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Saint-Saëns: Music for Violin and Piano. © 1999 Hyperion Records Ltd

The 'arpeggione' is one of those hybrid instruments that never caught on. It was more usually known as a bowed guitar, guitar-cello or guitar d'amour, and only Schubert gave it the name we know it by. It was described in the leading Leipzig music journal as resembling an oboe in its upper register and a corno di bassetto lower down. Invented in 1823, it was frequently played by Vincenz Schuster, who commissioned the Schubert sonata in 1824, gave its first performance that year and went on to publish a primer for study of the six-stringed, fretted instrument with illustrative print. Ten years later its brief career was virtually at an end.

Brahms Cello Sonatas - Schubert Arpeggione Sonata. © 2004 EMI Records Ltd

Natalie Clein claims to have used a lighter bow for Schubert than Brahms. The result in a relaxed version is much sensitive music-making and a happy balance between piano and arpeggione [listen -- 5 86146 2 track 5, 4:21-5:36]. Brahms presents a very different situation. Both sonatas have formidable problems of interpretation. The first was dedicated to an amateur cellist and growls on lower strings much of the time. The final fugue is the main obstacle. Brahms seems bent on a noisy coda to the Art of Fugue, while rivalling Beethoven in a clattering display of outlandish counterpoint.

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Copyright © 23 February 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK


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