The German cellist looks at the importance of connection, colour and line in the work’s third movement
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In December 1887, one year after Franck wrote this Violin Sonata as a wedding gift for Eugène Ysaÿe, it was played in a concert at the Société nationale de musique in Paris. By chance, cellist Jules Desart was performing at that same event, as part of a string quartet. When he heard Franck’s music, he was so fascinated by it that he asked for permission to transcribe it for cello. The composer agreed, and the resulting arrangement was published in 1888.
I grew up listening to two cello recordings of the Sonata: one with Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim, the other with my later ‘cello dad’, Steven Isserlis, and Pascal Devoyon. To me it had always been a cello piece – I only discovered that there was a violin version much later! I began to study it when I was 17 or 18 and I loved it instantly, with all its demands of playing in the upper register. So often, teachers tell young students that going above fourth position should only be done very carefully, as though the upper registers are too difficult to master. For me, that made this piece seem even more exciting to study: it was something challenging and dangerous to explore.
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