Printer-friendly version

Mendelssohn, Muttering and Mutter.

April 7, 2009 at 10:58 PM


I love the way life continues to confirm I was born under a lucky star.  My good friend, the composer Daniel Forro, told me a while back that he wanted to learn the violin repertoire (as an accompanist) so I have had the rare opportunity of playing about ten sonatas a month with a top class player and extraordinary musician.   For some reason I had only ever played the first three accompanied sonatas of Bach - I think it may have been financial since two books are expensive.  Since we had become so enamored of the first three I splashed out on the second set in the new Manze edition.  This has got to be some of the most powerful music ever!  Jusr playing one of these sonatas one time is an enormous drain on emotional and mental resources. but we always do all the repeats and then play through a second time!  It’s a great learning experience for me because Daniel is a composer. So every time we stop he points out stuff to me that is fascinating.  For example he played me some passages in the Aeolian mode out of context while muttering `It` s pure Debussy.  Listen Buri, he’s writing Debussy. ` or `My God, he’s written parallel octaves here I would have corrected in one of my students but they are brilliant.  This man is wild.` or `Unbelievable, he follows a Neapolitan 6th chord with a tonic. Unbelievable. Mein Gott. Unbelievable. ` 
He mutters a lot....
    I am becoming much more sensitive to Bach’s avant garde use of harmony so sometimes I start giggling in the middle of some really esoteric stuff.  The works themselves really do follow a progression into some murky areas, Don`t be mislead  by the easy beauty of the first three!!!!
Then we got onto Mendelssohn.   The first sonata is a Haydnesque effort that is clearly part of a learning process.  It’s actually fairly charming.   And there`s Daniel in the background muttering `Men Gott, Mein Gott, he was eleven when he wrote this.  Mein Gott. Some mistakes, some things he doesn’t know but....Mein Gott .  Mein Gott.` 
Actually I really recommend this work to teachers. Its technically very accessible in the sort of post Corelli early Mozart level but, there are actually a number of very original ideas that make it really fun to play.  It’s not a shallow work by any means.  For general facility while learning a charming work it is very valuable.  More so than the first concerto I think....
Then we got onto the second sonata.  Now this is where it gets interesting because I have the new urtext edition of this and have been studying ASM`s recording (DVD) quite carefully.   First off I would say it is a truly outstanding performance.   Then I would note that she has very thoughtfully omitted a few superfluous notes, especially at phrase ending where Mendelssohn was doubling the piano and didn’t realize that they were very unviolinstic and unnecessary.  Many of these are actually in some of the annotations and revisions discussed in the urtext, of which there are many. Some of them are not. Then she has corrected some things that are not corrected in any of the extant copies which is deserving of great kudos.
However, just stop for a moment and imagine you are having a weird vilin nerd dream featuring  the Beethoven Spring Sonata.  The piano comes in in the first bar with the violin playing the undulating accompaniment.  Later the roles reverse and the violin takes the melody etc. The content is the same but two huge sections have actually been reversed.  You would be a tad gob-smacked nest pas?   Well, as far as I can tell, ASM has actually done this a few times in this sonata as well as making some other cuts and adding some syncopated figures that I cannot find any record of.  It takes some getting used to but is it wrong?
Considering that the composer had to work really hard with David to get a finished product of sorts what’s the difference?  Another great violinist posthumously helping Mendelssohn.. Naughty, but nice! 
  I’m not going to speculate that her ex- husband Mr. Previn, who just happens to be playing the piano and is a brilliant composer and conductor in his own right might have had something to do with it.  A sneak attack question for Laurie’s next interview with her maybe?
Anyway, the sonata is not that hard technically.  The piano part too sounds fiendish but is very pianistic and Daniel actually ate it up on the first run through.  He was wildly excited afterwards (Mein Gott, Mein Gott) and explained that he had gone through a conceptual shift while playing the work.  He had previously felt that the really intense efforts to integrate romanticism and classicism belonged to Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak etc but that in this work it had already been done.  Much earlier than he had previously argued.   We both also experience another kind of change in that the work draws on the kind of power associated with Sturm und Dreng to a huge extent.  More so perhaps than the violin concerto.   We both came away from the experience feeling that Mendelssohn was a much more heavyweight composer than previous experience with the piano works and the odd symphony had suggested.  I suspect ASM also feels this as her interpretation of the concerto errs towards the meaty rather than delicate side which is , as far as I can see, somewhat in vogue these days.
What’s next? Daniel keeps muttering `Enescu, Enescu.`
Probably my turn with the` Mein Gotts.`



From Drew Lecher
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 3:21 AM

Brilliant as always Buri. I have the Barenreiter Bach Accompanied Sonatas. Is the Manze an improvement?

What edition of Mendelssohn for the sonatas. I am finally re-editing the concerto for the 4th or 5th time, and last time?—never, it is too great and grand a work. 


From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 4:10 AM

You always manage to make me laugh, Buri.

From Margaret Lee
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 4:49 AM

Just a month ago I had the privilege of hearing Nadia Salerno-Sonneberg play one of the accompanied Bach sonatas with her accompanist Anne-marie McDermott. (Had my name drawn by the local classical radio music station to attend this "live intimate concert" in the radio station studio.) She waited until after playing it to ask the audience who the composer was--nobody wanted to guess wrong, so she had to tell us it was Bach and his much lesser played accompanied sonatas for violin. I got excited after that b/c I recalled seeing the sheet music for those sonatas at home (my husband's collection). Went home and found that it was for just 3 of the sonatas, and didn't look like the one she played that night was one of them. (She played a hauntingly beautiful slow movement and then a very fast movement.) Anyway, just thought it was interesting to hear about these Bach sonatas.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 12:58 PM

Buri - as usual, a very thoughtful post.  I have always adored the Bach accompanied sonatas and enjoyed very much playing them with an elderly cousin who was a professional pianist while she was still alive.  She was 92 the last time we played them together and still going strong (died the next year).  I have a marvelous recording of Oistrakh doing them; it is unbelievably beautiful. 

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 3:45 PM

Look on youtube for some video of these played by Menuhin and Gould.  Even burned out as I am, I love those tapes.  Some great moments in them. 


From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Frankly, I couldn't get past, "my good pianist friend wanted to learn the violin rep and so now I'm spending my time playing all the sonatas under the sun with him..." I was too green to read on...;)

Good friends, if some pianist among you needs to learn the violin rep but Buri's already occupied, you know where to find me...

I had much fun many years ago, when my best friend was a pianist and we were doing rather the same thing. We did all the Brahms sonatas together, she did the Franck (PIANO/violin sonata) for the first time...what fun that was, to work with a pianist, instead of hiring someone for two rehearsals and a concert. What different perspectives we brought too each other, too.

From Allan Chu
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 8:28 PM

Buri you crack me up. thanks for a great post.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 10:01 PM


Jim,  you can`t be burned out yet. We`ve years of arguing to go.  I have seen the Menuhin clips on you tube.  They are too beautiful for words.  I have a 24inch mac screen on order and they are going to be running night and day.

Drew,   the new Bach editions by Manze are all Barenreiter(check out the double cocnerto,  too).  They are quite different from even their most modern predecessors.   Of course,  as a baroque player Manze eschews highe r positions.  But one thing I found straight away was how efficiently he utilizes the lower end of the instrument.  Very extensive use of second position.  .  You can really feel that he isn`t really working poitions in the `modern` sense but crawling musicalyl around the fingerboad.  I like his fingerings very much indeed.  They work just as well with a more contempoarary set up and approach.  Just one example-sonata no 3 ,  opening Adagio bar 3.  Both editions start in 4th but whereas the old edition stays there Manze immediately shifts down to first positon to keep the color and then goes into second position for the last four notes of the bar.   One aspect I didn`t like so much was that many of the trills are left on a fourth finger. I don`t know if its just his is really strong but I guess a lot of players will not want to do that all the time. Another interesting feature is that he is not afraid to use less clean fingerings when using half postion.  Quite happy to slide that first finger back and fourth.  Nothing wrong with it to my mind.

The bowing also reflects his back ground and although it is not obviously radical at first I think even the small changes he makes add up overall to a considerable improvement.   Not that I think the older Barenreiter was bad,  but it did tend to smooth things out,  typically starting with an up bow on long quiet note s for example.   Manze doesn`t do that.  He also uses up up a little more frequently.  But I also find he adds space to long melodic lines by sometimes separating or hooking notes that were legato before.  It does work better to my ear.  Of coutrse one has to pay even more attention to bow distribution,  Interestingly,  in the Presto of the last mov of the third sonata he actually smooths out the 8th notes by making extensive use of four note to a bow slurring instea d of the more usual breaking things up into more groups of two and two. Then when he gets to around bar forty and the very long 8th note passages he drops all the Barenreiter slurs (which were quite tasteful and well thought out) and just does straight separates.   I have foundThis creates a very nice contrast with the smoother opening .   That does seem to be a little bit part of Manze`s approach- he doesn`t hesitate to use bach`s original bowings even when quite complex but  in longer 8th note passages he does avoid adding extra slurring just for the sake of it.  Its very refreshing. 

As a bonus there is also a basso continuo part for a friendly and knowledgeable cellist to join in with. The only caveat I have is that it seems to be on cheaper (?) cream colored paper than the earlier version and it is defintiley harder to read.  That is not a small issue in some of the later very complex fugues. Especially if you are getting old!

The Mendelssohn sonatas are also from Barenreiter.   I don`t like the editing much at all but ther e is a clean urtext as well and it is very nicely produced.  Probably very expensive. I just close my eyes and hand over a credit cvard.



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 8, 2009 at 11:18 PM



From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 9, 2009 at 3:32 AM

My favorite movement from these is from the E maj. one, I think, and it might be the first mvmt, I think.  You'll recognize it because the main theme is distinctively like a children's song.  But it also sounds like a theme Bach might cook up himself, for the second part use the first part some interval lower with a little twist, and so on.  I'd like to know more about that theme, like if anybody in Germany recognizes it as say part of German Teddy Bear's Picnic.


From Drew Lecher
Posted on April 9, 2009 at 7:54 PM

Buri—thanks for the info.

In bar 3, I shift immediately to 1st pos with B4 and also go to 2nd for last 4 16ths;-)

Last mvt — Presto? Mine is Allegro in 1960 edition. It also has the continuo and additionally has the Urtext violin part full size with the keyboard part—great to work from. Is the Presto within the movement?

I can see why Manze does more legato toward the end as it lends a wonderful variety.

Have a Blessed Easter/Passover—Drew 

From Bill Walderman
Posted on April 9, 2009 at 8:39 PM

If you want to hear some outrageous Bach harmony, listen to the f minor sinfonia.  It's just for keyboard--no violin part. 

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 9, 2009 at 11:08 PM

This one.  Bach's most interesting theme.

P.S. Listen to the harmony beginning around 0:38 where the theme comes back in the piano.  Like standing on one foot in the door of an airplane.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 10, 2009 at 3:53 AM


><In bar 3, I shift immediately to 1st pos with B4 and also go to 2nd for last 4 16ths;-)

Aha! The defintive proof that no Manze is an island.



This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine