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(1864 - 1941)

Son of violinist Jean Becker and pupil of Carlo Piatti and Friedrich Grützmacher, Hugo Becker—along with his contemporary Julius Klengel—was a standard bearer of the Dresden cello school founded by Friedrich Dotzauer and continued first by Friedrich Kummer and then Grützmacher. This school was characterised by an academic approach to performance and a great interest in pedagogy, manifested partly through the writing of treatises, studies and editions. Becker, whilst continuing this strong tradition, was more progressive than Klengel and modified his own style of playing to some extent in accordance with changing tastes: his portamento, for example, became quite discreet in comparison with that of more old-fashioned string players in the early twentieth century. He was greatly interested in the rôle of anatomy and physiology in playing the cello, laying out the findings of his research in this field in his Mechanik und Ästhetik des Violoncellspiels (Vienna, 1929), and was apparently known for the unusual strength of his tone. Hans von Bülow (who played trios with Becker and Joseph Joachim) referred to him as ‘the only cellist who plays with virility’. In concert Becker was perhaps best known for his trio performances, not only with Joachim and von Bülow, but also (in Berlin) with Flesch and Friedberg, (in London) with Ysaÿe and Busoni, and with Marteau and Dohnányi.

Becker’s 1911 edition of Bach’s Cello Suites is of historical interest. These had been used by German teachers for many years, and several editions were made which increasingly sought parity with Bach’s original manuscripts; but Becker added many bowings, fingerings and dynamic markings in his own edition, revealing a great deal about his approach to such repertoire. Interestingly, neither Becker nor Klengel advised performing the suites in public, and Becker was known to disapprove of the rhythmically-flexible interpretations of Casals when he popularised them in concert.

Becker’s 1908 recording of his own Minuet reveals a quite plain tonal palette, with some light and fast portamenti and a relatively infrequent, narrow and discreet vibrato. His mastery of both up-bow staccato and spiccato is particularly notable, along with an exquisite control and purity of sound of which Joachim would undoubtedly have approved. This well-disciplined approach bears testimony to the classical German tradition, although there is a more modern avoidance of tonal ‘excess’ than either Piatti or Grützmacher would have demonstrated. The recording quality of the Minuet is admirably clear and gives a vivid impression, even in such a short excerpt, of the artistry of an important figure of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cello playing.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Composer 
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