I suppose on of the main perks of a blog, for some the raison d’etre, is having a forum in which to rant about one’s little pet peeves. Given this facility, it’s a small wonder that I have not yet had a good little rant about one of my pet hates- fingerings in music.
I happen to be a cellist who writes almost nothing whatsoever in my music. If I do write things in, it is done to appease my chamber music colleagues, not for my own benefit. I find if a bowing works for me and fits the music, I will remember it, and if not, I’ll continue to change it. Sometimes, playing a new bowing and reading an old one will create a little brain friction and cause me to make a little flub of some kind. Given this, I’d prefer to simply play from a clean page. I don’t advocate this -it’s just what works for me.
However, I like fingerings far less than I like bowings in my music. Fingerings for me (and this is completely personal, and many of my heroes finger every note in their music) are like little mistake factories. I like to have a grab bag of fingerings that I can call upon depending on how I feel on a given day.
Now, I will tell you about the worst piece of advice I ever got about cello playing.
When I was first learning the Rococo Variations, I asked someone about the octave C#s at the end of the theme (they come back later). This leap is a nervy moment, and many cellists fall off the string here.
My colleague/teacher/friend’s advice was to pick one of the many possible fingerings on the day I started the piece, and practice it 20 times every day for a year, and whatever happened, never, ever to change it.
I can’t begin to tell you the kind of mind strain that approach creates. When I came back to the piece as a wiser person, I erased every fingering and varied the fingering for that shift so that I never had a thing about it. As soon as I missed it, I just switched and would be solid for a long time. If I started to get a thing about it, I’d change, I might start alternating, I might even do something insane. Whatever- that shift is hard for the psyche, not the hand.
I kind of despise fingerings in orchestra music- I used to be a very good sight reader, but one thing that could always throw me was trying to figure out what the heck the last cellist was thinking with that crazy fingering in the part. Fingerings are so personal- what helps one player will only mess up another.
Also, just for the record, there are few things ruder than to insist to your stand partner that they must read off your part because it has your fingerings in it.
That’s like asking them to wear your trousers in rehearsal because they also make you feel comfortable. Your stand partner won’t say no because they are polite, but really, it’s bad form.
I suppose, though, we must tolerate fingerings in music if that’s what it takes for some players to do their job. That said, I’d really appreciate if people erased their fingerings from my parts after concerts (or just didn’t write them in my parts).
However, one group of musicians who should REALLY, REALLY know better than to put fingerings in music are PUBLISHERS.
Really, what are these idiots thinking?!?!?!?!
Everyone rolls their eyes on quartet gigs when we come across ludicrously old-fashioned and un-stylistic bowings and fingerings in those old Peters parts. Bach editions from the mid-20th c., not long ago in publishing terms, look comical today with all their Romantic slides and up-the-d-string trickery. What makes a publisher today think a fingering of our time will hold up in 50 years?
I recently got the new Breitkopk Urtext edition of the Dvorak Cello Concerto. My main interest was in comparing the score with the Sourek Critical edition, but I was really shocked to see the cello part was full of spurious bowings and fingerings from Heinrich Schiff.
Heinrich Schiff is a great player and fine musician with an awesome sound, but I don’t want to use his fingerings any more than I want to wear his pants. Ew.
At least the dodgy Rose and even-dodgier Starker editions don’t make any claim to scholastic validity. This edition claims to be an Urtext, but has been given more fingerings than JOKE REMOVED – EMAIL KEN FOR JOKE IF YOU ARE NOT EASILY OFFENDED.
Also, there is no differentiation between Dvorak’s suggested bowings (and Dvorak did mark some bowings) and Schiff’s. Ugh.
I’m getting old enough and OCD enough that I am actually thinking of scanning the part and removing all the bowings and fingerings in Photoshop, then re-printing it, but I probably won’t. I’m doing 90% of my practice off the full score anyway- I’d just like to have a usable part for running large chunks without turning pages.
As a general rule, the music should just show us what the composer wrote. Leave all decisions for the performer to the actual performer, not just any performer. A cellist playing the Dvorak should be mature enough to finger and bow it themselves. (Sadly, for students at conservatories, their teachers will also try to get them to “wear their pants” for the year that they study it, then spend 10 years out of school realizing that the piece was nowhere near as hard as they thought if they used means that fit their body. A good teacher helps a student come up with good and helpful bowings and fingerings, a bad teacher makes a student copy their bowings and fingerings).
Of course, few cellists are as loony as I am about not writing anything in their music. It’s absolutely fine to write your own bowings and fingerings in YOUR copy of the Dvorak Concerto. But when we open a part and see printed bowings and fingerings NOT from the composer, it deters the player from thinking creatively about how best to execute the composer’s wishes. It makes the player less aware of their own bodies and their own strengths. It really is like suggesting to everyone who walks into a store-
“Here, try these size 42 trousers.Try them on. Go on. They’ll fit you…. Trust me….. They fit me perfectly….”