The 1700’s were years spent in establishing the cello as an orchestral, chamber, and above all, a solo instrument. There are dozens upon dozens of extant examples that show us how busy these cellist/composers were. Upon closer examination you can also find out how these cellists were developing technique. Sometimes, they even wrote a preface to their compositions explaining what they intended the music to be used for! Even occasionally, they added tantalizing tidbits about technique.
This blog post will focus its attention on a set of 12 cello duets by Johann Schetky, a German who immigrated to England about half way through his life. Soon he settled in Scotland where he lived out the remainder of his many years.
Schetky is one excellent example of a cellist composing specifically for the edification of cello students. In fact, he explicitly states as much in the preface to these 12 duets.
Although the preface does not contain much in the way of instructions, it touches tantalizingly close upon Schetky’s own method of playing about position and shifting. Or at least about how he conceptualized his approach to the broad method of cello teaching.
I couldn’t help but think if he had written his own true method book with specific instructions about how to approach and execute the techniques he brushes over in this preface. It seems like he had a a good mind for such ideas and how to write them down. Unfortunately, this seems to be all he intended to write.
He wrote a number of other instrumental pieces including a set of 6 Sonatas for Cello and bass continuo. After playing and studying his 12 Cello Duets, I feel such disappointment that he failed to write anything more for students.
Gleaning the Technical Pointers
Out of the 12 Duets, only three require playing in high positions. The thumb is utilized but in an organized and efficient manner. He even says that he places the shifts in logical ways so as to keep the hand in one position for entire passages. Therefore, if you were to take him at his word, you might find the notes to be very accessible rather than annoyingly far away in terms of position.
The first four of these duets are solidly no higher than fourth position. But that doesn’t mean they are written in a simplistic way. He uses plenty of rhythmic variety, just as anyone would in the 1700’s, including the use of trickery. Haha: that is to say, syncopation and sometimes a displaced beat. There is one example where he writes in such a way as to make it feel like you are playing it wrong if you place emphasis on the normal “strong” beats. A clever use of rhythm to inject motion into the music. (And to rouse the dozing from their hebetude.)
What I really appreciate about these duets is Schetky’s careful and thought out use of positions. He manages the jumping around and puts any shifting into neat sections. Taken at his word, in the preface, you actually are saved from shifting unnecessarily. “…I have taken care to make the Shift, in general easy and convenient to the hand and Instrument.” Preface to 12 Deuttos And it does seems so.
This set of 12 duets is way too interesting to pass by without a closer, in depth look. (Possibly even a recording of all 12 Duets.) They are all compelling pieces of music on their own. They take on an especially unique element when viewed through the lens of learning.
Will you explore along with me? Perhaps you can even get your own neglected work to share and compare to this one.
Please LIKE and comment if you have a piece of music that you appreciate but is largely ignored by the majority.
What is that music? Write in the comments.