FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Boccherini

Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805)  may not have “discovered” Thumb Position for cellists (see Lanzetti), but he certainly made a sensational career out of this “invention”. In his many (almost 40) cello sonatas and  concertos (at least 12) he requires the cellist to spend more time with the thumb up on the fingerboard than probably any other composer before or since. And while he certainly has us playing a lot in the high “Thumb Region” that we so associate with the music of Boccherini, he also has us using our thumb very frequently in the lower fingerboard regions (Neck and Intermediate) as well.

The following link shows this, for a sample of six of his Cello Sonatas (Ricordi-Piatti volume):

PROPORTION OF PLAYING TIME SPENT IN THUMB POSITION IN SIX BOCCHERINI SONATAS

This is definitely not the greatest music of all time, but Boccherini’s music does give us a concentrated work-out in thumb position. As with many of the other Early Classical period cellist-composers (Danzi, Breval etc) this music is excellent for establishing a solid, comfortable, relaxed basic technique in Thumb Position for two main reasons:

  • it stays for a long time in each individual position, with frequent use of double stops and not very much leaping (shifting) around
  • it is low-emotional-intensity music, which allows us to concentrate on our physical comfort, ease and secure intonation

Although this music is of low emotional intensity, this does not mean that it is also of low physical intensity. In fact this is very hard work, especially for the thumb. Maintaining the stopped fifth on the thumb for long periods – especially in the frequent double stopped passages – is hard muscular work but is also very hard on the skin that is in contact with the strings (the callous). Certainly in Boccherini’s time both of these factors would have been less of a problem thanks to the more flexible gut strings. With modern steel strings we have to be very careful not to have the strings mounted too high, and also not to overdo our practice of this music. The callous, just like the muscles, need to be built up gradually in order to avoid risk of injury.

Open the following link to find a compilation of the Thumb Position passages from some of his cello sonatas. This is just a small representative sample: a complete compilation of Boccherini’s Thumb Position passages would require a large book. Basically, any Boccherini Cello Sonata or Concerto will contain a large proportion of passages using Thumb Position, and many of these passages are quite similar to each other, as can be seen in this compilation:

THUMB POSITION COMPILATION FROM THE MUSIC OF BOCCHERINI