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Russian cello sonatas -
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Russian Cello Sonatas. © 2003 AMC Paris

Towards the end of 1859 Borodin left St Petersburg for Heidelberg at the age of twenty-six. He was to continue his research as a chemist in a university town that could boast such names as Bunsen (of the 'burner', which I played with to my peril as a boy), Helmholtz and Kirchhoff, concerned at the time with spectrum analysis. Their lectures were too elementary for him, but he learnt much from their method of delivery and from their experiments. His rooms had a view of the Neckar and the mountains beyond. In May 1860 he wrote to his mother of his contentment: 'I work a lot and do it because I like it; I enjoy myself in fact. Besides this, three times a week or even more, I play piano duets and cello duets with a certain Mme Stutzmann, a Russian lady permanently resident in Heidelberg. She is a good player.' This was the inspiration for the cello sonata. Borodin himself was a good cellist, and clearly his neighbour was a good violinist. Through the wall he was continually listening to the Bach G minor unaccompanied violin sonata. Its fugue was adapted by Borodin for the start of the cello sonata [listen -- track 1, 0:02-1:00]. This theme, which Borodin has managed to Russianise, dominates much of the work. Entirely characteristic of Borodin is the second subject, of a type familiar from the later Second Symphony and Prince Igor [listen -- track 1, 1:23-2:32]. Only an incomplete manuscript of the sonata survives; indeed a third of the work as performed was completed by Michael Goldstein for publication in 1982.

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Copyright © 13 August 2003 Robert Anderson, London UK


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