Karl Davidov – Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, op 18 (1868)
(b. Kuldīga, Courland, 15. March 1838 – d.. Moscow, 26. February 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, though he later stated that it was Schmidt to whom he owed all of his ability. 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 not 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. Many accounts of this time can be found in the violinist Leopold Auer’s (with whom Davidov played string quartets) memoires. 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 50 (just short of 51)
Famously called the “Czar of Cellists” by Tschaikovsky, Davidov was a formidable cellist, the foremost soloist of his time. Contemporary accounts describe his playing as “especially distinguished for its perfect accuracy, as well as by a clever and easy mastery of the greatest difficulties.”
He wrote his concertos 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. These high demands somewhat upset a subset of listeners who argued that the technical brilliance got in the way of the music. This is in fact, not the case. The forms and orchestrations are carefully thought out to bring clear and beautiful musical ideas across, and while the cello passages are hard to play they are that way to convey a specific mood.
His third cello concerto is in D-major and is three movements, the first of which, Allegro moderato, is in typical sonata form, and has a much more introspective mood than any of his other concertos. It begins with a truncated introduction in the form of a horn fanfare, and the beginnings of the melody in the celli before the solo cello takes over. This is done twice with a modulation in between. There is more interaction between the soloist and the orchestra in the concerto than in his other concertos, and the counterpoint between the solo cello and various wind sections is nicely written. The development sees the cello playing ever more complex variations. The lengthy cadenza is virtuosic and shows the all-encompassing range of the cello, with deep double-stops and full-range scales and arpeggios.
The length of the first movement is about 15 minutes – which is slightly more than the combined length of the second and third movements. The second movement, an Andante in a slow dance-like 6/4 is in B-flat major and is full of dialogue and counterpoint between the cello and orchestra with the cello never losing the leading role and song-like quality. Even in the middle section when the accompaniment becomes more urgent (piu moto) and the harmonies become denser, the climax swiftly melts back into the lyric calm of the beginning.
The third movement, Allegro vivace, in 2/4 and back to triumphant D-major is marked by a moto perpetuo exchanged between the orchestra and the solo cello with running sixteenths in a very modified rondo form. There is a break from the sixteenths three times: once for a moment of F-major song without words in the cello with a simple accompaniment, after which the orchestra sings the melody and the cello begins the sixteenths again as a lively accompaniment. Twice more, in E-major and then in D-major. The movement ends with a little quote from the first movement culminating in a last return of the vivace sixteenths with an piu moto to the end.
Irma Servatius, 2022
For performance material please contact Kistner & Siegel, Brühl.
Read full German preface > HERE