What We're Listening To: Brahms Cello Sonata in E Minor
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a German composer and virtuosic pianist from the mid- late romantic era. He is considered one of the most influential composers in history alongside Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Being such a great pianist Brahms usually premiered his own works along side with other leading performers such as pianist Clara Schumann (1819-1896) and violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907).
The cello sonata in e minor op38 was originally titled “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello” then later changed to “Cello Sonata in E Minor”. Throughout the piece the piano often has the melody over the cello. Brahms believed that neither the piano nor the cello would accompany at any point. Both voiced held equal importance throughout the piece.
The piece was composed in the summer of 1862, it was originally to be four movements but the third movement “Adagio” was deleted before its completion. The piece was finished in 1865; it took Brahms three years to finish this work. He was known to be a perfectionist often he would destroy or leave a piece un-finished. For example it took Brahms 21 years to finish his first symphony. He started to sketch it out in 1855 and finished it in 1876.
This piece is a homage to J.S. Bach, musicologist say that the main theme of the first movement and the theme of the third movement are based on contrapunctus 4 and 13 of The Art of Fugue is a culmination of Bach's experimentation with monothematic instrumental works.
Brahms performed the sonata in 1865 and the work was made famous by Robert Hausmann (1852-1909) who was the cellist of “The Joachim Quartet” who also premiered Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch.