Sonata for Cello and Piano in g minor, Op. 19
February 8, 2015 – David Finckel, cello; Wu Han, piano
In the wake of the successful completion of his Second Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov spent the summer of 1901 on the family’s country estate Ivanovka in the Tambov region, several days’ travel to the south of Moscow. To judge by his letters, it was only after he returned to Moscow in late September that he began to work on the sonata, the performance of which was already planned. The Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 19, was composed in the fall and early winter of 1901 for the cellist Anatoly Brandukov. Towards the end of the last movement, Rachmaninov wrote the date “November 20th”. At the very end he wrote “December 12th”, showing that he revised the ending immediately after the first performance. The work debuted in Moscow, on December 2nd 1901, by Anatoly Brandukov, with the composer at the piano.
By mid-November he was crying off social engagements, complaining that “my work’s going badly, and there’s not much time left. I’m depressed…” On November 30th however he sent a message to the composer Taneyev inviting him to a rehearsal at 11.30 that morning. By the following January 15th he was hard at work on the final proofs of the piece: ‘I’ve found almost no mistakes’.
In later years Rachmaninov remembered his cello sonata as one of a series of pieces through which, with the help of Dr. Nikolai Dahl, after a long period of depression and inability to create, he was born again as a composer: ‘I felt that Dr. Dahl’s treatment had strengthened my nervous system to a miraculous degree… The joy of creating lasted the next two years, and I wrote a number of large and small pieces including the Sonata for Cello…’
© Gerard McBurney