David Popper

Elfentanz (Dance of the Elves), for cello & piano, Op. 39

    Description by Emily Stoops

    David Popper's Elfantanz, Op.39 or Dance of the Elves, is one of many pieces that have endeared this composer to cellists around the world. In all, the Austrian virtuoso cellist wrote close to 80 works, most of them for cello, including four cello concerti, many concert pieces, and several etude books. The most famous of the books is the High School of Cello Playing, a collection of 40 extremely demanding technical exercises and a staple in the diet of most cellists today.

    The Elfantanz could easily have fit into his collection of etudes because of the high technical demand placed on the cellist. Unlike many of the etudes, however, the Elfantanz is more musically charming. Popper wrote the piece in 1881, in Leipzig, when he was in his late thirties. Taking only about two and a half minutes to play, the Dance of the Elves is often used as a showpiece or an encore among high level cellists. It is certainly impressive to hear, as the entire piece is spent playing spiccato, a special bow stroke that produces very short, light, and fast notes. Add a very high tonal register that requires the continuous use of thumb position alongside the spiccato bowing and the piece, although short, becomes something of a challenge -- even for very advanced cellists.

    Popper was a teacher at the National Hungarian Royal Academy for many years, in addition to being a solo performer, and the type of technical demand found in the Elfantanz is characteristic of nearly all of his work. He undoubtedly used many of his own compositions as vehicles through which his students could build their technical facility. It is no surprise that Popper remains (along with Pablo Casals) one of the cellists most credited with expanding the level of technical ability on the cello. His works are entertaining, though not musically profound, and are studied and performed regularly by both students and professional cellists.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Warner Classics 572315
    2018 Warner Classics 572316
    2018 Erato / Warner Classics 566208
    2017 Gaia Recordings GAIA-16000
    2017 Hyperion CDA 68136
    2015 Danacord DACOCD 738
    2015 Gramola 99096
    2015 Warner Classics 552920
    2014 Pan Classics PC 10318
    2014 Erato 2564636958
    2013 Blue Griffin Recording BG 295
    2011 Lipkind 001
    2011 Lipkind C 01
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099909477520
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968858
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099996427
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099969525
    2008 Hungaroton 32592
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 EMI Music Distribution 59645
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776505
    2006 Lipkind 1614
    2004 Resonance 3012
    2002 Naxos 8558040-46
    2001 Urania 195
    2001 Cello Classics 1002
    2000 Bongiovanni 5073
    1998 RCA 902668928
    1998 Naxos 554356
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 572294-2
    1998 Columbia River Entertainment Group 1165
    1997 Testament SBT1101
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 72016
    1995 Pan 510075
    1994 North Star Music NS-0027
    1994 North Star Music NS-0027
    1993 Mastersound MST-021
    1993 Pearl 9984
    1993 ASV 6014
    1992 Delos 3065
    1991 Mastersound 02
    1988 Delos 3042
    Testament 90
    Sipario Dischi 11
    BMG 60953
    Mastersound 012
    Fanfare 02
    Palladio 4157