The expansion of cello technique : thumb position in the eighteenth century
Zhao, Feng, 1967 May 19-
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Starting in the middle of the Eighteenth Century, the cello gradually emerged as a virtuoso solo instrument, leaving behind its former role as Basso Continuo of the orchestra or ensemble. In order to investigate this transformation, this study will investigate passages from cello concertos composed by the cellist composers Giovanni Battista Cirri, Anton Filtz, Luigi Boccherini, and the non-cellist Joseph Haydn. It is in the concertos of the period that the expansion of cello technique can be most fruitfully examined, for these works all demand much from their performers. Jean-Louis Duport’s 1806 treatise Essai sur le doigté du violoncello et sur la conduite de I’archet systematically catalogued the new cello techniques that those Eighteenth Century composers such as Cirri, Filtz, Boccherini, and Haydn had already employed in their cello concertos from around the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Among these new advanced cello techniques, one of the crucial factors for the emancipation of the instrument was the development and application of thumb position. This technical evolution enables cellists to have more opportunity to display their virtuosity by playing more comfortably in the higher registers. The expanded range permits the composer to exploit contrasting characters within the instrument. Such advanced cello techniques are among the many factors that helped to free the cello from its role in the bass line, thus allowing it not only melodic material but virtuosic material as well. By examining the use of thumb position in these concertos this treatise will illuminate an important transitional period in the history of the cello.