Franz Schubert: Sonata in A minor “Arpeggione” D 821
Schwanengesang D 957
(arranged for viola and piano)
Jan Waclav Kalliwoda: Six Nocturnes op. 186
Ashan Pillai, viola · Michael Endres, piano
One of Franz Schubert’s most important chamber music works for string instruments is nowadays performed by violists and cellists, although it was originally written for neither. The “arpeggione”, for which Schubert wrote his eponymous sonata, was an invention of the Romantic that is as good as extinct. This instrument had a soft sound that apparently reminded listeners of a woodwind. Its lyrical character makes it related to the viola to a certain extent.
The sound of the viola, with its evident closeness to the human voice, inspired violist Ashan Pillai to select some of the Schwanengesang Lieder to perform on his instrument.
The CD is completed by the composition of one of Schubert’s contemporaries who has almost been forgotten, only attracting some attention by the musical world in the last several years: Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda, who was born in 1801 in Prague. At the height of his career, Kalliwoda was one of Europe’s most-per-formed composers.
Spiritual essence of Franz Schubert’s musical assertion about life:
“It is longing! Don’t you know it, the messenger of true devotedness?”
It has often been claimed that the cello most closely resembles the human voice. At the latest, however, after hearing this recording of Schubert’s Schwanengesang D 957 in an instrumental version for viola and piano, one must seriously revise this statement about the cello (or is it a prejudice?), so ideal is the viola’s
typically muted, velvety sound (a fifth below
the violin and an octave above the cello) for reaching the heart of that extreme state of spiritual confusion, even schizophrenia, in which Schubert’s last lied cycle ends.
And this completely without words?! It is part of the Franz Schubert phenomenon that one hardly ever thinks about the literary
quality of the texts he has set, so capable was he of transforming even second-class works into first-class songs. The lyrical oeuvre of Ludwig Rellstab (1799–1860), leading music critic of the Berlin “Vossische Zeitung” and publisher of a musical journal renowned at the time, would probably be completely forgotten today if Schubert
hadn’t set it to music in his Schwanengesang.
Using his creativity and imagination to resonate one of the strings of his musical-spiritual
world – this was Schubert’s goal. And this is why the emotional content of this work also comes across in a purely instrumental version.
Nonetheless, the “action” of the 14 songs can be summarized: In the first seven of Rellstab’s poems, the unnamed protagonist’s heartache and longing vehemently increase – mirrored by idyllic or wild images from nature.
He then flees his beloved’s orbit, leaving behind the city which is the center of her life; not, however, without bitter irony. Six Heinrich Heine poems now follow without pause, reflecting
the fugitive’s pain in alternation with (self-)accusation and his realization of the ultimate separation. For a moment, with the courage of the despairing, his self-confidence flickers briefly when he thinks he sees a fisher-maiden at sea. But it was only a sailor rowing his barge back to the city. One last time, the protagonist remembers the fatal relationship with his beloved. Night sets in, and he looks secretly and unrecognized for her house, which she has long since left. A summary with unsurpassed symbolism is then drawn by Johann
Gabriel Seidl’s poem Die Taubenpost.
The Schwanengesang (whose title was meant to suggest the myth of the lament of a dying swan) was compiled immediately after Schubert’s death by Viennese publisher Tobias
Haslinger. It is preceded on this CD by a very special chamber music work: the “Arpeggione”-
Sonata in A Minor D 821, the memento of an invention which disappeared from concert life only very few years after its debut.. The arpeggione
was developed in 1823 by instrument maker Johann Georg Staufer in Vienna and combined elements of the cello with the form, tuning and frets of the guitar. For this reason, it was named the “guitar-violoncello”.
Schubert himself coined the name “arpeggione”
through the name of his sonata. The first known performer on this instrument was Vincenz Schuster, who not only premiered Schubert’s exceptional composition in December 1824, but also wrote the first and only treatise on the arpeggione,
which was published in 1825. When one looks in contemporary reviews, it is conspicuous
that the arpeggione’s sound was almost
exclusively compared to wind instruments and perceived as “remarkably nasal”. Other critics,
however, described the instrument’s sound as “magically beautiful”. Particularly the viola seems suited to approximate the original arpeggione
due to its unmistakably soft tone.
In his three-movement sonata, Schubert let himself be inspired by the arpeggione’s new technical possibilities; due to the position and number of its strings, the instrument seemed predestined for chords and arpeggios, i.e. broken
triads. The first movement (Allegro moderato)
often turns to the melancholy. Three- to six-voice chords appear which should be either plucked or bowed. The lyricism of the second movement (Adagio) enables long, melodic phrases to get their due. In addition to exceptionally melodic passages, the freely composed sonata-rondo (Allegretto) that concludes the work also enables virtuosic arpeggiation. Dramatic sections, beautiful, songful themes and dance-like rhythms make this work – as this arrangement for viola and piano also proves – one of the gems of Schubert’s
But we give the last statement in this booklet
to an almost completely forgotten Schubert contemporary: Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda. Born in 1801 in Prague, the Bohemian musician
studied with Dionys Weber and Friedrich Wilhelm Pixis in the conservatory of his home city. After concert tours as a violin virtuoso, the Duke of Fürstenberg employed him in 1822 as his kapellmeister in Donaueschingen. He raised the level of the Duke’s orchestra significantly
and brought it great renown. Kalliwoda died in 1866 in Karlsruhe. His seven symphonies,
of which Robert Schumann particularly praised the Fifth, are just as unknown today as are the overtures, violin concertos, chamber
music works, piano pieces and songs for men’s chorus that he penned. Quite a different situation than between 1825 and 1850, when he was one of the most frequently performed composers in central European concert halls… Here, we present Kalliwoda’s Six Nocturnes
op. 186 for reconsideration.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler