Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Herbert and Dvorak

Yet another recording of the Dvorak cello concerto in B minor, Op. 104 has been added to my listening library. This time it's the young French guy by the name of Gautier Capuçon. The difference with this recording from the playlist standpoint is the pairing of the Victor Herbert (1859-1924) concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 with Dvorak. Rather than the usual Rococo by Tchaikovsky or the Schumann concerto he decided on the practically unknown Herbert. I had seen the Yo-Yo Ma recording on my Dad's shelf but I had opted to listen only to Bloch's Schelomo, totally neglecting this guy named Victor Herbert. Assuming that since I hadn't heard about him all through college I wouldn't bother with it.

Thankfully, I did choose the Capucon recording of the Dvorak concerto. Just today I listened to his CD. No, not Dvorak, Herbert was the reason I turned to the recording today. Why, the interest in Herbert so suddenly? I was thumbing through The Great Cellists by M. Campbell and happened to read the section on Herbert. Unbeknownst to me, he was not only a fairly popular composer of operettas in his day but he was a sought after cellist until an arm injury forced him from the cello chair to the podium and more emphasis on composition. However, before the performance career ended he premiered his own cello concerto no. 2 in E minor in 1894 in New York.

It was after this premiere that Dvorak comes into picture and hence the tying in of the title of the post. I mean the real reason to have mentioned him in the first place. Dvorak heard the concerto, although it is not clear if it was the actual performance with Herbert playing the solo cello part. It was after listening to it that Dvorak decided that he, too, should write a cello concerto and he would compose it in similar fashion.

Well, there it is. Thank you Herbert for writing your second cello concerto and performing it while Dvorak was in the U.S. Without it, we may have gotten a very different cello concerto from the Czech genius or quite possibly none at all.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Goltermann: amended thoughts

After re-reading the brief paragraph on Georg Goltermann by Margaret Campbell in her very worthy book "The Great Cellists" I decided a post addressing the comments she made about him as composer warranted another post.

It's not that I wholly disagree with her and the fairly harsh pronouncement on Goltermann's decided course of change in career, but rather that I find it more an annoyance. It sounds as if she searches for some witty comment at the expense of a lesser known cellist/composer simply to fill what little space she had intended to commit to him in her book.

While Herr Goltermann's works are not particularly inspired or inspiring to listen to, they do serve a significant purpose. That purpose is one needed in the field of teaching and learning. For those students who are not so technically advanced much of his opus created a way for those students to show off in the level they had acquired. To me this is a very courageous act on the part of the virtuoso cellist since he probably knew that writing such music would not push him into fame in the realm of compositional greatness.

However, to justify Campbell's comment at least in part, I offer the following observation. After reading several of his concertos and some character pieces that are certainly intended to be played by the advanced performaer there is much left to be desired. Yes, he provides decent melody and some exciting passage work and then some more passage work that repeats itself or is a slight variation on the first rendering of the passage--if that makes any sense.

In short, there are a few pieces worthy of the concert stage or at least in a soiree. However, most other compositions are mainly useful as teaching material. He makes one work fairly hard for the virtuosic licks, meaning that technique must be well developed to execute those passages well. This refers mostly to his concertos 1,2, 5, and 6, which I have read a few times just to be sure I was not having a knee jerk sort of reaction to the writing.

In the end though, I think we would be prudent to give this music some chance and at least the benefit of the doubt for study purposes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georg Goltermann: A Short Biography

Goltermann may not be known today by more than the cellists who were required to play his Concerto No. 4 in their mid developmental years. However, he was, by all standards of the 19th century a virtuoso cellist touring all over Europe. Goltermann seems to have been attracted to conducting, teaching and composing, which was cause enough to halt his busy playing schedule. As the author Margaret Campbell rather impudently mentions in her book The Great Cellists, Goltermann regretably stopped playing and devoted his entire life to composition, teaching, and conducting, to which he contributed little of lasting, worthwhile music for the cellist to play.

The above paragraph is about half of the all the material I could find on Goltermann using the book mentioned above and searching the internet. Although he was once a fairly played composer his style of simpler, readily accessible music (for the less technically advanced player) has fallen to the wayside. I have found some Nocturnes and other small pieces that do lend themselves to the intermediate student. They are not wholly devoid of creativity or melodic content (melody being the stronger element in his music rather) but certainly are not the creative masterpieces of Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc. This makes them perfect candidates for the less technically advanced students to show off their acquired level of proficiency on the cello. In other words, Goltermann's music is just in the niveau where one can appear adept and skilled without straining their limited command of the instrument.

In short, thanks to those cellists who wrote music for every level of learner. In this sense, Goltermann filled a much needed element in the repertoire.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nocturnes and Concertos

Out of the choice of cellists who were themselves composers, I find it odd that Georg Goltermann has come to my attention. As a student I learned the well known Concerto No. 4 in G Major just like every other student in the intermediate stage of development. However, no teacher ever introduced anything else from that composer/cellist. It was almost as if Goltermann wrote one lone piece that he arbitrarily titled Concerto No. 4.

Now, some years after initially studying that concerto I have found a number of other works that have piqued my interested. Some Nocturnes and a few of his concertos have proven compelling enough to play through several times in a week. It seems he wrote eight concertos and a goodly number of nocturnes which include a half dozen opuses.

Though his music is rarely played, even by students--his music is generally a student-type of music--it was once on the regular circuit of performing cellists. One such name that most will recognize is the legendary Pablo Casals. There is even a recording of him playing the concerto no. 4! This I want to hear. I had a mind to record it simply because there were none to listen to. As I found out though, there is one extant recording, therefore I stand corrected. However, I think it would be good to record it for the sake of quality in the recording itself--not to be confused with the quality of playing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Album Leaves

12 Album Leaves for Cello and Piano
by: Reinhold Glière

 Discovering heretofore unknown works for cello from the Romantic period and before is a pleasant, if not exhilarating experience. Seeing the printed music for the first time, I generally get a sense of excitement at the chance that the music will be interesting enough to play more than once. The notes are on the page and they begin to speak before being played. Then, as I draw my bow over my strings, with my fingers stopping notes as the composer wishes, the music has a voice. This is the moment that I have been waiting for. What is the voice that the notes wish to express?

In the case of the 12 Album Leaves or Albumblaetter (in German) the sounds coming from my cello gave rise to a soothing, though dark Russian voice. As Russian composers are known for their darker music, even happy music can have a somewhat heavy tone to it, this music seemed to be no exception. I played through all 12, one or two page, movements in one sitting. Each little piece gained in melodic beauty, all the while compelling me to continue. The notes were not written for beauty's sake nor to prove the composer's ability at writing flowing lines that meld together.

I don't know any people who have played these pieces let alone anyone who knows they exist. I am grateful to the generous uploader to IMSLP for allowing others to discover one more reason for playing cello.

On a short note about Reinhold Glière, I read in Wikipedia that he was born to a German father and Ukrainian mother in Ukraine after his father moved to live there. His father's family name was Glier. Only later on did Reinhold change his Germanic family name to the more Belgian/French looking and sounding name Glière, which also changed the pronunciation. If this is true it certainly clears up the questions I've always had about a Russian with a French looking name.