Book review: Top Secrets for Cellists: An Organized Method of String Playing | Review


Top secrets for cellists: An organized method of playing strings

Janos Starker ed. Kurt Hess

84PP ISBN 9783959836395


János Starker, one of the world’s greatest cellists, taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA, from 1958 until his death in 2013. During that time he became something of a musical celebrity and in 2004 Indiana University Press published his autobiography , The world of music according to Starker.

A chapter of this, ‘An Organized Method of String Playing’, in which he describes the principles behind his teaching and playing, has been taken over by a former student, Kurt Hess, and converted into this thin tome, half in English and half in English. Hess’s German translation.

Starker’s right arm technique and impeccable intonation were legendary, and students flocked to Indiana to study with him. He was a remarkably unremarkable performer, but he liked to spread his method in a series of seminars, some of which can still be found on YouTube, and in exercise books.

Starker divided his chapter into four categories: Pre-Play; Right arm–hand–fingers; Left arm–hand–fingers; and musical application. The text in Schott’s volume is small and the content compact, so Hess’s intervention to further divide the categories with subtitles (slow slide, finger movements, etc.) is very welcome. There are no diagrams and no musical examples, making Starker’s descriptions easier to understand at times. However, he deliberately avoids using scientific terms and, with a little physical portrayal of the actions he describes, enlightenment comes.

There’s a lot of value here, born of Starker’s decades of experience as a world-class teacher and performer, and deep analytical thinking. It’s interesting to read his take on the different types of endpin and his prediction that in the future the thumb will go under the key in the highest positions and the fourth finger will come back into play – really?

The forensic analyzes of exactly what happens in legato bowing, down to the action of each finger in bow position, and in various types of left-hand shift are masterful, and the whole book should provide much inspiration for teachers and performers alike. The text is interspersed with some beautiful full-page black and white photographs of Starker at various points in his career.


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