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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Alwin Schroeder, Etude Anthologist

Long before the appearance of the 170 Foundation Studies for Violoncello, Alwin Schroeder had established himself as both a scholar and master of cello technique. Famously self-taught as a cellist, Schroeder gave special attention to developing a cello-teaching curriculum during his years on the Leipzig Conservatory faculty. From 1881 to 1891, while his cellist colleague Julius Klengel was composing concertos and concert pieces, Schroeder was writing technical exercises and editing new editions of etudes by Merk, Duport, and especially Dotzauer. And none other than David Popper later endorsed Schroeder as an authority on cello technique by dedicating the first book (etudes 1-10) of his famous “High School of Violoncello Playing” to “Alwin Schroeder in Boston”:

The 170 Foundation Studies for Violoncello was Alwin’s etude magnum opus. Originally published in 1916, this 3-volume anthology brings together existing etudes by a dozen different cellists: Buchler, Cossmann, Dotzauer, Duport, Franchomme, Grutzmacher, Kummer, Lee, Merk, Piatti, [Carl] Schroeder, and Servais. With obvious reverence for these studies as musical literature, Schroeder presents the etudes in their original form, without cuts or revisions, and meticulously attributes the source of each etude within its author’s oeuvre. These important hints of the scholarly in the 170 help us trace where Alwin has reordered studies by a single author, and allow us to go back to the original sets of etudes for comparison and additional material.

Although Schroeder himself didn’t compose any of the 170 studies, they are affectionately referred to as “the Schroeder etudes.” And in fact, there are 46 etudes in the collection that can be accurately described this way, because they are by Alwin’s older cellist brother, Carl. Volume 1 opens with an extended sequence from Carl’s studies to facilitate a broad mastery of the first position. Subsequent cello pedagogues have recognized the special value of this first-position material, as the recent reengraving of Vol. 1 (edited by Richard Hughey) and Amy Rosen’s My First Schroeder attest.

The 170 doesn’t just dwarf other cello etude collections by sheer quantity. It covers the widest possible technical trajectory, from whole notes on open-strings to the most advanced cellistic challenges, taking small steps toward Parnassus with a “rightness” of pedagogical emphasis and proportion that for me sets the 170 apart as a methode sans paroles. In contrast to his older brothers, who wrote wordy manuals on violin and cello playing (Carl) and published heavily annotated, visually bewildering editions of violin etudes (Hermann), the famously quiet Alwin had the last and most lasting word in string pedagogy with a method that lets the music speak – and teach – for itself.

Want to listen to the 170? Cellist Patrick Reinholz has been courageously and competently recording them for his “Etude Tuesday” series. So far he has uploaded videos of Nos. 1 through 124.

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