Masterclass: Johannes Moser on Brahms E minor Cello Sonata no.1 op.38

Standing cello ∏ sarah wijzenbeek

The German-Canandia cellist takes a look at structure, character and speed, and explains why it is so important to honour the composer’s bowings, in the first and second movements of the E minor Sonata

This sonata is filled with amazing artistry from the start: the opening melody, set on the lowest string, is dark and sinister, with a sense of disquiet. It is one of my favourite pieces and I frequently teach it to my students in Cologne. However, many cellists do not pay enough attention to what is actually written on the page. There is nothing wrong with falling in love with a certain way of interpreting the music, but I think we need to remind ourselves what is subjective and what was the composer’s actual intention. Looking carefully at what Brahms wrote, rather than listening to recordings to guide our interpretations, leads us to see details that are often overlooked.

Working with the piano

Brahms said of this sonata that the pianist is by no means an accompanist, but an equal partner. The relationship between the parts is conversational throughout – even combative at times. If you don’t know the piece well, the shifting down-beats can give you a weightless feeling that makes you fall over. Playing from the piano score is a great way to learn the music…

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