Saltus Hungaricus



This is a lively piece of music featuring lots of different challenges!  It is featured in the ABRSM grade 4 cello exam book – which you can get here:


The title means ‘Hungarian leap’ – so picture an energetic dance.  It has a fast tempo and 2 contrasting sections, with an ABA structure.  The major section is very lively with lots of semiquavers and double stops.  The minor section is more lyrical.  It has softer dynamics, and a gentler more legato feel.



There are various technical features and challenges in Saltus Hungaricus:


C major scale

The piece begins with a 1 octave descending C major scale.  This is a feature of the first section, as it is repeated several times in both the cello and piano parts.  C major isn’t a difficult scale, but playing it at speed can be – so practice this scale using a variety of rhythms to get it up to speed with good co-ordination.


Double stops and chords

Another prominent feature of the major section is the chords – double stops in the first part, and then chords across 3 and 4 strings in the next.


Listen carefully to the balance of the double stops.  Make sure that the melody (ie the top notes) is the prominent part, with the bottom notes adding a depth to the sound.


On the 3- and 4- note chords, start the chord with the bottom 2 notes and then use a full bow to get to the top note as quickly as possible.  A quaver at this speed isn’t much time!  The top note needs to be clear to keep the melody flowing.



There is a fair bit of moving around for your left hand – Saltus Hungaricus uses the following positions:

  • 1st position
  • Lower 2nd position
  • 3rd position
  • 4th position
  • 5th position


If you need practice with, or explanations of, the different positions – Rick Mooney’s Position Pieces is a really good book:


C minor

The middle section is in C minor – not the easiest key to play in or get in tune!  It is worth making sure you are comfortable with the C minor scale and arpeggio.



Whilst it has its challenges, Saltus Hungaricus is a great choice for your grade 4 exam.  It is fairly short, but covers lots of technical aspects.  It is also lots of fun to play!



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