Sonata in E major op. 121 for Cello and Piano
Bach/Moscheles: Ten Preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier with an additional
cello part op. 137a
Ramon Jaffé, cello · Elisaveta Blumina, piano
Ignaz Moscheles, born in 1794 in Prague, was highly regarded by Robert Schumann. He lived in London as of 1821, moving to Leipzig in 1846. His fame during his lifetime was due primarily due to his career as a piano virtuoso, and the piano always takes an important role in his compositions as well. His musical thinking was highly influenced by the great German baroque composers Bach and Handel, who influenced his own romantic gesture. His veneration of Bach can be heard in the transcriptions for violoncello and piano of ten of Bach’s preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier. In the second movement of the major Sonata for Violoncello, op. 121, we hear the sound of folk music from Moscheles’ Bohemian homeland: “Ballade – in the Bohemian manner”.
Between the old and the new.
The Romance of olden times in the works of
Ignaz Moscheles (1794–1870)
… A living offshoot of Händel’s line!
Not only the epigraph but every word of the title above is borrowed from Robert Schumann. On 23 October 1835, the twenty-five year old Florestan (one of Schumann’s pseudonyms) wrote in Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik “… In his latest works Moscheles has chosen a path that could not fail to illustrate his virtuosity… Now he is entering darker and more mysterious realms, not caring how he did things before or about how to please the masses… But here the romantic vein is not at all like that of Berlioz or Chopin …, more specifically it does not surge forward leaving the common culture of the present far behind; rather it faces backwards – it is the romance of olden times, like that which casts its powerful
spell over us in the gothic temples of Bach, Händel and Gluck.”
A few years passed and Schumann would cease to see any “wavering between the old and the new”, between loyalty to classical forms and romantic tendencies, between the “outer elegance” of the virtuoso and the profound
emotion in Moscheles’ music. And Schumann’s
critical opinion would speak of the two “living offshoots of Händel’s line” – the young Mendelssohn who laid the foundations for the beginnings of the Bach revival in the 19th century
and his tutor Moscheles who composed the grand piano duo Hommage à Händel.
Writing of the mature works of the composer,
a composer whose name today deserves
to be restored to the concert repertoire, Schumann came to the conclusion that “in Moscheles we have a rare example of a musician
who, albeit in old age and still studying the old masters, at the same time in following the latest trends has managed to make use of what they have accomplished” – an extract, incidentally,
from Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik from 4 January 1839. Six months later Moscheles
would be only forty-five – for the time this was indeed old: Schumann himself died at the age of forty-six in 1856! But he lived to hear Moscheles’ Piano and Cello Sonata in E Major, op. 121 (1850), which was dedicated to him, and to appreciate its truly romantic spirit.
Born in Prague in a poor Jewish family (his father traded in cloth), Ignaz Moscheles trained at the Prague Conservatoire under Dionys Weber from the age of ten. An orthodox
teacher of the old school, Weber raised Moscheles on the music of Bach, Mozart and Clementi, carefully keeping his pupil at a safe distance from “evil” influences (including the anarchy of Beethoven!). Apropos, the young Moscheles raved about the recently composed
In Prague at the age of fourteen Moscheles
was already giving public concerts, where he performed his own works. He continued to study composition in Vienna under Antonio Salieri and Johann Albrechtsberger; at the same time he was a popular piano teacher and gave private lessons. Very soon Moscheles
had gained a sound reputation in Viennese music circles. He was friends with Spohr, Hummel, Czerny and Meyerbeer… Beethoven commissioned him to write a piano score of Fidelio to be published by Artaria. In 1816 Moscheles
undertook his first large concert tour, travelling to Munich, Leipzig and Dresden. His performances in Paris caused a sensation,
the technical impeccability and musical
excellence of his playing delighting Cherubini, Auber, Boieldieu and Kreutzer…
Moscheles met with a particularly warm reception in London, where he settled in 1821. There he taught piano at the Royal Academy of Music, gave private lessons (Litolff and Thalberg
were among his pupils) and conducted concerts by the Royal Philharmonic Society. A great advocate of Beethoven’s music, he performed the Missa solemnis for the first time in 1832 in London, he conducted the first successful
performance of the Ninth Symphony, he performed Beethoven’s piano sonatas in his recitals and has translated Anton Schindler’s biography of Beethoven into English and had it published. At the same time he ran a series of “historical soirées” where he performed music by Scarlatti, Bach and Händel on an authentic 1771 harpsichord, thus satisfying the London public’s thirst for early music.
Moscheles frequently travelled to the Continent
to give concerts; during one such tour in 1824 to Berlin, he gave lessons to the fifteen year-old Mendelssohn. In 1829 the teacher and the student, by then friends, gave the first performance of Mendelssohn’s Double Piano Concerto in London. In 1839 in Paris Moscheles
played his Grand Piano Sonata for Four Hands before the French royal family together with Chopin. From 1846 and until his death in 1870 Moscheles was a professor at the Leipzig Conservatoire, to which he had been invited by its founder Felix Mendelssohn (Grieg, Fibich and Sullivan all studied under Moscheles…). Even from the few concert programmes, from the list of his teachers and students given here, the great importance of Moscheles’ role in passing on the baton of music from the 18th almost through to the 20th century is plain to see. From olden times onto new ones!
During his lifetime his reputation as a brilliant
virtuoso pianist eclipsed his outstanding
skills as a composer. His piano music, however, was nonetheless greatly admired when the composer himself performed it. Contemporaries lavished praise on his eight piano concertos, sonatas, concert duos for two pianos, fantasies on themes from his favourite
operas for piano and orchestra and cycles of variations… The immense volume of his teaching works – piano schools, books of preludes, studies, exercises, music for four hands, his own publications and editions of masterpieces by Beethoven, Hayden, Händel, Weber and Clementi which he published – retains
its importance to this day. Over twenty of Moscheles’ chamber pieces for various ensembles
(Sextet, op. 35; Septet, op. 88; Piano Trio, op. 84; Sonatas for Flute and Piano, op. 44 and 79) display the composer’s refined skills, his sensitivity as an artist… and as a pianist in love with the “royal” instrument. Every single one of Moscheles’ instrumental works features
the piano, while others resemble piano chamber concertos.
The Cello and Piano Sonata in E Major, which as already mentioned is dedicated to Schumann, is a striking example of Moscheles’
work. Before us, figuratively speaking, we see a “classicist in a romantic cloak”. The central sections of the four-part sonata – the dance-like Scherzo (Allegretto quasi allegro) and the melodious Ballade (Andantino, with its sub-heading In böhmischer Weise) – call forth scenes of the composer’s native Bohemia,
familiar since childhood. The cycle is framed by the opening sonata allegro (Allegro espressivo appassionato) and the final rondo (Allegro vivace ma non troppo), also in sonata form. As in all of Moscheles’ ensembles, there is a piano solo which here is on an equal footing
with the cello. The sculptural form of each section as well as the relief contours of the whole cycle are, so to speak, “viewed by ear”. We can see the wonderful school Moscheles was educated in by the Viennese classicists. And in the melodies, in the song-like nature that seeps through the whole musical fabric of the sonata in a natural “spontaneous surge of life” (N. Ya. Berkovsky, Romanticism in Germany),
Moscheles shines through as a true romantic.
This is romanticism in blossom. This is the restrained classical-romantic style which distinguished the Leipzig school of composition
and which, to varying degrees, was taken up by Mendelssohn, Schumann and the young Brahms… Truth be told, if the title page of the score of the sonata displayed one of these great composers’ names it would long since have been a true “smash hit” in the concert repertoire!
Arguably, however, the harmony of the “old” (classical) and the “new” (romantic) appears nowhere so visibly in Moscheles’ works than in his Melodisch-contrapunktischen Studien for cello and piano to the Ten Preludes from Bach’s Wohltemperiertes Clavier. When it
reproduced these Studien in 1986 from the first Leipzig edition published in 1863, the publishers
Verlag Walter Wollenweber entitled them Ten Preludes from the Well-tempered Clavier
with Additionally Composed Cello Part, op. 137a.
For thinking musicians, Bach’s work has always been a majestic and unattainable icon. Beethoven called it his “musical Bible”; in one of his letters, Schumann wrote “Bach’s Wohltemperiertes Klavier is my grammar-book, and moreover my finest”; Anton Rubinstein
concluded that “the Wohltemperiertes Klavier has become the Gospels for every serious artist who strives for higher ideals.”
What could have brought Moscheles, who was in awe of the Wohltemperierte Klavier, to “co-authorship” with Bach? Only one thing: the desire, metaphorically speaking, to transform
this Book of Books for professional musicians
into a Song of Songs for the general public. Because at that time, even more than thirty years after Mendelssohn had revived Bach’s Passions, Bach’s music was still not “daily bread” for audiences, as Schumann put it. His works were not often performed in concert halls, and as for the Wohltemperiertes
Clavier it was regarded primarily by piano teachers as a mere system of musical instruction. In his foreword to the 1863 publication
Moscheles, rejecting accusations that he “dared to encroach on Bach’s music – the keystone for every musician,” wrote “First of all I must state my firm conviction that not a single note … should be added to the fugues … but as a composer and a performer I dare to embellish the preludes with new features … and by using counterpoint achieve a concerto-
like effect. In this way I hope to make these wonderful preludes even more accessible
to the public.”
From the very first pages of his transcription,
it is as if Moscheles is confirming that Bach should be “inculcated” not through a drawing-room style sentimental simplification of his music, but by seeking out contemporary counterpoint for it. Here he is also at odds with today’s pop-arrangements of Bach. In “adding on” the cello part to the Wohltemperierte Klavier,
Moscheles anticipated Schweitzer who was later to say that Bach wrote for some kind of conceivable instrument that combines the advantages of the keyboard with bow-instruments.
Moreover, the timbre of the cello is closest of all to the warm chest register of the human voice.
Whatever Moscheles raised on the foundations
Bach laid, no-one could say that he diminishes Bach’s preludes to simple accompaniment.
All the deviations from the Urtext,
unavoidable in such a transcription, are detailed in the notes. But, on the other hand, taking a free hand to the Urtext is, in general, an integral feature of romantic transcriptions.
Moscheles was not afraid to enter an argument, an artistic argument naturally, with Bach himself! This is an altercation between the romantic and the baroque musician, it is at times a counterpoint of style to Bach, of much more consequence than the melodic counterpoint
itself. Such as the allusions to Beet-hoven and the clear “Schumannisms” in the consecutive fervent and passionate Preludes in D Minor and C Minor from Volume I of the Wohltemperiertes Clavier.
On the other hand, in the transparent idyllic siciliana
Prelude E-flat Major from Volume II or the intense Prelude in B Minor from Volume I, filled with sublime emotions and deep contemplation,
Moscheles is following “in Bach’s footsteps”, imitating the thematic line of his solo suites. And in the orchestral scale of the Preludes in D Major from Volume II and G Major
from Volume I he fortifies the “score”, the cello part doubling Bach’s melodies which are concealed in the midst of the figurations.
Where Bach pays tribute to his great contemporaries – Domenico Scarlatti in the Prelude in B Flat Major from Volume I, or Vivaldi in the Prelude in D Minor from Volume II – Moscheles does not infringe on Bach’s inclinations. The final prelude on this recording,
Prelude in C-Sharp Minor from Volume I, is one of the most profound pages of the Wohltemperiertes Clavier. In the sad elegy, Moscheles heard the same thing that Ferrucio
Busoni would hear half a century later – “… something in the spirit of the Passions”. The heartfelt aria of the cello fittingly crowns the whole cycle.
Translation: Michael Smith