Sunday, November 03, 2013


I'm playing a concert in two weeks. You will, no doubt, notice that between the pictures of two composers of works on the program (i.e., Paul Juon and York Bowen), people not known to most of the non-viola-playing world, there is a mystery composer.

I found this group of sonatas by this "mystery" composer in the "Anonymous" section of the IMSLP. It was "discovered" by the violinist Ferdinand David and transcribed for viola by Friedrich Hermann, who was the principal violist of Mendelssohn's orchestra. It exudes the spirit of Leipzig in the second half of the 19th century, a time when musicians were discovering (and devouring) the music of J.S. Bach after its hundred years of relative obscurity.

The burning question I have while I am practicing is whether to incorporate baroque conventions into the 19th-century phrasing (i.e. changing the articuation). This brings up the larger question of authenticity and a composer's intentions (even if s/he didn't attach a name to the work). For the record, I think it's a "he," and I believe his name is Ferdinand David, the first editor of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, and the dedicatee of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. David probably knew very little about 17th- and 18th-century instruments and bows. He also knew little, if anything, about the harpsichord, but he was still a pioneer in the field of baroque music. He was also an excellent composer.

This piece for "un-figured bass" is great fun to play. Playing it makes me thumb my nose at claims of authenticity, and it reminds me that the real mandate that this piece of music (or any piece of music) has is to work towards an interpretation that is true to its spirit.

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