A Cellist's Ark

By Battey, Robert | Strings, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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A Cellist's Ark

Battey, Robert, Strings

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro music library offers cellists a wealth of material from ACROSS THE AGES

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro boasts a strong music department with a well-appointed building and concert hall. What sets the university apart from any other, however, is its music library, which now houses the world's largest collection of historical cello-related materials.

The collection, housed in the Walter Clinton Jackson Library, began in 1963 when UNCG professor Elizabeth Cowling persuaded several benefactors to help the library purchase the papers of her mentor and collaborator Luigi Suva (1903-1961). Silva was a first-class pedagogue and scholar who taught at Eastman, Juilliard, Yale, and Peabody. He transcribed and arranged all 24 Paganini caprices for cello, and at his death was working on several teaching volumes as well as modern editions of the Bach suites and Boccherini sonatas.

His music collection contained 1,775 titles, plus 13 boxes of archival materials, covering all aspects of the technical history of the instrument. According to the first cataloger, the Silva collection alone "may be the single most comprehensive storehouse of information about the cello, its history, technique, pedagogical theories, and aesthetic and psychological analysis gathered under one roof."

Cowling, who died in 1997, was also a noted scholar of the instrument. She published an excellent single-volume reference work, The Cello, published in 1975 by Charles Scribners' Sons, and did extensive research on Italian Baroque cello literature. Cowling donated her own papers to UNCG beginning in 1976. Its wealth of all-but-unknown 17th- and 18th-century works was of particular interest among performers of the burgeoning early-music movement. Her collection includes more than 1,000 titles and three boxes of archival materials.

When these two complementary collections were joined, the UNCG library reached a critical mass and became a destination spot for cello scholars. A slow-rolling snowball effect was created; from then on, the library's acquisitions came as donations rather than purchases.


In 1986, the Croatian pedagogue, composer, and conductor Rudolf Matz (1901-1988) offered his papers to the library. Matz, who is not as well known today as he deserves to be, was professor of cello at the Zagreb Academy of Music, in Zabgreb, Croatia, from 1950 to 1973. He occupied a position among cellists much as D.C. Dounis did among violinists. Matz created a massive pedagogical universe fairly early in his career, and was consulted by many top performers (often in secret). Matz's First Years of the Violoncello is one of the most extensive methods ever created-the full work is in 40 sections-and he composed numerous books of cello etudes as well. His collection included nearly 200 original manuscripts and eight linear feet of archival materials. Prior to Silva's death, Matz and Silva had collaborated on outlining a joint method, though nothing was published.

Next, in 1989, came a donation of the papers of Maurice Eisenberg (1900-1972), a noted Pablo Casals disciple and long-time cello professor at Juilliard. Eisenberg's collection (more than 900 titles) included a large number of 20th-century first editions and manuscripts, thus rounding out the UNCG collection.

The next major acquisition, in 1994, was the library of Jânos Scholz (1903-1993). Scholz was a man of remarkable range; he toured internationally with the Roth Quartet, was Yo-Yo Ma's first major teacher, was an accomplished professional gamba player, and became professor of art history at Columbia. His collection of more than 700 titles includes gamba literature and chamber music.

In 2002, came the collected music and papers of Fritz Magg (1914-1997). Magg, who was principal cellist of the Vienna Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera early in his career, was best known as cellist of the Gordon and Berkshire string quartets, author of Exercises for Cello, creator of the first multivolume cello teaching video, Cello Sounds of Today, and longtime cello professor (and chairman) at the celebrated Indiana University School of Music (now the Jacobs School of Music).

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