FOR CELLISTS: AMATEUR, ASPIRING ............... AND CURIOUS

Classical Period: History and Repertoire

The birth and death dates of Vivaldi (1678-1741), J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and Handel (1685-1759) define the beginning of the end of the Baroque period (and consequently the beginning of the transition to the Classical period). Let’s look now, in chronological order, at the birth and death dates of some of the composers who came after them. We will look at the grand masters, the lesser known cellist/composers and also at lesser-known composers of this period who nevertheless wrote music for the cello as a solo instrument:

Berteau 1691 ………………………………. 1771
Leo          1694 ……………….. 1744
Guerini           1710 ………………………..1770
Lanzetti           1710 …………………………… 1780
CPE Bach            1714 ………………………………..1788
Wegenseil           1715 …………………………1777
Cirri                          1724 ……………………………………… 1808
Haydn                           1732 …………………………………… 1809
Cupis                               1735 ………………………………….  1810
Wanhal                             1739 ………………………………….. 1813
Boccherini                            1743 ……………………………1805
Stamitz (Carl)                       1745  ………………………..1801
Breval                                            1753 ……………………………………1823
Mozart                                              1756……….. 1791
Pleyel                                                1757 ………………………………………. 1831
Danzi                                                   1763 …………………………………1826
Romberg                                              1767 …………………………………………………. 1841
Beethoven                                              1770 ……………………………… 1827
Rossini                                                                     1792 ……………………..1829 […………………. 1869]
Schubert                                                                     1797 ………………… 1828

Obviously, near the top of this timeline can be found transitional composers, bridging the Baroque and Classical periods, while the last Classical period composers (Beethoven, Schubert and Rossini) were also the first Romantic composers. In the same way that we could consider the Baroque period as coming to a close with the deaths of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel (1740 – 1760), we could use an even more precise time period as a defining moment in the transition from the Classical to the Romantic period. Between 1827 and 1829 not only did both Beethoven and Schubert die, so also did Rossini (although only as a composer). Even though Rossini lived another 40 years still, he basically never composed again after 1829. If many of Beethoven’s compositions can be considered more “classical” than those of Schubert, this is principally because Beethoven was born 27 years before Schubert.

Of course it’s not only a composer’s birth year that is relevant to their compositional style, but also the age to which they lived (in other words, their death year). Haydn, who lived almost to the age of 80 was born in the Baroque period but lived till the end of the Classical period. Compare him to Schubert, whose life, despite being so short  (31 years) also spanned a major transition (from the Classical period to the Romantic period). A timeline presenting the same composers according now to their death dates, changes their order significantly and probably gives us a better idea of their stylistic references, certainly with regard to their mature works.

Leo          1694 ……………….. 1744
Guerini           1710 ………………………..1770
Berteau 1691 ………………………………… 1771
Wegenseil           1715 …………………………1777
Lanzetti           1710 …………………………… 1780
CPE Bach            1714 ………………………………..1788
Mozart                                              1756………….. 1791
Stamitz (Carl)                       1745  ………………………..1801
Boccherini                            1743 ……………………………1805
Cirri                          1724 ……………………………………… 1808
Haydn                           1732 …………………………………… 1809
Cupis                               1735 ……………………………………  1810
Wanhal                             1739 ……………………………………. 1813
Breval                                            1753 ……………………………………1823
Danzi                                                   1763 …………………………………1826
Beethoven                                              1770 ……………………………… 1827
Schubert                                                                     1797 ………………… 1828
Rossini                                                                     1792 ……………………..1829 […………………. 1869]
Pleyel                                                1757 ………………………………………. 1831
Romberg                                              1767 …………………………………………………. 1841

THE EXPLOSION OF CELLO TECHNIQUE IN THE CLASSICAL PERIOD

The Early Classical period (from about the mid 1700’s) is when the cello’s possibilities – both technical and expressive –  really began to evolve. It was the cellist-composers of this period who were principally responsable for this evolutionary leap. For example, one of the first “cello methods” to be published was by the cellist-composer Michel Corrette in 1741. Corrette proposed in this treatise that violin fingerings (with full tone extension between each finger) be replaced by modern cello fingerings (with a semitone between each finger except for the 1-2 tone extension). He also clearly explains Thumb Position.

The music that the cellist-composers were writing and playing shows clearly the enormous evolution in cello technique that occurred in this period, especially concerning the use of the Thumb Position and the higher registers in general. Even though these compositions are not on the same musical level as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, the huge amount of music for cello produced by Berteau (5 sonatas in 1748), Leo (6 concertos), Lanzetti (many sonatas), Cirri (6 concertos), Cupis (many duos), Wanahl (3 concertos), Breval (7 concertos and many sonatas), Danzi (1 concerto and many duos), Romberg (10 concertos plus innumerable sonatas variations and concert pieces), and above all Boccherini (more than 40 sonatas and 12 concertos), constitutes some of the very best learning (study) material for cellists that can be found, especially for the use of the Thumb Position. Unfortunately most of this music, with the exception of Romberg and Boccherini,  seems not to be presently available in playing editions.