Cello masterpieces: Concertos II

Many of the cello concertos composed in the 19th century that are still popular today were written by composers who were not, themselves, cellists. The image of the cello playing rolling melodies against a massive orchestra may have had its origins in the concertos of the romanticists.

Tchaikovsky wrote this piece for Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a friend from his student days and a cellist. Although Tchaikovsky received some advice from Fitzenhagen in composing the piece, the cellist later modified it without Tchaikovsky's permission, and it is this modified version that is generally played today. In this variation the poetic sentiment of the cello and masterful performances unfold, under a main theme that is based on the rococo style that was popular in the middle of the 18th century. Recent performances have followed Tchaikovsky's original version, allowing the audience to gain an appreciation for how the music was originally composed.

This is perhaps the most famous cello concerto. Dvorak began writing this concerto after speaking with a friend from his time at Prague Conservatory, Hanus Wihan, who was a cellist. However, the piece was not finished until 1895 when Dvorak was in New York. The piece was first performed in London the following year, but the cello solo was played by Leo Stern. Touching on such sources as folk music from his native Bohemia and black spiritual music, the entire concerto unreservedly expresses the beautiful melodies characteristic of Dvorak.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), sketch by Hugo Boettinger

Antonin Dvorak