Suite for solo cello No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
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The Suite in D minor is one of two minor-key suites among the six for solo cello. With this suite, Bach seems to aspire to an almost Beethovenian mixture of tragedy and defiance, all within his usual framework of strict procedures. There are six movements: a Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, double Minuet, and Gigue.
The Prelude reminds this listener of a great Bach organ toccata (and some observers, indeed, have speculated on links between Bach's organ improvisations and his string writing). Bach uses a simple arpeggio figure to build phrases of ever-increasing complexity, as in the parallel passage in the first suite. But here the minor-key arpeggio that sets the tone for the work is used to gradually build tension as it climbs through the cello's range in a series of rising waves. The movement builds to a high-pitched, tense climax, followed by an improviser's silence while the echoes die out. Finally we return to the low strings for a coda that sums up the movement in small, intimate terms.
Each of the movements that follow offers its own take on tragedy and defiance, but the moments that best characterize this suite include the unusual and dramatic double Minuet and the resigned Sarabande. Mstislav Rostropovich memorably described the latter movement as an essay in "white-hot solitude," and its stylized dirge and ringing open fifths recall the laments of the great masters of the French viol tradition. This suite, perhaps above all the others, compels the listener's attention through the contrast between the graceful and courtly language of the French dances that constitute the suite form and the dark, sinewy meat of Bach's own compositional thinking. At the end the Gigue wraps things up with angular rhythms and violent, unrelenting passions. But Bach isn't done with us yet; this movement prepares for the sunniness of the next suite in the set.
- James Liu (All Music Guide)
Recorded February, May and June 1995
In his recitals, Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga frequently contrasts baroque music with 20th century composition, and his acclaimed sequence of recordings for ECM New Series has - for the most part - adhered to this pattern, juxtaposing Bach's cello suites with works from composers including Heinz Holliger, Elliott Carter and Sandor Veress (refer to ECM New Series 1340, 1391 and 1477 respectively). The policy has proven to be enlightening for both the classical audience and followers of contemporary composition. When Demenga plays, correspondences between old and new music become apparent, as does the "modernity" of Bach; in general the cellist could be said to bear out Alban Berg's dictum that one should play classical music as if it were new and new music as if it were classical...
The fourth volume in this series brings together Bernd Alois Zimmermann's solo sonatas for cello, violin and viola with Bach's Suite No. 2 in D Minor. There are some some direct points of contact between these German composers separated by two centuries. As Demenga explains, Zimmermann's Violin Sonata, the first solo work written by the Bliesheim-born composer, is a "12-tone 'Hommage a Bach' - not only because of the B-A-C-H motif that appears transposed in the last movement but more through arpeggios and repeated notes on open strings which, swirled around by multi-voiced figurations, are quite intentionally reminiscent of J.S. Bach's E Major partita." Or, as Zimmermann himself put it in his (posthumously-published) collection of essays, Intervall und Zeit :"The three movements [of the Violin Sonata], Praludium, Rhapsodie and Toccata move from meditative improvisation via a rhapsodic quality to the strict commitment of the Toccata, in which finallyB-A-C-H is quoted in honour of the great master of the six sonatas and suites for unaccompanied violin. "
For Demenga, the "rhapsodic qualities" and the notion of commitment "apply just as well to Bach's cello suite in D Minor, thus linking these two compositions, stylistically so very different (...) The D Minor is the only one of the six cello suites to contain a 'thematic prelude', which is structured more melodiously than all the rest and offers space for a little cadenza at the end of the movement. The character of this whole suite is determined by a kind of melancholy cheerfulness - a mixture of feelings that can be heard to an equal extent in Zimmermann's music, as throughout his life he called himself a 'very Rhenish mixture of monk and Dionysian'".
Bach scholar Peter G. Davis has written that the second cello suite "has more breadth than the first; the key of D Minor almost always evoked a pathetic and noble Innigkeit from Bach. The Prelude, as in the First Suite [recorded by Demenga on ECM New Series 1477] is constructed along the lines of a free fantasia, although the music here is more melodic and reflective. The Allemande is in 4/4 time and continues the note of pathos struck in the Prelude. Another Italian Courante follows, rapid and urgent. The Sarabande is harmonically very rich and full with multiple-stopped chords punctuating the harmonic pattern. The two Menuets are well-contrasted: the first is harmonically thick-textured and in the minor, the second is based primarily on scale passages and playful leaps and is in the tonic major. The concluding Gigue, while retaining its basic swinging triple pulse, is still rather sombre and in keeping with this suite's dark colours."
Dark colours, playful leaps, complex pulses and irregular metres, and a measure of sardonic wit comprise some of the basic ingredients of the music of Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1926 - 1970). The "monkish" side of his character, as writer Marion Rotharmel has noted, found expression in his "extremely compressed pieces for solo instruments, which he described as works of solitude, stillness and pure musical thought stripped of superficiality." Zimmermann's conception of "stillness" differs from a contemporary post Cagean perspective, his "essential" music requiring, still, a great many notes for its expression. The charge of "unplayability" has been levelled at all three of his solo sonatas and they challenge the capabilities of the virtuoso soloists here - Demenga and his frequent associates Thomas Zehetmair and Christoph Schiller.
Zimmermann's music has been reevaluated in recent years and many commentators now concur with Karlheinz Stockhausen's appraisal: "Zimmermann had a much more subtle musical sensibility and consciousness than most composers of his time. He was capable of composing very carefully thought-out melodic lines, and had a very good feeling for when to stop and when to go on, when to pause and when to surprise, and when to compress."
Conductor Michael Gielen has suggested that Zimmermann's compositional system, indeed, the whole of his output, is "a masterly variation of one and the same idea, each piece being like part of a single, giant work. This crystal, his own characteristic mature style, was researched and exploited by him in all directions with infinite care and love."
The unaccompanied Violin Sonata was written in 1951 after Zimmermann had completed his Violin Concerto; it is the first of the composer's solo pieces and an early instance of his (often uneasy) relationship to serialism, in this case the Schonbergian 12-tone technique. In addition to the Bach hommage acknowledged by the composer - a master of the "quote" and the "allusion" - critics have found references to Hindemith, Reger, Paganini. The piece is performed here by Thomas Zehetmair, previously heard on the New Series in recordings from the Lockenhaus Festival, playing Shostakovich's music (see ECM New Series 1304/05 and 1347/48). Relevant non-ECM recordings include interpretations of the Bach solo partitas and sonatas released by Teldec.
Writing of the Viola Sonata, Zimmermann advised that "the term 'sonata' is not to be taken in the sense of the classical sonata form. The work is based on the chorale Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ.. Pachelbel's technique of anticipatory imitation is used here in a transferred form. The individual sections contain not just a a purely musical but a textual interpretation of the chorale, a record of it in meditation." The piece has been cited by Klaus Ebbeke as the most extreme instance of Zimmermann's experiments with serial procedure. It is played here by Christoph Schiller, making his New Series debut. His other recording credits include Koechlin's viola sonata and chamber music by Giacinto Scelsi.
========= from the cover ==========
The unaccompanied Violin Sonata - was composed in 1951, after I completed my Violin Concerto. The work is the result of intensive study of the expressive and technical possibilities of the violin. It is obvious that there are fundamental differences between using the instrument for a concerto or a solo sonata. The fact that the violin is used unaccompanied seems first of all to pose a limitation. But in reality it is only in this way that the instrument can develop the whole breadth of its almost inexhaustible expressive power. Ernst Kurth says very aptly in his introduction to J. S. Bach's six sonatas and suites for unaccompanied violin:"For the idea behind such single-voiced works is the highest expression of everything melodic and thus of all contrapuntal art directed at linear development." Contrapuntal development of a line: this means renewed reflection about the fundamental quality of the interval and its relation of note to note; renewed reflection about the significance of the length of a note in the sequence of notes and finally renewed reflection about the significance of volume in the joint effect and thus the registration of relations between the three basic elements of any musical statement, pitch, note duration and volume. The unaccompanied Violin Sonata is based on a twelve-tone row that controls all the movements. In striving towards the greatest possible musical intensity an attempt is also made to achieve the greatest possible expressive intensity in the joint effect made by the basic elements mentioned above. The three movements, Praludium, Rhapsodie and Toccata move from meditative improvisation via a rhapsodic quality to the strict commitment of the Toccata, in which finally B-A-C-H is quoted in honour of the great master of the six sonatas and suites for unaccompanied violin.
In the case of the Viola Sonata , the term "sonata" is not to be taken in the sense of the classical sonata form. It is more like a chorale prelude. The work is based on the chorale Gelobet seist Du Jesu Christ, and is divided into twelve major sections. These run into each other and are very closely linked structurally. Pachelbel's technique of anticipatory imitation is used here in a transferred form. The individual sections contain not just a purely musical but a textual interpretation of the chorale, a record of it in meditation. Thus the particular quality of this sonata lies in the fact that the musical development process is gradually guided and amalgamated into the contours of the chorale theme. The unaccompanied Cello Sonata's motto is a quotation from Liber ecclesiastes III, I of the Vulgate:"... et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo."
Music is more prone to pass away than any other artistic genre, indeed it is at the mercy of this process; as a musical event takes place it sinks into the past, arousing expectation of what is coming to meet its passing: the future. Phases, layers, space are brought together in the unity of the musical stream of time and experience, and at the same time they are developed within that very unity; one thing is transformed into another, and while it is being transformed the listeners are transformed as well, if they are willing to participate in consummating the event of transformation; listeners need this event as much as the interpreter and the composer - time "opens up": dreams, thoughts, realities emerge and are replaced with memories, expectations and unreal things. Time is conquered by the way in which it is organized; time elements become time complexes, time-spaces become points in time.
This sonata is in five movements. Fase, Tropi, Spazi make up the central section; Rappresentazione introduces us to the work and Versetto concludes it "... et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo".
At the centre of these events: the interpreter, the instrument as communicator, the cello, like no other instrument a "vox humana" beside the human voice itself. Perhaps a little scorned in modern music, all too tainted with the odium of Romanticism - but in this work a completely new aspect of the instrument.
-B. A. Zimmermann from Intervall und Zeit (translation: Michael Robinson)
Put all space in a notshall
"Who learned from whom?" B. A. Zimmermann asks himself this question in his Gedanken uber Jazz (Thoughts about Jazz) - for him jazz was "natural music" that never failed to fascinate, representing a Utopia of liberated music that preserved the "unconsumed" quality of music-making, something he considered "illusory" in the case of "New Music". Although Zimmermann says: "... improvisation that is to a certain extent absolute strictly speaking does not exist", the word improvisation continually crops up in essays and letters. Thus for example to stimulate viola-player Albert Dietrich, who played the world premiere of the Viola Sonata on 15 October 1955: "Take the metronome markings as tempo indications that represent the composer's wishes; in other words: choose the tempo in such a way that you execute everything securely without deviating from the tempi I indicate if possible. (...) I would wish you to play the solo sonata as though it came into your head at the very moment you played it, in other words as an improvisation. I should therefore also be particularly pleased if beyond merely technical matters you would address the piece in such a way that you really do find a world of thoughts behind each single note. The solo sonata expresses musical ideas that reflect on the basic facts of human life, birth and death, coming into being and passing away, and about love, and everything that moves the human heart."
It should be added in this context that Zimmermann dedicated the solo sonata to his daughter Barbara, who died shortly after she was born - it is subtitled "To the song of an angel", which is reminiscent of the dedication "In memory of an angel" in Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, and the work is an instrumental requiem in the same way. Zimmermann himself said it was "more like a chorale prelude". The work is in fact based on the chorale theme Gelobet seist Du Jesu Christ. Zimmermann said that the Viola Sonata was "not only one of (his) most abstract, but also most technically difficult chamber music works", which must have drawn attention to the reproach that many of his works are "unplayable"; take in particular his opera Die Soldaten, Requiem fur einen jungen Dichter, Canto di speranza and the Sonata for Solo Cello.
The complaint of "unplayability" could also be seen in the context of "composed improvisation", which is expressed very strongly in both the Viola and Cello Sonatas: for who is prepared (even today) to address a meticulously scored improvisation unless wanting to be concerned with improvisation as such, which should in fact reappear as the effortless result of something that has been painstakingly learned? If a musician is not able and prepared to take this "detour", if he is not aware of the actual message of a work, then "technical impossibilities" will always crop up; these impose a series of difficulties, and are finally perceived as torture or simply as a "waste of time". Zimmermann remarks in an apt sentence: "It is well known that so-called technical impossibilities usually disappear at the precise moment when one realizes their musical necessity."
I do not want to go into Zimmermann's time philosophy anymore closely in this context; he describes his pluralist composition technique himself in his essay Vom Handwerk des Komponisten (On the composer's craft) like this: "That means, seen purely in terms of composition technique, that, from a pitch constellation (usually a row of complete intervals) that is binding for a complete work or a complete group of works, a proportional structure of different time layers is derived. On the one hand, these are strictly linked to the aforementioned pitch constellation in their effective duration, but on the other hand, through the possibility of spontaneous inclusion of past or future music, of quotations and time collages, and of collages in general, are shifted above all in terms of experienced time. This is one way of putting it. Overall then, an exchange and mutual penetration of many time layers; in this I would see one of the particular features of my way of working."
When practising the Sonata for Solo Cello I became very aware of this particular feature, this exchange and interpenetration of many time layers. Thus for example in the first movement, Rappresentazione, a section to be played "prestissimo possibile", is composed in three different time-layers, distinguished from each other by different tonal colours: while the upper voice, played on the bridge, produces a continuous ritar-dando, the middle one is the most striking, because of its very large range and numbers of notes played pizzicato, and then the lowest, played on the nut of the bow, sounds like a scarcely perceptible accelerando (see musical example).
This complex section comprises only one line in the score, but it kept me busy for weeks! The discrepancy between composer, interpreter and listener as a third time element is an additional feature here: let us assume that the composer wrote this line down in a relatively short time, the interpreter later makes an effort to bring past, present and future together to a single (intersection) point in a kind of Zen exercise, while finally the audience hears just a few seconds of music. In literary terms this passage could perhaps best be described in a sentence from James Joyce's Ulysses:"Bloom: I wanted then to have now concluded. Nightdress was never. Hence this. But tomorrow is a new day will be. Past was is today. What now is will then tomorrow as now was be past yester."
Pluralistic thinking in Zimmermann's spirit complies with the programmatic idea of this whole CD. It describes the arc from the Bach cello suite via the Solo Violin Sonata composed in 1951 to the solo sonatas for viola and cello.
The Violin Sonata, Zimmermann's first solo work, is a 12-tone"Hommage a Bach" - not only because of the B-A-C-H motif that appears transposed in the last movement (Toccata) but much more through arpeggios and repeated notes on open strings which, swirled around by multi-voiced figurations, are quite intentionally reminiscent of J. S. Bach's E major partita. Even in this early solo work Zimmermann is talking of "meditating improvisational material" but also about "rhapsodic" elements and about"strict commitment" which in my opinion applies just as well to the Bach cello suite in D minor, thus linking these two compositions, stylistically so very different.
The D minor is the only one of the six cello suites to contain a "thematic" prelude, which is structured more melodiously than all the rest and offers space for a little cadenza at the end of the movement. The character of this whole suite is determined by a kind of melancholy cheerfulness - a mixture of feelings that can be heard to an equal extent in Zimmermann's music, as through-out his life he called himself a "very Rhenish mixture of monk and Dionysus".
- Thomas Demenga (translation: Michael Robinson)