Famous Pedagogues of the String Instrument World

It’s back-to-school time!   Whether students are in the building or learning remotely this school year, teachers are working hard to make sure their students are getting the best education they can offer.  This blog post celebrates some of the most famous pedagogues in the string instrument world throughout history and their influence on today’s music students.

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831)

Kreutzer was born in Versaille, France on November 16, 1766.  He studied violin with his father, then with Anton Stamitz (1750-c. 1809) and Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824).  He met Beethoven in 1798 on a European tour.  Without Kreutzer’s knowledge, Beethoven dedicated his Sonata in A Major, opus 47 to him.  Kreutzer himself composed 19 violin concertos and 40 operas.  He passed away in Geneva, Switzerland on January 6, 1831.

As a teacher, he was one of the founding violin professors at the Conservatoire de Paris, and taught there from 1795-1826.  A famous pedagogue that co-wrote the violin curriculum for the conservatory, he is considered one of the founders of the French violin school.  His method book, the 42 Studies or Caprices (ca. 1796) is still a popular method book used by many violin students. It has been transcribed for viola and cello

Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995)

Fuchs was born in New York City on November 18, 1901 to a musical family – her brothers Joseph and Harry played the violin and cello.  Her music education began by studying violin with her father and later with Franz Kneisel at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Julliard School).  Fuchs began her career on violin in 1926, but quickly shifted to viola.  She became a highly respected string player, performing with chamber groups and as soloist with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic,  and passed away on October 5, 1995.

Fuchs also had an exceptional career teaching at some of the most renowned music schools around the country, including the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard.  Among her most notable students is Isaac Stern.  During her teaching career, she composed two method books for viola:  16 Fantasy Études and 15 Characteristic Studies.

David Popper (1843-1913)

Popper was born in Prague, Bohemia on June 16, 1843.  He studied under cellist Julius Goltermann (1825-1876) at the Prague Conservatory.  Conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow recommended Popper to become Chamber Virtuoso for the court of Prince Constantin (1801-1869). He composed works for cello, including four concertos, a Requiem for three cellos and orchestra, and a number of pieces for cello and piano.  He passed away on August 7, 1913 near Vienna.

At the Conservatory at Budapest, he taught many cellists who would go on to have successful careers, including Adolf Schiffer, who was János Starker teacher.  In addition to his compositions, Popper wrote a collection of études called High School of Cello Playing.

Franz Simandl (1840-1912)

Simandl started his career by studying double bass at the Prague Conservatory with Josef Hrabe (1816-1870).  After his studies, he became the principal bassist in the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra.  He was professor of double bass studies at the Vienna Conservatory from 1869-1910.

As a pedagogue, Simandl was extraordinarily influential in double bass studies.  He wrote his method book, New Method for the Double Bass, during his tenure at the Vienna Conservatory.  Simandl said the purpose of the book was to provide the first complete double bass method that is not only thorough, but also easily accessible[1]

Special thanks to Yoonhee Lee, John Guarino, Phil Rush, and Robert Mayes of Carriage House Violins for their assistance.


[1] Franz Simandl, New Method for the Double Bass (New York: Carl Fischer, Inc., 1904), 3.

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Copyright © 2020 · All Rights Reserved · Stephen Loikith

The Bach Cello Suites: A Brief History

In celebration in J.S. Bach’s birth month, we are focusing on some of his most famous works for strings: the six suites for unaccompanied cello. We are in the middle of the 300th anniversary of these works being composed (written between 1717-1723). Popularized by Pablo Casals in the 1930s and by Yo-Yo Ma in more recent years, the Bach cello suites have become standard in many repertoires. 

Origins of the Bach Cello Suites

A suite (pronounced “sweet”) is a collection of dance pieces.  Though not standardized at first, a German composer and keyboard player named Johann Froberger (1616-1667) ended up forming what is known today as the classical suite style. It consisted of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue.  King Louis XIV (1638-1715), an accomplished dancer, was also heavily influential in the development of the suite. He was the patron for many composers who wrote many dance suites on his behalf, including Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and François Couperin (1668-1733), and even founded the Académie Royale de Danse, Europe’s first school dedicated to dance.

Bach and the Classical Style Suite

When you look at the number of suites in Bach’s catalog, it seems pretty apparent that he was at least familiar with the French dance styles.  However, when you take a closer look at his dance music, you can see that he not only knew how many measures a piece needed to be and their respective time signatures, but he also had intimate knowledge with the physical dance steps for each piece based on the meter and which beats in the measure were emphasized.  Not bad for someone who always lived in Germany!

The cello suites themselves more or less follow the form established by Froberger, except that each one begins with a Prelude and there is either a minuet, a bourrée, or a gavotte in between the sarabande and gigue.  While each suite has its own unique character, arguably the most noteworthy one is Suite no. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012.  This was written originally for a 5-string violoncello piccolo (strung C-G-D-A-E).  With the higher E string at his disposal, Bach took advantage of that higher range. Since modern cellos do not have that string, this suite requires players to go into higher positions in addition to navigating Bach’s technical passages.

Sheet Music for the Bach Cello Suites

Because of their popularity, there are numerous editions available in our catalog.  You can find versions ranging from the always high quality Bärenreiter and Henle edition, to the more affordable Carl Fischer editionInternational Music Company also has an edition that includes scans of Bach’s autograph manuscript.  In addition to cello, we have versions for viola and bass as well.

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Copyright © 2020 · All Rights Reserved · Stephen Loikith

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Three

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Photo by Javier Oddo

ANNA CLYNE (b. March 9, 1980) is an English composer currently residing in the United States, specializing in electroacoustic music. She has received numerous awards, and her double concerto Prince of Clouds was nominated for a Grammy in 2015. Many of her works involve a visual component, such as her orchestral poem Night Ferry. Her work The Violin is a suite for two violins and electronic backing track, with optional violin ensemble. It is paired with poems by her mother and a series of stop-motion animations by Josh Dorman. Rest These Hands is a movement from the suite arranged for solo violin and strings.

LILI BOULANGER (August 21, 1893 – March 15, 1918) was a French composer known for her colorful vocal, choral, and orchestral works, influenced by Debussy. Taught with her sister Nadia by Gabriel Fauré, she made it her mission to win the coveted Prix de Rome.  After years of study, she won it in 1913 with her cantata Faust et Hélène, becoming the first woman to have ever won the prize. She composed two somber violin pieces around this time: Nocturne (1911) and Cortège (1914). However, throughout her entire career, Lili struggled with what is thought to have been Crohn’s disease. She died in poor health at just 24 in 1918. Her sister Nadia then turned to pedagogy, teaching composers such as Copland, Glass, Bacewicz, and Piazzolla.

CLARA SCHUMANN (September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896) remains one of the most esteemed musicians and composers of the Romantic Era. She had a 61-year long career as a concert pianist, touring with Joseph Joachim and championing the works of her husband Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Felix Mendelssohn. She composed a piano concerto at age 14 and premiered it herself under the baton of Mendelssohn. Superb later works include her masterful Piano Trio (1846) and the popular Three Romances (1853) for violin and piano, inspired by her husband and dedicated to Joachim. Robert was committed to an asylum soon afterward, dying there in 1856. After his death, Clara focused on performing, and with Brahms edited her husband’s works for publication.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Two

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Credit: Kuandi Photos

CHEN YI 陳怡 (b. April 4, 1953) is an award-winning Chinese composer and violinist. As a young musician, Chen’s European-influenced education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution. She practiced in secret, before being sent to perform hard labor at a commune, where she became exposed to Chinese folk culture. When she returned to her hometown of Guangzhou at 17, she became concertmaster of the Beijing Opera Troupe. She became the first woman to receive a M.A. in composition from Beijing’s Central Conservatory for the Arts. Her music has been played by such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, and Evelyn Glennie. As in Memory for Solo Cello, Chen blends Western classical elements with Chinese folksong.

AUGUSTA READ THOMAS (b. April 24, 1964) is a prominent American composer. Her music has been performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and played under the baton of Pierre Boulez. She has held teaching positions at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Though her music is thoroughly notated, it has been characterized as organic and free, and described in her own words as “captured improvisation”. Her work Silent Moon for Violin and Viola embodies this style, with numerous passages containing rubato, cadenzas, and advanced rhythms.

Hear Augusta Read Thomas discuss her work in a May 2018 interview with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Photo © Bernie Mindich

JOAN TOWER (b. September 6, 1938) is one of the most successful American composers today. Her music developed in the serialist tradition started by Schoenberg, before branching out into a more impressionist sound. She became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer  Award for her work Silver Ladders, and has won three Grammy Awards for her album “Made in America”. She is perhaps most renowned for her set of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. Her solo violin work Second String Force is an advanced work with visceral energy and technical challenges.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro