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ClassicsOnline Home » POPPER, D.: High School of Cello Playing, Op. 73 (Yablonsky)
An admired contemporary of Liszt and Brahms, the widely-travelled Bohemian-born virtuoso cellist and influential pedagogue David Popper composed prolifically for his instrument. His High School of Cello Playing comprises forty etudes which have remained essential for both aspiring and advanced players for more than a century. His intimate knowledge of the cello’s capabilities raises these studies above the level of mere exercises in technique, no lesser light than Pablo Casals declaring that “no other composer wrote better for the instrument”.
By David Denton
David Popper (1843–1913)
High School of Cello Playing (Forty Etudes), Op. 73
The cellist David Popper was born in Prague in 1843, the son of the Prague Cantor. He studied the cello there under the Hamburg cellist Julius Goltermann, who had taken up an appointment at the Prague Conservatory in 1850. It was through Liszt’s then son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, that Popper was recommended in 1863 to a position as Chamber Virtuoso at the court of the Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Konstantin von Hohenzollern, who had had a new residence with a concert hall built at Löwenberg. The musical establishment there was disbanded, however, in 1869, on the death of the Prince. In 1867 Popper made his début in Vienna and the following year was appointed principal cellist at the Court Opera, serving also for a time as cellist in the Hellmesberger Quartet. In 1872 he married Liszt’s pupil Sophie Menter, described by her teacher as his only legitimate daughter as a pianist and the greatest woman pianist of the age, later to join the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory. The following year they left Vienna to embark on a series of concert tours throughout Europe and in 1882 he undertook a tour of Spain and Portugal with the French violinist Emil Sauret. His marriage was dissolved in 1886, the year in which Liszt died during a reluctant stay in Bayreuth, where Sophie Menter and her friends had visited him, as his life drew to a close. In 1896 Popper settled in Budapest to teach at the Conservatory that Liszt had established there, serving for a time as cellist in the quartet led by Jenö Hubay, the son of the first head of the Conservatory string department, who had inherited his father’s position as professor of violin in 1886. In the same year Popper joined Hubay and Brahms in a performance in Budapest of the latter’s Piano Trio in C minor, continuing an earlier connection with the composer. Popper died at Baden, near Vienna, in 1913.
As a composer Popper is remembered for his compositions for cello. These include four concertos, now seldom heard in the concert hall, and, better known, a number of salon pieces. His studies remain well enough known to aspirant cellists, while his other works include compositions that give an opportunity for virtuoso display.
Popper’s Hohe Schule des Violoncello-Spiels, Op. 73, a series of forty studies for solo cello, summarises much of his teaching. It was compiled between 1901 and 1905. Etude No. 1 in C major is a study in triplets, to be played with a loose wrist at the nut, lightly staccato. Etude No. 2 in G major is to be played with a very steady bow, starting with four semiquavers in a bow and continuing in similar fashion. Etude No. 3 in B flat minor is marked Andante and is principally in semiquavers, with varied bowings sometimes overlapping phrasing. Etude No. 4 in F sharp major is a study in triplets, starting with six in a bow, with varied groupings of notes in a technically demanding key. Etude No. 5 in A major is marked Scherzando, in 6/8, with dotted notes throughout. Etude No. 6 in F major is a study in semiquavers, with separate bows, and Etude No. 7 in A major is marked Con moto, with triplet quavers, bowed together in long bows. Etude No. 8 in C major is in semiquavers, phrased together, starting with sixteen notes in a bow. Etude No. 9 in E flat major introduces double stopping, starting with a passage in thirds, moving on to sixths. Etude No. 10 in C minor, marked Appassionato, is in semiquavers, calling finally for a double stopped moving lower part against a sustained upper note.
Etude No. 11 in F major, in separately bowed triplets, includes wide leaps, and the more extended Etude No. 12 in C major is in semiquavers, bowed together and covering a wide range of the instrument. Etude No. 13 in E flat major is a study in double stopping, starting with octaves and including passages of thirds and sixths. It ends, after a fortississimo climax and left-hand pizzicato with a series of triple and quadruple stops. Etude No. 14 in D major is a study in bowed staccato, predominantly in semiquavers and including a bar in artificial harmonics. The following Etude No. 15 in G major is a Scherzando in 6/8, with a closing passage in double stops. Etude No. 16 in C major is in 3/4 with triplet groupings of notes, separately bowed and additionally marked capriccioso. Etude No. 17 in C minor is a demanding exercise in double stopping, moving from its opening Con brio to a central passage marked Andante quasi Adagio, before the opening momentum is restored. Etude No. 18 in D major is in 6/8 and in semiquavers, separately bowed, with the suggestion Very light with the bow and including arpeggios that make use of harmonics in their lofty ascent. Etude No. 19 in E flat major, described as ‘Lohengrin’ Study and in triplet quavers separately bowed, starts with a bar from the third act of Wagner’s Lohengrin that cellists find difficult at the speed demanded. Etude No. 20 in G minor is another Appassionato that presents a range of technical difficulties. Couched largely in semiquavers, it includes varieties of double stopping, particularly passages of octaves.
Etude No. 21 in A minor is a triple-metre study in triplets, starting eighteen notes to a bow and spanning a wide range. It ends with divided octaves, before the multiple stopping of its final cadence. Etude No. 22 in G major is in semiquavers and opens with an accompanying left-hand pizzicato of open strings. Etude No. 23 in B minor, marked dolce, is a study in triplets, bringing varied dynamics and passages in octaves. Etude No. 24 in G major is an extended study in semiquavers and in 6/8, including harmonics and a passage in sixths. Etude No. 25 in B flat major is in a dotted rhythm, to be played nearest to the point of the bow. Etude No. 26 in A major is a study in semiquaver sextuplets, bowed together. It is followed by Etude No. 27 in C major, with separate semiquavers to be played throughout with a springing bow and ending with a passage of octaves. Etude No. 28 in A major is in semiquaver sextuplets, bowed together and suggesting an accompanying melody in the opening notes of each group of six. Etude No. 29 in F sharp minor, marked Moderato and dolce cantabile, introduces thirds and sixths. Etude No. 30 in G flat major is in 6/8 and spans a wide range. Etude No. 31 in C major is a study in triplets with mixed bowings. Etude No. 32 in C minor contrasts legato with bowed staccato in its continuing semiquaver motion. Etude No. 33 in D major is a semiquaver study in arpeggios, bowed together. Etude No. 34 in F major is a 6/8 study in double stopping, principally thirds and sixths, with left-hand pizzicato. Etude No. 35 in D flat major is in semiquavers, largely bowed in pairs, but including some varied bowing patterns. Etude No. 36 in C major is in 3/8, including wide leaps and sustained notes below a moving part. Etude No. 37 in E major is a study in mordents and Etude No. 38 in D major, in rapid semiquavers, makes extensive use of the thumb position in its divided octaves. Etude No. 39 in D flat major is in 6/8 and in semiquavers, with passages of sustained notes over a moving lower part, octaves and other double stopping, with a central section in the enharmonic key of C sharp minor. Etude No. 40 in D major, marked Scherzando, is a study in harmonics.
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