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Recorded live at the Auditorium Parco della Musica Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome, this exciting performance by Uto Ughi presents some of Bach's famous Sonatas and Partitas for unacocmpanied violin, Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 4 in E minor which was inspired by the virtuoso Fritz Kreisler and a selection of Paganini's challenging and demanding Capriccios. Performed with stunning skill and intuitive musicianship, this recording shouldn't be missed!
Conceived, recorded and produced by Giulio Cesare Ricci
Recording assistant - Paola Maria Ricci
Recorded at Auditorium Parco della Musica - Sala S. Cecilia, Roma on the 26th November 2004
Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin
The musical repertoire composed by Bach at the Cöthen court (where he was appointed Kapellemeister on the 5th August 1717, although he did not begin working there until December) includes on the one hand a series of pieces for the orchestra (the "Collegium Musicum" of the court) and on the other hand works for solo instruments - most probably written for the "virtuosos of the prince chamber" (the prince being Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen) or, in the case of harpsichord music, for his family and pupils: Ouvertures and Concertos on the one hand, Sonatas and Suites or Partitas on the other. The most peculiar, unexpected and unpredictable works produced during the time spent in that city (i.e. until April 1723) are those written for violin and cello without the accompaniment of a basso continuo or a concerting harpsichord.
The two collections - each consisting of six compositions ordered according to a systematic plan that was presumably conceived in view of a printed edition - are one the mirror of the other. We do not know which of the two compositions was first realized (but the one for violin was already finished by 1720); it is however clear that they represent two different stages of a single compositional design which compares the technique of the da braccio to that of the da gamba string instruments. Those pages see the accomplishment of the "linear" moment of counterpoint, the exaltation of a particular concept of polyphony intended not as a vertical organization of the phrase - according to the principles of pure canonic imitation and tonal harmony - but as a strict and symmetric expression of the melodic and rhythmic properties of the musical language, by virtue of its own representation in space and time. The logic of the phrasing - for which this is articulated into particles that reappear in regular portions on the different strings of the instrument, so to lead to figures in imitation form - and the strength that the movement imparts to the discourse, as if each element had its own "kinetic energy", originate a musical image, a product in which the "line" counts more than the "mass" and in which the art of the "cantabile" is the true raison d'être of the composition.
In view of the destiny of the vast majority of Bach's production, we can say that the collection of Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin was the object of privileged attention: besides the autograph (bearing the title of Sei solo / a / Violino / senza / Basso / accompagnato. Libro Primo / da / Joh: Seb: Bach. / ao. 1720) there are six more or less contemporary copies, one of which was realized in the decade 1725-1735 by Bach's second wife Anna Magdalena. The work, which Bach would have probably liked to see published (as that wording in the Libro Primo presumably testifies), was among the first to be printed, in 1802, by Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn.
The highly virtuoso and "specialized" technique that characterizes the six compositions suggests the presence and availability of an instrumentalist of extraordinary performing skills. This is ever more apparent as we go back in time: in Bach's day these works were accessible to very few people and their diffusion in commercial editions was rather difficult. Which name hides behind the violin collection? We do not have an answer but we can attempt a few suggestions. We should not overlook the fact that during the Weimar years Bach had the opportunity to meet the man who was for a long time considered the most prominent German violinist. Bach may have thought of Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755) - who was rewarded with ad personam compositions by such authors as Vivaldi, Albinoni, Telemann, Fasch, Graupner - while conceiving his first violin cycle (incidentally, Bach's catalogue also includes a collection of six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord). If it was not Pisendel, we may think of either Jean-Baptiste Volumier (ca.1670-1728), Konzertmeister at the Dresden court, or, more reasonably, of the first Kammermusikus at Cöthen, Joseph Spiess (? - 1730), previously member of the court orchestra in Berlin until 1713 and subsequently active at the Cöthen court until his death, who is also considered to be the receiver of Bach's violin Concertos. Furthermore, one should not forget that the violin was the first "professional" instrument for Bach, during the few months in 1703 spent at the service of the Weimar court, and it was during that first experience as a regularly salaried musician that he could get acquainted with a repertoire for violin of a particular nature, with no accompaniment at all. Johann Paul Jon Westhoff (1656-1705) had been active at the Weimar Court, and he was still so when Bach took on that post; Westhoff is also the author of a Suite for violin alone (published in the Parisian "Mercure Galant" of January 1683) and of a collection of six Partitas for violin alone, discovered in 1970 at the City Library in Szeged, Hungary. The cycle (missing a frontispiece) - dated Dresden, 6 July 1696 - was dedicated to the duchess of Saxony (later Queen of Poland) Christiana Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, for whose death in 1727 Bach would write the Trauerode (BWV 198). The collection presents the following tonal cycle: A minor -A major - E major - C major - D minor - D major. Each Partita, interwoven with homophonic and polyphonic passages, consists of four movements invariably following the succession Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gigue. It cannot however be excluded that Bach conceived these works also for personal use. It should in any case be noted that, following a current practice, some of those compositions were wholly or partially transformed, not always by Bach, into compositions for other instruments. For example the Sonata II (BWV 1003) was re-elaborated as a Sonata for harpsichord (BWV 964) and the introductory Grave to the Sonata III (BWV 1005) was transformed into an Adagio for harpsichord (BWV 968). Of the Partita III (BWV 1006) there exists also a version for lute (BWV 1006a), while the Prelude to this same Partita was used as basic material for the Sinfonia that opens the second part of the Nuptial Cantata BWV120a and for the opening Sinfonia of the Cantata BWV 29. Also, the Fugue of the Sonata I (BWV 1001) was the object of two different transcriptions, one for lute (BWV1000) and one for organ (BWV539).
Musicological research has always moved with extreme caution around the tight core of the Sonatas and Partitas, as if the greatness and apparent abstraction of those works represented an arduous and almost insurmountable barrier. The problems of interpretation are such that technical competence and ability are not sufficient to tackle them properly. Undisputed masterpieces, these pages are still, and will always be, under the sign of ambiguity. This is not so much for the impulsive vocation felt by such great authors as Mendelssohn and Schumann to provide them with an "accompanying bass" that, although never written, was imagined by many and, in a certain way, "internally" thought by the same Bach; but rather for the uncertain realization of the contrapuntal texture for the sake of which many interpreters are induced to solve the quest of the accompanying sounds by means of more or less spaced arpeggios and by accenting the highest notes. Neither for an intellectual exercise nor for showing off an instrumental and compositional ability were these pages created without that accompanying bass that also Tartini would often write only "per cerimonia" i.e. to obey an accepted practice even if he wished that it was not performed. Their aim was to enclose into a sole two manifestations of contemporary taste: the church Sonata, severe and dominated by contrapuntal play, and the Partita or dance Suite, thus making the violin a "leading actor"
guided towards the way of the monologue.
What was in the usual procedure given to a group of instruments is here reserved to one instrument only and, by consequence, this takes on a summarizing and recapitulating function. This is therefore an attempt to give the church Sonata and the Suite a peculiar, out of the ordinary musical organization, but which Bach was not creating ex novo (since there existed already examples of violin without the support of a bass); he transformed it, however, into a geometrical proposal: the licence and eccentricity that had characterized a certain violin literature was replaced by architectural order, and what was supposed to be music of consumption - and so it was to a certain extent - became matter of study, application, speculation, experiment. The alternating succession of Sonatas and Partitas indicates that they are not autonomous musical entities, but couples of compositions in which the second term or member is a corollary to the first. The cycle of compositions, in other words, is intended as made of Sonatas integrated, so to say, with a dance Suite, following a practice that was not so uncommon in the music of that era: to mention just two glorious examples, we can think of the collection "Hortus musicus" by Johann Adam Reinken (1687) consisting of six Sonatas each of which is followed by a Suite, and, particularly, of "Les Nations" by François Couperin (1726) in which each Sonata is also followed by a dance Suite. The same tonal regime that governs Bach's collection is here chosen on the basis of the principle of the couple: in the first and third couple the distance is of a third (G minor and B minor for the first couple, C major and E major for the third one), while the second couple is regulated on an interval of a fourth (A minor - D minor); the whole cycle is then arranged in such a way as to touch the first six degrees of the so called "circle of fifths": C-G (Sonatas), D-A(Partitas-Sonatas), E-B (Partitas).
The geometrical element, so rooted in Bach's style as to become an essential manifestation of expression, conditions the general structure of the collection. So, all the Sonatas adopt the church structure, with an introductory Adagio or Grave, conceived in the first two cases following the style of a fantasia, with free, wide-range toccata passages, featuring complex and constantly varied rhythmical subdivisions. The first movement has always an introductory function to a Fugue, which, in the case of the Sonata I, at the beginning of the theme recalls the typical examples of late-Renaissance canzone.
The third movement is always an Andante of cantabile character (the indications used are Siciliana, Andante, Largo) followed by a Finale in a fast tempo. The tonal unity is maintained in three movements over four: the third movement - as it happens in Corelli - is always in a different tonal setting.
The formal strictness of the Sonatas is contrasted by a largely "discretional" distribution of the dances that concur to form the Partitas.
The Partita II adds to the usual series of dances (Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gigue) a Chaconne of the length of 257 bars, as a kind of appendix, following a rather common practice that ended the normal Suite with a series of "obligated" variations (Chaconne or Passacaglia) in a virtuoso style. Of the two types of Chaconne in use at that time, that on a free bass (much practiced by the French) and that on an ostinato bass (more common among Italian maestros), Bach seemed to prefer the former, also because he was, so to say, addressed to this choice by the instrument itself, unable to sustain for long an obbligato design with superimposed ornamental designs. Starting from a thematic cell of four notes (a descending tetrachord) disposed on four bars, there originates a complex structure in constant growth, pushed forward by returns of the theme, as in a rondò.
Following a technique of continuous modification of the musical discourse, the actual theme is enriched by other thematic figures, that are from time to time varied until they bring about a real "variation in the variation"; there is also, of course, the inversion of the theme, for ascending motion (bars 193-196) that crowns the incredible chain of devices, figures, passages, techniques that make of this masterpiece a monument, a kind of constitutional chart of transcendental violin playing.
The Partita III has the most unusual and more typically French character, although some substantial reflections of that taste are also found in the other two Partitas, in such a way as to originate a perhaps deliberate contrast between Italian style (applied to Sonatas) and French taste (evident in the Partitas). A severe, solemn Prelude strongly marked in the rhythm, of clearly larger dimensions than those of the other parts of the Partitas (138 bars) opens the composition; the monumental character of the page was subsequently exploited by Bach who transformed, as said above, its violinistic structure into a Sinfonia for the Cantata BWV 120a (re-used in BWV 29). This is followed by six dances, only partially correspondent to the usual ones; in fact, only the Gigue reflects the set model for a Finale. We finally find the rare Louvre, a dance diffused mostly in Normandy - derived from the well known northern instrument ludr, or lur, or luur, a kind of hunting horn - of moderate progression, in a ternary tempo and with irregular accenting; a Gavotte en Rondeau, a couple of Minuets and a Bourrée close the cycle.
The Sonata No. 4 in E minor by Ysaÿe
Among the virtuoso violinists who lived between the 19th and the 20th century, Ysaÿe was certainly one of the most extraordinary, not only for his technical skills, but also for his capacity to impose a renewal of performing practice and taste. Brought up in Belgium, Ysaÿe was already at the age of 25 an established protagonist of Franco-Belgian musical life, and was the chosen interpreter of many premières of pieces by the most important composers of his time. He first performed, among others, key compositions of the end of the 19 century, such as Franck's Sonata for Violin (1886), Chausson's Concerto (1889- 92) and Poème (1896), Debussy's Quartet (1893). Furthermore, in duet with the pianist Raoul Pugno, he proposed a model of concert programme based on the performance of whole Sonatas rather than a miscellany of short pieces, thus opening the way to modern practice. Also, on an instrumental basis, Ysaÿe marked a definite turn from the old classicist style of the great soloists of the end of the 19th century, such as Joachim and Auer: the technical rigour and the great power of his "cavata" were put at the service of a freedom and fantasy of interpretation that has ever since been a model for the soloists of the following generation such as Hubermann, Kreisler, Szigeti, Thibaud. As a composer, Ysaÿe was certainly influenced by the French authors of the end of the 19 century; if his early production is mainly marked by the realization of brilliant pieces, his mature works are instead characterized by a passionate style and an improvisatory character.
This is what happens in the six Sonatas Op. 27, each of which Ysaÿe dedicated to a different soloist with the aim of highlighting his temperament and the specific nature of his style.
The Fourth Sonata in E minor is dedicated to Fritz Kreisler and consists of three movements that follow one another as in a Suite: Allemande, Sarabande and Finale. When he composed it, Ysaÿe declared to have been inspired by the "clear and sensual and at the same time robust" sonority of the Viennese virtuoso; the Sarabande, in particular, is built on an ostinato of four notes, always in the same tonality, from which arpeggios, scales and intertwined chords are developed in infinite variations of colour and intensity. The Finale is a kind of "Viennese Capriccio" in homage to the dedicatee's fantasy and taste.
Probably written between 1802 and 1809 (certainly before 1817) Niccolò Paganini's Capriccios were published by Ricordi as Opus 1 in 1820, when the violinist-composer was already at the height of his fame.
The name of Capriccios, derived from a long violinistic tradition that goes back to Locatelli and Tartini (who, however, intended the term in a partially different meaning, although always connected to an idea of freedom and fantasy) is linked to the capricious and improvisatory character of the compositions.
The collection includes twenty-four pieces that explore in a virtually exhaustive way all the difficulties of violin technique, representing perhaps the highest moment of Paganini's endless challenge to overcoming human capacities that so fascinated
Romantic musicians. It is not by chance that the Capriccios have been the object of the most diverse transcriptions and elaborations, especially for piano, made by many a composer (from Liszt to Schumann, from Brahms to Dallapiccola, from Lutoslawsky to Blacher), who tried to reproduce on the keyboard the original violinistic trial.
Yet Paganini never performed these pages before a public audience; the destination of the Caprissios in fact, was essentially private and didactic. The musical quality of the single pieces, however, coupled with the extraordinary variety of the cycle, has secured the whole collection - and, more often, some excerpts - a fundamental place in the violin repertoire throughout the 20th century.
The anthology here proposed includes some of the best known and most characteristic pages of the collection. The Capriccio No. 1 (Moderato, in E major) is not perhaps among the best known; it develops the technique of the arpeggios in balzato, with a dizzy moto perpetuo interrupted by some cadenzas. Very well known are instead No. 9 (in E major, said "The hunt" because it echoes, on the double strings, the ancient stylistic feature of hunting horns), rich with naturalistic references ("sulla tastiera imitando il flauto" - on the board imitating the flute, says the score) and No. 13 (in B flat major, said "The laugh" for
its peculiar incipit), based on the chromatic scale by thirds, which also includes a highly agitated central section, according to that tension between lyricism and virtuosity that is a constant element in the entirety of Paganini's art.
Kind concession by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Foundation
Translation Angelica Suanno