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8.573048 - DAVID, F.: 20 Virtuoso Studies / 6 Caprices, Op. 9 (Kuppel)
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Ferdinand David (1810–1873)
Works for Solo Violin


Ferdinand David was born in 1810 to a prosperous Jewish family in Hamburg. A child prodigy, he began studying with Spohr and Hauptmann in Kassel at the age of thirteen and two years later toured with his pianist sister Louise (later, as Madame Dulcken, a successful soloist in London). From 1826–1829 he served as violinist in the Königstadt Theatre in Berlin, where he was befriended by Felix Mendelssohn. David spent the years 1829–1835 in Dorpat (today known as Tartu), Estonia, as first violinist in a quartet sponsored by Karl von Liphart, whose daughter Sophie David eventually married. During these years David gave concerts as far afield as St Petersburg. In 1835 he was appointed concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of Mendelssohn, and also assumed leadership of the Stadttheater. In 1836 he made a successful visit to England, performing both in chamber music and with the Philharmonic Society. During a later visit in 1839 he visited and performed with Ignaz Moscheles, whose wife wrote that in David Moscheles had “found a powerful colleague of the German school, and one he is proud to introduce to the English public”. In 1843 David was chosen to head the violin department at the recently established Leipzig Conservatory, with Joseph Joachim among his first students. As early as 1838 Mendelssohn had written to David concerning a proposed violin concerto. During the compositional process Mendelssohn consulted often with him—shortly before publication, in a letter dated 17 December 1844, Mendelssohn posed a series of questions, asking about the advisability and even playability of certain passages. The first performance took place in Leipzig with David as soloist several months later, in March 1845. David had a profound sense of musical history, and in February 1840 gave the first performance of Bach’s Chaconne (from the Partita in D minor and with Mendelssohn’s piano accompaniment) since the composer’s death. After Mendelssohn’s death in 1847 David was invited to serve as one of the editors of Mendelssohn’s manuscripts. His work as conductor and editor began to overshadow his career as performer, and he produced excellent versions (some still in print) of works by Kreutzer, Rode, Fiorillo, and Paganini, among many others. He was a prolific composer, producing five violin concertos, a string quartet, string sextet, an opera, many solo string works and songs—and most famously his Hohe Schule des Violinspiels, one of the best known pedagogical works ever written for violin. In July 1873 David died of a heart attack in Klosters, Switzerland, while on holiday with his children.

Ignaz Moscheles (1794–1870), on whose 24 Studies David’s Twenty Studies are based, was born in Prague and like David came from a well-to-do Jewish family. One of the great pianists of the nineteenth century, Moscheles was an active composer throughout his life. While he wrote in many genres, his output leans heavily toward the piano. In 1846 he was appointed principal professor of piano at the Leipzig Conservatory, and like David he spent the rest of his life at the Conservatory. His 24 Studies, Op. 70, date from 1826. Many of these études are a good fit for solo violin writing as the right hand can sometimes be incorporated nearly note for note into an interesting solo violin line. Nevertheless, when the piano melody line descends too low or various pianistic devices appear in the left hand, a fine composer’s skill is necessary in order to “translate” the material into idiomatic solo violin music. This David did extremely well.

20 Virtuoso Studies for Solo Violin (based on Moscheles, 24 Studies, Op. 70)

  1. Allegro moderato. The first study consists of a steady pattern of rising and falling semiquavers (16th notes) punctuated by crotchets (quarter notes) and double stops.
  2. Allegro energico ma moderato. Moscheles’ original is a study in chords with occasional arpeggiation; David wrote this as a constant stream of demisemiquavers (32nd notes), with an interwoven pattern of staccato notes.
  3. Allegro brillante. This study begins with a brilliant ascending theme ending with a quiet skipping motif and also features staccato and double stopping.
  4. Lentamente con tranquillezza. This slow study features long dotted notes spelled by hemidemisemiquaver (64th note) figuration.
  5. Allegretto agitato con passione. While Moscheles’ study consists of a melody entwined within steady quavers (8th notes), David recast this piece as a study in constant semiquavers (16th notes).
  6. Allegro energico non troppo presto. (Moscheles’ Study No. 7). The bouncy theme features a dotted rhythm with double stopped punctuations.
  7. Allegro giocoso. (Moscheles’ Study No. 6). This lively study features a central section with pizzicato interspersed with arco leading to a crescendo and a fermata before the return of the opening material.
  8. Allegro agitato. The highly accented theme is punctuated with double stops; a tranquil central section gathers in intensity until the return of the opening theme.
  9. Cantabile moderato e espressivo. This cantabile theme is played without double stops and very little accenting—a study in maintaining a pure flowing melody line.
  10. Andantino. Written in the style of Scarlatti, this study features the trill, and builds in intensity before ending pianissimo.
  11. Allegro maestoso e patetico. Flowing semiquavers (16th notes) are accented in a regular pattern but without breaking the flow of the music. In Moscheles’ original the accents are in the left hand, but the violinist must contrive the accents without doublestops—entirely with the bow stroke.
  12. Agitato. This study features a restless theme alternating high and low with an espressivo central section.
  13. Allegro brillante. This brilliant and energetic study in thirds is double stopped throughout.
  14. Allegro molto vivace. This “perpetual motion” study features double stopped accents in the central section. While Moscheles’ original ending descends to a low g (a run unplayable on the violin), David ends with a run to a high G on the E string before the final G chord.
  15. Allegro giocoso. This study begins quietly and with a sense of longing; it features a first beat accent and a central con fuoco section. David altered the key structure of the studies (a rare occurrence), though both Moscheles and David end in the identical key.
  16. Andantino. Moscheles’ Study No. 16 (Adagio ma non troppo) is omitted by David; so this study corresponds to Moscheles 17. Moscheles’ original features steady semiquavers (16th notes); David has altered this to demisemiquavers (32nd notes) throughout with only a single quaver (eighth note) before the final dotted crotchet (quarter)—an outstanding study for playing an unbroken melodic line with expression.
  17. Allegro con brio. (Moscheles Study No. 18). This rollicking study (in a different key from that of Moscheles’ original) features alternating accented and tied notes.
  18. Vivace. (Moscheles Study No. 19). This “speed” study has a fluttering quality throughout created by off-the-bow bowing.
  19. Allegro moderato. Moscheles’ Study No. 20 (Adagio con molto espressione) is omitted by David; so this study corresponds to Moscheles Study No. 21. This study’s signature motif is two crotchets (quarter notes) followed by semiquavers (sixteenth notes).
  20. Vivacissimo. (Moscheles Study No. 22, marked Allegro in Moscheles). With the direction staccatissimo, this study is another fast fluttery off-the-bow whirlwind exercise.

Moscheles’ Studies No, 23 (Allegro marcato) and No. 24 (Allegro comodo) were omitted by David.

6 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 9

  1. Maestoso. The first Caprice features a melodic line set against an accompaniment of semiquavers (16th notes).
  2. Allegro vivace. This fast staccato study consists almost entirely of semiquavers (16th notes).
  3. Allegro con spirito. The elfin opening in 6/8 time contrasts with a more intense section in double stops.
  4. Molto agitato. This caprice focuses on fast staccato double stops—thirds, fourths, fifths, seconds, unisons, octaves all in quick succession.
  5. Allegro espressivo. Marked flautato, the long lines of legato semiquavers (16th notes) are punctuated by accented notes.
  6. Allegro ma non troppo. A melodic line is set against an accompaniment of semiquavers (16th notes) as in the first Caprice; this is spelled by passagework that includes double stops; the caprice ends with pizzicato chords.

Bruce R. Schueneman

Note: Ferdinand David’s Suite for Violin Solo, Op. 43, performed by Reto Kuppel, is available digitally on 9.70213.

Violin Technique in Ferdinand David’s Moscheles Virtuoso Studies

While preparing for the first recording of the Moscheles Virtuoso Studies, I was struck first of all by their lack of opus number. What could have persuaded Ferdinand David, who was normally so meticulous, not to give them one? Did he think this work was too difficult?

At first sight, the music does not seem overly complex by comparison with other showy nineteenth-century violin études, partly because David rarely uses techniques such as pizzicato and harmonics. As I studied the pieces more closely, however, they revealed their hidden secret: a translation of pianistic technique onto the violin—a risky experiment!

Whereas a pianist can use both hands to sound notes, the violinist has to take a fresh bow for each chord (No. 17). Often the melody and the accompaniment have to be sounded simultaneously (No. 8). The sonority that can be achieved on a piano played with the sustaining pedal (No. 19) is hard to imitate on the violin and leads to unusual arpeggiation (No. 2). In many places, more than one finger has to be placed, inaudibly, on the strings (No. 5). Unusual keys frequently force the violinist to play in half position, which we normally avoid (No. 12).

David’s transposition of the Studies is a work of genius. This is evident even in those passages he had to compose himself, a direct transfer of the piano part being impossible. His melodies have great emotional depth and a refined sensuality.

Many of the Studies and the Op. 9 Caprices have to be played at lightning speed to realise the delicate melodic flow, the well-defined mood or the shimmering surfaces that make David’s musical language so special (for example Op. 9, Nos. 5 and 6).

There are pieces that so easily test the limits of dexterity and coordination of even a superb violinist on top form, that performing the pieces is only possible after extremely specialised practice—an intensive athletic training that no one should be able to hear. David seems to smile mischievously at us from the century before last and say: “Have a go; you’ll be amazed!”

Reto Kuppel
English translation: Susan Baxter

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