Guy Fishman

A Return to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist”: a Slight Digression about Textbooks (Part 2) — by Guy Fishman

I ended last week’s post by qualifying the common sobriquet for the period between 1600 and 1750, “Baroque,” with a “so-called.” I didn’t mean to incite controversy, but I said “so-called Baroque period” because I meant just that. It is so called. It simply does not exist beyond us calling it so in textbooks and elsewhere. Or more accurately, we repeat some music critics’ derogatory epithet for music written during this time, an aspersion that can be found as early as 1753. The word is evidently based on the Portuguese word for “misshapen pearl.” Clearly to some, reading through a concerto of Vivaldi was comparable to risking one’s life by diving in search of a coveted calcite bead only to come up with a deformed and therefore worthless specimen. I say [...]

A Return to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist”: a Slight Digression about Textbooks (Part 1) — by Guy Fishman

My recent posts about “How to Play the Baroque Cello” were brought about by earlier posts in which I attempted to answer the question, “What Makes a Baroque Cellist.” I spent almost as much time contemplating my difficulty in answering this very interesting question as I have finally trying to answer it. Undoubtedly, there are concrete topics that may make up an answer, and I have tried and will continue to discuss these. But my struggle was palpable. That may be because, despite what we all know, see, and hear, ultimately there may not be such a thing as a “baroque cellist,” nor did such a person ever exist. Not now, nor in 1697 or 1732, nor at any other time. And this is because there may not have ever [...]

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: Vibrato (Part 2) — by Guy Fishman

In last week’s post, I attempted to set out the basic arguments made by those musicians who, for over four centuries, advocated a judicious approach to the application of vibrato to stringed instrument sound, and those who, for the last ninety years or so, have championed a more continuous presence for this expressive tool. Members of the former group adhered to the original attribution of vibrato as an ornament that is most highly effective when employed sparingly, where those who belong to the latter group see it as an indispensable component of good tone production. Two things should be kept in mind. The first is that each statement constitutes what is largely a philosophical stance, although the latter is supported by the overwhelming majority of live and recorded playing on [...]

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: Vibrato (Part 1) — by Guy Fishman

  In my first blog entry I described a coaching I had gotten on the F major sonata by Brahms, during which I was told I sounded like a “baroque” cellist. I think this was because I disappointed her expectations as to what good cello sound should be, because I’m familiar with some of the excellent players in her circle and with how they play. More than anything else, I think it was my use of vibrato that gave her pause. I should say, however, that my playing at that time did not evince any provocative stance on this topic. But what vibrato I did apply to Brahms clearly did not near her idea of what is appropriate for romantic music. In her defense, I concede that this idea is [...]

By | 2017-10-05T03:59:05+00:00 November 20th, 2014|Categories: Artistic Vision, Baroque, CelloBlog|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: the Baroque Bow, or What Your Ear Imagines Your Bow Should Do (Part 3) — by Guy Fishman

This illustration and text come from the Methode by Michelle Corrette, published in 1741. The work remains the earliest extant treatise that deals with every technical aspect of playing the violoncello. This section details the variations in the manner of holding the bow that Corrette found acceptable. The areas that he prescribes for placing the right hand upon the bow are familiar: A player may hold the stick at the frog, or may “choke” the bow higher on the stick. The exact distance depends on the balance point of the particular bow, which in any case would be different from that of a Tourte-style stick. I caution against taking Corrette’s illustration where “ABCD” are concerned literally, that is, placed almost in the middle of the bow. I rather believe he means [...]

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: the Baroque Bow, or What Your Ear Imagines Your Bow Should Do (Part 2) — by Guy Fishman

For the continuation of my brief discussion of the baroque bow, I’d like to begin by listing several descriptions that I believe only faintly hide a prejudice towards it as a primitive tool. “The baroque bow is for speaking, while the modern bow is for singing.” “The baroque bow articulates while the modern bow sustains.” “The baroque bow makes a lean, silvery tone, while the modern bow creates a round, lush sound.” And my favorite, “the baroque bow naturally weakens as it is pulled towards the tip.” Before I continue, a quick reminder of two things I mentioned in my previous post: first, what your ear imagines, your bow should be able to do. That last description is usually left where it ends because in this case, the comparison to [...]

By | 2017-10-05T04:13:28+00:00 October 20th, 2014|Categories: Artistic Vision, Baroque, CelloBlog, Technology|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: the Baroque Bow, or What Your Ear Imagines Your Bow Should Do (Part 1) — by Guy Fishman

  What Your Ear Imagines, Your Bow Should Do. Remember this as you read the following. Here’s another Hallmark-worthy, embroiderable line: The Bow is the Soul of the Violin. By extension, the description applies to the cello, as well. Writer upon writer of numerous treatises from the 1540s to the 1920s describes the bow in exactly these terms. When, in 1924, Carl Flesch declared that the bow was responsible for clearly-defined intellectual tasks, while the left hand (meaning a constantly vibrating left hand) awakened the “deep feelings which subconsciously slumber in our souls,” he was performing a 180-degree turn away from over 450 years of string-playing tradition. He was describing a trend popular with himself and many others, where constant vibrato and a purely instrumental sort of “singing” was displacing [...]

By | 2017-10-05T04:08:58+00:00 October 15th, 2014|Categories: Artistic Vision, Baroque, CelloBlog, Technology|Tags: , , , , |

On How to Play a Baroque Cello: Gut Strings (Part 2) — by Guy Fishman

In last week’s blog, I outlined a brief history of gut strings in the 20th century. Here I complete my blog on gut strings, and also offer a bit of advice on their use. There is no doubt that the character of the sound of gut strings differs from that of steel. Gut has what is usually described as a warm sound. This is despite the fact that the surface tension of gut is much higher than steel, and the “buzz” that musicians often hear under their ears coming from gut strings is part of what propels the sound toward the listener. I have found that the variety of color between the strings and along the same string, especially on unwound gut, creates a great deal of interest in the [...]

By | 2017-10-05T04:21:32+00:00 September 29th, 2014|Categories: Baroque, Chamber Music, Teaching, CelloBlog, Repertoire|Tags: , , , , , |

On How to Play a Baroque Cello: Gut Strings (Part 1) — by Guy Fishman

I will now attempt to shift the focus of my series on baroque cello from attempting to define what a baroque cellist is to getting to it and actually playing a baroque cello. Before I do, I would like to point out to the reader that for the vast majority of those of us who play period instruments came to them after we had gained experience on standard ones. Holding the cello between one’s legs, using a baroque bow, minimizing vibrato, and other elements that seem, in the minds of many, to be trademarks only of the period instrument movement therefore often feel as though they are diminishing something we’re used to, almost to the point of deprivation. It’s similar to dieting, in the sense that one often limits what [...]

By | 2017-10-05T04:44:45+00:00 September 22nd, 2014|Categories: Baroque, Self Discovery, CelloBlog, Technology|Tags: , , , , |

On “What Makes a Baroque Cellist”: Foreign Languages (Part 2) — by Guy Fishman

In the previous segment of this blog post I began providing an attempt at an answer to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist.”  I ended with the assertion that what unites many of my favorite early-music practitioners—who in fact often enjoy active careers playing music from all eras, including our own—is a love for language.  I promised that this love is what helps define a “baroque” player, at least of the sort that I admire.  I’d like to illustrate how this is in the following. There are volumes upon volumes written by brilliant women and men on the causes for the dawn of late-nineteenth century isms: Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, then Neoclassicism, Minimalism, etc.  When tonality had outlived its usefulness to some composers, they created new languages.  Their favorite performers had the [...]

By | 2017-10-05T04:41:41+00:00 September 15th, 2014|Categories: Artistic Vision, Baroque, Self Discovery, CelloBlog|Tags: , , , , , , |