By Mary Nemet | From the September-October 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Jean-Louis Duport, cellist and composer born in Paris in 1749, is today regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the development of cello technique, and in his own time, he was considered quite the virtuoso. In 1796, Beethoven penned his two Opus 5 Sonatas for cello and piano for Duport, which they played together.
Jean-Louis Duport: 21 Études for Cello; G. Henle Verlag, $28.95
While no longer recognized for his own concert music, Duport’s études are a staple of cello pedagogical repertoire, focusing on bowing and fingering technique. “More than 20 years ago I was called upon by friends, artists, and aficionados to write about fingerings for the violoncello”: Jean-Louis Duport thus opens his Essay from 1806, dedicated to “professors of the cello.” His methodology became the fundamental reference point for all subsequent schools of cello teaching and in fact revolutionized cello technique. At the end of his treatise, we find the 21 Études for cello (with a second cello part as accompaniment)—works that explain and put into practice the methods described within.
They also demonstrate Duport’s new instrumental style, which incorporates all his inventions. The études are extremely difficult, requiring a virtuoso technique and deep musical insight, lifting them above the level of mere exercises to works of art. With their wide selection of dynamics and bowings as well as an extraordinary richness of compositional ideas, his Essay can be viewed as an anthology of concert pieces with real artistic value rather than just a practical handbook. Duport’s études are still regarded today as perhaps the most important set of studies for budding cellists. Their techniques are found throughout the standard cello repertoire.
Henle issues the urtext here, together with Duport’s original fingerings and bowings, while offering alternatives for today’s students by cellist and teacher Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt. This edition also offers the original second cello part provided by Duport for accompaniment.
Henle’s handsome publication pays tribute to one of the most important and influential composers for the cello in the first half of the 19th century. Alongside their pedagogical reputation, the études’ musical value richly repays all cellists seeking to master them.