Jean Luis Duport: Cello Studies

The volume of 21 Studies by Jean Luis Duport (1749-1819) is frequently used as pedagogical material by cellists and cello teachers all over the world. This is often a shame, for the following reasons:

         Jean Louis Duport in 1788

FINGERINGS

The fingerings found in almost all of the available editions come from a time when cello fingerings were still in the Stone Age (see Fingerings). The most common editions of the Duport studies use Grutzmacher’s (1832-1903) fingerings which were perhaps a slight improvement on Duport’s original fingerings (which can be seen here) but even so, could still be considered as cellistic sabotage in a great number of passages. As a curiosity, I counted the number of sub-optimal fingerings found in a randomly chosen study (Nº 18) by Duport, fingered by Grutzmacher more than 100 years ago in an edition that is still sold today by very well-known, reputed, music publishers. Approximately 30% of the notes needed to be refingered.

Duport was the leading cellist of his time but if the very best cellists used fingerings this terrible then we can understand perfectly why Mozart and Schubert wrote virtually nothing for the cello as a solo instrument. And it could be considered miraculous that Beethoven wrote for the cello his five Sonatas, several Variations and his Triple Concerto ! We can be very grateful for the new Barenreiter editions of these studies (as well as those of Popper), edited by the cellist Martin Rommel, with intelligent, modern fingerings.

LACK OF TECHNICAL SPECIFICITY (FOCUS)

Unfortunately, many of these studies start off working quietly on a specific problem but end up blasting off to include whole other galaxies of difficulties and problems, often involving pyrotechnics that have nothing to do with the original technical objective of the study. Some of the few that really do keep to their objective are:

Nº 1: Always in doublestops
Nº 5: Leaps across three strings
Nº 7: Three-string regular crossings
Nº 8: Slow bow-level control with half-string crossings
Nº 16: Always in doublestops
Nº 19: Always in first position (traditionally called half position)