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up or down?
the origins of the down-stroke


REVERSING THE BOWING TECHNIQUE OF THE VIOLONCELLO, 

A RESEARCH PROJECT BY MARIANNE DUMAS

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without authorization of the author.

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Cello VS Viola da Gamba
Abstract of the full paper:

The history of the cello is a subject that has been researched, studied, and written for centuries in great detail. However, because the first methods of cello playing appeared after 1740, the technique of the baroque cello can still be questioned. This publication presents a vision of the instrument closer to the viola da gamba than to the violin. It covers arguments for and against this theory as well as the paper’s position on this topic. Research for this project was accomplished through the use of scholarly books, treaties, publications, encyclopedias related to the history of the cello. In order to illustrate vision of the instrument, this article comes with a new edition of the Bach Cello Suites and a recording of it with the instruments used for this project.

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HISTORICAL RESEARCH


UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING AND THE USE 

I. VIOLONCELLO

TWO RULES for the violoncello before 1752

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II. HOW OTHER INSTRUMENTS PLAY CHORDS, ARPEGGIOS, STRONG BEATS

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GIVE A STROKE toward THE SOUNDBOARD

The movement of the arm follows the order of the strings, toward the instrument, using the natural weight of the arm, without adding pressure on the string for the bowed instuments.


Then, on a cello it coincides with 
Rule N°2 (Quantz)

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QUANTZ

 BUT THIS TECHNIQUE IS ALSO MENTIONNED BY J-B BREVAL AND DIDEROT

"The cello is similar to a violin because of its 4 strings and the tuning in fifths but but it is held the contrary way of the violin. This results on the opposition of the order of the strings. For that reason, the bowing technique should be opposite as well."

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BRÉVAL, Jean-Baptiste - Traité du violoncelle, Op.42 (Paris, 1804) .

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D. DIDEROT - Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers- Paris 1765

" There are two ways to hold bowed string instruments. One is like the basse viol, it is also how we hold the bass violins, contrabasses, and other big instruments. 
The other way is to hold the instrument the same way we hold the violin and all the instruments no longer than the arm.
There is a general rule, one plays down bow what we play we play up bow on the others. Therefore, on a bass viol and a bass violin, we play up bow on the long ones , and the opposite on the violins and other instruments held the violin way. 
The reason of this difference is that the strength for the basses is on the up bow and that on the violin it is on the down bow, because of the way the instruments are held."

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BY CONSEQUENCE

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THE VIOLONCELLO
instrument between the BASS VIOL AND THE VIOLIN

Due to its similarities with both instruments, the bowing technique of the violoncello was influenced by the violin and the viola da gamba.

CELLO & VIOLIN

Similarities:
  • Members of the same family 
  • Shape
  • Tuning is in fifths.

CELLO & VIOLA DA GAMBA

Similarities:
  • size, register, posture
  • Instruments of the contino. 
  • About the shape: there were (and still are) viola da gamba with violin shapes.

THE BASS VIOLIN / VIOLONCELLO IN THE BAROQUE ERA. 


The baroque period marks the development of virtuosity, and it is also the period of the basso continuo. 


17th Century: A bass  / a violone

During the first half of the baroque period, the violoncello was referred as a bass ("la basse" in French), it was part of the basso continuo group, used for accompaniement only while the violin became an instrument of virtuosity. 

From the end of the 17th : A small bass or violone : a violoncello

During the second half of the 17th c., the word "violoncello" appears in Italy, it referred to a bass violin of a smaller size, with a smaller string length and thiner strings*, bass violin players could access virtuosity, but not only, many bass viol players became also cellists. Among them, the first viruoso violoncellist: Francesco Alborea,  viola da gamba player who had a major impact in the development of virtuosity of the cello in Italy and across Europe. 

This period coincides with the disappearance of the viola da gamba during the 18th century. 

THE FIRST CELLO METHODS - AFTER 1750

The evolution of the bowing technique of the vioncello followed the one of the violin but nevertheless, all the methods published until around 1815 mention that when playing and aperggio or batteries, the bass note should be played on an "up-bow".
Most of the first cello treaties were published by former students of  Martin Berteau. Berteau is considered as the founder of the French school of violoncello, he was a bass viola da gamba player before becoming a cellist.

BATTERIES AND ARPEGGIOS

Observation of the first methods and treaties shows that all the cellists agreed on the same rule for batteries and arpeggios: the bass should be played up bow = toward the soundtable.

.SUMMARY & CONCLUSIONS

 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without mention of the author.
Taking in consideration the following points, I believe that in order to get the best sound from the instrument, applying a bowing technique similar to the technique of the viola da gamba in the Bach Cello Suites and the baroque repertoire in particular is something we, cellists, should consider. It has a major impact not only on the sound of the cello but also on the phrasing because of the way of sounding the strings and of the place of the bow. 


1. During the baroque period, the same bass line of the continuo was played by bowed bass instruments, no matter their shape.



2. The underhand bow grip was not reserved to the viols. It was of common use among the cellists until the 19th c.


 

3. Until the middle of the 18th c. , cello methods mention the bowing for the Arpeggios and Batteries : the bass had to be played on the up bow.


 

4. No matter which instrument, when playing the bass note, the arm was going toward the sound board and the other strings, using the natural weight of the arm.



5. J. Quantz, in 1752, explains that in Germany cellists played with a bow strokes similar to the one on the viola da gamba.





Marianne Dumas

This project was run between 2014-18, in Berlin


Acknolegements

To Daniel König and his beautiful cello, his inspiration, guidance and countless hours we spent looking for the set-up. To Hans Reiners for making the bow, and for guiding me when I started my project. To the librabry of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Berlin for creating a space where one can have access to countless documents guided by a very helpful staff. To Bastian Muthesius for his help and all the guts strings we tried together, and to Valentin Oelmüller / Pure Corde for my first set-up of strings and especially the silver wounded C string.

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