The Cambridge Companion to the Cello / French Cello Sonateas 1871-1939

By Solow, Jeffrey | Strings, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The Cambridge Companion to the Cello / French Cello Sonateas 1871-1939


Solow, Jeffrey, Strings


The Cambridge Companion to the Cello, edited by Robin Stowell. Cambridge University Press 1999, paperback 2000; 269 pages; $22.95; ISBN 0-521-62928-4.

French Cello Sonatas 1871-1939 by Stephen Sensbach. The Lilliput Press paperback 2001; Dublin, Ireland; 322 pages; $17.95; ISBN 1-901866-61-0.

CELLISTS AND CELLO STUDENTS should have a context for what they do and study. Until recently, there have been only two modern, comprehensive discussions of the cello, covering the instrument, its development and makers, its historical players, and its repertoire: The Cello by Elizabeth Cowling (Scribners, 1971) and Cello Story by Dimitry Markevitch (Sumy-Burchard, 1984). Now add The Cambridge Companion to the Cello, which also addresses cello acoustics, historical style and performance practice, teaching in the 20th century, and "frontiers of technique."

All three books are valuable, and each is somewhat different in its approach. The most readable of the three, Cello Story, includes many historical anecdotes and personal reminiscences. About half of The Cello focuses on the history of the instrument's solo and sonata literature. Meanwhile, a different author contributed each subject to The Cambridge Companion to the Cello. Edited by Robin Stowell, it is the most comprehensive and systematically organized, but this makes the book drier than the others. It's difficult to avoid errors and controversial statements in a work of this kind, but none of the gaffes in The Cambridge Companion is major.

Still, Cambridge Companion contributor Margaret Campbell confusingly refers to Georg Goltermann by his middle name, Edward, and opines-as in her book, The Great Cellists (Gollancz, 1988)-that Gregor Piatigorsky's studies with Mengel were rather unsuccessful. (an assessment never made by Piatigorsky who, in fact, largely modeled his teaching style on Klengel's). Stowell mistakenly assigns Debussy's early Intermezzo to Faure and observes that only "some cellists" have adopted the Bach gamba sonatas-works that are undisputedly standard cello repertoire. John Dilworth describes the tuning pegs-ebony on most cellos-as "usually . . . rosewood or boxwood." The modem-sounding tones of two of the earliest-- born cellists to record, Alexander Vershbilowitsch (1849-1911) and Joseph Hollman (1852-1927), are fully evident on their recordings, yet R. Caroline Bosanquet espouses the view that continuous vibrato was not used until well into the 20th century. The truth is that there was not one universal style.

I began my review of James Beament's The Violin Explained (Oxford, 1997) in Strings, August/September of 2001, by recanting my notion that harmonics are the stationary nodes between vibrating string segments. …

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