It seemed to be something impossible to speak about Luigi Boccherini’s concertos,
without naming, irremediably, the German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher: this one
man, pioneer of the German cello school, to whom we are very thankful (Studies,
Concertos, Sonatas, Duos… and
everything that a cellist deserves) has been the person in charge to remake, arranged
and, although is dared to say it, almost “kill” two of the Boccherini’s concertos.
(Thanks God, were only two of them and not the twelve concertos!).
Grützmacher re-orchestrated, eliminated parts, and changed notes of the B-flat concerto
N° 9 (G480), not happy with it, eliminated the second movement and replaced it by
the second movement of the concerto N° 3. For a long time, this version of Grützmacher
was well-known as “the” concerto by Boccherini in B-flat (thus eliminating the original
one N° 3).
Nowadays, thanks to the boom of recovering and respecting original texts, we have
access to the manuscripts and/or more trustworthy editions.
In the case of the concert N° 3 in G major (or N° 7 according to the Gérard catalogue)
the manuscript is lost, but we trusted the first edition: “Bureau d'abonnement Musical
<Concerto III…> “Paris, November 1770.
It is difficult to establish a date of composition, perhaps it has been written before
the composer established himself as court composer in Madrid (1768/69).
Another interesting information of this concerto, is that when the soloist is playing
his part, the accompaniment is destined to the violins and violas only, being therefore
the part of the “Basso” in the violas – sometimes playing higher than the cello -
the only probable explanation of this “unusual” way to write, is that perhaps Boccherini
was the only cellist of the ensemble. For that reason and relying on the rules of
the time, it would be legitimate to add the part of “Basso” to the violoncellos…
in the case that there is a cellist available and without getting to the methods
used by Grützmacher!
We have here, perhaps, one of the composer who better represents the “Galante” or
“Rococo” style (the transition between Baroque and Classicism) and not only that
but, who gave life to the cello as a soloist, developed its technique and, indeed,
gave beautiful works to his colleagues of later generations.
JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Cello Concerto in C major Hob. VIIb:1
The cello concertos by Joseph Haydn have had tragic destinies during the course of
their history. The first of them (C-major), lost for more than 200 years and the
second one (D-major) re-orchestrated, misunderstood and for many years assumed as
a work by another composer… Thanks to the investigation, the manuscripts have been
found and all the doubts clarified, however,
we hope no other problem turns up; it’s already very difficult to…
The concerto in C-major (Catalogue: Hob. VIIb: 1) was probably composed between 1762
and 1765 when Haydn was employed as musical director at the Esterházy’s court. Apparently,
it was written for the first cellist of the orchestra: Joseph Weigl (1740-1820) to
whom, Haydn already composed a few solos in his early symphonies, (e. g: Symphony
N° 13, second movement).
This concerto that, remained hidden during a long time, was known only by the citation
on Haydn’s “Entwurfkatalog” (Catalogue of sketches), but it wasn’t any type of reliable
material until 1961 when Oldrich Pulkert found the original manuscripts in the cellars
of a remote castle of the present Czech Republic, property of counts Kolovrat-Krakovsky.
The first edition was made in the following year and quickly acquired its important
place in the cello repertoire.
The Cadence: It is well known that most of the concertos for a solo instrument, include
a cadence or cadenza where the soloist improvises and displays many virtuoso aspects
of his/her instrument. Indeed, there are not so many examples, (mainly at Haydn’s
time) of cadenzas written by the composer himself, this task was assigned to the
player. Beyond the composition’s gifts, at which one should be suitable… (?) The
idea to commission a cadence to a contemporary composer, does not seem to me absolute
badly. In fact, it already exists the example (exactly in this concerto) of the cellist
Mstislav Rostropovich and the composer Benjamin Britten.
For this reason, it seemed to me legitimate to entrust my colleague and composer
Torsten Harder, to create a cadence for this concerto.
Of course that facing these facts, some problems seems to come up: In which temporary/
musical language should the cadenza be located? It must be written “In the way of…”?
Or it could show aspects of our time? We found an answer to this problem in the operas:
How many times we see and listen to Mozart operas with a production suited in our
Under these conditions, I believe that it’s a very feasible idea. Leaving the Haydn’s
material intact in its “supposed style”… Rock and Jazz could be elements to consider
when the task is undertaken to elaborate a cadenza (in our days) for a concerto.
The produced “effect” (negative or positive) is one of the many advantages that belong
to our dear listeners.
ANTONIN DVORAK (1841 - 1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 in B minor.
“… I do not agree with my friend Wihan in respect to a number of places. I do not
like many of the passages and I must insist that my work should be printed as I have
written it. I will give you my piece only if you promise that nobody will introduce
any changes (my friend Wihan not excluded) without my knowledge and consent; as well
as the cadenza that Wihan wanted to add in the last movement. In short, I must preserve
it as I felt it and as I imagined it. There is no cadenza in the last movement, neither
the orchestral score nor in the arrangement for piano. I told Wihan immediately,
when he showed me his changes, that it is not possible to make cuts in that way.
The ending finishes with a gradual diminuendo, like a deep breath, with reminiscences
of the first and second movements, the solo part dies away in a pianissimo, then
it grows again and the last measures are taken by the orchestra and everything concludes
in a tempestuous way. That is my idea and I cannot depart from it… “
This letter of Antonin Dvorak to his publisher Simrock (10/3/1895) clearly demonstrates
not only his intentions, but also the tense situation that can arise between composer
and interpreter when they work together to release a work… We find a similar case
with Johannes Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim.
The concerto in B-minor for cello and orchestra op. 104, is the seventh and last
work that Dvorak composed during his three years of residence in the United States,
where he was appointed director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York
(1892-1895). The work took four months to write: November-December 1894 and January-February
It is interesting to note the insertion of “Lass mich allein” (Leave me alone) from
his cycle of four songs op. 82 in the second movement of the concerto. This was the
favorite song of Josefina Kaunitková, an actress to whom Dvorak had shown warm affection
almost thirty years before; unfortunately, Josefina rejected his advances… (This
makes one wonder whether Josefina truly liked that song, or whether she merely wanted
to give a subtle hint to Dvorak with the title: “Leave me alone”.) Nevertheless,
this fact did not change the composer’s enthusiasm, and, like Mozart, he followed
a different philosophy: “If you cannot with her, try with the sister” and finally
married Anna, Josefina’s youngest sister. (!).
In May 1895, Dvorak was already back in his beloved Bohemia (Czech Republic), and
the death of Josefina had a terrible impact on him. As a consequence, he decided
to change the ending of the concerto (as he wrote down in the manuscript: “… I finished
the concerto in New York, but when I returned to Bohemia, I completely changed the
ending in the form it is now… “), and he introduced a large reference to the above-mentioned
song in the new coda, as well as a tempestuous ending.
Dvorak wrote the concerto in collaboration with his friend Hanus Wihan, one of the
best Czech cellists at the time and a member of the Bohemian quartet.
Because of Wihan’s help and enthusiasm, Dvorak dedicated the piece to him, and they
even played it for the first time (as a general rehearsal performance) in August
1895 in the version with piano accompaniment. But Wihan also suggested a great number
of changes. Some of them were accepted by the composer and written down in the score
as “optional”, others changed the nature of the structure completely, e.g.: The insertion
of a cadenza in the last movement, which Dvorak rejected, as the letter above shows.
Due to these facts, it is not difficult to deduce that it was not Wihan who finally
gave the first perfomance. This task was carried out by a young English cellist:
Leo Stern, who gave the premiere on March 19th 1896 in London, together with the
orchestra of the same city, with the composer conducting. Wihan had the opportunity
three years later in Budapest, also with Dvorak as conductor.
Here we are, without doubt, dealing with one of the most representative cello concertos
and one of Dvorak’s major works, together with his ninth symphony “From the New World”,
coincidentally written during the same period.
With this work, Dvorak granted a new dimension and importance to the cello, perhaps
putting it on the same level as the piano and the violin, instruments that already
enjoyed an important solistic status.
Not without reason did someone very important declare after listening to the concerto:
“… Had I only known that such a cello concerto could be written, I could have tried
to compose one myself!“: Johannes Brahms.
DMITRI SCHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Cello Concerto Nº 1 Op. 107
Born in St. Petersburg on September 12th 1906, he was one of the highest representatives
of the Soviet musical language, in spite of, paradoxically, one of the composers
who had more disadvantages against the regime of his country.
Between 1920 and 1930, Schostakovich was working at the “TRAM”, a small theater of
its native city.
Although he did not contribute much in his position, in the main time of this period
he was working in the composition of his famous opera: “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk
district”. The work was performed in 1934 and produced a great success in all levels,
popular as well as official.
Two years after the first performance, Stalin went to one of the concerts and according
to his “musical criteria” (?) he determined that the work was not appropriate for
the Soviet masses. As a result of this absurd commentary, the Pravda newspaper began
to bring out a lot of hard criticisms to Schostakovich, like the famous one titled:
“Confusion instead of music”, this enormously harmed the composer’s career, doing
impossible the first performance of his fourth symphony, not even mention the terror
that implied for a composer (or any other artist) to be denounced as “formalist”
and consequently being sent to Siberia or being arrested for later execution.
Despite of this political oppression, the success of his fifth symphony gave him
certain breathing; however he was forced to write “According the criteria of…” in
order to save himself from the hard critic and censorship. Sometimes, and mainly
when it was necessary to write Film music by order of the state, Schostakovich makes
fun of the Soviet authorities (and perhaps to us: The audience!!) writing cheap and
After the death of Stalin in 1953, the musical oppression went down into more acceptable
levels, which allowed Schostakovich (like many of his colleagues) to continue developing
his activities within a certain “normality”.
The Cello concerto was composed in 1959, dedicated and performed by the Russian cellist
In the first movement, Schostakovich uses the “Signature” (Previously also used by
Bach) in the main theme of the concerto. Using the notes G, E, B, B-flat; they are
not other thing that a variant of the theme: Letters DSCH (Corresponding to the initials
of his name:
Dmitri Schostakovich, interpreted in the German alphabet as musical notes: D=D; S=E-Flat;
The second movement contributes to the lyric part of the concerto, using occasionally
only string instruments. The highest moment of this movement is given by a timpani
hit, which takes step to one of the most magical moments of the concerto when the
cello (using harmonics) makes a beautiful dialogue with the celesta. The third movement
is a cadenza for cello alone, where the subjects of the preceding movements are used
in a virtuous way, taking a step to the tumultuous final movement.
Knowing the extra musical content that has influenced the life and music of Schostakovich,
we should not use, perhaps, that information to influence the way to listen the concerto.
There are bitterness, sarcasm, extravagance and pain until desperation; but there
are also moments of genuine tenderness, compassion and intimate beauty.