About this Recording
8.573730 - Viola and Piano Music (Romantic) - ONSLOW, G. / MENDELSSOHN, Felix / KALLIWODA, J.W. (Romantic Viola Sonatas) (Hiyoli Togawa, Grigoryan)
English  German 

Romantic Viola Sonatas
Georges Onslow • Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy • Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda

 

Among the family of string instruments the viola is the one that has gone unnoticed on our concert stages, almost more so than the double bass. The viola could only partially assert itself as a solo instrument with orchestra as its middle voice can be drowned out quite easily. In the 20th century the viola received increased attention thanks to composers like Hindemith, Bartok, Martinů or Walton. However, the chamber music of the 19th century already includes far more masterpieces than is generally known. That Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy composed a first-class masterpiece is quite a surprise even for a lot of Mendelssohn experts. For her present album Hiyoli Togawa has selected three works that are not only interesting but charming as well, and impressively illustrate the viola’s wide spectrum of expression.

The work of the oldest composer included in her programme is that of the Spohr and Weber contemporary Georges Onslow, and was originally written for cello. It is part of his Three Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Op. 16 published in 1826. Onslow was of French and English descent. He was born in Clermont-Auvergne in 1784 and died there in 1853. His grandfather was the first Lord Onslow and his mother a descendant of the French aristocratic family Brantome. During his adolescence, Georges Onslow studied in Hamburg and London where he received tuition from Jan Ladislav Dussek and Johann Baptist Cramer. After returning to the Auvergne he lived on the family estate and had lessons with the master of counterpoint Anton Reicha in Paris. Onslow was a talented, self-taught cellist. His ruling passion, however, was chamber music (shared by Edouard Lalo two generations later and Gabriel Faure still another generation later)—a passion that was considered to be rather exotic in the France of that time.

Soon Onslow decided to dedicate his life to composing. With his numerous string quartets and quintets, inspired by Joseph Haydn and Beethoven’s example, he became quite successful internationally. In France only Camille Saint-Saens and Cesar Franck’s chamber music was as successful as Onslow’s. Even as a composer of symphonies Onslow was held in high esteem in France. However, in the later years of his life he became a lonely man. Although opinions differ as to the quality of his music, critics agree that his works are characterised by elegance, laudable virtuosity, catchy melodies and exceptional brilliance.

The Sonata in F major is the first of the Cello Sonatas, Op. 16. Like the duo sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven, and later Brahms’s Cello Sonatas, it was a work written specifically for piano and cello. That is why—for much of the time—the main focus is on the piano or—at least—it is both instruments that contribute to the performance as ‘equal partners’. First comes a lively and rapid Allegro opening movement in sonata form, 4/4 time, with a distinctive dotted basic rhythm and a more lyrical subsidiary theme. Then follows the centrepiece of the sonata: a tender, soft D minor Andante in 3/8 time, which is characterised by subtly nuanced simplicity and instrumental poetry which changes to the higher D major in the middle. The original minor is taken up again and followed by a more dramatic development. The movement fades away in deep introversion and the softest ppp, thus giving the final Allegretto in F major, in alla breve time, an all the brighter and more cheerful touch. This light and delicate finale with its bubbling triplets is Onslow’s homage to salon music and its purely entertaining style which was fashionable in his time.

Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn were phenomenal child prodigies of Western music history. You have only to think of the first six String Symphonies Mendelssohn completed as an eleven-year-old, or of his wonderful early Violin Concerto in D minor dating from 1822, or other solo concertos from this time. His last String Symphonies show that the student of Goethe’s confidant Carl Friedrich Zelter had already mastered any technical difficulties effortlessly at the age of thirteen. In February 1824—one and a half months before completing his Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11—Mendelssohn had finished his Sonata for Viola and Piano (in the same key). Already in 1825/26, with the String Octet and the overture to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mendelssohn was at the height of his musical creativity, maturity and uniqueness. All his later compositions reflect this typical style. However, Mendelssohn was never able to surpass himself (an aspect in which Mendelssohn and Mozart’s careers differ markedly).

Mendelssohn’s Viola Sonata exposes the main key in all three movements. It has a specific structure and the piano performs as an ‘equal partner’; the finale even includes a long piano solo. The opening movement is of marked density: a brief Adagio introduction—in its dignified melancholy typical of this composer—is followed by a passionate Allegro with a sensitive subsidiary theme in E flat major. The exposition ends, like the whole movement, in pianissimo. The development leads to a somehow mysterious pianissimo landscape which emphasises the powerful entry of the reprise even more.

The fast-moving Menuetto is Mendelssohn at his best: an eerie scherzando with powerful syncopation which develops to full glory only at the very end. A brief, tender, chorale-like trio comes next and a whooshing bridge passage in the main tempo introduces the repetition of the enclosing minuet. Most extraordinary, however, is the structure of the final movement: a movement of free variations on an andante theme in alla breve, modelled on Mozart’s piano variations, and in connection with which Mendelssohn sometimes asks for repetitions, and sometimes not. The dotted rhythms of the seventh variation mark the dynamic climax. Mendelssohn then uses an enchanting adagio in C major to ease-off suspense and to create a maximum contrast to the passionate allegro molto in C minor which brings the sonata to a powerful conclusion.

Until middle age Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda [Jan Křtitel Vaclav Kalivoda] ranked among the most respected and popular composers of his time. Born in Prague in 1801 he had two teachers who were followers of the Mannheim School: Bedřich [Friedrich] Diviš [Dionys] Weber, a student of Abbe Vogler and Friedrich Wilhelm Pixis, who had first studied under Ignaz Franzl and then had continued his education under Giovanni Battista Viotti and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. As of 1816 Kalliwoda was held in high regard as a violin virtuoso and was soon to do a lot of travelling. From 1818 on he also gained considerable reputation as a composer. In 1822 he took up the post he then held until his death: music director at the royal court in Donaueschingen (succeeding Conradin Kreutzer).

Until the 1840s Kalliwoda was quite a successful composer and his symphonies were regularly performed in Leipzig and elsewhere. Soon afterwards, however, his name gradually paled into insignificance. Kalliwoda died in Karlsruhe in 1866. His oeuvre is just as varied as it is extensive and includes orchestral and chamber music as well as songs and church music. In the 20th century his posthumous fame was almost completely limited to being cultivated only by those who made music within the family circle (not least because of his uncomplicated violin duos and his Six Nocturnes for viola and piano, Op. 186). However, in the past years his symphonies, overtures and concert pieces have unexpectedly come back into favour.

Kalliwoda’s music is characterised by distinctive musical simplicity, exquisite craftmanship, virtuosity reflecting the joy of playing an instrument and lavish tonal splendour, even when the instrumentation is reduced to a minimum. His Six Nocturnes were published by Peters in Leipzig in 1852. As Kalliwoda’s chamber music was in great demand it is assumed that those works had been composed only shortly before. In 1855 Kalliwoda told his publisher: ‘I played the Six Nocturnes to a wealthy Russian [ … ] on his viola. He was so delighted that, when I was leaving, he asked me whether he might send the instrument to my house as a souvenir.’

Those who are particularly fond of the viola may think themselves lucky that this epoch produced such finely crafted, poetic, soulful and powerful music for this instrument, and music in which also Bohemian minstrelsy shows through, even though in a quite elegant and sophisticated fashion. It is really amazing how music composed mainly on the basis of triad melodics and an extremely simple structure can evoke such a variety of emotions, a structure that—apart from the Fourth Nocturne—is a clear A–B–A structure. In times when quality was principally associated with progressiveness Kalliwoda was inevitably forgotten. However, nowadays we accept and welcome the coexistence of different attitudes and styles so that this music has come back into favour.

Christoph Schlüren
Translation: Dorothee Kau

Funk Stiftung

The non-profit Funk Stiftung (‘Radio Foundation’) is involved in the field of science and education with a focus in the areas of risk research and risk management. It also supports cultural projects, whereby particular attention is paid to the performance of artistically valuable, but currently neglected works of the classical music repertoire. This approach expressly knows no “national” boundaries.

 

Interview

Mozart and Mendelssohn are considered to be the great precocious prodigies of music history. What does the Sonata in C minor for Viola tell us about Mendelssohn’s extraordinary talent?

I carefully studied Mendelssohn’s letters dating from the time when he composed this sonata. They show that he is highly eloquent and precocious and the same goes for his music. I am truly impressed by how he thinks things through and describes them in detail at the age of only 15—a maturity I also discover in his Sonata for Viola and Piano. After meeting Goethe Mendelssohn describes the poet. The young man does not think “that he is of imposing stature” but is impressed by “his posture, his choice of words, the tremendous sound of his voice, his gentle way of speaking and his steady gait”. Goethe’s personality does neither intimidate him nor does it make him nervous, both of which would have been absolutely normal in view of Mendelssohn’s age. Instead he adopts the attitude of an objective and sensitive observer of precocious reasonableness and cheerfulness.

It is only painful experiences that lend depth to life.

The effect and importance of a major chord are enhanced when it is preceded by a minor chord and the same is true for our life: we would appreciate pleasure and delight less fully if we did not know what pain feels like.

Life and art always revolve round these polar opposites, a fact we know particularly from painting as painters often use the contrast between bright and dark colours. For many years I have been very much interested in painting. Taking my paintbrush and painting before I play the viola has a profound effect on me: looking at and working with colours, contrasts and shadings generates a flow of energy and enhances my sensitivity for transitions and nuances, which I can then transfer to the instrument. Bow and paintbrush do not only have in common that they are made of wood and hair but also that they express colours and feelings. If I want to paint the glowing colours of a sunset I cannot simply intensify the yellow colour infinitely. At a certain point in time I resort to painting the surrounding area darker in order to make the bright colour glow even more. If in a phrase there is a minor chord followed by melancholy, gloomy and dark tones the subsequent major chord sounds even more hopeful—like a bright spot on the horizon.

When playing the first bars of Mendelssohn’s sonata I already get the feeling that he knew everything there is to know about such effects at the age of just 15. The first chord of the sonata sounds like a stroke of fate. A phrase in minor sets in, followed by a short, brightly coloured and dreamy passage that fades away again. This piece that conjures up resignation, tranquillity and loneliness is really amazing in so far as it clearly shows that this young man held out the promise of more to come.

A journey into our emotional life commences. Tossed about by dangerous waves—like on the high seas—I am overcome with feelings of disquiet and restlessness. A theatre play begins, the subject of which is the inner dialogue we are engaged in and with the leading roles filled by our various personalities. This dialogue might sometimes be disturbing and sometimes hopeful, or even delightful. When listening to this range of different emotions within the sonata the listeners are confronted with their own, individual array of feelings.

In my opinion, our principal task in life is to get in touch with, get to know and become truly aware of our emotional life. In this connection listening to our inner voice—day after day—as well as cultivating keen awareness and attentiveness are of the essence. Mendelssohn’s viola sonata leads us to the experience of our self, our inner turmoil and our dreams—and this, I think, is precocious and brilliant.

Mendelssohn’s contemporary also offers great Romantic drama Jan Kalivoda. He virtually sets one of the favourite topics of the Romantic period to music—the night. What does night mean to you personally?

Night is a magical state: when darkness falls a transition from being awake to sleeping, from reality to dream, takes place. In daytime we leave our home, present ourselves, communicate with others and are mostly outward-oriented while at night we turn to and return to ourselves. This time of day—when I am either still in the studio practising or when I am at home, when darkness closes in and the lights are on behind the windows—has a calming effect on me. The thoughts stop racing through our minds, people go to bed and focus on themselves rather than on others.

The night and its darkness can be compared to our soul, to our inner self. The less time I spend there, the more I only stumble and grope around without knowing my way. However, if I remain in myself for a while things begin to take shape and become more concrete. Then I am not longer afraid of the dark or of my soul but know my way around—I am self-confident and free.

Kalivoda is our companion on the way to our soul, he sets the night to music and makes it bright.

His six Nocturnes op.186 take us to the world of our inner dreams. Sometimes I hear the whispering of lovers, sometimes my heart leaps with joy and sometimes the seriousness of life asserts itself again. In contrast to our everyday life our inner life has no limitations. To give you one example: locked in a dark and small room, i.e. physically “imprisoned”, my soul can nevertheless serve as the bond that links me with the world and the universe. In Goethe’s “Werther” it says: “I withdraw into myself and find a world”.

George Onslow was born in 1784 and was somehow still rooted in the 18th century. For quite some years now he has been re-discovered, particularly as a composer of chamber music. How did you become interested in this Frenchman with British roots?

I very much like to bury myself in the correspondence of composers before I start interpreting their works.

Mendelssohn’s letters are quite fascinating in this respect as you can find a lot of anecdotes about his relationship with Onslow or Kalivoda.

To be told in Mendelssohn’s own words about his acquaintance with them opens up new ways of understanding and getting closer to these composers. Mendelssohn did not only hold both of them in high esteem but also promoted them, just as he often did with still unknown, young composers because he used his fame to include them in his concert programmes.

The most amusing anecdote I found in these letters was the one in which Mendelssohn tells his mother about a concert programme announcing his octet. Much to the concert guests’ amusement both Mendelssohn and Kalivoda had been listed as violists.

Is there anything else you learned about the composer apart from what you could glean from the anecdotes?

More often than not letters usually do not reveal much about the inner life of the composers but tell us something about their social life, whom they met and associated with.

The appeal of these letters—at least for me—lies in the difference between words and sounds, or, to be more precise, in the difference between their spoken/written language and the language of their music and provides me with a much clearer impression of the artist’s personality. The more I am able to familiarise myself with them and feel who these people really were, what they wanted to express and what they were preoccupied with, the better I feel the effect their music has on me, can brush all thoughts aside and let my soul take over. I can bring the music to life and aim to make my listeners experience the gamut of deep emotions.

In a letter Mendelssohn wrote to Onslow he thanked the composer for sending him his latest works, his kind words and for the time they had spent together in Paris—a time Mendelssohn had obviously immensely enjoyed and which had given him great pleasure. This letter highlights the cheerfulness, civility and charm that characterised their relationship.

Onslow’s sonata reflects this cheerfulness as well. It fills me with youthful buoyancy and a delightful, sometimes naïve and overwhelming pleasure in life, it makes me feel light-hearted and overcome with a positive thirst for enterprise. The irresistible appeal and magic of this work lie in this infectious energy and enthusiasm. Onslow’s sonata has nothing of Kalivoda’s dreaminess nor does it have the deep seriousness of Mendelssohn’s sonata.

Mendelssohn, Onslow, Kalivoda—your first CD pays homage to the Age of Romanticism. What does “Romanticism” mean to you personally?

I am fascinated by the emotionality of the Romantic period, this striving for understanding the soul, being connected with your self and expressing this self. A close connection with life and nature as well as a sense of longing and the fear of endless void and darkness are emotions that can be wonderfully expressed with the sound of the viola. In my opinion the Romantic period is the epoch of the human, the individual. After the French Revolution a lot of the old structures were destroyed. Philosophers, writers and artists and what they had to say became more and more important. All of them tried to find a unique expression for their personality, to explore their self, their heart and soul. The main concern at that time was the freedom to express the own feelings as authentically as possible, and regardless of any social, political or artistic norms and constraints.

I think a part of this epoch and its ideas will always linger with us, no matter how hard we try for rejunevation, modernisation and alienation from nature—trends we can observe almost everywhere in the 21st century. What we all have in common is the fear of void as well as the longing for love, freedom, life, nature and for our roots. Whether we are aware of this fact or not: our soul, our innermost self and our various personalities are an integral part of being human.

The idea of freedom and the search for the inner self, which characterise the Romantic period, have always been my constant companions. I was born in Germany and have Australian and Japanese roots. I have always had great appreciation for the extraordinary beauty of different languages and cultures, which is why I have not only been interested in exploring my own roots but also in learning several languages. However, there is one thing I have come to realise and which I will never forget: knowing our own self, being connected with this self as well as being aware of ourselves as individuals and fulfilling ourselves—beyond any constraints such as nationalities, languages, cultures, traditions and laws- are the essence of our personal identity.

Moreover, I am convinced that getting in touch with our self, knowing our needs and truly experiencing our emotions can prevent us from adopting a confrontational course towards others because we can satisfy most of our needs ourselves instead of expecting others to do so. Even though it may sound banal I truly believe that if more people knew their heart and soul, their self, the more contendedness and peace we would have in this world. That is the reason why I consider the Age of Romanticism as very important: for the first time ever the emotions of individuals and the free and self-determined expression of these feelings were focussed on.

… in connection with which the viola is certainly a Romantic instrument par excellence, though it was only in the 19th century that the viola with its range of tonal colours gradually became a valuable addition to orchestral and chamber music.

I, personally, can perfectly understand why composers were fascinated by the viola. When I played this instrument for the first time I was in harmony with myself. Its sound was somehow even more familiar to me than my own voice—it was as if my inner self had found its voice. The sound vibrated within me and will never leave me. The frequencies of this instrument are close to us humans and to nature and are similar to those of the human voice… The sound of the viola surrounds us with melancholy warmth which fills us right to the core.

The sound of the viola is a perfect match for the Romantic period. Composers, no longer subject to artistic and social norms and constraints, were able to express themselves freely and they began to look for new ways to give free rein to their emotions in their compositions.

Nature, mankind and existence are the key topics of the Romantic era and deal with polar opposites, such as day and night, bright and dark, plus and minus, pain and pleasure as well as life and death. The sound of the viola brings all those phenomena to life: the low registers produce the sombre and mysterious tone colours whereas the high registers produce the brightly glowing ones. The slightly nasal, melancholy sound with its touch of longing is certainly not the only reason for the fact that the mysterious and warm sound of the viola found its way into the compositions of the Romantic period and could flourish for the first time ever.


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