“So what was Beethoven’s relationship to the cello? Though not a cellist himself, he spent a portion of his formative musical years as a violinist in the court orchestra of Bonn, where he worked intimately with several formidable string players, most notably the cellist Bernhard Romberg, who was to have a significant impact on the development of the cello”
In 1796, from May to July, Beethoven, engaged in a concert tour, was in Berlin. Here he met Jean Louis Duport and his brother Jean Pierre, cellist of the court orchestra, and cello teacher of Frederick William II, King of Prussia. The exceptional technical skill of the two Duport brothers and the court environment where the cello, the King’s favorite instrument, had an undisputed protagonist role certainly influenced Beethoven’s choice to devote himself to the composition of his two Sonatas for cello, op. 5.
Needless to say, the sonatas, performed at court by Beethoven himself and Duport, were dedicated to Frederick William II and the king showed his appreciation by giving Beethoven a gold snuffbox filled with golden Louis. And not just any snuffbox, but “a gift worthy of an ambassador“. A few months later, in February 1797, the two Sonatas were printed by Artaria in Vienna, one of the most prestigious publishing houses of the period.
After such good start, Beethoven continued to write music for cello and piano throughout his life, demonstrating that he understood well their tonal and expressive possibilities and set up in a very personal and innovative way the roles of the two instruments within the compositional dialogue.
In Beethoven’s Cello: Five Revolutionary Sonatas and Their World, after the preface written by the cellist Steven Isserlis, Moscovitz and Todd offer the reader a complete overview not only on the five Sonatas, but of all the compositions for cello composed by Beethoven, inserting them in the historical and cultural context of their period.
The book, published in 2017, is, therefore, the ideal guide for cellists, pianists, musicologists and chamber music enthusiasts who want to observe from a new point of view a repertoire that they certainly already known well.
Marc D. Moscovitz is the principal cellist of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. He recorded a CD dedicated to Popper for the VAI label and a CD dedicated to Alfredo Piatti. The Washington Post has judged his first American execution of Zemlinsky’s Sonata for cello as a “passionate performance“. Important his contribution in the Dictionary of music and musicians of New Grove. His other work, the biography Alexander Zemlinsky: a Lyric Symphony was published by the publisher Boydell & Brewer in the year 2010.
Laddy Todd is a professor of sciences and arts at Duke University. He is recognized as the most authoritative scholar and biographer of Mendelssohn. His book Mendelssohn: A life in Music was named, in 2003, as Best Biography by the Association of American Publishers. Also his work Fanny Hansel: the Other Mendelssohn received the ASCAP Nicholas Slonimsky Award for his extraordinary music value as biography. His contribution as a pianist was also important: he recorded for JRI Recordings, together with the cellist Nancy Green, the complete cello works by Mendelssohn and Fanny Hensel.
MARC D. MOSKOVITZ – R. LARRY TODD
Beethoven’s Cello: Five Revolutionary Sonatas and Their World
Boydell Pr (October 20, 2017)