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Bowing and Fingering Instructions in String Music during the 18th and Early 19th Centuries - Duncan Druce, Clive Brown

Before 1700 most violin music remained in the first position, though fourth-finger extensions to C are common. So though Gasparo Zanetti (Il Scolaro, Milan, 1645) uses a tablature notation for the violin and the other two instruments of its family, this only tells us of his preference for open strings. For music employing scordatura the usual notation, where instead of being given the pitch of a note, the violinist must imagine he/she is playing a conventionally tuned instrument, there is some information concerning fingering. Biber, for instance, frequently ascends to the higher positions, and his notation shows he generally confines playing above first position to the 1st string, and that he doesn’t indicate expressive fingerings (to make use of a particular string for colouristic effect). Bach’s own scordatura notation of the fifth solo cello suite (the A string is tuned down to G) shows that in some cases he chooses the open G string rather than its stopped equivalent on the D string. Bowing slurs are found in string music throughout the seventeenth century, even in Italian movable-type editions where it was difficult to make slurs elegant or precise. In such editions the slurs are not always placed accurately, and often their use is inconsistent so, for example, in a solo violin sonata where a score is given for the continuo player, slurs in the two versions of the violin part don’t match. 

Though it’s clear that more music was played with separate bows at this period than was the case later on (this applies especially to dances) we can see the way bowing slurs were used from those sources where the bowing is more fully marked. Good examples are the engraved editions of Nicola Matteis’s Airs for the Violin (London 1676/1685). Matteis was presenting music to his English public that demanded a new, unfamiliar manner of playing, so he is unusually explicit in matters of bowing and ornamentation. He didn’t feel it necessary to include fingerings, however. Concerning sources that indicate the direction of the bow, Zanetti (op. cit.) uses T (Tirar in giù) for down bow, and P (Pontar in sù) for up bow, following a system that had appeared, if only very briefly, in Francesco Rognoni’s Selva di varii passaggi (Milan 1620). Zanetti’s bowings are fairly pragmatic, simply designed to ensure that strong beats are taken with a down bow. At the end of the century, Georg Muffat’s famous exposition of Lully’s “Rule of down bow” (in the preface to his Florilegium Secundum, Passau, 1698) gives a detailed description of the way the bowing should be organised, but doesn’t indicate the bowing in the actual pieces in the collection. Bismantova, in his Compendio musicale (Ferrara, 1677), an elementary set of instructions, similarly gives illustrations as to how to bow different rhythms; despite its Italian provenance, this source, too, follows the principles of "rule of down bow". In the eighteenth century, string music, manuscript and printed, was generally more fully marked as regards to slurs and articulation. At one extreme, for example in the publications of François Couperin, these marks are detailed and comprehensive, including signs for the expected ornamentation. 

Especially valuable for the violinist are the 12 Sonatas op. 1 by the Italian player Giovanni Antonio Piani (Paris, 1712). In addition to bowing the violin part and indicating suitable ornamentation, Piani gives a large number of indications for dynamic variation (including the earliest known instance of wedge-shaped crescendi and diminuendi). Furthermore, he occasionally includes some fingerings, for passages that can be most conveniently taken in the second position. Far more common, however, are sources with some indications of bowing, etc. as a suggestion to the performer, who is then expected to continue a particular pattern, and decide when it is applicable, and when a different combination of slurs and separate bows would be more appropriate.

not only must the written and prescribed slurs be observed with the greatest exactitude but when, as in many a composition, nothing at all is indicated, the player must himself know how to apply the slurring and detaching tastefully and in the right place. [Leopold Mozart, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, Augsburg 1756. English translation, Editha Knocker, second edition, Oxford 1951]

Naturally sources with the most complete bowing indications are of the greatest interest, but the idea of an annotated edition is still far away. For instance, in Francesco Geminiani’s The Art of Playing on the Violin (London, 1751), most of the scales and exercises are fully fingered, and the bowing exercises (nos. 16 and 17) are not only fully slurred but have indications for bow direction (similar to Zanetti’s, using “G” and “S”). But in the series of twelve “Compositions” that concludes this work, Geminiani only puts fingerings in one piece (no. 11, to indicate some passages in half position). He does, however on occasion give unusually detailed marks for bowing, dynamics and ornamentation, in nos. 1 and 9, especially. In Veracini’s Sonate Accademiche op. 2 published in 1744, the slurring and different types of articulation are painstakingly marked in the music. The edition also contains a preface together with a table of special markings that appear in the music, which concern dynamics and bow direction (indicated by signs rather than letters), as well as instructions for the continuo. None of the sonatas, however, contains fingerings.

 Later in the century, the Haydn quartets give some explicit and surprising indications for fingering, and concerning which string to play on. In the trio section of the Minuet in op. 20 no. 6 (1772), the second violin rests whilst the other three instruments are asked to play exclusively on their lowest string. One can guess this is so as to produce a dark, veiled sonority, as a contrast to the particularly bright, luminous predominating sound of this A major work. In the first movement of the third quartet of this set, two passages for first violin (bars 72-6 and 229-233) are marked sopra una corda. Both instances are to be played softly, and Haydn very likely preferred the gentler tone of the A string to the more strident E, but the upward slurs suggest, indeed make virtually unavoidable, an expressive portamento. There are several later examples of sopra una corda; in the finale of op. 50 no. 5 (1787) the indications concerning the movement’s main theme are repeated on each appearance, and also imply portamento. Earlier, in the trio section of the Minuet of op. 33 no. 2 (1781) the first violin part has fingerings for slides. We can imagine that these denote a picturesque effect, an imitation, humorous and maybe satirical, of a particular style of playing This seems certainly to be the case with the fingerings in the finale of op. 76 no. 2 (1797), where the upward slides, in the context of the movement evoke the style associated with Hungarian Gyspy violinists, although whether this precedes of imitates the use of portamento in that style of playing must remain uncertain.

[D. D.]

What is certain, however, is that the use of portamento was strongly associated with Nicola Mestrino, who worked with Haydn as a member of the Esterhazy musical establishment between 1780 and 1785. After Mestrino’s début at the Concert Spirituel in Paris in 1786, the Mercure de France praised his style as ‘new, full of expression and sensitivity’. Part of this impression of expression and sensitivity undoubtedly derived from his use of portamento. Woldemar, a pupil of Lolli and an admirer of Mestrino, illustrated the latter’s employment of portamento in his Grande method ou étude élementaire pour le violon [op. cit. (Paris, c. 1800) p. 34] with a passage from Third Violin Concerto, although the original edition of Mestrino’s concerto contains no fingering. Portamento fingerings for special effects, however, appear as early as 1785 in Lolli’s Sonata Op. 9 no. 4. [See Clive Brown ‘Polarities of Virtuosity in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century’ in Andrea Barizza and Fulvia Morabito eds, Nicolò Paganini Diabolus in Musica,(Turnhout, Brepols, 2010), p. 38f.]

Other composers who were not primarily string players occasionally supplied fingerings in passages that presented particular technical challenges, such as those in exceptionally high passages in the Adagio and Finale of Beethoven's String Quartet op. 59 no, 2, written into the autograph and included in the first edition. But these are certainly technical rather than expressive.

In the music of violinist composers associated with or influenced by the Viotti School, the specification of fingering and bowing became increasingly common and detailed during the early 19th century. This undoubtedly reflects the increasing importance of a particular performing style cultivated by these violinists. The specification of bowing and fingering was essential for attaining the full effect of their works. Once the reputation of these violinists began to spread throughout Europe and their music began to be played by established and aspiring violinists, it became more important for them to specify the bowing and fingering more precisely in their published works. Andreas Moser, undoubtedly reflecting Joseph Joachim’s view, wrote in their joint Violinschule that these composers had ‘certain very precise tonal effects floating before their minds, the realisation of which was absolutely essential’; and he added that ‘from about the time of Viotti it has been the general custom of such composers to mark bowing and fingering so exactly, that there is no longer room for essential misunderstanding of their violinistic intentions’ (Joachim and Moser Violinschule (Berlin: Simrock, 1905) vol. 3, p. 10). Viotti himself, however, seems not to have been concerned about adding detailed fingerings, although his music gives a stronger impression of care in marking slurs. His disciples Rode and Kreutzer, too, failed to provide this kind of information in their early editions. In their later works, during the first decade of the nineteenth century, however, they began not only to include expressive as well as technical fingerings but also, occasionally, to specify bow direction; bow division remains generally unclear, though familiarity with the major treatises and exercises associates with these players (especially the Rode, Baillot, Kreutzer Méthode of 1803, Baillot's L'art du violon, the Rode Caprices and Kreutzer's Études) helps make their intentions clear.

The Mannheim-trained violinist Ferdinand Fränzl (1767-1833) was among those who employed up- and down-bow signs (inverted versions of the modern signs) as well as fingering in published compositions from at least the early 1800s. Many of the works of the Paris-trained violinist Charles Phillipe Lafont (1781-1839), a pupil of Rode and Kreutzer, are extensively bowed and fingered so that little doubt remains about the composer’s expressive intentions. In the works of Louis Spohr (1784-1859), strongly influenced by Rode, careful bowing slurs were included from the start, and he began also to provide detailed fingering at an early stage. His first two published violin concertos (op. 1, 1802 and op. 2, 1804) contain only a few technical fingerings, but the published edition of his Third Violin Concerto (op. 7, 1806) already includes many expressive fingerings. In this work too he began to indicate bow direction with the instruction en poussant and tire. He used these terms for several decades, but later employed the modern up- and down-bow signs. Spohr and many other violinist composers of this period undoubtedly regarded their fingering, particularly where it indicated position changes and therefore portamento, as integral to their conception of the music. While a considerable degree of interpretative license for the individual performer was surely expected, the marked fingering and bowing was clearly deemed to be as important as the notes in delineating the broad stylistic parameters of the style and thus understanding the composer's expectations. 

Before 1840 there appears to have been only one publication with a named editor supplying bowing and fingering markings: J. J. F. Dotzauer’s edition of J. S. Bach’s Suites for solo cello as Six Solos ou Etudes pour le Violoncelle [...] Avec le Doigter et les Coups d’Archet indiqués, published by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1826, in which the editorial markings were largely technical. (For a fuller discussion of this edition see ‘Bowing and Fingering from the Early 19th to Early 20th Centuries; the Evolution of the Annotated Edition’.) But this was not the only edition to include performance markings by a third party at that time. Shortly after the appearance of Dotzauer’s edition of Bach’s Suites, the Paris firm of Richault issued a French edition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Op. 61 in connection with Pierre Baillot’s acclaimed performance of the work in 1828. The Richault edition was clearly engraved directly from the plates of the Viennese first edition of 1809, but it also included many added fingerings and some altered bowing. Although the title page does not designate Baillot as editor, it includes the statement ‘Exécuté à Paris par Monsieur Baillot au Concert donné pour l’anniversaire de la mort de l’Auteur’ (Performed in Paris by Mr. Baillot at the concert given for the anniversary of the composer’s death), with Baillot’s name in letters as large as Beethoven’s, and it seems reasonable to assume that the performance markings are his. Whether the inclusion of modified bowing and fingering was deliberate, or whether the engraver, working from the part Baillot had marked up for his own performance, merely included the manuscript markings he found in it simply because they were there, cannot be determined. A similar situation exists with the edition of three Cherubini String Quartets that was published simultaneously from the same plates by Kistner in Leipzig and Pacini in Paris in 1836. Although the title page does not refer specifically to an editor, the quartets bear the dedication 'composée et dédié a son ami Baillot'. Baillot is also known to have been intimately involved during the process of composition of the quartets, which he and his colleagues at the Conservatoire tried out in the composer’s presence. [Eugène Sauzay and Brigitte François-Sappey, 'La vie musicale a Paris a travers les Mémoires d'Eugène Sauzay (1809-1901)', Revue de Musicologie T. 60e, No. 1er/2e (1974), pp. 159-210]

The practice of composers providing increasingly detailed performance instructions for their own works offered a model for performers to edit existing string music, although different imperatives and challenges were posed for composer and editor. In the former situation, composers used bowing and fingering instructions not only to offer technical guidance for performing difficult passages, but also to convey more precisely their interpretative conception of the music, often involving expressive and stylistic information that might not otherwise be evident from the notation. Charles de Bériot (1802-1870), for instance, included explicit information relating to bow-strokes from at least his Fifth Violin Concerto op. 55 of 1846, with instructions such as ricochet and du talon, reflecting the need to specify the increasingly varied bowing styles demanded in the post-Paganini period. Many of the compositions by the cellist Adrien-François Servais (1807-1866), such as his Fantaisie burlesque op. 9 (1851) also contain expressive fingering indications and bowing instructions of a similar nature, au talon markings in particular.

Providing performance instructions for an edition of another composer’s music involved distinctions between limited, essentially technical guidance and expressive effects imposed by the taste of the editor upon the composer’s work. Over the next century the violinists and cellists who annotated other people's music sometimes tended towards the one extreme and sometimes to the other. The choice of approach differed not only between editors, but also between particular genres or works within the output of a single editor. There were also changes over time, even within the output of individual editors. These issues are examined further in ‘Bowing, Fingering, and Performance Instructions in String Music from the Early 19th to the Early 20th Centruy; the evolution of annotated string editions .

[C. B.]