Udo Follert's Article on Draeseke's Music for 'Cello
cello sonata repertoire of the nineteenth century is quite
limited. Although Elizabeth Cowling mentions 224 cello sonatas
written during that period, only a handful are still played,
and very few are available in modern editions .
The only sonatas cellists frequently play are two by Mendelssohn,
one by Chopin, two by Brahms, one by Grieg, and one by Strauss.
Sonatas occasionally played are two by Saint-Saëns and
two by Fauré. Cellists are therefore lucky to live in
a time when the oeuvre of the late nineteenth-century composer
Felix Draeseke has been rediscovered. Among his most brilliant
compositions are the works for cello and piano.
Draeseke (b. Coburg 1835; d. Dresden 1913) studied in Leipzig
and Weimar. One of his teachers was Franz Liszt. From 1862
to 1876 he taught in Lausanne, Switzerland, and during that
time he wrote two shorter pieces for cello. In 1884 he went
back to Dresden where he taught at the conservatory.
In this period he wrote his Cello Sonata in D Major (1890).
and admirers of Felix Draeseke founded the Internationale Draeseke
Gesellschaft of Germany in 1986 and its American branch in
1993. These organizations have helped in resurrecting the many
compositions by Draeseke, and they have played an active part
in financing performances, recordings, and publications of
his works. An impressive list of works has been reprinted.
Besides the large works-including requiems, masses, oratorios,
and his Fourth Symphony-publishers have issued much of the
chamber repertoire including two string quartets, the String
Quintet Op. 77, the Clarinet Sonata Op. 38, the viola alta
sonatas, and sonatas for piano. In the last year alone recordings
have been released of the Clarinet Sonata and its violin version,
the Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, the First and Third Symphonies,
and the Funeral March in E minor.
the two sonatas for viola and piano discussed in an August
1998 AST article, the cello compositions have been published
by Wollenweber and recently recorded .
They include the magisterial Sonata for Cello in D Major, Op.
51 (1890) and two shorter cello pieces, the Ballade in B Minor,
Op. 7 (1866) and the Barcarole in A Minor, Op. 11 (1872).
having written successfully in the style of his admired teachers
and friends Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, Draeseke made an
unprecedented move. He endeavored to blend their Romantic style
of writing with the seemingly incompatible Classical idiom
of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. As a result, Liszt, Wagner,
and their followers looked on him as a traitor. For the followers
of Schumann, on the other hand, his music and harmonic language
seemed much too progressive. The Cello Sonata Op. 51 exemplifies
his success in blending the two styles and in creating a new
and independent musical language that evokes feelings that
are at once stirring and elusive. Draeseke is not just a highly
competent craftsman. He is also more successful than most Romantic
composers in striking the right balance between the particular
tone qualities and amplitudes of cello and piano when they
are played together. Even his two early works, the Ballade
and the Barcarole, turned out as masterly duos. In the densest
piano textures there is no danger the cello will not be heard.
Both piano and cello writing are effective and idiomatic, often
difficult, but always to brilliant effect .
dedicated both the Ballade (1866) and Barcarole (1872) to the
cellist Friedrich Gruetzmacher. Technically less demanding
than the Sonata, they are perhaps on a level with the Brahms
Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38. Both are expressive pieces, requiring
a wide range of vibrato and bow colors. They will give students
greater variety of repertoire, which now will no longer be
limited to the Schumann and Fauré pieces commonly taught.
Sonata Op. 51 (1890), dedicated to Julius Klengel, was first
performed by Friedrich Gruetzmacher. Both Klengel and Gruetzmacher
were the foremost cello virtuosos of their day. The level of
difficulty of the sonata compares best with Brahms's sonata
in F Major, Op. 99, as well as the Strauss Sonata in F Major.
Draeseke's Sonata is highly lyrical. It lies well on the cello,
but has exposed high register in many places. There are three
movements: Allegro moderato; Largo molto espressivo; and Allegro
vivace con fuoco.
first movement is reminiscent of the Brahms F Major Sonata's
last movement. The very melodic cello writing is largely on
the top two strings. The movement is in traditional sonata
form. It begins with a slow melody in the cello over a carpet
of piano triplets. When the piano takes over this theme the
cello continues to play in imitation with it; see Example 1:
This theme is in a stable D major. A transitional section with
many different keys follows. The second theme in measure 34 is
capricious with dotted rhythms and does not stay in any one key
for very long. (See Example 2.) Measure 59 introduces a third
coda theme, also with dotted rhythms, but much more lyrical again.
The three themes have different characters but are closely related
in their melodic material.
ease with harmonic changes comes from his exposure to the Liszt-Wagner
style of the late-romantic harmonic system, providing a special
tonal language that cellists don't encounter in any other repertoire.
The music is characterized by sudden changes in harmony, often
to extreme keys, yet at other times the writing remains stable,
lingering in a particular key area.
development section of the first movement has an extraordinary
variety of key changes. The music sometimes seems to dissolve
into far away tonal centers. Shortly before the recapitulation,
E-flat major is established, a half-step higher than the main
key of D major that the listener expects at this point. Draeseke
resolves this dilemma in a very simple way in measures 161-163,
by changing the E-flat major into the Neapolitan sixth chord
of the main key. He thus creates a magical reemergence of the
beginning material. After a shortened recapitulation the movement
ends quietly and simply.
second movement is in ABA form. The dramatic first part also
makes use of the lower register of the cello. (See Example
3.) It is in F-sharp minor and alternates with a flowing lyrical
second theme area in C major. The B section is monothematic
in D major and uses extreme dynamic tensions. It is a grazioso
in 9/8 and much faster than the A section. At the climax the
cello plays in a very high register, supported by the piano
in the way vocal parts are often written and reminiscent of
the Strauss Sonata in F Major. (See Example 4.) The A section
returns with a continual heightening of dramatic contrasts.
last movement is a whirling rondo with many themes. It starts
with an introduction, working up to the complete theme statement
in measure 13 that is in unison between the instruments, with
octaves in the piano part; see Example 5:
short theme comes back in almost every possible key throughout
the movement. The movement is extremely difficult for the pianist
because of the many octave passages. It is highly rhythmical
like the last movement of the Strauss Sonata. The C-sharp minor
second theme is expressive and slow, exposed technically and
poignantly lyrical in the high cello register. There is a surprise
in the end-an impasse in which the first theme has spiraled
to an abrupt end. Then, as from afar, the melody from the middle
section of the second movement returns (m. 406), a piano espressivo
which disappears into pianissimo. The movement finishes with
an exuberant merry section.
the twentieth-century repertoire cellists have the Debussy
Sonata and the Elgar Concerto, which fall under the influence
of the Liszt-Wagner harmonic system. The Draeseke Sonata is
the only work written before the twentieth century that is
not in the Classical style, but composed with the new harmonic
freedom inspired by Wagner.
1. Elizabeth Cowling, The Cello (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1975), 139.
2. Alan Krueck's program notes to the CD recording.
(See note 3.)
3. Draeseke's Sonata Op. 51 has been published
by Verlag Walter Wollenweber, München-Gräfelfing, Germany.
All three works have been recorded by Barbara Thiem, cello, Wolfgang
Müller-Steinbach, piano: AK
Coburg. International Draeseke Society/N.America, P.O. Box
104, Sand Lake, NY 12153 USA.
4. This paragraph in particular and the article
in general are indebted to Wolfgang Müller-Steinbach, "Felix
Draeseke: An Important Late-Romantic Composer," forthcoming
in the Newsletter of the International Draeseke Society North
America, which is published online at www.Draeseke.org.
examples used by permission of the International Draeseke Society.
article originally appeared in American String Teacher (February
2002, pp 92-5). This web adaptation appears by permission of
the American String Teachers Association with National School
Orchestra Association, copyright 2002. For more information
about joining ASTA with NSOA, go to www.astaweb.com.
Thiem is a performer who also teaches cello and chamber
music at Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming.
and raised in Germany, Barbara Thiem came to the United States
for graduate studies in music at Indiana University where she
studied with Janos Starker and received her Master of Music
in cello performance and the coveted Performer's Certificate.
In Germany, Ms. Thiem studied with Siegfried Palm (Cologne),
a specialist in 20th century cello music.
Thiem has held teaching positions at Iowa State University,
the University of Texas at Dallas, and several universities
in Colorado. At present she is also artist-in-residence at
Colorado State University. She makes her home in Fort Collins,
Colorado, and spends the summers with her family in Austria.
is an active performer as a soloist with orchestras and in
solo and chamber music recitals and has been a member of the
Dallas Piano Trio and the Mendelssohn Trio. Her concerts and
recordings have taken her all over Europe, the U.S., and Canada.
She has produced CD's of Bach's solo suites, cello and bass
duos with Gary Karr, works by the 19th century composer Felix
Draeseke with Wolfgang Müller-Steinbach, and cello and
organ music with Robert Cavarra. her publications include the
translation of Gerhard Mantel's Cello Technique, as well as
several articles in the field of music and medicine.
the summer of 2001, Ms. Thiem was the co-director of the summer
string festival at Musikakademie auf Schloss Ort, where she
organized concert activities, taught and performed in chamber
P.O. Box 3037
Laramie, WY 82071-3037