Originally published 11 Dec 2007. I still haul these pieces out now and again, and they continue to surprise me! Maybe I’ll spring them on some of my more advanced students who are working on the elusive perfectly tapered “long, but short” note.

I have had a bockety practice schedule of late, but I have still noticed significant improvement in my overall feeling of agility due to the Gabrieli Ricercari that have been dominating my time these days. If you’re not familiar with them, they are published by Schott and are available here. Like much proto-Baroque music, they are transparent and care very little about what is convenient or comfortable for the player. This is a surprisingly valuable primer for the tangled left-hand gnarls of Kodaly, Shostakovich and the later Bach Suites, because it presents the technical gauntlet in a series of patterns and motifs that quietly suggest things like, “Perhaps it would be best to just stretch the octave here instead of shift.” and, “Are you quite sure that string crossing is appropriate? And if so, can you make it smoother?”. These pieces were intended to put the cello through its paces. If you are smart in the way you approach them, you’ll end up with a more mobile, simple, and flexible technique. And who wouldn’t want that?

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3 Responses

  1. About a year and some ago I read about the Ricercari on CC, ordered the sheet music, and showed up at a lesson with them. Teacher immediately asked me to order another copy for her. Since then we’ve worked through the first two of them. I’m about due for starting the third.

    The issue that she likes about them, and which I find difficult, is making it sound like music instead of note salad. “How can this note be different than those other notes?… What’s gonna change here?…. Where are you trying to go with this section?… Where’s this phrase end and the next one begin?…”

    I’m given carte blanche on bowings, dynamics, tempo, etc, but expected to make some sense out of the piece. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I dread it because I don’t know what to do with it, and if I do, can’t quite make it evident.

  2. I just remembered! Back in June I was working on number #2. On CBN Pat White suggested giving the notes words, so I did for the first section. I envisioned most of that first page as a Baroque (proto-Baroque, I like that) “invitation to the dance,” with the lady doing the inviting. It was more than a little silly, so no one accepted my invitation to continue on with more words.


  3. (after reading cellochat transcript) You’re a wildman! 🙂

    I view much of this style of music as brushstrokes, or perhaps a slow moving camera, each moment illuminating a new area or aspect of a picture. And yes, it is a bit note-salady sometimes. Just a few thoughts here:

    1) is it you? well if you think so, then force something. Choose either high or low to highlight and lengthen, and see if that gives the thing some more shape. Of course you know that you may have to look every other note or even in a group of measures to discern the shape of the phrase.

    2) is it Gabrieli? Not everyone can write like Bach. I find some of the note combos a little scandalous. They are, after all “Researches”, and there was not exactly a huge amount of prior solo cello rep to look to for guidance. So have fun and try to make a pure tone…sometimes being hyper-even and measured illustrates what needs to be highlighted in the interpretive vacuum.


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