Help Me Rondo, Help Help Me Rondo

| posted in: practice 

The capstone piece in Suzuki book 5 for cellists is an excerpt of the Rondo from Concerto No. 4, Op. 65 by Georg Goltermann. It is easily the most difficult piece in the book. It has numerous challenges: shifts, triplets galore, and significant passages beyond 4th position.

It has taken me weeks upon weeks to put this piece together. Even now I would not want to perform it in a recital, although I am able to play it from end to end without too much difficulty. My teacher informed me that at my lesson next week we’ll perform a mini recital, just to two of us, to end the piece.

While I haven’t mastered the piece in a performance sense I have learned a great deal from it.

On the first page (which has a completely different character than the rest of the piece - one that, if you watch a YouTube recording of the actual piece, is repeated - hence the rondo) the spiccato section starting at measure 17 has improved my spiccato playing tremendously. This new skill comes back in to use in the running triplets starting at measure 160.

Speaking of triplets, learning to keep an even tempo in the last measures on the first page (mm 70-71) was a small challenge too. That the fingering goes 4-3-1-4-2-1-4-3-2 doesn’t help.

Beginning with the high-B in measure 96 and down through measure 112 took a lot of slow practice. First with the tuner to make sure I was playing the right notes, then with separate bows to get the rhythm down, and finally with slurs (slowly at first) to get the final sound.

The slurred triplets from measure 176 to 183, and again from 200 to 214, were the most challenging part of the Rondo for me. At my teacher’s suggestion I started by playing only the lowest note in each measure. So C# - C#, D - D, D# - D#, and so forth. Then I added the second note to each measure: C# - Bb - Bb - C#, D - B - B - D, and so on. Then I added the last note in each triplet: C# - Bb - E - E - Bb - C#, D - B - G - G - B - D, and so on. All of this done slowly and separate bows. Once I could reliably play the triplets one after the other separate bows, I added the slurs and gradually sped up my tempo. I followed the same pattern for mm 200 - 214.

The part of these arpeggios that is still hard is relaxing my hand after those chords that require one finger smeared across two strings. In karate-do your arm is relaxed while throwing a punch or recoiling from a punch. The only time there is tension is at the point of impact. In cello, fingering chords (arpeggios) the tension should only exist for the duration of the note and then be gone. Much easier to say than to do.

The final chords of the piece: D-A-F#-D, G-D-B, D-A-F#-D, G-B-G, again require you to smear two strings with one finger and then let go, only to repeat it again. I’m slowly getting better at using just enough tension to make clear notes, but not so much that I can’t let go of strings for the next chord.

At times I have wondered if I would ever finsih this piece. The book has been tossed to the floor more than once in frustration. My teacher won’t let his students say they don’t like a piece until they can play it. I can play it now, and my like for it has grown. The whole, un-editted piece is lovely, but the Suzuki edit will never be one of my favorites.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Mastodon.