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8.570958 - RODE, P.: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin (A. Strauss)
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Pierre Rode (1774–1830)
24 Caprices for Solo Violin

 

Jacque Pierre Joseph Rode was born in Bordeaux on 16 February 1774. The son of a perfumer, he showed early musical precocity and was taken to Paris at the age of thirteen by his teacher, Flauvel. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, Rode became the star pupil of Giovanni Battista Viotti, the foremost violinist of the day and founder of the modern French violin school. While still a teenager, Rode probably made his solo début in 1790 with Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 13; he also joined the orchestra at the Théâtre de Monsieur, where he met his longtime colleague Pierre Baillot. Rode’s “breakout” year was 1792. During the traditional Holy Week concerts, Rode performed six times between 1 and 13 April including two concertos of Viotti. During the next sixteen years Rode lived the life of a travelling virtuoso, though he also joined the violin faculty of the newly organized Paris Conservatoire. While associated with the Conservatoire, Rode collaborated with Baillot and Kreutzer on the manual of instruction for the violin. Rode was named violin-solo for the musique particulière of the First Consul (Napoleon) and was briefly violin-solo at the Opéra. He spent four years in Russia (1804–1808), where he was appointed court violinist to the Tsar. His return to Paris after his Russian sojourn marked a change in his fortunes. Instead of the wave of success he had ridden since he emerged from Bordeaux at the age of thirteen, the public responded only tepidly to his playing. Spohr, who heard him both before and after the Russian adventure, wrote that after Russia he found Rode’s playing “cold and full of mannerism”. Rode again began travelling across Europe in 1811 or 1812. In Vienna at the end of 1812, he gave the première of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 96, with Archduke Rudolph. Much of the period from 1814 to 1821 Rode spent in Berlin, where he met and married his wife and became an intimate of the Mendelssohn family. When Rode and his wife left Berlin, Mendelssohn’s mother wrote that the “charm of our musical winter evenings…dwindled completely”. In 1821 Rode returned to the Bordeaux area, where he now lived in semi-retirement. In 1828 he made a last attempt at a public concert in Paris. The concert was such a fiasco that some commentators believed it hastened his death on 26 November 1830.

Rode composed almost exclusively for his own instrument. His works include sonatas, quartets, airs variés, thirteen violin concertos, various miscellaneous works, and pedagogical works, most notably the 24 Caprices in the Form of Etudes. Rode’s works represent the full flowering of the French violin school that traced its origin to Viotti’s arrival in Paris in 1782. After the ousting of Louis XVI and the establishment of the Republic, old royalist institutions were remade in a burst of enthusiasm and energy. One of the new “remade” institutions designed to replace old royal or church institutions was the Paris Conservatoire. Rode was among the first violin professors there, and one of the first tasks of Rode and his colleagues was to produce a manual of instruction. The pedagogical element was never far from the surface for Rode and his colleagues: both Rode’s 24 Caprices and Kreutzer’s 40 (later 42) Etudes remain among the most studied violin pedagogical works ever written. As “classical” as the music of Rode and his colleagues now sound to modern ears, the aim of the French school composers was thoroughly romantic. This is made clear in Pierre Baillot’s summing up of French school theory and technique The Art of the Violin, which states that the violinist’s life is “a continuous burst of admiration for the marvels of nature, and his inspirations seem to spring from the heart of this creative enthusiasm”. Rode’s music is a reflection of a new romantic sensibility that is fully reflected in his marvelous 24 Caprices.

Rode’s main contribution to violin pedagogy is his 24 Caprices in the Form of Etudes, published about 1815. Since Paganini’s set of studies was published in 1820 (though probably written earlier), Rode’s work appeared slightly before Paganini’s, and in some ways (technical prowess, for example) Paganini’s Caprices immediately set a higher standard. Another set of twelve Rode études was published posthumously. Unlike Kreutzer, some of whose études are not suitable for concert performance, every Caprice in Rode’s set is eminently a miniature work of art as well as a technical challenge to the violinist. As with many sets of études, Rode explores all major and minor keys, beginning with C major in the opening caprice. The Caprice No. 1 also serves as a model for many later ones. It starts with a beautiful slow Cantabile in 3/4 time before the main highly marked and energetic 12/8 Moderato section. The Caprice No. 2 in A minor, marked Allegretto, has a strong bass line in its opening measures as it marches vigorously towards the final chords. Caprice No. 3 in G major is a wonderful study in legato playing, and Caprice No. 4 in E minor again has a lovely slow section (Siciliano) before a vigorous section marked Allegro. In highly marked passages, which abound in Rode, the violinist sometimes has a choice of effect: martelé bowing (short strokes but remaining on the string) or springing spiccato, bowing off the string. Caprice No. 5 in D major, Moderato, is a fine study in bowing, and Caprice No. 6 in B minor again follows the slow-fast model, this time Adagio and Moderato. Much of the opening Adagio is designed to be played on the sonorous G string. Caprice No. 7 in A major is a highly marked Moderato designed to feature staccato bowings. Caprice No. 8 in F sharp minor, marked Moderato assai, consists entirely of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) in 12/8 time, until the final dotted quarter note (crotchet) and features much cross-string writing. Caprice No. 9 in E major again has the slow-fast design, in this case an Adagio followed by an impish Allegretto in the somewhat unusual time signature of 12/16, again played with either marked martelé or spiccato bowing. Caprice No. 10 in C sharp minor, marked Allegretto, is another of Rode’s studies in marked bowing. Caprice No. 11 in B major, Allegro brillante, has the character of a concert piece and opens with a half note (minim) followed by a run of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) to high on the E string. Highly rhythmic and colourful, it features lyrical passages as well as sections of verve and energy. Caprice No. 12 in G sharp minor is a fine study in smooth legato playing. The grazioso Caprice No. 13 in G flat major is a beautiful piece from beginning to end and requires great artistry to bring out all its many shades of tone colour. Caprice No. 14 in E flat minor has a slow Adagio con espressione followed by a faster Appassionato—this time the fast section calls for legato, though passionate, playing. Caprice No. 15 in D flat major is marked Vivace assai (the first in the set to be marked very fast) and requires off-the-string spiccato bowing. Caprice No. 16 in B flat minor (Andante) is one of Rode’s finest creations; this beautifully constructed piece features a lovely opening section marked dolce, many expressive trills, and sections in double-stops. Though beginning in the minor, this caprice eventually moves to (and ends in) B flat major. Caprice No. 17 in A flat major is marked Vivacissimo and is a veritable whirlwind from start to finish. Caprice No. 18 in F minor, marked Presto, is a study in speed while Caprice No. 19 in E flat major moves from a lovely Arioso to an Allegretto whose opening phrase (and much that follows later) moves in broken octaves. Caprice No. 20 in C minor, marked Grave e sostenuto, is a marvellous study in sustained tone production and features double-stops and much rapid G string work. Caprice No. 21 in B flat major is marked Tempo giusto and is a joyous work with much string-crossing and the strategic use of rests. Caprice No. 22 in G minor is a lively Presto in 3/8 time and Caprice No. 23 in F major, Moderato, features extensive use of doublestops. The final Caprice No. 24 in D minor begins with an Introduzione followed by a furious Agitato con fuoco featuring marked bowing and many trills.


Bruce R. Schueneman


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