Critical Notes Series: Servais's 6 Caprices

Say the word "caprice," and our minds immediately go to Paganini and Piatti. However, other composers also wrote caprices as studies, among them François Servais (1807-66). Servais was a Belgian cello virtuoso and composer. As was typical of the Romanic Era composers, the bulk of his output included opera fantasies and variations on popular themes. Our new edition of Servais's 6 Caprices is based on the two first editions, Richault (French) and Schott (German), graciously provided by the Servais Society, faithfully combined into a beautiful, newly engraved, critical edition. Our edition is the first to include a score of the two cello parts. All the textual variants between the two first editions are noted in the footnotes. Our edition also comes with separate parts, which include Servais's original fingerings. 

Servais brings different styles of playing to each Caprice. Caprice No. 1 explores legato arpeggios in ABAB form. The arpeggios are within an octave spread, many of them fully diminished seventh harmonies. The B section is called "Chansonnette Flamande" (Little Flemish Song). This song recalls "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," a children's song sung in English-speaking countries. Caprice No. 2 is a perpetual motion in rondo form, exploring the spiccato bow stroke. Caprice No. 3 explores legato string crossings between two adjacent strings. Caprice No. 4 is a da capo aria with a bit of a Spanish flair and hurdy-gurdy type of accompaniment. The transition back to the A section is a recitativo secco. Caprice No. 5 is a slow-tempo study in double stops and trills. Caprice No. 6 is another legato arpeggio study, now exploring octaves, tenths, and twelfths. 

Note on slurring: Occasionally, Servais writes a slur over two notes of the same pitch, as in m. 1 of Caprice No. 1. Those two notes should have a slight separation between them. 

Other times, Servais writes a slur over two notes that are tied. The tied notes should be played as a single note, with no separation, as in mm. 37 and 39 of Caprice No. 1. 

Special thank you to Peter François (President of the Servais Society) for offering his expertise.

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