Cello Concerto No. 2 in A minor Op. 14
Karl Davidov – Cello Concerto No. 2 in A minor, op 14 (1863)
(b. Kuldīga, Courland, 15. März 1838 – d. Moscow, 26. Februar 1889)
Karl Yulievich Davidov was born March 15 1838 in Goldingen in what was then the Duchy of Courland, in present-day Latvia, moving to Moscow 2 years later. His father was a medical doctor and a violinist. His mother ran a boarding school for women. Davidov studied mathematics (his brother, August Davidov became a notable mathematician) and cello at the Moscow conservatory. first teacher was Heinrich Schmidt, the principle cellist in the Moscow Theater, then Carl Schuberth in St. Petersburg where he continued his musical studies. The amount of talent he possessed must have been formidable. Many sources state that he began studying at age 12. His first orchestral debut was at 14, which implicates an incredibly quick assent into virtuosity, and yet his friends tell that he did not want a life of constant practicing, and would rather compose. He went to Leipzig to complete his studies, where he studied composition with Moritz Hauptmann, and took over Friedrich Grützmacher’s post as teacher of the Leipzig conservatory when he was only 22. He did retain the post very long, however, as he began to tour Europe as a soloist to great acclaim. Davidov was well-connected with the great composers and performers of his time, including Rubenstein, Sarasate, Wieniawsky, Von Bülow, etc, and also with nobility, being a frequent guest and performer at the imperial court. He and his wife (Alexandra Davydova née Gorozhanskaya, married in 1865) turned their private house into a central gathering point for international professional musician friends for performances of chamber music. He went on to be the head of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, although this post ended in scandal after he was thought to be in a relationship with a young student. He owned a Stradivarius cello which now goes by the name “Davidoff”. During the last two years of his life he completed work on the first part of his “Cello School”, considered the basis of the modern Russian Cello School. He is known for the theoretical advancement called the “Davidov hinge” which is used to play across the lower strings in the thumb position. His death from heart disease was sudden and unexpected on February 14, 1889, aged 51.
Most famously called the “Czar of Cellists” by Tschaikovsky, Davidov was a formidable cellist, the foremost soloist of his time. He wrote his concerto with virtuosic demands on the instrumentalist. These technical complexities, however, are idiomatically suited to the cello, meaning that all the complex passages are playable, and carefully organized to suit the instrument perfectly. In 1868, on tour of Europe, playing his second cello concerto, a very flowery reviewer described the event thus: The fact that Davidoff had such a powerful effect on the entire audience after the dazzling fireworks of their trills and fioritures is due to his really great artistry, which gave the cello … an explosive effect almost like Joachim’s violin. This brilliant richness of tone, this warmth and nobility of the performance with technically perfect execution, they held the listeners captive as if under a spell, they drew tears into many eyes and could hardly leave a heart unmoved: it was like the breath of a mild moonlit summer night blowing through the hall, and when the tones had died away and the modest artist had left, one thought one had to rouse oneself from dreaming for the enthusiastic applause. (Signale, Volume 26, 1868, page 376)
Karl Davidov’s Cello Concerto No 2 in A minor was written in 1863, after Davidov had moved back to Russia (which he did in 1862). It is in three clearly delineated movements (as opposed to his first concerto where the movements were to be played without break) in the style of classical European concerti. His compositional style does not, like his contemporary Russian colleagues, veer into nationalism. Instead he employs a kind of “Romantic Classicism” favored by his colleagues from his time in Leipzig, and seems chiefly influenced by the structure of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto and harmonically by Schumann. A performance typically lasts between 25 and 30 minutes.
The main theme of the first movement, Allegro, is introduced in a chorale for winds, and directly answered by the second theme by the violins. The theme is then stated briefly and simply by the soloist, and is then taken over in complex triplet passages. The cadenza is a virtuosic display of melody played over running sixteenths, and double stops. Triplet runs and sweeping sixteenth note arpeggios lead the cellist back to the orchestra for the recapitulation. There is a quick più mosso coda with a showy upward arpeggiated scale to the highest registers of the instrument and an orchestral a minor finish.
The Andante of the second movement is in F-major and in a slow 3. The most typically romantic of the movements, the orchestra is in an entirely accompanying role to the lyric cello line, first with underlying harmony in eighth notes, and at the end in triplets. Only for a few measures in the middle does the cello break from melodic singing to showy double-stops.
Finally, the last movement, Allegro con brio, in dance-like 6/8 in A-major after an unusually written chromatic progression in the orchestral introduction. The “fireworks” mentioned in the contemporary review cited above are clearly found here with long moto-perpetuo passages and complex arpeggios. As in the first movement, Davidov closes with a più mosso coda passage, for a dramatic finish to an incredibly showy piece.
Irma Servatius, 2022
For performance material please contact Kistner & Siegel, Brühl.
Deutsches Vorwort lesen > HERE