The sonata is the only substantial composition for the arpeggione which was essentially a bowed guitar which remains extant today. The sonata was composed in November , about a month after he had returned to Vienna from his second stay in Zseliz. The piece was probably commissioned by Schubert's friend Vincenz Schuster , who was a virtuoso of the arpeggione, an instrument which had been invented only the previous year. By the time the sonata was published posthumously in , the enthusiasm for the novelty of the arpeggione had long since vanished, together with the instrument itself. Today, the piece is heard almost exclusively in transcriptions for cello and piano or viola and piano that were arranged after the posthumous publication, although versions that substitute other instruments—including double bass , flute , euphonium and clarinet for the arpeggione, or guitar or harp for the piano part—are also performed. Transcribers have attempted to address the problems posed by the smaller playing range of these alternative instruments, in comparison with the arpeggione, as well as the attendant modifications in articulation 4 versus 6 strings.
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The sonata is a satisfying piece for performer and audience. The best performances of the sonata make it sound effortlessly beautiful, a result that can only come about through long hours of practice.
Schubert wrote the sonata in and dedicated it to Vincenz Schuster, a virtuoso and champion of the arpeggione. The instrument seems to have been devised concurrently in by Viennese luthier Johann Georg Staufer or Stauffer and Hungarian luthier Peter Teufelsdorfer. A scant handful of the original instruments have survived, and can be seen in museums, including the music collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It did not appear in print until , and included a transcription for cello.
British viol maker Shem Mackey was commissioned to build an arpeggione by a viol player and shares some of his extensive research with me. By , however, his arpeggiones had taken on cello attributes, such as the body shape and f-holes the Met Museum arpeggione , from , is of this type.
Today the arpeggione is played by a very small number of people around the world. I ask Yates what advice he would give a modern player, based on his experience on the arpeggione. Tamestit takes it one step further. I teach my students that they have to use their brains! Composers, like doctors, have a reputation for illegible writing, and Schubert is no exception.
Is it a decrescendo? So does the accent fit in a phrase, does it work? Do you do crescendo until ff or until the middle of the phrase? The music gives us the answer. How much or how little vibrato to use is another issue for a performer. Kang uses little vibrato, adding expression with the bow instead.
The right hand can do so much with sound and color change. A modern player must diverge from the score at several points because of the tessitura of the original instrument. This comes into play particularly with multi-octave runs m.
The second movement is an Adagio in E major and it requires the long legato line be maintained. The Adagio is followed immediately by the Allegretto third movement. The arpeggios in the third movement would have a rolling barcarolle effect on the arpeggione and modern players must work harder to achieve this. Would the sonata be less awkward in a different key? For Kang, after having put the sonata to one side for many years, it was playing through the sonata recently with a sympathetic pianist—Paul Coker who had worked with Yehudi Menuhin—that made her return to it.
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