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On playing Boccherini

Clefs C clefs - treble clef with two extra dots Thumb position changing into - fourth finger - G- and C-string - Chromatics
Other Harmonics - Accidentals - Slurs - Dots and daggers - Dotted notes - Grace notes - Minor scales - Wave line -
- From piano to piano - Endless bow - Arpeggios - editionwakelkamp.com

[This article is written by Frank Wakelkamp © 2006-2015. Clarifying images are quotations from the Boccherini Urtext Edition by editionwakelkamp.com. If you have any comments, please let me know at info@editionwakelkamp.com

Reading the sources

As I have been working on publishing some works by Luigi Boccherini for quite some time now, the question arose whether or not to share my personal experiences and findings. Since the Urtext edition (editionwakelkamp.com) wants to present the material as objectively as possible, leaving all space for the interpreter to fill in the gaps, this might lead to a certain indulgence or misinterpretation by the musician, caused by lack of knowledge. Being an educated rebel myself, I have tried to find some suitable solutions for some problems. In most cases these problems only exist because the way in which music was written down in the age it was composed differs quite a lot from the modern practice. Reading the music with a modern mind creates instant trouble, for example: how to find a long enough bow for some pedal tone sections, entering into a world of the strangest harmonies, being puzzled by some unknown signs...

Reading this, you can righteously conclude that I have made up my silly mind and have decided to share whatever I have gathered during my travels with Boccherini, whether true or doubtful.

The Urtext edition as you can find it at editionwakelkamp.com interprets the text, giving a description of the uninterpreted original in the editorial notes. Accidentals that are not indicated in the original always appear between brackets, changed notes are printed in small capture and are discussed in the editorial notes of the edition. Quotations and examples below all originate from this edition.

  1. Boccherini was a cellist, and a great one, too. All C clefs (soprano C1, alto C3, tenor C4) are to be read loco, that is: as written. One might be tempted to treat this clef as if it were some kind of treble clef, that would sound an octave lower in manuscripts and editions for cello music up to, let's say Dvorak. Any good cello-sportsman however will take the challenge and mould the gut (or steel) cables into nice sounding strings, up there.
    The edition changes the original clefs into the ones currently in use (treble, tenor and bass clef), specifying the original ones in the editorial notes section.
    Examples:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 2-Allegro, bars 53-66: tenor clef (the lowest note G could not be transposed down an octave on the cello) changes into bass clef; the following treble clef (bar 60, second beat - originally without the octavation sign) could be read loco, but this would mean that in bar 65 there is an octave leap back into the first position, which is not likely to be intended. Also, the passage would be too short and too awkward to be played in thumb position.

  • Cello Sonata G. 11, 2-Largo, bars 18-29: an ascending passage in tenor clef, which leads into the thumb position where the notes in treble clef (apparently to be transposed down an octave) can easily be played using the fourth finger (see below for use of the fourth finger in thumb position).

  • Cello Sonata G. 1, 1-Allegretto, bars 41-42: an ascending line from one double stop passage into another one in a higher register (soprano clef).

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 2-Allegro, bars 21-22: an ascending line from a neck position into a thumb position double stop passage (soprano clef).

  1. The treble clef with two extra dots around the second line (like the dots around the fourth line that are part of the bass clef) is to be read loco, i.e. the notes should as written, not an octave lower.
    Examples:

  • Cello Sonata G. 17, 1-Allegro, bar 15: coming from the alto clef (here modernised to treble clef), being high up after hitting the open G string, the melody requests a second, not a none when it goes into the (second) treble clef.

  • Cello Sonata G. 17, 3-Rondo Allegro, bars 28-36: gradually ascending line, resulting in a section in thumb position.

Example of reasonable doubt:

  • Cello Sonata G. 16, 2-[Minuetto] Amoroso, bar 9: considering the context (there is no melodical connection) playing loco seems somewhat unlikely. Only the octave leap at the end of the Amoroso (bar 24) would suggest, considering the parallel octave leap in the basso part, that loco is indeed intended.

  1. Mostly there is some time (e.g. a rest) for changing from a neck position into a thumb position. The leaps might be big, but after the leap one can stay in the same thumb position for quite a while. In order to find the earliest spot where the thumb position could have been applied, please take some time to look over a passage in order to find the right placement for your thumb and then work your way back.

  1. Unlike nowadays, Boccherini frequently used the fourth finger in thumb position. For people with a small little finger this might be too hard to overcome. Adjustments should be made with respect for the thumb stability as stated in 3. . For people with an ordinary size little finger a lot of exercise is needed to increase the accuracy and the strength of the fourth finger. According to the newest insights on playing early music there seems to be no hard evidence for the old folks to have been playing out of tune...

  1. The thumb position also applies to the G-string. The following example can easily be played within one position, using an extension between the fingers because of the harmonic minor scale and with the participation of the fourth finger for the top d'' in bar 62:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2b, 3-Allegretto bars 57-64: the thumb staying on g', the whole passage can be played over three strings within one position.

  1. The thumb position even applies to the C-string in a passage that cannot be played otherwise:

  • Trio G. 95, 1-Allegro, bars 71-73 (bar 73 is identical to bar 72).

  1. Chromatics within thumb position are executed without changing the position of the thumb, by shifting the other fingers.
    Example:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 2-Allegro, bars 29-37: fourth finger and chromatics. The thumb is on e' flat.

  1. Harmonics are sometimes used for playing chords. In the following example this is the easiest way to play it:

  • Cello Sonata G. 1, 3-Allegretto, bars 1-6: the chord in bar 5 could be played 4-4-2-1, the fourth finger as a harmonic, allowing a quick shift for the placement of 2-1 in this chord.

  1. Accidental flats and sharps do not last for a whole bar. Sometimes they extend their validity into the next bar, when there is only one other note in-between. In the edition all added flats and sharps have been put between brackets, thus allowing the player to determine whether they are original or not.
    Example:

  • Cello Sonata G. 4, 2-Adagio, bar 8: the c'' natural sign will be valid until the second c'' on the second 16th note of the second beat (see the c' natural in the bass), but probably not until the grace note in the third beat.

  1. Boccherini's use of slurs is not frequent and often inconsistent. The player has to check whether there are repetitions of any motive at hand, in order to find slurring differences or to get ideas. The edition excludes any suggestions from the editor's part in order not to disturb your imagination. The absence of slurs does not necessarily imply that the passage should be played détaché: more often a section would sound smoother and would be easier to play if one added some slurs.
    Sometimes, however, slurring would undermine the rhythmical effect of a motive.
    Examples:

  • Cello Sonata G. 11, 3-Tempo di minuetto, bars 20-26: the rebound note f' gets a different meaning when the two notes before are systematically slurred (originally there are no slurs). Without slurs the triplets are quite hard to play, due to the string changes and the repetition of the same motive using contrary bow strokes.

  • Cello Sonata G. 11, 3-Tempo di minuetto, bars 13-18: bar 15 is not to be slurred, since this is a rhythmical variation on the original motive of bar 13 that reappears in bar 18.

  1. Dots and daggers are often indistinguishable in the manuscripts. Some people state that dashes should be played longer than dots. Please experiment a lot and never decide until the moment you play the piece on stage. You cannot convince your accompanist about the length of them otherwise than by playing them as beautifully as possible in the length you would like them to be.

  1. Grace notes with a stroke could be played short and in most cases before the beat, whereas the ones without a stroke could be played taking as much as two thirds of the value of the following note, depending on the atmosphere and the underlying harmony. This matter should be concluded roughly before your recital, since your accompanist should know at least when to play his downbeats...
    In my experience the practice of replacing a grace note followed by three triplet eighth notes by four equal sixteenth notes is quite distasteful and ruins the original rhythm. Also the rule to change a 16th grace note followed by an 8th note and two 16th notes into four equal 16th notes should be reconsidered whenever this occurs. If rhythmical freedom is allowed, why not take it and enjoy it to the max? Lengthening and/or shortening the first note gives more juice to an ascending sequence.

  1. Melodical minor scales are not a rule. On the contrary, Boccherini experiments a lot with harmonical scales!
    Example:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 1-Adagio, bar 20: very clearly indicated use of the augmented second interval.

  1. A dotted quarter note followed by only three sixteenth notes in duple time can be the equivalent of five sixteenth notes (a common way of writing in Boccherini's time), the following sixteenth being "normal"; OR the dotted quarter note can equal three eighth notes, the following sixteenth notes being a triplet. The omission of tuplet signs is normal in this era. The present edition only gives them when written in the original score.
    Examples:

  • Cello sonata G. 3, 1-Allegro, bar 1-4.

  • Cello Sonata G. 10, 2-Adagio, bar 29.

  1. The wave line can be used for indicating any kind of trill and also bow vibrato. A bow vibrato would appear over repeated notes, a trill over a single note. In one Trio, it appears in the violin part, whereas the viola part gives the same repeated note motive with daggers (Keilen) and a slur. On some occasions it has been placed over a long passage, meaning that the notes should be played an octave higher. You will find the text 8.va alta at the beginning of such a passage. More common in this respect are the line and the dotted line instead of the wave line.
    Examples:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 1-Adagio, bar 1: turn and trill.

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 1-Adagio, bar 3: bow vibrato.

  • Trio G. 96, 2-Adagio, bar 10: bow vibrato or gentle staccato.

  1. The dynamical range sometimes goes from piano to piano, with no other dynamical markings happening in-between. This does not seem to mean that nothing should happen in-between, though. This kind of markings strikes me as a reminder to stay within certain boundaries - in a general piano atmosphere, growing and going back again.
    Example:

Trio

  1. Sometimes it seems that Boccherini must have used an endless, circle-shaped bow. The following excerpt from Cello Sonata G. 17 would suggest the use of that feature, when only looking at the second voice. Please note the extra slurs in the first voice in bars 22 and 26, which would have been superfluous if such a special bow really existed. These extra slurs suggest that the bow stroke was not meant to be in one direction only. Generally speaking, the pedal tone is to be played constantly but not necessarily within one bowstroke. If it would clarify the phrasing of the melody or the general sound, the pedal tone may be played with several bow strokes. Sometimes a pedal tone seems to be more like an abbreviation, as a comparison with the Noseda MS and the Bland edition shows for the Largo of G. 13. In G. 565, I would suggest to play the full chord only on the first beats, since otherwise the crisp of the rhythm would be obscured.
    Examples:

  • Cello Sonata G. 17, 3-Rondo Allegro, bars 21-27: note the extra slurs in the top voice in bars 22 and 26, which suggest multiple bow strokes.

  • Cello Sonata G. 5, 1-Allegro militare, bars 8-12: in bar 9 and 10, just before the third beats, the g stops the open d-string from ringing. I suggest that the d-string should be set into motion and left to ring by itself after the first eight note, in order to create a drum-like effect.

  • Cello Sonata G. 14, 1-Allegro brillante, bars 60-62: since the half notes are stopped notes, they won´t ring long enough. I suggest to copy the rhythm of the top voice here.

  • Cello Sonata G. 13, 2-Largo, bars 9-11 MS and Bland: Bland copies the rhythm of the lower voice into the pedal tone that the manuscript gives.

  • Cello Sonata G. 565, 3-Allegro, final bars: I suggest keeping the low B flat pressed down and leave it ring together with the open d-string while the rhythm in the top voice is being played.

  1. Boccherini never writes simile after an arpeggio pattern. The arpeggio pattern is just followed by a series of chords, which should be played in the same way as the pattern indicated before.
    Example:

  • Cello Sonata G. 2, 2-Allegro, bar 53-59: the pattern of the first eight 16th notes of bar 53 should be applied until bar 59.