by Tim Finholt

I was sent a collection of etudes by William Van den Burg called "67 Etudes for the Cello on the Beethoven Quartets." The etudes are divided into three volumes -- the Early, Middle, and Late Quartet etudes. Van den Burg (1901-1992) was the principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Each of the Etudes is freely based upon a different movement of the sixteen Beethoven String Quartets. The introduction to the etudes, written by the publisher, Ron Erickson, describes three basic goals of the etudes: "to expand the player's grasp of technical resources," to "develop challenging passages from the Quartets in an appropriate style," and to give the player and the audience "the impression of hearing the entire Quartet texture" by combining other quartet voices with the cello part.

It was a pleasure to play through these etudes, since the cello finally gets to play some of those wonderful lines that are given to the first violinist. Many etudes are difficult and would require careful practice to get them ready for a performance. These etudes provide a pleasant musical experience.

I am not sure that it is appropriate to call all of the works in these books "etudes," though. Etudes are traditionally used for drilling the player on specific technical skills, i.e. octaves, slow bows, etc. We feel fortunate when the composer also succeeds in creating a satisfying music experience. Mr. Van den Burg seems to err on the side of music, as some of the etudes in these volumes seem to have minimal pedagogical value (i.e. as good as picking up ANY piece of music and mastering it), though they are musically satisfying. I found myself hoping to find practice ideas for those infamous parts in the quartets, like the lightning fast ascending broken thirds in the first movement of the Opus 59 No. 3, but came up empty-handed.

I would recommend these etudes to those who are looking for a break from the standard Popper and Piatti etude route. I could see how these might be interspersed between other etudes to get the student away from the weighty etudes that we all know and love. It would also be interesting to assign the appropriate etude when a student is studying an actual Beethoven Quartet.

For more information on these etudes, write to:

Erickson Editions; PO Box 666; S. San Francisco, CA 94083

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