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The innovative new cello trio, VC3, performed a program of masterpieces by Bach and Brahms in arrangements for three cellos alongside original works by Penderecki, Zumsteeg and Tombelle. You’ve never really heard the intricate detail of a Bach Gamba Sonata if you haven’t heard it arranged for three cellos. Look for future concerts by VC3.

Program from our December 4, 2015 concert:

J.S. Bach Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027 (arr. La Rue)
Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg Terzetto in A Major (1785) (arr. VC3)
Paul Desenne Pizziquitiplas (1989)  
Johannes Brahms Four Canons, Op. 113 (arr. La Rue)
Krzysztof Penderecki Serenata per tre violoncelli (2007)  
Fernand de la Tombelle Suite for Three Cellos (1921)  


Notes on the Program

Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg (1760-1802)

Terzetto in A Major (1785)

Andantino--Allegro--Presto--Tempo primo

Virtually unknown to present-day audiences, Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg was famous throughout Europe in his lifetime and for a generation afterwards as the composer of seven volumes of ballads and lieder. Amongst his most fervent admirers was the teenage Franz Schubert. Schubert’s friend, Joseph von Spaun, recalled: “He had several of Zumsteeg’s songs in front of him and said that they moved him profoundly…. that he could revel in these songs for days on end.”

Zumsteeg first attracted attention as a virtuoso on the cello. According to a contemporary: “Zumsteeg possessed fire, deep emotional power, and wit…. His playing was marked by profound emotion [and] a rare degree of precision…. he applied a singular expression which, emanating from the soul, always succeeded in piercing the heart’s core…. and set him apart as an individual musical poet.” His surviving compositions featuring the cello include three concertos, a sonata, duos for cello and flute, and this terzetto, which is a light-hearted piece in four brief movements, played without pause.

Paul Desenne (b. 1959)

Pizziquitiplas (1989)

Venezuelan-born cellist and composer Paul Desenne was trained in France and has been a recipient of fellowships from Harvard University and the Guggenheim Foundation. Pizziquitiplas, like much of his music, combines renaissance and baroque compositional techniques with elements of Latin American ethnic and popular music. The quitiplas of the title is a Venezuelan folk instrument consisting of a pair of hollow bamboo tubes which are sounded variously by striking them on the ground or another hard surface, by striking them together, and by slapping them with the hands, to create both pitch and rhythm. The composer suggests and imitates this instrument on cellos by means of ordinary and left-hand pizzicato -- as well as slapping the fingerboard -- thus: “pizzi-quitiplas”.

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027 (arr. La Rue)

Allegro, ma non tanto
Allegro moderato

Of the three sonatas for viola da gamba and cembalo by J. S. Bach that have survived (there is evidence from notes made on manuscript copies of his pupils to suggest he may have written as many as six), the G Major is generally thought to be the earliest. It is itself a transcription by Bach of his own trio sonata for two flutes and continuo, thought to date from his years in Weimar. (A third version by Bach, for organ, also exists.) Where, when and for whom the gamba version was created have all been the subject of study and speculation by historians. It may date from as early as 1718, a possible presentation gift for Bach’s new employer, the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, who was an enthusiastic amateur gambist and had just turned twenty-three when Bach’s appointment in Cöthen became official. Or it may have been for Christian Ferdinand Abel, the principal gambist in Bach’s orchestra at Cöthen. Or, twenty years later, to fill out a set of works for Carl Friedrich Abel, Christian Ferdinand’s son, who followed Bach to Leipzig as a student and, in his maturity, was acknowledged as the greatest virtuoso of the viola da gamba in Europe (as well as, possibly, the last). There are good reasons to believe in each of the possibilities but no conclusive proof for any of them.

BWV 1027 is a trio sonata in strict, three-part counterpoint throughout. Bach employs the sonata da chiesa scheme established and perfected by Arcangelo Corelli: four movements, slow-fast, slow-fast. The contrapuntal texture translates ideally into this arrangement for three cellos, which reveals and highlights the dense complexity of Bach’s writing while simultaneously allowing for a sustained lyricism all but impossible on the harpsichord and elusive even on the modern piano.

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)

Serenata per tre violoncelli (2007)

The evocative music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki has been heard in many well-known films, from The Exorcist and The Shining to Wild at Heart and Children of Men. He made his early reputation as a member of the avant-garde, heavily influenced by the works of Anton Webern and Pierre Boulez, announcing in 1962: “All that interests me is liberating sound beyond any tradition.” But already by the 1970s he had concluded that “novelty, experimentation and formal speculation are more destructive than constructive.” More recently he has said that he was “saved… by a return to tradition.” The Serenata per tre violoncelli is a recent work that reflects this re-evaluation of traditional form and tonality. (Suggestions of Webern are still audible, but so also of Mahler.) It is dedicated to his wife, Elzbieta.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Four Canons from Op. 113 (arr. La Rue)

II. “Grausams erweiset sich Amor am mir”
IV. “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf”
VII. “Wann die Klänge nah’n und flieh’n”
XII. “Wenn die Kummer hätte zu tödten macht”

Brahms wrote canons for female voices, a capella, over a period of more than thirty years beginning in the late 1850s. In 1891 he collected, revised and published them as his Op. 113. The majority -- nine of thirteen -- are for four parts, but the second, fourth, seventh, and twelfth are for three. It is these three-part canons that are presented here, as a set, transcribed for three cellos.

Except for No. 4 (“Sleep, little child, sleep”) -- a gentle lullaby in the form of a children’s round, based on a folk melody -- sorrowful and somewhat dark moods predominate in settings of texts by Goethe, Eichendorff, and Rückert: No. 2 "Amor has proved very cruel to me"; No. 7 "When the sounds of pleasure have echoed wildly and gone, the heart, alone, sighs for deeper songs"; No. 12 "If sorrow had the power to kill, it must have killed this heart by now".

Fernand de la Tombelle (1854-1928)

Suite for Three Cellos (1921)

Scherzando presto

Antoine Louis Joseph Gueyrand Fernand Fouant de la Tombelle, 3rd Baron de la Tombelle, began his musical studies with his mother, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt. In what became one of the most notorious criminal cases of its time in France, his father, the 2nd Baron, was brutally murdered by his valet, who then burned the family’s chateau to the ground.

In addition to his long and active career as composer, conductor, and organist, Fernand de la Tombelle became a sculptor of distinction, a published poet, and was commended by the French Academy of Sciences for his contributions to the study of astronomy. Today he is chiefly remembered as a composer for the organ. Although he survived Debussy by a decade and lived long enough to know mature works of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, his own music remained rooted in the mainstream 19th century French tradition exemplified by his mentor and friend, Camille Saint-Saëns.

Program Notes © Robert La Rue, 2015