POPPER: Romantic Cello Showpieces
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The cellist David Popper was born in Prague in 1843, the son of thePrague Cantor. He studied the cello there under the Hamburg cellist JuliusGoltermann, who had taken up an appointment at the Prague Conservatory in 1850.
It was through Liszt's then son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans vonB??low, that Popper was recommended in 1863 to a position as Chamber Virtuoso atthe court of the Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Konstantin von Hohenzollern, who had hada new residence with a concert hall built at Lowenberg. The musicalestablishment there was disbanded, however, in 1869, on the death of thePrince. In 1867 Popper made his debut in Vienna and the following year wasappointed principal cellist at the Court Opera, serving also for a time ascellist in the Hellmesberger Quartet. In 1872 he married Liszt's pupil SophieMenter, described by her teacher as his only legitimate daughter as a pianistand the greatest woman pianist of the age, later to join the staff of the StPetersburg Conservatory. The following year they left Vienna to embark on aseries of concert tours throughout Europe and in 1882 he undertook a tour ofSpain and Portugal with the French violinist Emil Sauret. His marriage wasdissolved in 1886, the year in which Liszt died during a reluctant stay inBayreuth, where Sophie Menter and her friends had visited him, as his life drewto a close. In 1896 Popper settled in Budapest to teach at the Conservatorythat Liszt had established there, serving for a time as cellist in the quartetled by Jeno Hubay, the son of the first head of the Conservatory stringdepartment, who had inherited his father's position as professor of violin in1886. In the same year Popper joined Hubay and Brahms in a performance inBudapest of Brahms's Piano Trio in C minor, continuing an earlierconnection with the composer. Popper died at Baden, near Vienna, in 1913.
As a composer Popper is remembered for his compositions for cello. Theseinclude four concertos, now seldom heard in the concert hall, and, betterknown, a number of salon pieces. His studies remain well enough known toaspirant cellists, while his other works include compositions that give anopportunity for virtuoso display.
The suite for cello and orchestra Im Walde ('In the Forest') waswritten in 1882. It has an introductory movement, Eintritt, that couplesvirtuosity with music of considerable charm. Gnomentanz ('Dance of theGnomes') frames in a sinister G minor a central section of lighter mood. Andacht('Devotion') brings tender intensity, with the horns of elfland faintlyblowing as the movement comes to a close. This is followed by Reigen ('RoundDance'), in a lively G major, and a meditative Herbstblume ('AutumnFlower'). The suite ends with Heimkehr ('Homecoming'), a cheerful enoughoccasion that brings a surprising final excursion into fugal texture.
Wie einst in schoner'n Tagen('As once in fairer days'), the first of a setof three pieces published in 1892, sometimes paraphrased as Fond Recollections,is as nostalgic as its title suggests. It is here followed by a Gavotte thatforms a fine contrast with the familiar virtuosity of Papillon, takenfrom a set of six character pieces published in Leipzig in 1880.
Popper's Requiem for three cellos and orchestra, Opus 66, wasfirst performed in London in 1891. In memory of his friend Daniel Rahter, itwas published in 1892 with prefatory verses:
Thranen, die Musikgeworden,
Treue Freundschaftbeut sie.
Liebe, die nieenden kann,
Treue Liebe weih'tsie.
Nimm die kleineGabe:
Was dieFreundesseel' gesungen,
Tone, troste, labe!
(Tears, turned tomusic,
Love that can neverend
True love dedicates.
Friend's heart, nowgone,
Take this little gift:
What a friend's soulhas sung,
Sound out, console,refresh!)
Marked Andantesostenuto, the Requiem is scored for woodwind, timpani and strings,with the three solo cellos sensitively deployed in sonorities that may at firstrecall Schubert's famous Quintet, before each makes a solo entry .Thekey shifts from F sharp minor to B flat major in a central section, after whichthe cellos return to the original key and material, now muted.
There follow two SpanishDances
, from a set of five published between 1883 and 1887. The first ofthese is a lyrical piece, lacking the sound and fury popularly associated withSpain at the time. Vito
, however, is livelier, but without spurious orfacile exoticism.
Wiegenlied ('Cradle-Song') is the third of the set of piecesthat started with Wie einst in schoner'n Tagen. It exploits the gentlelyricism of which the cello is capable, its title a suggestion of its moodrather than anything else. To this Spinnlied offers a marked contrast inits demand for virtuoso agility, as the spinning-wheel turns in a sort of motaperpetuo.
The final HungarianRhapsody was published in 1894. It is in the spirit of Liszt's compositionsof the same title, making use of a quasi-improvisatory and rhapsodic style inthe first section, with a lonely ascent into the highest possible register,before moving on to the inevitable excitement, as the music accelerates towardsa triumphant conclusion, a wild dance in which earlier lyricism alternates,before it is forgotten in the whirl of the dance.