About this Recording
8.573726 - RIES, F.: Cello Works (Complete), Vol. 1 - Cello Sonatas, Opp. 20, 21, 125 (Rummel, Stroissnig)
English  German 

Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838)
Cello Sonatas


Ferdinand Ries was baptised in Bonn on 28 November 1784. Today his name is rarely mentioned without a reference to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), even if it is likely that it was only after his arrival in Vienna on 29 December 1802 that Ries had significant contact with Beethoven. Ries’ father, Franz Anton Ries (1755–1846) was the archbishopric concertmaster and one of Beethoven’s teachers, before Beethoven left for Vienna in 1792. When Ferdinand Ries arrived in Vienna ten years later, he became Beethoven’s pupil, secretary and copyist. In 1805, he returned to Bonn for a year and, following Beethoven’s advice, lived in Paris for a short period before resettling in Vienna in August 1808. From 1811 to 1813 he performed as a pianist all over Europe, starting in Russia and ending in London, where he was to live until 1824. After marrying into a wealthy family and with the help of Johann Peter Salomon (who was a friend of his father), Ries became one of the directors of the London Philharmonic Society in 1815, a post he was to hold until his resignation in 1821. From 1824 to his death in 1838, he and his family lived in Germany, with Ries holding various posts as music director (for example in Aachen or at the Niederrheinisches Musikfest). While he seemed busy as a performer and was also highly active as a composer, not much of his music was performed. When he died in Frankfurt on 13 January 1838, he was virtually forgotten. His more than 200 compositions include nine piano concertos, chamber music of all genres, three operas and seven symphonies.

The Cello Sonatas, Op. 20 and Op. 21 were written in 1808, shortly before Ries left Paris, and are dedicated to Bernhard Romberg (1767–1841). Romberg had arrived in Bonn in 1790 to take composition lessons from Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748–1798), who also taught Beethoven. Romberg and Beethoven performed frequently together at that time, although later in his life, Romberg turned away from Beethoven: in 1812 in Moscow, he refused to play the cello part in the String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1, and he allegedly also turned down Beethoven’s offer to write him a cello concerto. Ries’s dedication of these two works to Bernhard Romberg, from whom he also received cello lessons, might have been an attempt to use the famous name to gain attention. Ries had done the same in the dedication of his Piano Sonatas, Op. 1 to Beethoven, where he claimed to be Beethoven’s ‘sole student’ and ‘friend’.

However, Ries and Romberg ended up performing the Cello Sonatas, Op. 20 and Op. 21 when they met in Russia in 1811, and in a subsequent concert tour which Ries had to abandon in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Moscow. Following this tour, Romberg wrote his Capriccio on Swedish National Airs, Op. 28 for cello and orchestra, and dedicated it to Ferdinand Ries.

The Cello Sonata in C major, Op 20 is the most ‘classical’ of the three, with an energetic Allegro con brio (the most Beethovenesque tempo marking imaginable), followed by a short slow movement that could nearly be seen as an introduction to the final Polonaise only. Contemporary reviews mention Bernhard Romberg’s extraordinary sound quality in the lower register of the cello, which Ries certainly makes use of throughout this and the Cello Sonata in A major, Op 21.

Yet from a character perspective, the A major Sonata could not be more different. Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69 had been written in 1808, and looking at this work by Ries, it seems likely that Ries was familiar with it: It has a similarly pastorale approach to the opening movement—in this it is similar to Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Grande Sonate in A major, Op. 104 (written in the 1820s), another cello sonata by a Beethoven admirer. The second movement, surprisingly in D major, even seems like a quote from the opening of Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale’ Piano Sonata, Op. 28, from 1801, while the short minuet could be seen as a homage to Joseph Haydn. A final Rondo concludes this work, giving both instruments equal opportunity to shine.

The sonata genre fell increasingly out of fashion in the early 19th century, yet both Beethoven and Ries kept composing sonatas. Three Russian Airs with Variations for cello and piano (1812), the Horn (or Cello) Sonata (1811) and the Introduction and Rondo (1823) lie between the completion of Op. 21 and Op. 125 in G minor. It is Ries’s second-to-last contribution to the sonata genre (to be followed by the Sonate Sentimentale, Op. 169, for flute or clarinet and piano). The piece was written in 1823 and published by Boosey in 1825, thus framing Ries’s return to Germany in 1824. Like both earlier works, it bears the title Grande Sonate (note the reference to Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, Op. 5, titled Deux Grandes Sonates), clearly indicating that these pieces meant to excel as compositions written for amateurs to play at home. Beethoven’s connection to two of the greatest cellists of his time (Romberg and, since 1796, also Jean Pierre Duport) clearly had an influence on Ries, although the stylistic similarities to Beethoven seem more evident in this, Ries’s last, cello sonata.

The Sonata, Op. 125 is dedicated to Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor (1775–1839), the first Private Secretary to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, serving kings George III, George IV and William IV. The reference to the opening of Beethoven’s Second Cello Sonata is obvious, yet Ries goes a step further, revisiting the Grave character twice again throughout the movement. The slow movement opens with an eloquent piano cantilena, accompanied by the cello and evidently reflecting the transition into the Romantic era, before the cello gets to answer with a shorter, yet equally expressive tune. The second part of the movement is similarly constructed, although this time it is the cellist who gets more exposure. The final Rondo lets the cello present the theme, before embarking on a road to showcase both instruments’ virtuosic possibilities. As if to remind the listener of the slow introduction of the first movement, there is again a short slow lyric section (do we hear a quote of Mozart’s Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön here?), before the Rondo theme is picked up again. The piece ends with a joyous G major coda.

From a cellist’s perspective and assuming that Ries might have envisaged Romberg as a performer for the two earlier sonatas, this work certainly would have suited Jean Pierre Duport, whose dazzling virtuosity in the upper register inspired not only Beethoven, but also Mozart in his Prussian String Quartets. While for musicologists the works for cello and piano by Ferdinand Ries might close a gap between the sonatas by Boccherini and those by Beethoven, Schubert, Hummel and Mendelssohn, these sonatas are first and foremost highly entertaining and skilful music for performers and audience, deserving a regular place in the cello repertoire.

Martin Rummel

Close the window