Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805)  may not have “discovered” thumbposition for cellists (see “History Of Thumbposition“), 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 Thumbposition 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 thumbposition 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 thumbposition passages from some of his cello sonatas. This is just a small representative sample: a complete compilation of Boccherini’s thumbposition passages would require a large book. Basically, any Boccherini Cello Sonata or Concerto will contain a large proportion of passages using thumbposition, and many of these passages are quite similar to each other, as can be seen in this compilation:

Thumbposition Compilation From The Music Of Boccherini


All of the delightful thematic material for Stravinsky‘s immensely successful ballet music “Pulcinella”(1920) was taken from various different pieces by Pergolesi (1710-1736). This is not so very different from what Grutzmacher did 25 years earlier in 1895 with his “Boccherini” Cello Concerto in Bb, which is, like Pulcinella, also a very attractive and successful piece. This concerto, like Pulcinella once again, is also a “collage”, made up of material from several different original Boccherini concertos, reworked in the style of the arranger. Whereas Stravinsky treated Pergolesi’s music in his own neo-classical style, Grutzmacher treated Boccherini’s music – especially as regards the orchestration – to a reworking in the late Romantic style of his own epoch.

It would be a shame to refuse to play this piece simply because of its lack of authenticity. Had Grutzmacher called his concerto The “Grutzmacher/Boccherini Concerto” then we would probably be perfectly happy to play it nowadays, but at the time of his arrangement, this title would have no doubt been a guarantee of commercial failure. Kreisler had the same dilemma, presenting many of his own beautiful compositions as rediscovered gems by recognised long-dead composers. A beautiful solution to musical snobbery !

Like the cellist Fitzenhagen’s reworking of Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations”, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, and Gounod’s addition of his beautiful “Meditation” melody to Bach’s First Piano Prelude, the Boccherini/Grutzmacher Concerto could be considered as a totally valid and worthwhile “combined effort” in which the material of a fine composer is subsequently reworked by another fine musician. This takes nothing away from the value of the original pieces.