Archives for posts with tag: Suzuki Cello

François Joseph Gossec

François Joseph Gossec, according to Mozart, according to Wikipedia, was “a very good friend and a very dry man”.  Perhaps being “dry” contributed to his longevity.  He lived (1734-1829) to the ripe old age of 95.  That’s pretty impressive, considering that three lifespans of a Schubert or Mozart (contemporaries?) could fit into his.  And equally impressive is the evolution of musical styles and periods that he lived through.

Gossec is not a composer that I would call popular or even particularly well-known today.  The inclusion of a Gavotte piece in the Suzuki repertoire is another curiosity that begs the question: why?

Despite the relative obscurity of the composer, the Gavotte in question has certainly enjoyed a fair amount of play.  Warner Brothers’ composer Carl Stalling included the piece in a number of the Looney Tunes cartoons, including several cues in this episode called “Porky’s Party” (look for the silk worm):

Stalling uses the music for humor, but what was the composer’s original intention? What is this music? What was its purpose? Instrumentation? Context?

Because the piece is sometimes referred to as “Gavotte (Rosine)”, I proceeded under the assumption that the piece likely was taken from an Opera written by the composer in 1786 called Rosine ou L’épouse Abandonnée, and accordingly I put in a request (login required) to IMSLP for an original score.  IMSLP user Jean-Séb responded to my post, suggesting that the Gavotte may have been made famous by Willy Burmeister.  Where have I heard that name before?

Of course! Willy Burmeister was the editor of the “Lully Gavotte” music I had uncovered in a prior post.

But Who is Willy Burmeister?

A google search quickly reveals that the editor in question was no Willy Burmeister, as is printed in the “Lully Gavotte” I found, but rather Willy Burmester. (At least the “Lully” publisher, misspelling the name of the even the editor, was egalitarian in its mistakes).

Burmester (1869-1933) was a charismatic violinist who was also known for an edition of pieces by “old masters”, Stücke alter Meister, the 5 volumes of which can be found here.  That this is the second time I arrived at the Burmester Stücke while looking into origins strengthens my hypothesis that these editions, with their liberal treatment of the original music, served as a reference for the Suzuki literature. I am guessing that Dr Suzuki even owned a copy of the Burmeister Stücke, copying out the pieces in the editions note for note, but this is just a guess.

There are other similarities, too, between the Suzuki books and Burmester’s. To state the obvious, the books are divided into volumes. And the pieces in the collection are referenced by short, simple titles, “Menuett”, “Gavotte”, “Air,” nicknames really, without any of the kind of specific title information one would need to uniquely identify the piece.

For example, No. 9 from Volume 2 of the Selected Pieces is titled, simply, “Gavotte” and attributed to JS Bach. Here is the Burmester’s arrangment. Note that Burmester’s Gavotte is the “Gavotte en Rondeau” from JS Bach’s Violin Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 –the same “Gavotte en Rondeau” whose performance by Arthur Grumiaux, pressed into the golden record sent into space to represent the culture of planet Earth, has traveled beyond the gravity of the sun toward the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

And here is recording of Burmester playing his arrangement of it:

Aside from the terse title, what else is notable about Burmeister’s arrangement of this piece for (hint) solo violin?

Burmeister has written an accompaniment for it.

I have often wondered about the accompaniment for some of the pieces in the volumes.  My past thinking was that the accompaniments had been fleshed out for the purpose of supporting the soloist-student with more sound.  But now I hypothesize that the accompaniments are filled out because Burmester did it first.  Suzuki looked to Burmester’s Stücke as an example.

(Suzuki teachers: here’s a question. Aside from the “Gavotte by Lully” (by Marais) and the Gavotte by Gossec, are there any other Suzuki pieces, either current or from editions past, that you can find in Burmester’s Stücke alter Meister?)

The Gavotte

So now we have a working theory of how Gossec’s Gavotte found its way into the Suzuki Volumes. But I still don’t know what relation Burmester’s, and thus Suzuki’s, version of Gossec’s Gavotte has (if any) with Gossec’s original.  The search goes on for the original score…

How does a repertoire get built?

If you are a musician, how did you come to learn the pieces in your repertoire?  You added some pieces because of personal interest: you heard a piece you liked, or you discovered a piece by a composer you liked. Maybe you came across something in a library or by researching something else.  Maybe you commissioned a piece to be composed for you, or perhaps you composed a piece yourself.  A teacher assigned you to learn a piece.  A collaborator has suggested one.  A loved one requests one. In most cases a repertoire develops organically over time.

In the case of the Suzuki Method, on the other hand, the repertoire appears to the student all at once fully formed, in the same way that Athena was born grown-up and armored out of Zeus’ achy forehead.  Students inherit a large body of work which is to sustain them, if they continue with the Method, for quite some time. But how did Suzuki (and when I say Suzuki, I do not mean simply Dr Shinichi Suzuki, but everyone who has worked and continues to develop the Suzuki Method) build its repertoire? How did they decide which pieces to include and which pieces not to include?

Stravinsky owned a large book of Russian folk tunes.  When he needed a folksy tune for a composition, he would turn to the book, and in fact many of the melodies for his work can be found in this very compendium, in the same position on every page (the bottom right hand corner). (Taruskin) Did Suzuki have such a book?

Yesterday I was searching my favorite internet music resource IMSLP for an ur-text type score of the Cello School volume 3 piece “Gavotte”.  According to the book it was written by Lully, also several sources have indicated that this attribution is spurious and that the piece was actually written by Lully’s student, gambist Marin Marais, whose relationship with another of his teachers, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe was featured in the excellent film “Tous Les Matins du Monde”.

I was unable to find the piece by searching manually through the Lully or Marais music.  But I noticed a tool for the first time that looked inviting: a search by melody .  So I clicked in the following melody:

The notes I clicked into IMSLP melody search to locate Lully Gavotte …and this, amazingly is what turned up.

The linking page shows that the link is for a “Piece de Viol” by Marin Marais, but the scanned music itself is attributed to Lully.  It is copyrighted 1909 and arranged by Jacques van Lier (cello) and Willy Burmester (piano). I’m still confused who wrote this piece.  However, I am confident that that this is the arrangement that was Suzuki’s inspiration for including it in the volumes.  The form fits the Suzuki version to a “T” and even the bowing is almost exactly the same.

Here is a Spotify link to recording of Mischa Maisky playing a like arrangement of this piece, with Pavel Gililov on piano.

Compare this version to a video version I found by searching for the piece on youtube.  The score, which scans along as the music is played, is titled “Gavotte en Rondeau, extrait d’un des ballets du Roy” and is attributed to “Lulli”.  Note that this version includes more music:

I was amused to see the last page of the PDF, which I guess is a back cover, advertising another volume of cello music, “Singen und Klingen!”, an anthology for cello and piano “newly edited by celebrated masters”.  Perhaps this anthology was one of Suzuki’s source materials that he used in building his repertoire.

I know that there are few threads going at the same time, so please bear with me.  At this point in my investigation I am still confused as to the exact origins of the piece, but my feeling is that romantic style piano arrangement of the YouTube version is definitely a later development, although the idea of music being added rather than subtracted makes me think that there is something to that version.

I go back to IMSLP and rather than simply click the link that has been generated by the the “search by melody” tool, I type in the name of the piece that the search generates: Marin Marais’ “Pièce de Viole”.  Marais wrote a large number of pieces under this umbrella which were published over time in 5 volumes.  I decided to flip through the music to see if I could find what I was looking for.  Right away I noticed something curious.  This first book of viol music, published in 1686, was dedicated to, you guessed it, Jean-Baptiste Lully, making an erroneous attribution plausible. (I would be grateful if someone whose French is better than mine would be kind enough to translate)

Low and behold, right there in the first book, listed at number 24 and titled “Rondeau”, there it was: the piece in question, Suzuki’s famous “Lully Gavotte”.

Marin Marais pieces de viole number 24 image

QED, right? Well, almost.

The Viol part of Marais’s first book of viol pieces was published in 1686.  In 1689 the accompanying basso continuo part was published.  I wanted to cross reference the B.C. part to see the rest of Marais’ original music.  So I flip the music right to #24, except that it didn’t correspond to the #24 rondeau from the solo part. #24 accompanied entirely different music.  This was no good.  I was discouraged.  Perhaps the solo part was some kind of apocrypha itself–another mistake.  Not sure what to do, I decided to sleep on it.

In the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps the problem was with the continuo part.  So I flipped through both parts, the solo viol and the b.c. part simultaneously tracking each movement through the page breaks, and sure enough, there it was.  The problem was with shoddy numbering of the movements in the accompaniment–the copyist had dropped a few numbers.  There it was- the continuo part counted after number 20, presumably #21:

There was only one problem left to solve–find a recording of the music as the composer had intended.  Surely the great viola da gamba player Jordi Savall has recorded this piece as part of his survey of Marais’ music?  But alas, if there is one, I was unable to find it.

This music, under the guise of a Lully composition,  has taken on a prominent life of its own after its transformation by  J. van Lier.  But what of the original music? Sadly, it has not been included in Savall’s collection of Marais’ Pieces, and I can find no other recording in print.  This is yet another case  of giving credit where it is due and a reminder of our obligation as custodians of our culture and history to remind one another that this piece is actually not Lully’s Gavotte, but in actuality, Marais’ Rondeau.

Doug Goodkin, one of the finest music teachers in the world, teaches his students that “rhythm” means “the way the words go”.  In the case of “The Two Grenadiers” in Suzuki Cello School Volume 2, the words don’t go that way at all.

The Two Grenadiers, originally called, Die bieden Grenadiere, Robert Schumann’s Opus 49, is a dramatic ballad that he wrote in 1840, a year sometimes called his “song year” because he produced so many of them during this time.  1840 is also the year that Schumann married his love, the famous pianist Clara Wieck.  The piece is a setting of  a poem by Heinrich Heine about two French soldiers released into Germany after imprisonment in Russia. The two soldiers, one on the verge of death, and other obliged to returned to his wife and children, respond to the news that their army had been defeated and Napoleon captured.

Why did someone think it a good idea to remove the words from this particular music and teach it to children around the world?  This is wrong on a number of levels.

Taking the poetry away from the music renders the song meaningless in more ways than one.  It’s like taking its soul and leaving an empty corpse–empty gestures where there were once symbols and meanings.

That this is a political setting of a political poem is left by the wayside.  A student would have no idea, for example, why la marseillaise, the now-French national anthem, is quoted in the music, although in 1840, a listener would have heard this as a political gesture.

And what to make of the now random rhythms left as vestiges of words that they had once been setting?

Although the structure of the song includes a verse that repeats, there are no repeat signs in the music:  Schumann writes it out as if it were through-composed.  As an accomplished songwriter, Schumann sets each word according to its specific sound, meaning and rhythm.  What is good for “goose” is not good for “gander”, and words in corresponding places in different verses are given their own individual rhythmic treatments.

To add insult to the injury of taking away the words, the Suzuki arrangement does not even preserve Schumann’s rhythms, instead distilling down what was once rooted in poetry to a series of random events.

Let’s look briefly at how the source music relates to the Suzuki version.

Comparison of Two Grenadiers Opening Phrases

Two Grenadiers, 1st phrase

Let’s set aside for a moment the curious piano introduction that originally inspired musicologist Susan Youens to research this music, and focus on the opening of the vocal melody.  In the original version, Schumann sets the opening phrase (above) by dividing the beat four different ways: into 1 part (quarter note), 2 parts (eight notes), 3 parts (eight note triplets) and 4 parts (dotted eighth note-sixteen note), a rhythmic smorgasbord that (I would agree) may have been too much to ask a Suzuki book 2 student to digest.  So what does Suzuki do? They filter out everything but the quarter note and dotted figure (after all this is a piece about the French) and reduce the music to a lesson in hooked bowing.  However, instead of keeping the dot on beat 4, where Schumann had thought it a good idea to put it, Suzuki shifts the dot to beat 2.

Strangely, in the last phrase (below), Suzuki removes several other formerly-contented dots, inserting another where before there was none:

Comparing the last phrase of Suzuki's Two Grenadiers with Schumann's original

Two Grenadiers last phrase

In the section of ascending fourths in Suzuki m. 15 (below), corresponding to Schumann’s m. 15 or more closely m. 49, things continue to go askew.

Illustration comparing Suzuki measure 15 with Schumann's measure 15 and 49 of Two Grenadiers

Comparing Suzuki's measure 15 with Schumann's measure 15 and 49

Suzuki’s alterations turn Schuman’s elegant amphibrachs in m. 15 and its corresponding verbal adaptation in m. 49 into an exercise of random rather than motivic events, with obligatory dotted rhythms and corresponding hooked bowings.

The music continues:

Comparing measure 19 in the Suzuki with measure 53 of Schumann's original in The Two Grenadiers

Adding notes in measure 20

…Schumann repeating the above music twice.

These are just a few examples of the infidelities in Suzuki’s treatment of Two Grenadiers. Why not include the composer’s music as he wrote it?

And to ask the larger question, why is this piece included in the Suzuki cannon at all?

In answer to the latter, one might respond that this song is one of the great examples of the Romantic lied, a great piece itself, that it written in a minor key that modulates to its parallel major and so it includes both 2 “low 1” fingerings and their corresponding “regular 1” (both B and E flat and natural).

I would counter that there are many examples from this period, that appropriating a lied is not important (there is no precedent of taking music from every period or genre, and certainly undue influence has been placed on certain periods (baroque) and even certain composers (Bach)), that if a lied were specifically desired, other more child-appropriate songs could be found (a much closer appropriation of Schubert’s Wiegenlied is included in book 3), that if there were no other choice but to include Die bieden Grenadiere in the Books, that they be faithfully reproduced; and lastly that this piece as presented does not actually represent Schumann but is merely Schumann-ish.

Children use their bodies, their minds and their voices to learn and internalize music. By divorcing this music from its native rhythm, Suzuki makes utilizing the poem that is latent in music for learning, context and meaning impossible.  Then, either the teacher or parent is then required to invent their own ways of connecting to the music or the student is required to memorize a series of random items.

My primary focus here had been to speak about musical considerations alone.  In speaking of song, however, music cannot be divorced from word.  And in this case, politics similarly cannot be extracted. Youens, who writes extensively on this song, even goes so far as to say that implicit in the poem is the Nationalism that will ultimately lead Germany into the atrocities of World War II.  Custom tells us not to discuss religion or politics in polite company.  These topics should also not be included in children’s music.  I had earlier alluded to the piano opening as curious–it’s unusual, ambiguous harmonies are “clarified” in Suzuki’s accompaniment,but just as important is the song’s quiet, mysterious ending, the poem’s ironic commentary, which is diplomatically removed in the Suzuki.

The two Grenadiers is a perfect example of the danger of removing music from its original context, sanitizing it, and depositing it in a compendium–the danger of art becoming post-modern detritus, sticky sweet candy with no nourishing value.


I’m looking for help. Interwebs, can you please help a fellow out?

There is a piece in Suzuki Book 2 called “March in G” for cello (“March in D” in the violin editions). Suzuki attributes this piece to Bach. A typed hand-out that I have been given, titled “Sources of Bach’s Pieces in the Suzuki Literature,” points to the 2nd notebook of Anna Magdalena. So, in the quest to hunt it down, I purchased a beautifully edited Schott/Wiener Urtext edition of the notebook, but it’s not in there. The edition does include several Marches–one in D (BWV Anh. 122) and one in G (BWV Anh. 124), but neither of these is the piece from the Suzuki volumes. Can somebody please help me? Where does this piece come from?!?

Excerpt of March in G attributed to Bach.

Thank you very much in advance.

Suzuki Skeptic


I apologize for the delay in posting my findings regarding this subject, and realize now that many of you are coming to this blog precisely to find out exactly the answer to this question.  In my excitement surrounding a gift of a list of source music, I failed to come back here to report exactly what I found out, and here it is.

March in G does not, in fact, come from The Notebook of Anna Magdalena, but rather is a chorus from one (or both) of the following related secular Bach cantatas, each written in honor of an official appointment and subtittled “Musica Per Drama”:

1. The chorus “Kortte lebe, Kortte bluhe” from BMW 207, “Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten”

2. The chorus “August lebe! Lebe Konig!” from BWV 207A “Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten”