LUIGI BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)

 

Cello Concerto in G major. (G480)

 

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 time?

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 in

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 1895.

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 grotesque melodies…

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 Mstislav Rostropovich.

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; C=C; H=B).

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.