Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

We call it a “Cello Sonata,” but the official name Johannes Brahms gave this piece, completed in 1865, is “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello.” To stress further the equality between the two instruments, Brahms specified that the piano “should be a partner—often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner—but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role.”

The E minor Sonata is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, an Austrian music professor and amateur cellist. When, during a private performance for friends, Gänsbacher complained that he couldn’t hear his cello because Brahms was playing so loudly on the piano, the composer growled, “Lucky for you, too.”

The spirit of J.S. Bach hovers around this Sonata. The subject of the three-voice fugue which opens the final movement quotes Contrapunctus 13 from Bach’s The Art of Fugue BWV 1080. The expansive opening theme of the first movement contains echos of the Fourth Contrapunctus from the same set. The second movement (Allegretto quasi Menuetto and Trio) is filled with the graceful elegance of baroque dance. In the trio section, the piano ghosts the cello’s melodic line, creating a glassy, ethereal new voice.

While paying homage to the past, this music ultimately transcends its influences and delivers a bold, powerful and unique new drama. We hear all of the fire, passion, lament, and nostalgia of Brahms. Listen to the conversation between voices, and the way the music develops in “searching” and gradually evolving motivic cells. In the final movement, listen to the way Brahms moves beyond Bach’s initial fugue subject into soaring new territory.

This 1968 recording features Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim:

Recordings

  • Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim Amazon

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim”

  1. Your article reminded me of the tragic story of Jacqueline du Pré, the gifted cellist who was struck by the devastating MS at the height of her career. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Jacqueline was misformed by the film “Hilary and Jackie” until I read the biography written by her sister Hilary and brother Piers.

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