This has to be one of the most beautiful works ever written for a string instrument and I was always longing to give it a try on the cello. It is offered here transposed into the key of “D” which is, in principle, lowered in pitch by a fifth (as well as an octave). Some cellists play it in the original key, but this puts many of the already-difficult passages in such a high register that they become almost ridiculous with respect to both sound and difficulty. For the violinist, this is already a virtuoso showpiece, so for the cello, even when transposed down a fifth, it is still a very virtuosic and challenging piece.
In the Performance Version, the basic music has never been changed, but the following adaptations have been made to make it more playable on the cello:
- the occasional chord has been revoiced
- the double-stops have been removed from most of the lyrical middle section, the cello now playing here only the top line of what were the violin’s double-stops. For the brave and talented cellist, the original doublestopped notes can be added: just look in the Literal Transcription to find what they are.
- in addition to our standard transposition (down by one octave and a fifth from the original violin notes), many passages have been transposed by an additional octave in order to place the material in the most favourable register for the cello. Surprisingly, rather than being transposed down an additional octave to make them easier, many of these octave changes concern passages that have been transposed up an octave, in order to get them out of the “hippopotamus register” on the C string (see “Transcribing Violin Music for Cello“). In these passages, the notes we play on the cello are now only one fifth lower than the violin’s notes. There are so many passages for which we might like to do this register change that the Performance Versions offered below have large sections of music with two alternative staves: one with the higher, and one with the lower option. We can “mix-and-match” according to our confidence, taste and ability. In the higher version of this “mix-and-match” Performance Edition almost half of the cello’s music has been raised one octave higher than in the “Literal Transcription” whereas in the lower version only 29 bars have been moved into this higher octave. In the lower version, 31 bars have been taken down an additional octave.
Many of the available violin editions have been edited by great violinists, with their corresponding bowing and articulation suggestions. These may well be an improvement on the original, but it’s always nicer to start with the composer’s ideas (see Urtext). Fortunately, a scanned copy of Saint Saens’ original manuscript is available on www.imslp.org and this has served as the source for our Literal Transcription, into which all of Saint Saens’ original notes, expressions, slurs, articulations and even beamings have been incorporated.
The “Easiest Version” has no thumb use and for this reason, some of the notes have needed to be changed (in addition to the octave transpositions).
The piano accompaniment part for the original violin version is of course no longer useful for us because we are playing the piece in a different key. The new piano part for this transposed version has needed not only to be transposed but also revoiced, with some notes going down a fifth while others go up a fourth. By far the most common transposition used for the piano part has actually been up a fourth, so while the solo voice (now the cello) has come down in register (compared to the violin) the accompaniment has come up. You (or your pianist) may want to use sometimes a different octave for some passages in the accompaniment.
Here below are some downloadable “playalong” audios of the piano accompaniment. This piece is one of the most difficult to play with a pre-recorded accompaniment because – in keeping with its title “Capriccioso” and french character – there are a great number of tempo changes (mostly sudden), cadenza-like moments and other unexpected (but delightful) complications. Playing with a pre-recorded accompaniment would certainly not work for a performance, but as a practice tool it may be useful. The first audio is of the slowest practice tempo, then there is a medium practice tempo version and finally a more virtuoso fast tempo. The faster and more difficult the passage, the more it has been slowed down so there are some radical and unexpected tempo changes in the practice versions even in passages that we normally might like to play in one constant tempo.
Quite a few new piano notes have been added in these accompaniments in order to give us rhythmic reference points. These notes have often needed to be played loudly in order for us to be able to hear them while we are playing. The complexities of playing with these pre-recorded accompaniments are such that a special cello part is offered here in which the added piano notes/references are included in our part (as small triangular cues) so that we can know what is going on.
Slowest practice play-along accompaniment:Audio Download
Medium-speed practice accompanimentAudio Download
Performance-speed accompanimentAudio Download