Exploring Beethoven’s Fifth: Second Variation — by Jonathan Pegis

Exploring Beethoven’s Fifth: Second Variation — by Jonathan Pegis

Picking up where we left off last time, at the conclusion of variation 1 it is a good idea to keep counting in between the two variations.  You want to play this second variation in the exact tempo as the theme and first variation.  I will say right at the outset that there is no ideal fingering for this excerpt!  It just doesn’t lie well on the cello.  My fingering is a bit unusual in that I do not use the thumb at all, or any open A strings.  I do, however, use the A string for some of the notes.  I highly recommend not playing the open A just because it tends to really stick out.  Many cellists don’t use the A string at all which is also fine but usually necessitates using the thumb which I find a bit clumsy.  The hardest part of my fingering is the blocked fifths with the fourth finger in measures 103 and 104.  Some of my Northwestern students have used the third finger here while others have used the thumb on the low note and used 2 and 3 on the fifths.  It’s probably best to experiment and see which fingering works best for you.  If you use the blocked 4th finger it really helps if the fifths on your cello are true!

Here are a few comments on bowing this excerpt.  I like to start up bow but this puts me at the frog on a down bow for the subito pp at measure 105.  To solve this problem I sneak in a down bow halfway through measure 104.  This gets me to the upper half for the pp, but not all the way to the tip.  I also find it a good idea to not taper off dynamically in measure 104, because if you do then you have no room left for the subito pp.  I have had a number of students simply reverse the bowing and begin this passage down bow, and I have been occasionally tempted to do this. However, there is something about the string crossings in measure 101 that I find awkward on an up bow.  Again, it’s a good idea to experiment, and don’t forget to record yourself!

I should comment on the numerous string crossings which are difficult to make smooth with the right hand.  It helps if you “minimize” the string crossings so you just barely avoid playing chords.  On the A and D crossings I usually recommend that the plane of the bow is low on the A string and high on the D.  Be firm enough in the wrist—but not rigid–so that the crossings are very even. Slow and steady breathing helps a lot too.

What are some of the musical considerations in this excerpt?  Well, like variation 1 we want to use the same singing piano sound which is focused but not loud.  Phrase the way we did the theme, with a slight crescendo in measure 101.  It also makes a big difference if you can apply a gentle vibrato throughout much of the excerpt.  I admit this is pretty hard to do on those pesky fifths, regardless of fingering!  And like the first variation, avoid using portato to hide the shifts.  This excerpt should be seamless and hopefully sound effortless to the committee.

We have come to the end of our discussion of Beethoven’s Fifth.  I welcome comments, feedback, and suggestions for future excerpts to explore.

About the Author:

Jonathan Pegis

Jonathan Pegis joined the Chicago Symphony in the fall of 1986; prior to that he was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic for 2 years.  Since his arrival in Chicago Mr. Pegis has performed frequently in chamber music and is active in the Chicago Symphony chamber music series.  He is a regular participant in the Northwestern University Winter Chamber Music Festival and has performed with such artists as Lynn Harrell and Pinchas Zukerman.  He has also appeared as soloist with the Highland Park Strings, the Texas Chamber Orchestra, and the Signature Symphony in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In 1993 Mr. Pegis joined the faculty at Northwestern where he taught Cello Orchestral Studies for 19 years.

Originally from Rochester, New York, Jonathan Pegis began his studies at the Eastman School of Music Preparatory Department.  His first teacher was Alan Harris; he has also studied with Lee Fiser, Paul Katz, and Lynn Harrell.  He completed his undergraduate studies at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  While there, he joined the LaSalle Quartet and violist Donald McInnes on chamber music tours of the US and Germany.  Their 1982 recording of Schoenberg’s “Verklaerte Nacht” received Japan’s Tokyo Record Academy prize.  Mr. Pegis returned to Rochester in 1984 to become a member of the Rochester Philharmonic and to attend Eastman, where he earned a Master’s degree and a Performer’s Certificate.

Jonathan Pegis lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife soprano Dawn Pegis.  When not performing music their hobbies include sailing, crafts, and endless home improvement projects.