Essay On The Craft Of Cello Playing

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The cellist Christopher Bunting, who has died aged 80, believed that to study the cello, players must study and understand themselves. A soloist of international renown, he continued to inspire even during the incapacitating illness of his later years, and has left a legacy of enriched pupils in Britain and around the world.

Bunting was born into a musically able family in north London, both his parents being keen amateurs. He inherited his phenomenal musical memory and talent for keyboard improvisation from his father, a distinguished civil engineer in India. His mother played the cello and piano.

He himself started on the piano at the age of five, followed, a year later, by the cello, learning with Ivor James; for many years, he remained as proficient on one instrument as on the other. An engineering course at Bristol University was abandoned in favour of a music degree at Cambridge, which he gained in 1947.

His studies had been interrupted by second world war army service, which led to him playing alongside fellow cellist William Pleeth in the Stars In Battledress entertainment unit. Throughout this period, Bunting was a pupil of the great cellist Maurice Eisenberg, both in the US and whenever Eisenberg visited England.

In 1952, just before leaving for Prades, near Perpignan, to take up a scholarship to study with Pablo Casals, Bunting gave an acclaimed recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, with the pianist Gerald Moore. Casals had an approach to music-making that required microscopic analysis of the text, and it took Bunting time to adjust to the sheer level of detail his new teacher demanded; this combination of analysis and musical intuition subsequently formed the backbone of Bunting's own teaching.

His pupils, who came from many parts of the world, were taught the bowing and fingering of Casals as a matter of routine, and he used to quote Casals' remark that "the difficulty of cello playing is to know how to get from one note to the next".

Bunting's attitude to the instrument - a cerebral one, with great emphasis on psychology - aimed to get pupils to profit from their own mistakes, practise efficiently and achieve the final goal of music through technical mastery of the instrument. He would draw the most beautiful diagrams of posture with captions; there was a sense of fun too - he had a rubber stamp with the words "left elbow up" to save the teacher having to say the same old instructions time and time again.

Bunting went on to perform and broadcast most of the standard repertoire and give master classes worldwide. In Britain, he gave recitals with a variety of pianists, including Peter Wallfisch and Yonty Solomon, and made several tours of continental Europe. A strong supporter of contemporary composers, he gave the first British broadcasts of Hans Werner Henze's Ode To The West Wind and Shosta- kovich's First Cello Concerto. He was particularly fond of JS Bach's Cello Suites, and his 1960s recordings of them are now available on CD.

Bunting was closely involved in the composition of Gerald Finzi's Cello Concerto, which he premiered at the Cheltenham festival in 1955 with Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra. The same performers took it to the Proms, and Sir Adrian Boult conducted it at the Three Choirs festival. The Proms and the Royal Festival Hall saw the first performances of Alan Rawsthorne's concerto, played by Bunting under Sir Malcolm Sargent in 1967. Bunting gave the premiere of his own Concerto For Cello And Strings in 1984 at St Paul's church, Covent Garden, and the work was later broadcast by the BBC.

The most important of Bunting's writings is his Essay On The Craft Of Cello Playing (1982, reprinted 2000), into which he managed to fit an extraordinary amount of information and thought, but in a readable and accessible form. The exercises in this, and the Portfolio Of Cello Exercises, are much appreciated by cellists great and small; they address technical problems in the most simple and effective way.

Bunting was a generous teacher, and wanted to share his thinking on mastering the cello. He wrote idiomatically and rewardingly for the instrument; among his published works are a Fugue For Six Cellos, Three Pieces For Cello Ensemble and an Elegy For Violoncello And Piano.

Elected president of the British branch of the European String Teachers' Association in 1991, he contributed much wisdom and advice to it. In 2000, he was awarded the MBE.

His three marriages ended in divorce. His daughter Philippa teaches the violin. A son, Mark, predeceased him.

Lowri Blake writes: As a schoolgirl, and later as a student, I made the fortnightly journey with my cello down Hampstead high street to Christopher's garden flat. His home was a shrine to earlier great cellists, notably Casals. Eagerly anticipated, his lessons were voyages of discovery; more than a touch of physics and philosophy was mixed into an illuminating hour of music-making.

Christopher was a formidable teacher. An endless supply of inspirational technical exercises, plus his extraordinarily fertile musical imagination, made for compelling lessons. I learned how to practise, and how to perform. Time and time again, he brought me back to the not ion of balance - of method and music.

He was a fine pianist, and would often play sonatas with his students. He famously recorded the Brahms E minor Sonata for Radio 3, playing both cello and piano. The publicity was a fine example of his droll sense of humour: two photographs of him side by side, one wearing dark glasses.

Christopher's phenomenal cello playing was both humbling and uplifting. His generosity in imparting the deep joy he felt in music was second to none.

· Christopher Evelyn Bunting, cellist, teacher and composer, born August 8 1924; died July 28 2005

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