuosity from violinists and cellists. The practice (established in the early years of the 19th century) of attaching the neck to the body of the violin by a mortised joint in the top-block (see Violin, §I, 2) meant that the combination of the neck and fingerboard no longer increased in bulk towards the ribs of the instrument. This more uniformly slender neck facilitated shifting into and playing in higher positions, and quick passages and the use of high positions on the lower strings became common.

The Italian violinist G.B. Viotti, who went to Paris towards the end of the 18th century, had a great impact on what was to become the French school of violin playing. The Paris Conservatoire was founded in 1795, and in 1803 the official conservatory Méthode de violon, by Pierre Baillot, Pierre Rode and Rodolphe Kreutzer, was published. Together with Baillot’s L’art du violon: nouvelle méthode (1834) it became the model for all future methods. The manner of holding the violin, with the chin to the left of the tailpiece and the instrument rather horizontal, is modern, as is the idea that the left hand should be held away from the neck so that left-hand freedom is guaranteed. (The chin rest, invented by Spohr in about 1820 and, by his own account, finding widespread acceptance by the 1830s, provided additional security for a virtuoso shifting technique.) Scale and arpeggio exercises are given in each of seven positions. There are three-octave chromatic scales with the sliding fingers first advocated by Mersenne (the third octave is fingered 1212121223344), scales in 3rds, double trills in 3rds, and 6ths with alternative fingerings. Not all the fingerings would be acceptable to players today (see ex.76). In Baillot’s method there are studies in octaves and 10ths, broken 10ths and fingered octaves (which, according to Flesch, were invented by Wilhelmj). The many examples from the violin literature of the period include fingerings that show a 19th-century liking for warm, rich sounds produced by lower strings in high positions, and for sliding in both directions.

The Méthode de violon (1858) by Charles-Auguste de Bériot formed the basis of the so-called Franco-Belgian School. His treatment of fingering in the upper positions (which includes the provision of numerous études based on his principles) is encyclopedic and shaped by musical rather than purely functional considerations. (Bériot, incidentally, did not acknowledge the existence of the chin rest in his instructions on holding the instrument; rather, he recommended the application of just enough chin pressure shared between the tailpiece and the belly on the left-hand side, to stabilize the instrument.) His fingerings for chromatic scales were based on the use of each finger in succession, an important step towards present technique.

The innovations of Paganini had tremendous influence on all aspects of violin playing. He rejected the classic concept of positions, thus opening up unlimited possibilities for the left hand. Guhr (c1830) gave many astonishing fingerings used by Paganini to play passages on one string, double stops and chords (ex.77).

In the 19th century, methods were not the only, or necessarily the most interesting, means of communicating fingering technique and musical style; there were also the many editions by violinists such as H.W. Ernst, Joachim, Ferdinand David, Hubert Léonard and August Wilhelmj. David’s Die hohe Schule des Violinspiels is an astonishing collection of Baroque and Classical works fingered in 19th-century style, with expressive slides, high-position playing on all strings and additions to the original texts of double stops and chords. By the second half of the 19th century, extensions and contractions were well established as means of avoiding unwanted slides and of moving smoothly over the fingerboard. Alternative fingerings were given for scales and arpeggios in many methods. Joachim, for example, suggested that each three-octave diatonic scale, except for those of G and A, should begin with the second finger, but he also advised the student to learn each scale beginning in the 1st position.

Though the viola was comparatively neglected as a solo instrument during the 18th and 19th centuries, its left-hand technique kept pace with that of the violin, as can be seen from the early 19th-century methods, studies and compositions of Antonio Bruni, Bartolomeo Campagnoli and Alessandro Rolla, and from Brahms’s sonatas.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Otakar Ševčík’s publications, dealing with aspects of standard violin technique, were very influential, and they are still used today despite the fact that his placing of the hand in set positions is somewhat outmoded. Perhaps the most important modern book dealing specifically with fingering is Carl Flesch’s Alta scuola di diteggiatura violinistica, which incorporates many ideas from his Die Kunst des Violin-spiels. He rejected the traditional concept of hand positions indicated by numbers and encouraged the player to adapt standard fingerings to his own style and technique. He admitted to a prejudice against stretching (extension), but indicated extension fingerings when they are necessary to avoid slides. He discussed the merits of open strings and fourth fingers in runs, fearing that the new steel E string might cause ‘whistling’. He preferred to play chromatic scales with contiguous fingers and used half-position to avoid slides. Some of these points are illustrated in the fingerings he recommended for passages in works by Kreutzer and Paganini (ex.78).

Among the many 20th-century methods and studies including fingering systems Leopold Auer’s Graded Course of Violin Playing (1926) has had enormous influence on left-hand technique. His method is largely for the highly gifted student, and the virtuoso repertory is thoroughly explored. The fingerings are less modern than Flesch’s, and include much use of slides and harmonics. Albert Jarosy, Sol Babitz and others have explored a new theory of fingering based on ‘the natural fall of the fingers’, which on the A string would be represented by ex.79. According to Jarosy, fingering is not an individual matter, and ‘what is needed is a law of fingering, the fundamental rightness of which would dominate all personal methods’ (Jarosy, 1921). His concepts are often contradictory and illogical, but they open up new possibilities, which Babitz has explored, sometimes to a point that many violinists would consider extremely unnatural (ex.80). Nevertheless, Jarosy’s and Babitz’s ideas about contraction, extension and relaxation of the hand are valuable, particularly when dealing with the often formidable difficulties of contemporary music.

Yampol'sky (1933) did not take up such an extreme position, and his book is an intelligent and disciplined survey of both past and present fingering techniques. He set out various fingering principles with great clarity and considered Kreisler’s fingerings to be valuable as the expression of a unique musical personality, even if they were rooted in 19th-century conventions which have since fallen out of fashion. He stressed that the choice of fingering ‘is a creative task, dependent on the musical instincts of the performer and the intellectual and emotional content of the work to be performed – in other words, its interpretation’. Joseph Szigeti also explored the whole subject in considerable depth. His fingerings of examples from Bach to Bartók in his books A Violinist’s Notebook (1964) and Szigeti on the Violin (1969) show his awareness of musical styles, as do also his various editions. His extension fingerings often seem impossible for those with smaller hands than his (ex.81). Ivan Galamian is important as the teacher of many outstanding violinists. His Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (1962) embodies ideas about fingering which, while not new, have been widely adopted by players anxious to avoid unwanted slides.

Developments in violin fingering apply, by and large, to the viola as well and are enshrined in the methods of Dolejši (1939) and Primrose (1960) and in the 20th-century repertory for the instrument.

Fingering, §II: Bowed strings

3. Violoncello.

(i) Early history: to 1800.

There were two early systems of fingering for the cello: fingerings in which semitone spaces occur between each finger in positions below the half-string harmonic, or diatonic fingerings modelled on violin technique in which whole tones may occur between all fingers in the positions of the neck. Early cello technique was strongly influenced by that of the violin and viol, as cellists were often first players of those instruments. The postscripts to Bismantova's Compendio musicale (1694) present fingering for the viola da spalla (one of many terms for the small-sized bass violin) in the manner of the violin, using the fourth finger only on the A string to reach e'. The earliest musical evidence for advanced fingering technique is found in the Ricercate by Degli Antoni (1687) and Domenico Gabrielli's Ricercares for solo cello (1689). The range represented in the Degli Antoni works extends from C to c''; Gabrielli's Ricercares are the first known pieces to incorporate double stopping and chords. Works dating from the 1680s and 90s by Giovanni Bononcini and Antonio Caldara call for fingering in the higher positions of the neck and virtuoso passagework.

Early treatises on playing the cello devote significant space to fingering, as a well-established system of fingering did not at that time exist. Michel Corrette oriented the fingering principles in his Méthode théorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de tems le violoncelle (1741) towards viol players and violinists taking up the cello for the first time, presenting several fingering options for passages in the lower positions. His fingerings for consecutive note patterns suggest the use of an oblique left-hand position as the use of the fourth finger is eliminated in passages above 3rd position, where the backwards-pointing thumb against the thick neck of the cello would inhibit the use of the fourth finger. Corrette referred to the chromatic system of fingering as an outmoded way of playing, practised on large bass violins and applied to the cello by players of the larger instrument. He described the violin-style fingering of Bononcini as the best system and the most commonly practised at the time. The works of Jean Barrière, published in the 1730s, provide evidence for the use of diatonic extensions without changing position. An example from Sonata no.5, bk 4 (1739) shows rapid arpeggios across two strings within the compass of an octave. Salvatore Lanzetti (Principes ou l'application de violoncelle, before 1770) applied diatonic fingerings to passages in the first two positions, with extensions between the first and second fingers, while for 3rd and 4th positions he advocated Corrette's fingering pattern, in which a whole-tone extension is used between the second and third fingers. Unlike Corrette, Lanzette employed the fourth finger above the half-string harmonic. Lanzetti's solo works also show the use of extensions between the second and third, and third and fourth fingers. An example from Sonata no.10 (12 sonate, op.1, 1736) requires the use of such extensions to execute the rapid passagework neatly without shifting.

As the 18th century progressed, fingerings based on semitone spacing between the fingers, and the use of extensions between the first and second fingers only in lower positions, became more common. However, there were still differences of opinion between schools of playing concerning fingering choices and the position of the left hand on the neck. In his Instructions de musique, théorique et pratique, à l'usage du violoncelle (1774), J.-B. Baumgartner advocated an oblique hand position on the neck, using an extension between the second and third fingers, and eliminating the fourth finger from the 3rd position upwards, where the third finger is recommended instead. The use of thumb position is avoided. On the other hand, the French cellists J.B. Tillière (1764) and J.-B. Cupis (ii) (1772), in their respective treatises, demonstrated consistent principles applied to fingering in the first four neck positions. Both Cupis and Tillière were students of Martin Berteau and applied the principle of chromatic fingering, with extensions used between the first and second fingers only in the first four positions. Above 4th position, the fourth finger is used only exceptionally, and whole-tone extensions between the second and third fingers are applied. Available evidence suggests that the use of a more perpendicular left-hand position in relation to the neck by players of the French school facilitated the use of chromatic fingerings. John Gunn's Theory and Practice of Fingering the Violoncello (1789) was the first attempt to systematize cello fingering. He strongly advocated the use of the perpendicular, as opposed to oblique, position for the left hand. The use of scale fingerings encompassing a minor 3rd between the first and third fingers (using an extension between the first and second), given as an option by Gunn, can be documented to the end of the 18th century, and includes fingerings suggested by J.-B.S. Bréval in his Traité du violoncelle (1804).

The use of thumb position, in which the thumb is placed horizontally across the strings, thereby acting as a moveable nut, is documented in compositions dating from the 1730s. Some of Lanzetti's sonatas, for example, call for a tessitura well above the positions of the neck that could only be played by using thumb position. The discussion of thumb position in Corrette's Méthode suggests its use was well-known by 1741 and that cellists used the technique to play works for the violin as well as virtuoso cello pieces. Thumb position was based on the interval of a 4th between the thumb and the third finger when playing on one string, or an octave when playing on two strings. This octave spacing became the basis from which thumb position developed as a technique to expand the instrument's range and capacity for virtuoso playing. Performance practices emanating from the early Mannheim cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Filtz were passed on in Austria and Germany through their students J.G. Schetky, Peter Ritter and J.B. Tricklir. These cellists were highly proficient in the use of thumb position and used the fourth finger over the entire compass of positions, including extensions between the third and fourth fingers. A characteristic feature in their use of the thumb was the employment of blocked hand positions across two or more strings in thumb position, from which a wide range of virtuoso devices could be executed. Works written by or for cellists in the Mannheim tradition, such as Haydn's Concerto in C, contain many passages written to show off this technique.

(ii) Duport and Romberg.

The codification of the fingering system used by the French school occurred with the publication of J.-L. Duport's Essai sur le doigté du violoncelle (1806). Crediting Berteau with establishing the foundation of cello fingering, Duport's detailed treatment of fingering principles provided the basis for the modern left-hand technique. He advocated a left-hand position that is perpendicular to the neck, with the thumb placed on the neck behind the first and second fingers (the thumb moving with the fingers when shifting), and the use of well-rounded fingers. Like Gunn, Duport expressly advised against using the violin-style oblique position of the left hand on the neck, pointing out its lack of agility in passages in which the hand position must encompass two whole tones between the first and third fingers in quick succession. The overriding left-hand principle presented in the Essai is that of successive semitone spacings between each finger, with extensions possible between the first and second, and between the second and third but only above the 4th position. He occasionally allowed an extension to be taken between the third and fourth fingers but only in exceptional cases, such as specific arpeggio patterns. He strongly advised against sliding on the same finger when changing positions, a common fingering choice in earlier treatises, but which he judged as producing a disagreeable and tasteless effect. His exceptions to this rule are limited to intentional slides on one finger executed for musical reasons, such as the playing of portamento, or broken 3rds, where such slides are necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the hand position. He also advised that changes of bow direction be coordinated with left hand position changes to avoid shifting within slurs. Neatness of execution and purity of tone were of paramount importance to Duport, and he preferred regularity in fingerings to maintain consistency in the left hand technique, thereby affording better intonation.

Duport's fingering principles were disseminated through the Paris Conservatoire method, co-authored by J.-H. Levasseur who was one of his students, and other cellist-contemporaries whom he influenced, such as Nicolas Baudiot, Friedrich Dotzauer and Robert Lindley. A particularly influential teacher, Dotzauer subscribed to Duport's left hand principles and was instrumental in introducing these into the German school of cello playing, as illustrated in his Violoncellschule (1832).

B.H. Romberg's fingering technique differed markedly from that of his contemporary, Duport, as he advocated an oblique position of the left hand. He was particularly known for his skill in thumb position, and he extended the limits of this technique using blocked hand positions, developing a brilliant capacity to play in the upper register on the G and C strings. The frequent use of thumb position on the C string by German cellists sharply distinguishes this school of cello playing from that of the French, who avoided using the C string in solo compositions until after 1815. Unlike Duport, Romberg often used same-finger shifts when changing positions, and the fourth finger in thumb position. The use of the little finger in thumb position lost favour with French cellists through the 18th century and was re-introduced only at the beginning of the 19th century by German players, such as Romberg. Many passages requiring the use of the fourth finger in thumb position can be found in 19th-century works for the cello.

(iii) After 1800.

Aspects of the fingering techniques of both Duport and Romberg were amalgamated by the early 19th-century cellist-teachers, Baudiot and Dotzauer. Whereas the thumb position fingering styles of Duport and Romberg were based on blocked positions, other effects became more frequently used than in the 18th century, such as 10ths (e.g. A.F. Servais, Caprice no.6, ?1854), and consecutive shifts on the thumb, including octaves and double stops. The Russian cellist Karl Davïdov adopted the ideas of the violinist Khandoshkin, using a completely mobile hand over the fingerboard without reference to fixed positions based on the thumb, in order to facilitate a more expressive, lyrical style of playing. An important teacher as well as performer, Davïdov's fingering style had lasting influence in Russia throughout the second half of the 19th century. Friedrich Grützmacher's Hohe Schule des Violoncellspiels (1891) was also influential, reflecting 19th-century German taste for slides, harmonics and rich sonorities. David Popper employed the 19th-century German fingering system to its fullest potential, his pedagogical and musical works extending the compass of thumb position, using logical, fixed positions, to the highest possible range.

Pablo Casals is credited with taking the best aspects of earlier methods of fingering and developing them into the modern left-hand technique. Although Casals never published a method on cello playing, two of his pupils, Diran Alexanian and Maurice Eisenberg, wrote detailed expositions on cello playing and technique that were based on Casals's principles and received his approbation. Noteworthy aspects of Casals's fingering principles include his approach to the use of extensions, various means of shifting, and techniques for fingering chords and double stops. Extensions are normally only used between the first and second fingers, but are not limited to the interval of a tone, as larger extensions may be taken in cases where an extension is preferable to a shift. When changing position by ascending from a lower to a higher finger, or descending from a higher finger to a lower one, the slide is executed by the initial finger, with the new finger sounding only upon arrival. Conversely, when ascending by shifting from a higher to a lower finger, or descending by shifting from a lower finger to a higher one, the initial finger is withdrawn and replaced by the new finger upon arrival. When changing positions across two or more strings with the same finger, the effect of sliding should be minimized, by taking the slide and bow change together or, when the two notes are to be slurred, sounding the slide only a fraction earlier than the note of arrival. When changing positions and crossing strings, the shift should be executed on the first string to minimize the glissando effect in arriving at the new note. In playing chords or double stops, 5ths may be fingered with a temporarily oblique hand position so that notes on parallel strings may be played with neighbouring fingers rather than one finger across two strings.

The advancement in cello fingering technique, begun by Casals and continued throughout the 20th century, is reflected in the demands of many 20th-century works, which call for a highly flexible fingering technique that can accommodate extremely large intervals, unusual leaps, double stops and chords, left-hand pizzicato or physically awkward positions of the hand to achieve the composer's intentions. The final movement of Kodály's Sonata op.8 for solo cello (1915) is a good example of a work that extends the fingering requirements for the left hand, the closing bars necessitating a double stop that spans the interval of a 13th in the highest register of the instrument.

Fingering, §II: Bowed strings

4. Double bass.

Because of the instrument’s size, double bass fingering has been subject to much experimentation, and a great variety of systems have been used. Modern methods have only partly standardized earlier systems and there are still many different fingering systems in use. Not only do these vary considerably but there is also no consistent method of identifying the positions. For instance, ‘half-position’ in one method may be called ‘first position’ in another and ‘first degree’ elsewhere.

Two systems are most commonly found. One, probably the most widespread, springs from bass methods published in Germany and Austria during the 19th century and is known as ‘Simandl fingering’. The hand is positioned in such a way that a semitone lies between 1 and 2 and another between 2 and 4. The third finger is used only as a support for 4 until the higher positions are reached, when it is used instead of 4, which no longer reaches the fingerboard. J. Hindle in his Der Contrabass-Lehrer (c1850) fingered semitones 124 but brought 3 into use slightly sooner than the methods of Labro, Hrabě, Simandl, Nanny and White, which are largely the same in their approach.

Bottesini in his Metodo completo per contrabbasso (n.d., before 1870) fingered semitones 134 and some modern Italian methods retain this use of 3 in place of 2 (Billè, Petracchi). Sometimes Bottesini fingered a semitone 14 in the lower positions (the old Lombardy school). The use of 4 in high positions is also not uncommon, in which event the wrist and hand are brought further forward to compensate for the short little finger.

The other main system has its origins in viol or cello technique, and is frequently called ‘extended fingering’. The hand is placed so that semitones lie between each of the fingers in all positions, thus avoiding many changes of position during playing. Advocates of the Simandl system say that extended fingering leads to poor intonation because of the stretching required. But as only two major diatonic scales (B and F) are playable on a conventionally tuned bass without shifting, the advantages of extensions become obvious. Extended systems have been widely used on modern instruments with thinner strings and lower bridges to increase facility. In addition, the weight of the hand is placed with a rolling action over the playing finger, thus reducing the need to stretch. Studies by Billè, Möchel, Rühm, Hegner and Gullbrandsson all include various types of extensions.

Thumb positions and double stops on the double bass are required less frequently in the orchestral than in the solo repertory. Most systems use the thumb from halfway up the string, although some advocate its use much earlier. Natural harmonics can be produced at either end of the strings but, as with artificial harmonics, they are seldom called for in everyday playing.

Fingering, §II: Bowed strings


C. Simpson: The Division-Violist: or An Introduction to the Playing upon a Ground (London, 1659, rev. 2/1665/R as Chelys minuritionum artificio exornata/The Division Viol, or The Art of Playing Extempore upon a Ground, 3/1712)

J.B. Tillière: Méthode pour le violoncelle contenant tous les principes nécessaires pour bien jouer (Paris, 1764; Eng. edn, London, c1795 as New and Compleat Instruction, rev. 4/1901 by I. Danbe)

J.-B. Cupis: Méthode nouvelle et raisonnée pour apprendre a jouer du violoncelle (Paris, 1772)

M. Corrette: Méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la contre-basse à 3, à 4 et à 5 cordes, de la quinte ou alto et de la viole d’Orphée (Paris, 1773/R)

P. Baillot and others: Méthode de violoncelle et de basse d’accompagnement rédigée (Paris, 1804/R; Eng. trans., c1850)

J.-L. Duport: Essai sur le doigté du violoncelle, et sur la conduite de l’archet (Paris, c1810)

C.-N. Baudiot: Méthode de violoncelle (Paris, 1826–8)

J. Fröhlich: Kontrabass-Schule (Würzburg, 1829; Eng. trans., c1840)

C. Guhr: Über Paganini’s Kunst, die Violine zu spielen (Mainz, c1830; Eng. trans., rev., 1915; new Eng. trans., 1982, ed. J. Gold)

F.A. Kummer: Violoncell-Schule (Leipzig, c1839; Eng. trans., 1850)

B. Romberg: Violoncell-Schule von Berhard Romberg (Berlin, c1840; Eng. trans., c1840)

C. Labro: Méthode de Contre-Basse (Paris, 1860)

G. Bottesini: Metodo completo per contrabbasso (Milan, n.d., Eng. trans., c1880)

F. Simandl: Neueste Methode des Contrabass-Spiels (Vienna, 1874; Eng. trans., 1903; bilingual edn, 1948/R, rev. F. Zimmermann)

F. Warnecke: ‘Ad infinitum’: der Kontrabass, seine Geschichte und seine Zukunft (Hamburg, 1909)

A. Jarosy: Die Grundlagen des violinistischen Fingersatzes (Berlin, 1921; Fr. orig. Paris, 1924, as Nouvelle théorie du doigté; Eng. trans., 1933)

D. Alexanian and P. Casals: L’Enseignement du violoncelle: traité théorique et pratique du violoncelle (Paris, 1922)

C. Flesch: Die Kunst des Violin-spiels (Berlin, 1923–8; Eng. trans., 1924–30)

H. Becker and D. Rynar: Mechanik und Aesthetik des Violoncellspiels (Vienna, 1929/R), 108–43

E. Nanny: Méthode complète pour la contrebass à quatre et cinq cordes (Paris, c1931)

I.M. Yampol'sky: Osnovï skripichnoy applikaturï [The principles of violin fingering] (Moscow, 1933, enlarged 3/1955; Eng. trans., 1967)

R. Dolejši: Modern Viola Technique (Chicago, 1939/R)

K. Gullbrandsson: Kontrabas skola (Stockholm, 1941)

S. Babitz: Principles of Extensions in Violin Fingerings (Philadelphia, 1947, rev. and enlarged 2/1974)

M. Eisenberg and M.B. Stanfield: Cello Playing of Today (London, 1955/R)

M. Pincherle: Vivaldi (Paris, 1955; Eng. trans., 1957, as Vivaldi: ‘Genius of the Baroque’)

C. Flesch: Alta scuola di diteggiatura violinistica (Milan, 1960; Eng. trans., rev. 1966/R as Violin Fingering: its Theory and Practice; Ger. orig, ed. K. Rebling, Frankfurt, 1995, as Die hohe Schule des Fingersaztes auf der Geige)

W. Primrose: Technique is Memory (London, 1960)

I. Galamian: Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1962, 2/1985)

J. Szigeti: A Violinist’s Notebook (London, 1964)

D.D. Boyden: The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 (London, 1965/R)

E. Cruft: The Eugene Cruft School of Double Bass Playing (London, 1966)

A. Meier: Konzertante Musik für Kontrabass in der Wiener Klassik: mit Beiträgen zur Geschichte des Kontrabassbaues in Österreich (Prien, 1969)

F. Neumann: Violin Left Hand Technique: a Survey of the Related Literature (Urbana, IL, 1969)

J. Szigeti: Szigeti on the Violin (London, 1969/R)

H. Bol: La basse de viole du temps de Marin Marais et d’Antoine Forqueray (Bilthoven, 1973)

I. Woodfield: ‘Viol Playing Techniques in the Mid-16th Century: a Survey of Ganassi's Fingering Instructions’, EMc, vi (1978), 544–9

R.C. Bosanquet: ‘Scale and Arpeggio Fingerings’, The Strad, xci (1980), 113–14

J. Hsu: A Handbook of French Baroque Viol Technique (New York, 1981)

P. Walls: ‘Violin Fingering in the 18th Century’, EMc, xii (1984), 300–15

S. Monosoff: ‘Violin Fingering’, EMc, xiii (1985), 76–9

R. Stowell: Violin Technique and Performance Practice in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1985)

A. Crum: Play the Viol: the Complete Guide to Playing the Treble, Tenor and Bass Viol (Oxford, 1989)

K. Guettler: A Guide to Advanced Modern Double Bass Technique (London, 1992)

D. Markovitch: ‘A Lost Art? The Use of the Thumb in 18th- and Early 19th-Century Cello Works’, Strings, vii/1 (1992), 16–18

F. Petracchi: Simplified Higher Technique for Double Bass (London, 1992)

D. Watkin: ‘Beethoven's Sonatas for Piano and Cello: Aspects of Technique and Performance’, Performing Beethoven, ed. R. Stowell (Cambridge, 1994), 89–116

V. Walden: One Hundred Years of Violoncello: a History of Technique and Performance Practice, 1740–1840 (Cambridge, 1998) [incl. further bibliography]

P. Walls: ‘Iconography and Early Violin Technique’, The Consort, liv (1998), 3–17

C. Lancaster: The Forms and Development of the Bass Violin in 17th-Century Italy: a Re-Examination of the Origins of the Violoncello (thesis, U. of Western Australia, 1999)

For further bibliography, see articles on separate instruments.


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