Francescatti's fingerings and bowings

April 3, 2007 at 05:01 PM · I know that we should be mostly working out our own fingerings to suit our playing style, but it is interesting to see what editorial markings such masters as Oistrakh or Francescatti have put into their editions. I have a few of Francescatti's editions of various works, such as the Mendelssohn concerto, Mozart 2 and 3, and the Beethoven.

How do others find these fingerings (and/or bowings)? I sometimes find them difficult (for instance sometimes shifting up the string, rather than going across to another string and staying in the same position) but I enjoy experimenting with them. Does anyone base their choice of performance fingerings on Francescatti editions?

Replies (36)

April 3, 2007 at 06:00 PM · I have a Francescatti edition of the Mozart Piano and Violin Sontatas, and the fingerings are not difficult but they are strange - he uses harmonics more often than I would, for instance, and seems to avoid even-numbered positions for the most part, so I tend not to use them.

Having seen video of his Bazzini "Ronde des Lutins," though, I think I would use those fingerings..they seem to work well.

April 3, 2007 at 07:46 PM · I really don't know who is using it. But I know very well who wasn't: Francescatti himself. In "The way they play" there's somewhere a copy of Francescatti 's Lalo score,it's his own revision and nearby all fingerings/bowings are changed with pencil...

April 3, 2007 at 08:26 PM · Hilarious and so true! I like Francescatti editions for the most part but still make a lot of changes. My favorite pieces are Kreisler's. I rarely change printed fingering or bowing in the pieces of his I've played.

For me, fingering boils down to some basic questions 1. What do you have to do to play it correctly in rhythm and in tune? 2. Does the fingering enhance the desired tone quality? 3. Is there a special effect which is appropriate for the music that requires a specific finger or fingering? 4. Is the fingering choice conducive to bowing concerns? I'm sure someone else has better thoughts, but I think that probably covers most of it anyway.

April 3, 2007 at 08:26 PM · I'm working on the Schumann A-Minor violin sonata at the moment, using Francescatti's edition. He fingers the opening melody all on the G-string (first 9 measures), hard to hit accurately in measure 4. On a different thread, somebody commented that F liked to play whole phrases on a single string where possible, which helps make sense of this fingering.

I asked Rachel Barton Pine about this specifically after her master class here last Thursday (I didn't play the Schumann for her, but was curious). She seemed to endorse F's approach; to roughly summarize, this fingering is superior if you can hit it accurately (opening of the Schumann) because the timbre of the string doesn't change as the melody unfolds. I have found his other fingerings in this sonata uniformly excellent, have changed very few. His fingerings are also more fully worked out than in most edited editions, something I appreciate.

April 3, 2007 at 08:44 PM · Francescatti's fingerings are in the old school style which is to play as many notes in a phrase on one string as possible. That approach is valid but seems strange to modern players who play across string sets for ease and accuracy.

Personally i never work with anyone else's fingerings. I always come up with my own, even if others' are better.

Imo the only way to really learn the logic behind unique fingerings is to come up with your own - while studying Sevcik Galamian and Flesch.

April 4, 2007 at 12:49 AM · Greetings,

on the whole it is better to work out your own fingerings. Francescatti"s fingerings work best for players with big hands and are idiomatic. It is worth keeping in mind that fingerings are not just a means ot a technical end. They are also a unique expresison of an individuals musicality. So there is some element of shallowness , in my opinion, in following more expressive finmgerings without first finding out what sound you wnat and how best to achieve that.

I am not completely convinced by the suggestion that old players (?) went up and modern across. This wa s astylisdtic differnece back in the days of Viotti , Kayser, Baillot and co. It is discussed a little in the book on the the French school of playing by Baillot et al.

Last time I saw Gil Shaham play Bach live he went so far up the strings on some phrases I thought he wanted to scratch his nose,



April 4, 2007 at 01:15 AM · I agree with Buri that Francescati's fingerings and bowings are to say the least, individual and offer a personal artistic expression. They are not for everyone.

Galamian's and Oistrahk's fingerings and bowings in contrast are a great contribution because they are always "sensible" and show a great deal of thought. I know that Galamian was always concerned about teaching fingering concepts. In my lessons, I was never able to alter his fingerings unless I could come up with a really good idea why mine was better. This happened rarely.

Dorothy Delay was more open to change and welcomed an individual's artistic expression and encouraged experimentation; however, that was after a good knowledge of fundamental principles.

April 4, 2007 at 06:14 AM · The world needs more unedited works of music. I'm disappointed that even Henle and Barenreiter are letting fingerings slip in.

April 4, 2007 at 04:37 PM · With all due respect to Francescatti, who is in my opinion one of the finest violinists period, I can't work with his fingerings. They seem illogical to me, without a system. Too many stretches and shifts on strange intervals. Personally, I'll always take Galamian if available. However, Francescatti's bowings tend to make sense with the music, whereas Galamian's seem to detract from the musical intent. Suppose we can't all be perfect, especially with something this personal.

April 4, 2007 at 06:31 PM · that is the reason, partly, why so many violinists sound alike today...they simply took more risks in the time of Neveu, Francescatti, Kreisler, Heifetz and so many others...the left-hand was more active in the shifting and they had many kinds of vibratos, shades and colors.

April 4, 2007 at 08:33 PM · Greetings,

one exercise I do find interesting is to study a great deal of arrangeents by Kreisler and Heifetz. Espercially the latter. I don"t necessarily use them but that can teach one a heck of a lot about the possibilities of the violin. and I suppose it is posisble to argue that they hacve something to do with 'authentic' performanc ;)



April 4, 2007 at 08:55 PM · Szeryng's edition of Bach S & P is another example of a tendency to go 'up' rather than 'across'. I am learning Bach from his edition. I have Galamian's also.

April 4, 2007 at 11:05 PM · Greetings,

Jon, on the whole I would cautiously diagree with you . Just for me, the defining feature of Szeryngs Bach is his extra emphasis on `going across` because of his deeply felt belief that each string of the violin represents a specific voice and that in order to be singing in four part harmony a lot of extra `across` is actually necessary. Compare the opening of the d minor gigue with the Galamian edition. Or take a look at the Courante from the same Partiata. If my memory serves me correctly he stays down for the dotted quaver semi quave rpatterns more than other editions of the era.

Another excellent Bach player who tended to stay down and across was Busch. His opening for the Allemande was played in first position with a fourth finger.



April 5, 2007 at 12:54 AM · Despite the fact that I studied with Galamian for 8 years, I at this point have fundamental differences with his fingerings. I studied all the sonatas and partitas with him and the approach was that they were the Bach etudes, intended to teach fingering principles and basic bow strokes. There was little attention to stylistic niceties. I think in devising fingerings in solo Bach, start from staying in first position and enjoy the color of the different strings.

April 6, 2007 at 06:21 AM · Buri and Bruce,

Thanks. Great posts.

Regarding the Szeryng edition, I thought about what I'd written and realised I was a bit out about his editing, as Buri points out. Just got to think of that 4th finger e on the g string in the E maj Gigue (as an easy and familiar example that comes to my mind). I'm only playing through about 9 movements of the S & P so far.

April 7, 2007 at 04:57 AM · Greetings,

Jon, not sure Bach is the best example of the kind f distinction yu are trying to make because it is generally orineted low down the violin.Soething like a comparison of Beethoven sonatas might be more revealing.

Two examples of where I think a highe rposition is not so good in the Szeryng is the end of the first section which I think rings better going across to the e string and the last few notes where he goes up the g string. That ending is very tricky to figure out, there is never one solution for bach, but Szigeti had a really good fingering which stays down more.



April 10, 2007 at 07:16 PM · I love to study the fingerings and bowings of the great violinists because they give me new insights and open up possibilities that I have not thought of. the markings are always personal, sometimes quirky, sometimes almost bizzare, but they are always worth considering. I usually end up using maybe 1 or 2 percent of the markings, but I always grow in the process.

The violinists whose editions I have learned the most from are Heifetz in his transcriptions, and Szeryng in his solo Bach edition. I feel that those reflect the highest (and most personal) level of violinistic artistry. Also I have learned a lot from the Kreisler bowings and fingerings. I find the Francescatti editions less valuable. I think perhaps his choices of fingering and bowing when He played, were better than those in his editions. I find the Galamian editions, to be on a much lower level -- They are practical, utilitarian, often pedantic, and lacking in musical style and artistry.

April 11, 2007 at 02:33 AM · Claudio made a very interesting observation re F. changing his own printed fingerings. I studied chamber music with the the great violist, Paul Doktor. I remember him telling our group once that in some places he didn't use his own published fingerings because what he actually did didn't "look right" on paper. But then that's misleading to a student.

I'm very independent when in comes to working out fingerings and bowings. Only in a rare case when I'm stuck am I interested in taking a look at someone else' suggestions. At the same time, looking at what someone else has done can provide some insights to their approach. F. was one of the greats. His playing was marked by great virtuosity, panache, and a very rich tone. If memory serves, F. often suggested fingerings that went fairly high up on the A and D, where many others would prefer the E and A, respectively. Besides his bow arm, vibrato, etc. etc. these sort of fingerings lend more richness, whether we might like the resultant articulation and coloristic results, or not.

April 10, 2007 at 08:05 PM · I would have to agree with Roy about the Heifetz and Szeryng editions, they are on another level from Galamian editions. Kreisler's editions are really quite good. When I play one of Kreisler's transcriptions or compositions with his fingerings and bowings, I find, I hardly ever have to write anything in, all the appropriate bowings/fingerings are already there.

April 10, 2007 at 08:18 PM · Where can one purchase Szeryng's (sheet music) edition of solo Bach?

April 10, 2007 at 08:42 PM · William if you would like to get it online you can download it on If you'd like a hardcopy you can get it through Shar. I'm sure probably someone on here has it on PDF.

April 11, 2007 at 07:33 PM · Nate--glad to know I'm not the only Kreisler fingering lover.

I'm using a fingering in I&RC--fourth measure, second set of 32 notes, starting on the F 10134 (I stretch for the 3 and 4 on the A string). I had a friend say "oh, you're using a Perlman fingering." I'm not good enough to recognize everyone else's stamp on fingerings. I hope I will be someday!

April 11, 2007 at 08:59 PM · Wow you must have a long reach Kimberlee like Perlman. I don't think I would be able to do that fingering :) I think Heifetz did that passage starting on the F-natural 213 - II - 2 4. I recall playingn that passage (the chicken way) in first position when I performed it a few years ago. I remember my teacher told me that Isaac Stern once told him how he would listen to Heifetz recordings to get ideas on which fingerings to use for a certain passage.

April 12, 2007 at 04:14 AM · Nate--I have to admit to doing the same thing as Stern. Sometimes I'm glued to Youtube trying to decipher fingerings. Thanks for the Heifetz fingering--I wanted to know what he was doing there. I do try to take responsibility for my own fingerings. But, I have to admit to enjoying edited versions even if I end up redoing most of the fingerings. At least it gives me a place to start. It's hard generating all the possibilities completely on your own, and it is nice to learn how a master might have fingered something.

Yeah, I'm inclined to reach when I can, rather than shift (as long as it doesn't compromise tone color). I must be a very poor shifter! If anyone took a look at my fingerings, they'd probably say "hmmm . . . she really hated to shift!" :D I know better than to impose my ridiculous fingerings on anyone else. I try to think of sensible fingerings for my students (I wonder if that's what Francescatti was doing in his editions--of course, I guess I'm about the only one on this thread who likes Francescatti fingerings, so maybe he wasn't).

Oh, and BTW I like I&RC with the "chicken" first position fingering at the beginning--rustic, big and bright sounding that way.

April 12, 2007 at 12:40 PM · Am I the only one who has discovered that fingerings that sound wonderful on one violin sound awful on another? I mainly worry about color and try to live my life around achieving the right color with fingerings--clearly that means that with the fiddle at my disposal I will not be able to achieve everything I want using Heifetz' or Oistrakh's fingerings because my instrument doesn't respond like theirs--nor can I play as well. Therefore I have to devise fingerings that are built upon my own and my fiddle's limitations. What good is it to use Heifetz' fingerings if they don't give me the desired result. Bowings however are an entirely different matter--they can be very effectively stolen and used--at least in my experience.

April 14, 2007 at 02:01 AM · Oh, I dunno Jay. Bowing is every bit as expressive as fingering. Copying someone's bowings will be just about as effective as copying someone's fingerings. You might get closer to their sound, but, in the end, you will always sound like you! The marvelous, unexplained, mysterious, wonderful capability of the violin to open our souls and make them entirely bare. Amazing. Went to a deeper level of understanding on that principle the other day. Mind-boggling. Sometimes when I teach lessons I feel like a therapist. I can read so much into the lives of my students in the way they play--it's all right there in the music. My great gratitude towards the violin lately--it teaches me how to really LISTEN. Really listening helps guide fingering choices, which is why they're so individual.

April 15, 2007 at 11:59 AM · I like Francescatti's fingerings, too, but on the other hand I always end up changing them to suit myself. I tend to use them as a general guide. For instance, if he goes up the a string I'll be tempted to do the same, except maybe with not the same finger. Some phrases I will play exactly as written, but this is rare. No doubt this will change with time (further away from, or closer to, Francescatti's approach).

I also adore Kreisler's fingerings and bowings, as others have written. I remember I once did a violin grade exam with a Kreisler piece using Kreisler's fingerings and bowings and it worked very well. The normal exam performance edition for that piece suggested more 'normal' fingerings/bowings that seemed to leech much of the special Kreislerness out of the piece.

In the last week or so I've been experimenting with my own fingerings for solo Bach, but I will continue with my Szeryng edition as the ultimate guide.

I can understand why some editors are a bit coy about their personal choice of fingerings when they come to write up their editions for commercial release. Sometimes one's personal choices can be, well, a little personal. What works in practice might look a bit odd on paper -- not very 'academic'. It is a bit like what happens when you are returning from a long and hectic trip and go through customs and the customs guy or woman asks you to open up your suitcase. Sometimes the shirts and so on stuffed in every which way don't look as neat and logically placed as they should. I've just realised this is not the most useful analogy, but there you go.

As long as the music is good!

April 15, 2007 at 05:39 AM · Concerning solo Bach. Try first position first. If that doesn't work try 2nd, and so on. Avoid high positions, unless you are Heifetz.

April 15, 2007 at 05:54 AM · Thanks for your advice, Bruce.

I'm often tempted to use second position in Bach, where often first or third will do. Is this considered wrong for Bach? It just seems to suit my hand better, and I also seem to get a more resonant sound this way sometimes.

April 16, 2007 at 07:48 AM · i use 2nd a lot in the S&P, but hey, i'm a rebel.

April 17, 2007 at 10:04 PM · Jay - yes, different violins are more or less rich and resonant in different areas, and certain fingering/string choices might be made in light of this.

BTW, re ZF, I recall his saying in vol.I of "The Way They Play" that he would use different bowings when playing a solo with orchestra (changing more often) than when playing the same solo with piano.

April 18, 2007 at 12:16 AM · That is a very interesting post, Raphael. I wonder if Francescatti did that consciously beforehand, or if it happened on the spot as he adapted to the musical issues at hand. Maybe some of both?

April 18, 2007 at 10:19 AM · And before Francescatti made that remark, Carl Flesch wrote about the same subject: choice of fingerings and bowings, depending of the accompaniment.

April 18, 2007 at 10:34 AM · In what way would the fingerings change?

Was Flesch talking about using fingerings that would produce a more projecting tone? I can understand how the bowings might change.

April 18, 2007 at 03:40 PM · You might choose first position and open strings over high positions in order to be heard if you're playing with an orchestra--is that right? Just took a random stab--haven't read Flesch. For instance, Nate and I were discussing a particular fingering from I&RC earlier on this thread. I imagine the first position fingering would work well when playing with an orchestra. Am I on the right track?

April 18, 2007 at 06:23 PM · Hi Kimberlee, I think there are a few good ways for that passage. The fingering I did is probably a little bit easier than Heifetz's since it stays in first position (he went up to forth). Although, the next time I play this piece I think I am going to change my fingering to Heifetz's. I think other fingerings for this passage can be also appropriate with an orchestra. Yes certain fingerings definitely can bring out more sound. For instance, traditionally the Mendelssohn VC opening is played on the e-string (I think Mendelssohn requested this to be done)as opposed to the a-string in order so that the tone would carry.

One thing I have noticed about Kreisler fingerings from his editions is that he avoided using the pinky on sustained important notes of a melody, I would guess his reason for avoiding the pinky on these notes was to provide a strong enough vibrato, which more often than not the pinky in my opinion fails to do.

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