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Chamber Works for Cello

Hummel Haydn Chopin

A Short History of the CelloThe violoncello, meaning, in Italian, a small violone, isgenerally known by the shorter name of 'cello', and is astring instrument an octave lower than the viola, its fourstrings tuned C-G-d-a. Its structure and form correspondto those of the violin, but the neck is relatively shorterand the sides deeper. The bow is somewhat shorter, butstronger than that used for the violin.

As the violin may correspond to the discant, and theviola to the tenor, so the cello was originally identicalwith the bass of the old viola da braccio family. It had alonger struggle than its two sisters to free itself from thegamba family. In 1740 there appeared in Amsterdam atreatise by Hubert Leblanc, a lawyer and music-loverfrom France, that throws a characteristic light on theimportance of the violoncello in that time. The work is avigorous defence of the viola da gamba against thevioloncello that was slowly encroaching on the former'sterritory. This was in fact a completely unintelligiblepolemic, since at the time there was little literature onthe younger instrument that was worth talking about.

This was first changed by the Duport brothers, whoranked as the most important champions of the newschool of cello-playing both in duo sonatas, such asthose of Beethoven, and in chamber music, as, forexample, the classical string quartet and quintet.

It was about 1710 that the violoncello acquired itsclassical dimensions through the Italian violin-makerAntonio Stradivari (1644 or 1648/9-1737), with a bodylength of 75-76 and a depth of 11.5 centimetres. Afterthat there were many other cellos built, as well asgambas, and until about 1800 instruments of a mixedform from both types, among other things with thechange of a straight neck into a neck at an angle. Theuse of the spike first became customary in about 1860.

The greatest masters of violin-making, such asAmati, Guarneri and Stradivari, also started to makecellos. Montagnana, Grancino, Testore and Tecchlerspecialised almost exclusively in the instrument.

My instrument, on which I play in the presentrecording, was made by David Tecchler (1666-after1743) in Rome in 1727. A master-craftsman fromSalzburg, he first went to Venice, where he experiencedsome hostility, moving in 1705 to Rome where hereached the height of his profession, considered themost important maker there. His splendidly madeinstruments are marked by their great fullness of tone.

He generally preferred very large models, using specialwood and a yellow-red varnish. A characteristic is thelengthening of the corners and the particularly wide Fholes.

While the gamba remained the instrument ofsoloists, the cello, then generally with five or six strings,was reduced to strengthening the continuo in theorchestra and in chamber music.

From the end of the seventeenth century Italy tookthe lead in compositions for the cello. In 1689Domenico Gabrielli wrote a Ricercar for the cello andlaid the foundation for the independent solo literature ofthe instrument. In the first half of the eighteenth centuryVivaldi and Tartini, among others, and, with somevirtuosity, Boccherini, wrote sonatas for the cello. Theinstrument acquired new importance in the transition tothe classical period through composers such as CarlStamitz, Luigi Boccherini, Georg Matthias Monn, andparticularly Joseph Haydn, who wrote solo concertosfor the cello.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries thecantabile playing of the cello acquired growingimportance. Generations of romantic composers madeuse of the particular feeling of which the cello wascapable, giving expression to melodic sonority andmelancholy resignation. In the chamber music ofBeethoven, Brahms, Faure, Grieg, Rachmaninov,Debussy, and others, cellists could explore the wholerange of musical feeling. There were wonderfulconcertos by Schumann, Dvořak, Saint-Sa?½ns,Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky (Rococo Variations),Brahms (Double Concerto), and Elgar, and works inwhich the cello had a concertante r??le by RichardStrauss (Don Quixote) and Hindemith.

For me the cello has a particularly fascinating andimportant place in opera. There it embodies the directexpression of the human soul in music. With its range ithas an almost physical affinity with the human andresponds directly to it. It is the instrument that canexpress the deepest feelings of love and death.

Unique in all opera is the cello solo in Die Frauohne Schatten by Richard Strauss, my favourite solo:the curtain falls, while the scene is changed, and thecello, free of stage action, becomes the protagonist.

King Philip sings in the great aria from Verdi's DonCarlo in dialogue with the cello of his isolation anderotic desires; the cello first sinks down, then rises alittle, allows a glimmer of hope to be heard, and finallydespairs. The music expresses resignation and the cellosupports the singer's feelings.

The duet of Othello and Desdemona at the end ofthe first act of Verdi's Otello is accompanied by a cellosolo, then joined by the whole cello section; the worldof the two lovers is still as it should be, yet Othelloconjures away the revenge of Fate on the outsider, toofortunate in his love.

At the beginning of the first act of Wagner's DieWalk??re Siegmund and Sieglinde do not know that theyare twins. The eyes of the two outcasts meet and theyexperience happiness for the first and last time. Here tooan almost recitative-like cello solo supports theintimacy of the situation.

Agathe's aria from Weber's Der Freisch??tz isaccompanied by a pure and romantic cello that revealsto us the unfulfilled love, hope and confidence that thepower of evil will not triumph and love will not alwaysremain unfulfilled.

When Cavaradossi, in Puccini's Tosca, is about todie, the cello and the clarinet, operatic instruments thatexpress despair, accompany him on his last way. Adescending chromatic scale shows where his path isleading.

Continuo playing is a fascinating element in opera.

Working on recitatives in Mozart's operas withNikolaus Harnoncourt, a conductor with whomcollaboration was among my most decisive artisticencounters, opened a completely new dimension ofmusical expression. The specific dramatic situationsthat drive the plot forward are found in the recitatives.

Each individual note has its importance, with notes thatare violent, pointed, loud, gentle, particularlybeautifully played, slow, fast or without vibrato. As acontinuo player one is a part of the musical dramaticsituation.

The CD: Works by Hummel, Haydn and Chopin.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837):

Grand Sonata in A major for cello and piano, Op. 104

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in 1778 in what isnow Bratislava and died in Weimar in 1837. At presenthe is undergoing a remarkable revival, after more than150 years in which he was virtually forgotten. Hisextensive list of works is now a source of rediscovery.

The son of a violinist, Hummel was exceptionally giftedas a child. For two years Mozart took him into his housein Vienna as a pupil, an unparallelled act of pedagogicgenerosity on the part of the master. Haydn made himhis successor in the Esterhazy musical establishment.

He rivalled Beethoven for the position of the mostimportant pianist in Vienna, with the verdict notinfrequently in Hummel's favour. Chopin admired him,Schumann, after initial declarations of respect, showedhis contempt for him and called him a figure from thepast. This is typical of the injustice Hummel suffered.

Today he seems to us a bridge between Mozart andChopin, between the Viennese classical and the highromantic.

Hummel wrote his Cello Sonata in
Item number 8557708
Barcode 747313270828
Release date 02/01/2005
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Bartolomey, Franz
Inui, Madoka
Guca, Monika
Composers Haydn, Franz Joseph
Chopin, Fryderyk
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
Haydn, Franz Joseph
Chopin, Fryderyk
Hummel, Johann Nepomuk
Disc: 1
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65
1 I. Allegro amabile e grazioso
2 II. Romanza: Un poco adagio e con espressione
3 III. Rondo: Allegro, un poco vivace
4 I. Allegro
5 II. Andante
6 III. Finale: Allegro moderato
7 I. Allegro moderato
8 II. Scherzo: Allegro con brio
9 III. Largo
10 IV. Finale: Allegro
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