About this Recording
8.573851 - RIES, F.: Cello Works (Complete), Vol. 2 - Cello Sonatas, WoO 2 and Op. 34 / Piano Trio, Op. 63 / 3 Airs Russes Variés (Rummel, E. Lamb, Stroissnig)
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Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838)
Complete Works for Cello • 2

 

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, such as 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 oeuvre contains more than 200 compositions including nine piano concertos, chamber music of all genres, three operas and seven symphonies.

When Ries wrote Introduction and a Russian Dance, Op. 113, No. 1 in 1823, he had established himself as a leading figure in London’s musical life. This was due in part to his prolific production of fantasies, divertimenti, and variations, which the English bourgeois loved, especially when they were based on tunes from foreign countries. It is to this category of fashionable chamber music that Op. 113 belongs. The cello part would likely have been playable by a highly capable amateur familiar with thumb position, double stops, and bowing techniques such as bariolage. The piano part, as usual with Ries, is flashy and impressive. The work is notable for some progressive Romantic traits, such as the ambiguities in its basic Rondo form, the return of the slow introduction in the middle, and its tonal plan based on thirds. It is sure to please performers and audiences today as much as the original listeners.

The Cello Sonata in C minor, WoO 2, was written in 1799 while the 15-year-old aspiring composer-pianist still lived in Bonn. Ries never published the sonata, but its date of composition places it among the first sonatas ever written for cello and fortepiano. It is not known why Ries never published the work, although it would be seven more years before he began publishing anything. Considering that it is such an early composition, it bears some astounding traits that indicate considerable talent: forward-looking harmony for the time, an impressive grasp of texture, melodic creativity, and an overall sense of drama. His first published sonatas from much later seem on the lighter side compared to the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of this one.

The Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E flat major, Op. 63, was composed in Bath in 1815, the year when Ries joined the London Philharmonic Society and was elected as one of its directors. A reviewer in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1816 states that ‘we have not room to specify the numerous parts of this trio that meet our approbation,—the ingenuity of modulations and of the parts which imitate each other, etc.; and shall therefore content ourselves with simply recommending it to our readers who are interested by learned variety.’ Interestingly enough, the first printed edition (which is the subject of this review) was one of the first that had metronome markings—the reviewer explains the advantage of Johann Nepomuk Mälzel’s metronome—the inventor’s only patented device, registered in December 1815—at great length. Besides many other inventions, including leg prosthetics, the ingenious Mälzel is nowadays also remembered for constructing several hearing aids for Beethoven between 1812 and 1814.

Beethoven’s omnipresence in Ries’ life can also be heard in Ries’s Sonata for Horn (or Cello) and Piano, written in 1811 in Kassel, where he met the horn virtuoso brothers Michael and Gottfried Schunke. Ries also wrote a concerto for two horns (WoO 19) for the brothers. The first movement is an extensive Allegro, preceded by a slow introduction, and very clearly structured in the sonata form. As in Beethoven’s horn sonata, the middle movement is an Andante in D minor, which is linked to the final Rondo. The main theme of this Rondo bears an astonishing resemblance to Meine Oma fährt im Hühnerstall Motorrad, a popular German hit from the 1930s. Its melody can be traced back through Wir versaufen uns’rer Oma ihr klein Häuschen by Robert Steidl (1865–1927) to Die Holzauktion by Franz Meißner, dating from the 1890s. It seems all too likely that this melody might have been a ‘Gassenhauer’ already in Ries’s time.

Trois Airs Russes Variés pour le Piano-forte et Violoncelle ou Violon Concertans, Op. 72 (‘Three Russian Airs with Variations for the pianoforte and cello or violin’) was written in 1812, while Ries was on tour in Russia with virtuoso cellist Bernhard Romberg. Although one of Ries’s letters indicates that he wrote the piece for Romberg, the work is dedicated to Charles Neate, an English pianist, cellist, and composer. A virtuoso display piece for both instruments, Trois Airs is a potpourri of three Russian tunes: the folk song Tchem tebya ya ogortchila (‘What made you so distressed?’), a distinctive dance called Kamarinskaya, and the same ‘Theme russe’ used in the third movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 2 (Romberg, incidentally, happened to disdain the Op. 59 Quartets). Ries had to cancel some of the planned concerts in Russia in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Moscow. Following this tour, Romberg wrote his Capriccio on Swedish National Airs for cello and orchestra, Op. 28, and dedicated it to Ferdinand Ries.

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, Ries’s music is first and foremost highly entertaining and skilful music for performers and audience, deserving a regular place in the cello repertoire.

Martin Rummel and Cole Tutino


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