Hear live broadcasts of cello sonatas and more from the Seattle Chamber Music Festival three nights a week at 8 this month.
Good cello playing sounds like the best red wine tastes: it’s rich, it’s full-bodied and it sets a romantic tone. Since the cello came into existence, composers have called upon its deep, emotional tone to convey a wide array of moods that other instruments just can’t handle.
Bach was the first major composer to shine a spotlight on this highly versatile instrument in his Cello Suites. Rachmaninoff and Debussy, two kings of Romanticism, dug into the depths of their souls and put the cello to the test with profoundly moving cello sonatas. The rest is history.
Though the cello as we now know it has been around since the mid-1550s, it only became a fixture in chamber music at the turn of the 19th century thanks to Beethoven, who used it not just for piano accompaniment, as others did, but as a solo instrument in its own right. Since then, almost all major composers of chamber music have featured the cello in a sonata or other small-scale piece.
Because of its wide approval among even non-classical fans, the future of the cello looks bright. Contemporary composers such as George Crumb still compose groundbreaking pieces featuring the stringed giant. Several cellists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Ziegler of the Kronos Quartet and Mark Summer of the Turtle Island String Quartet, perform and compose chamber music that transcends genres, floating between classical, folk, jazz and rock.
Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor, D. 821
Though this piece is widely known today as Schubert’s best work for cello, it wasn’t actually written for the cello. This piece was likely commissioned by the composer’s friend who in 1824 had taken up a brand new instrument called the arpeggione, which was large, six-stringed and played with a bow. A decade later, however, the guitar-like instrument fell out of vogue, and almost all performances of this piece are now done with either cello or viola.
Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38
Though Brahms (pictured with Richard Strauss, above) lived in the Romantic period, he drew heavily on the styles of previous centuries. His first cello sonata is an homage to J.S. Bach, drawing on themes from the Baroque composer's "Art of the Fugue.”
Rachmaninoff: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19
Though Rachmaninoff wrote very little chamber music and almost all of it is overlooked in favor of his symphonies and piano concertos, this sumptuous, drop-dead gorgeous piece deserves more attention for its quintessential Romanticism. It possesses all the lyrical passages and deep emotion that define Rachmaninoff at his best, and it may have helped the composer write his big comeback piece just months later, the second piano concerto.
Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69
Beethoven is credited as the first composer to really, truly write sonatas featuring stringed instruments and not pianos. In the past, cellos, or equivalent instruments of the time, were used primarily as accompaniment, doubling the lower, more methodical and less melodic notes the piano played. But in his third cello sonata, it’s obvious the cello is equally as important to the piece as the piano, if not more so.
Rajan Krishnaswami, cello;
Mark Salman, piano
Recorded in KING FM’s studios on NW
Focus LIVE, March 9, 2012
Franck: Cello Sonata in A:
I. Allegretto ben moderato; II. Allegro
Ravel: Piece in the Form of a Habanera
Icicle Creek Chamber Music Festival
Jennifer Caine, violin; Catherine Lyon, viola;
Sally Singer, cello
Recorded Summer 2008
Kodály: Intermezzo for violin, viola, and cello
Seattle Baroque Soloists,
Recorded in KING FM’s studios on NW
Focus LIVE, November 4, 2011
Ingrid Matthews, violin; Tekla Cunningham,
violin; Nathan Whittaker, cello; John Lenti,
lute; Byron Schenkman, harpsichord
Boismortier: Chamber Concerto in D
KING FM Insights
Edward Arron, Seattle Chamber Music Society cellist, explains why he loves the cello.
Bion Tsang, Seattle Chamber Music Society cellist, tells the story of how he came to play the cello.
Edward Arron tells us about his favorite chamber music composers.
Joshua Roman, Artistic Director of the TownMusic Series and former principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony, expresses his admiration for English composer Benjamin Britten.
You may know Saint-Saëns' famous cello piece, "The Swan," but have you ever heard a cello sound like a seagull? Joshua Roman and KING FM's Sean MacLean explore some of the cello's special effects.
Joshua Roman talks about the deeply personal relationship a musician has with his or her instrument.
Ask, discuss or share more about cello chamber music
on the KING FM Facebook page.