The violin and the cello are among the most employed and most beloved instruments in the Western classical tradition. Belonging in the same family, that of the bowed string instruments, they have a similar timbre; the combination of their ranges covers almost the full gamut of the sounds employed in classical music, and is comparable to that of the piano.
The violin and the cello are found together in a variety of chamber music ensembles: with the piano, in the piano trio; with another violin and a viola in the string quartet; with the viola and piano in the piano quartet, or with the viola in the string trio, and so on. In spite of this, the duo made of one violin and one cello is found relatively seldom in the classical repertoire. Probably, the best known and most important work conceived for these two protagonists prior to the twentieth century is the magnificent Double Concerto by Johannes Brahms. In that extraordinary masterpiece, however, two elements should be noted: firstly, it has been argued that Brahms’ writing suggests the idea of a “bowed piano”, since the overall concept is clearly inspired by piano textures. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the interaction with the orchestra provides variety and harmonic filling. In fact, even though the advanced performing techniques of both instruments normally include the possibility of producing chords, the first vocation of both instruments is directed towards the production of singing melodies. Chords are obviously possible, but cannot be employed with the same frequency found, for example, in a piano piece. This represents a challenge for the composer, since the risk of a thin texture might compromise the expressive result and variety of the work.
Interestingly, however, the elements which could have discouraged most Classical and Romantic composers were precisely those which fascinated several musicians of the twentieth century. The relative paucity of original works conceived for this duo encouraged creative experiments; this duo was almost an unexplored territory in which the most daring solutions of avant-garde musicians could be attempted. The comparative unsuitability of this ensemble for harmonic progressions fostered the experimentation with non-tonal, non-harmonic and – briefly – nonconventional languages. The monodic vocation of the two instruments promoted contrapuntal thinking and polyphonic structures, corresponding to the rediscovery of early music which frequently accompanied the most innovative modernist patterns. Finally, the possibility of experimenting with new timbral solutions and new means of production of the sound perfectly suited the composers of the twentieth century and their voracious quest for new sonorities and effects.
Virtually all of these elements can be found in all of the pieces recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album, notwithstanding the marked diversity of the four composers’ styles. Moreover, the diverse provenances of at least three of them (since both Schulhoff and Martinů came from what would later become Czechoslovakia) are somehow unified by the city of Paris, which played a crucial role in the musical and personal itineraries of them all.
To be sure, in the period preceding World War II, Paris could be rightfully defined as the most refined, open-minded, creative and fascinating European city, and possibly as the cultural capital of the Western world. An impressive number of the greatest musicians of the time either lived there, or studied in the ville lumière for some time; this multiplied the occasions for encounter, exchange and the profitable sharing of musical and non-musical experiences.
Interestingly, moreover, even though there are recognizable “French” traits in the musical idiom of several francophone composers of the early twentieth century, Paris did not flatten the variety of musical languages, nor did it impose its own personality on the musicians who studied or lived there. Indeed, many who could not afford transoceanic journeys could absorb the language of “new” American music (such as the freshly crafted jazz idiom) in the music-halls of the French capital.
In 1913, young Erwin Schulhoff could be found in the French capital, where he was studying with Claude Debussy. Schulhoff was a Jewish Czech from Prague, and had absorbed art and music since his earliest childhood. A child prodigy, who was intensely fascinated by the piano, Schulhoff was introduced to Antonin Dvořák who immediately realized the boy’s potential, and supported his precocious admission to the Prague Conservatoire. Later, Schulhoff studied in Vienna and in Germany (Dresden and Leipzig), where he learnt the secrets of classical counterpoint under the guidance of Max Reger. Debussy’s courses doubtlessly influenced the young musician’s style, even though the rebellious and iconoclastic tendencies Schulhoff was already displaying could hardly coincide with the orientation of Debussy’s late style.
Indeed, Schulhoff’s own style, which was ripening in those years, is difficult to describe; its originality and undeniable value can be found precisely in Schulhoff’s capability to impart consistency and cohesion to the most varied and heterogeneous musical materials. Fascinated by the musicians of the Second Vienna School, Schulhoff adopted an almost Dadaist approach to music, oscillating between seemingly irreconcilable styles.
His Duo for Violin and Cello was written in 1925 and offers an impressive overview of the potential of both the violin and cello duo, and of the composer’s own creative power. We find here an extreme dynamic range, encompassing the most delicate pianissimo and the most powerful fortissimo; a variety of techniques of sound production is also employed, with infinite timbral shades which turn a relatively homogeneous ensemble into almost a whole orchestra. Another trait of Schulhoff’s Duo which we will also find in other works recorded here is the attempt to create a kind of cyclicity through the use of recurring themes (here this role is played most notably by the opening motto). The first movement’s use of pentatonic modes is a successful effort to thwart the traditional rules of harmony and tonality; however, a more immediate musical style provides some respite in the brilliant and rather savage Zingaresca, followed by a dreamy, elegiac and elegant third movement. The fourth movement closes the circle with its quotations from the first movement, and with the increase in expressive tension which pervades the piece.
In the year when Schulhoff was completing his Duo, Bohuslav Martinů was finishing his two years as a student of another great musician, Albert Roussel – in Paris, of course. Just as Schulhoff, also Martinů had studied at the Conservatory of Prague, but would find a wealth of musical stimuli in the French capital, where he would befriend Arthur Honegger and the other musicians of the “Group of the Six”. Whilst Schulhoff, as a child, had been drawn to the family piano, Martinů had begun his musical education as a violinist; his talent for composition emerged progressively, and was stimulated by the lively atmosphere of Paris.
Martinů’s Duo was written within the brief space of just four days in the summer of 1958. Here, the composer’s melodic vein is given free rein; the musical idioms of the Czech folklore surface frequently, more as reminiscences than as actual quotes. The experimental traits of Martinů’s style are less provocative than those of his fellow countryman Schulhoff; however, the comparison of their two works for this ensemble aptly reveals both similarities and differences in the treatment of the string ensemble.
Martinů’s friend Honegger, as stated before, was one of the founding members of the Group of the Six, but cannot be considered as a typical representative of their aesthetics. For one thing, Honegger is generally more “serious” than most of the other members; for another, his attempts towards a renewal of the musical language are more directly inspired by the pre-Classical tradition, and in particular by Johann Sebastian Bach. The influence of Bach is evident in the Sonatine for Violin and Cello, where the contrapuntal language is thoroughly employed and deployed. Also from the formal viewpoint, the Swiss composer’s work adheres to the traditional scheme of the Sonata movements, and each movement, in turn, reveals symmetric aspects and regular patterns, whilst pervading them with rhapsodic outbursts. Honegger achieves a remarkable variety in the musical language employed here, ranging from the utmost tenderness of the lullaby-like passages in the second movement to the acrobatic feats of the virtuoso passages.
Finally, this album includes the best-known work in the literature for violin and cello duet, i.e. the magnificent Sonata by Maurice Ravel. Its first movement had been published in 1920 on a special issue of the Revue musicale dedicated to honouring the memory of the recently deceased Claude Debussy. Ravel himself pointed out the spoliation to which he was subjecting the musical language, taking advantage from the transparent texture of the string duo in order to experiment with a new, modern and essential language. Counterpoint is the work’s driving power, and Ravel’s innovative use of the dissonances and of harmony (which disconcerted and displeased the contemporaneous audiences) is impressively evident in this absolute masterpiece.
Together, these four works portray the creative energy released by the string duo, and how it inspired four among the greatest composers of the century. Their works, recorded here, are not only masterly accomplishments in their own right, but also constitute extraordinary linguistic “workshops” in which the new idioms of the twentieth century were being crafted.
Liner Notes © Chiara Bertoglio
Fabiola Gaudio has always been interested in musical dialogues hence her deep involvement in chamber music where her natural talent and awareness are expressed to the full.
She's graduated summa cum laude under the guidance of P. Pellegrino from S. Cecilia Conservatory in Rome,where she then also obtained her Master’s Degree in Violin Performance. She attained her Diploma in Chamber Music at the Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia in the class of R. Filippini.
She is currently furthering her studies with S. Waterbury and G. Apap in their annual courses at the“Festival Adriatico di Musica da Camera”and with M. Quarta and M. Marin in Riva del Garda and Cava dei Tirreni.
She has participated in various masterclasses in Italy and abroad with violinists such as S. Pagliani, F. Cusano, B. Antonioni, G. Monch, C. Parazzoli, M. Fiorentini, Ars Trio, Trio di Parma and S. Girshenko.
She has attended solo violin masterclasses at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Portogruaro with I. Rabaglia and at the Accademia Internazionale di Roma “Sergio Fiorentino” with P. Pellegrino.
She performed in the “Uto Ughi per Roma” festival as soloist and concertmaster.
She is the winner of numerous prizes at national and international competitions,some of which include:absolute first prize at “Luigi Rossi”, first prize at “Città di Magliano Sabina” national competition, “Riviera Etrusca” prize in Piombino, first prize at “Anemos” international competition in Rome, and “Premio delle Arti” in Rome.
For Da Vinci Classics, she has recorded Satie’s Gnossiennes in the version for string quartet by G. Simonacci.
She regularly plays with orchestras such as “Roma Sinfonietta” and “Sinfonica Abruzzese” as principal second violin. She has collaborated with internationally renowned artists such as Y. David, E. Morricone, L. Bacalov, U. Ughi, D. Renzetti and L. Shambadal, giving performances in Italy, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, America, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Belgium.
She teaches at the pre-college violin courses in partnership with Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome.
Fabiola performs on a 1940 Rodolfo Fredi violin.
Marco Simonacci was born in Rome in a family of musicians and studied the violin at an early age with his maternal grandfather. At the age of nine, however, he became attracted to the timbre of the cello and subsequently became totally absorbed in the sound universe of this fascinating instrument.
He's graduated from Santa Cecilia Conservatory under the guidance of F.Strano, and attained his Master’s Degree in Solo Cello from the same institution. He then continued his studies with E. Dindo, E. Bronzi, R. Filippini, L. Piovano, G. Sollima, F. Ayo, Trio di Trieste and Trio di Parma.
He also earned Diplomas from Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Chamber Music and Solo Cello, and Accademia Internazionale di Duino.
He has been awarded first prize at various national and international competitions, such as “Città di Formia Chamber music competition”, Giulio Rospigliosi Chamber Music Competition and F. Mencherini Contemporary Music Competition.
He has collaborated with internationally renowned artists such as M. Rostropovich, E. Morricone, U. Ughi, V. Gergiev, A. Pappano, G. Neuhold, D. Harding, L. Bacalov, M. Baglini, S. Chiesa and D. Marianelli, playing for important European musical institutions such as Accademia Nazionale di “Santa Cecilia”, Istituzione Sinfonica Abruzzese, Fondazione Orchestra Regionale Toscana, Bellinzona contemporary music festival, Warsaw Autumn Festival, Music at Paxton Summer Festival of Chamber Music, International Electroacoustic Music Festival, Amici della Musica di Foligno, Accademia dei Cameristi di Bari, Università Cattolica di Roma and Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti (I.U.C.).
He has collaborated with Orchestra Nazionale di “Santa Cecilia” and worked as Principal Cello in Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese, Orchestra Regionale Toscana, Roma Tre Orchestra and Roma Sinfonietta.
For Brilliant Classics, he has recorded John Cages’s “Etudes Boreales” and “Sixteen Dances”; the complete cello works of Morton Feldman; and “I tre stadi dell’uomo” for cello solo by Giacinto Scelsi.
He has also recorded Satie’s Gnossiennes in the version for string quartet by G. Simonacci for Da Vinci Classics. These CDs have all been favorably reviewed by critics in Italy and abroad (Gazzetta di Parma, Suonare News, Musica, La Voz de los vientos, RSI, Fanfare, Opus Klassik, Scherzo, Los Angeles Times, La 43 News, Ticiningen Kulturen). Marco teaches cello at Scuola civica di Roma.
Bohuslav Martinů: Martinů was born in the small market town of Polička just on the Bohemian side of the Bohemian-Moravian border. Until 1902, when they moved to a house in the centre of the town, his family lived at the top of the church tower, where his father combined his cobbler’s trade with fire-watching and ringing bells for services. Martinů started school in 1897 followed by violin lessons twice a week. He developed fast as a violinist, leading the Polička string quartet and in 1905 giving his first performance as a soloist. Another successful recital the next year encouraged high hopes of a career as a virtuoso leading to the key event of his early life: the local community raised funds to send him to the Prague Conservatory, the entrance exam for which he passed in September 1906.
Erwin Schulhoff (b Prague, 8 June 1894; d Wülzburg,18 Aug 1942). Czech composer and pianist of German descent.
Maurice Ravel (b Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, 7 March 1875; d Paris, 28 Dec 1937). French composer. He was one of the most original and sophisticated musicians of the early 20th century. His instrumental writing – whether for solo piano, for ensemble or for orchestra – explored new possibilities, which he developed at the same time as (or even before) his great contemporary Debussy, and his fascination with the past and with the exotic resulted in music of a distinctively French sensibility and refinement.