A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music

By John Erskine | Go to book overview
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THE VIOLONCELLO AND THE VIOLA

CHAPTER I
THE 'CELLO CONCERTOS

(a) HAYDN AND SCHUMANN

NOT MUCH MUSIC has been written for the solo 'cellist. Virtuoso concertos comparable to the pianoforte music of Liszt and Rubinstein do not exist; nor is there anything to take adequately the place of the contributions to violin literature by Vivaldi and Tartini. But if great 'cello concertos are few in number, they are of considerable importance.

The earliest concerto known to the modern repertory is Haydn's. Not wholly without reason, its authenticity has been questioned by responsible scholars; but there are pages which, if not written by Haydn, are certainly worthy of Haydn at his best. Only a Haydn or a Mozart could have written the second subject of the first movement, fresh as the dawn. The composition, as a whole, hangs well together and, whatever the truth about its authorship, provides no obvious evidence of a conflict of styles.

Schumann's concerto is far and away the best thing he wrote for a string instrument. His treatment of the violin in orchestral scores, as well as in the sonatas, shows so mean a conception of its capacity that his sympathy for and understanding of the 'cello appear almost miraculous. The exquisitely intimate slow movement is as native to the 'cello as Beethoven's Adagio is to the violin. No other voice but that of the 'cello could give the right colour and expression to its gentle melancholy. The other movements do not rise to the same level of intensity but they never fall below the average of Schumannesque respectability and earnestness.

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