Cello Concerto, Op. 104, 1st movement
In this masterclass, Franz Helmerson accentuates the concept of "evoking" the emotions of a piece while manoeuvring the bow. In a piece with many similar repeating notes, such as the first movement of Dvořák's Cello Concerto, Helmerson instructs Miquel that the approach should never be identical; variation is vital. It is essential to understand the use of forte in the composer's writing for the same reason Dvořák did: to captivate.
In addition, when performing, the importance of finding the musical limit cannot be understated; otherwise, it is just a piece that is agreeable and bland. However, this piece is just the opposite of polite; it is avant-garde and filled with turbulent expression.
Sustain development of vibrato in dotted notes.
Playing an expressive vibrato.
Concentration of the bow.
Playing with variation.
Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor is ironically known as one of the greatest concertos written for the instrument, given that the composer did not believe the cello was a strong solo instrument. The piece was composed during Dvořák’s time in New York, though premiered in London in 1896, and is his last work for solo instrument and orchestra. The first movement, Allegro, begins with a quiet introduction of the first theme in the clarinets, which is then passed around, culminating in a majestic presentation by the full orchestra. The second theme is beautiful and expansive, first sung by the horn. The solo cello does not take over until several minutes into the piece. It begins with an improvisatory proclamation and cycles through the thematic material in different keys. The part is technically demanding, using double stops and octave jumps.
The second movement, a lyrical Adagio, ma non troppo, quotes one of Dvořák’s own songs, “Lasst mich allein,” a favorite of his previous love interest turned sister-in-law who had recently passed. The movement begins slowly, but grows in intensity, and trades melodic lines between the soloist and wind instruments. The last movement, Finale: Allegro moderato — Andante — Allegro vivo, is a lively, rhythmic rondo. The cello engages in a nostalgic slow section toward the end that recalls material from the earlier movements before a brief, explosive conclusion.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this cello masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Frans Helmerson’s feedback and comments.
In 1971 he won one of the most famous music prizes for cellists, the Cassado Competition in Florence.
Born in 1945 in Sweden, Frans Helmerson began playing the cello at the age of eight. After studying in Sweden, Rome, and London under the tutelage of Guido Vecchi, Giuseppe Selmi, William Pleeth, and later from Mstislav Rostropovich.
His solo career began in Stockholm, Sweden. Since the early days of his career, he has performed with some of the most esteemed orchestras across the five continents, performing with leading conductors of our time - Seiji Ozawa, Colin Davies, Neeme Järvi, Evgeni Svetlanov, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Herbert Blomstedt, Sergiu Comissiona, Rafal Frübeck de Burgos, and Kurt Sanderling.
His passion for chamber music has led him to numerous festivals, including the International Umeea-Korsholrn Festival in northern Sweden and Finland. He has performed in Verbier, Prades, Naantali, Kuhmo, and Ravinia. Presently, Helmerson works regularly as a conductor with Scandinavian orchestras.
As an educator, he teaches at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, where he is based, and at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid. He taught at the Villecroze Music Academy in 2012, 2014, and 2020.
Antonín Dvořák is perhaps the most internationally known Czech composer. Born near Prague, Czech Republic in 1841, Dvořák was raised by his father, who was a professional musician and his mother, who had Bohemian ancestry. This Bohemian heritage would influence many of his compositions later in life. As a teenager, he was sent to live with an uncle to learn German and wrote his first piece, a polka, in 1855. His musical education continued with organ, piano, violin, as well as music theory and composition lessons. His deeply religious family agreed to let him become a musician, but on the condition that we would become a professional organist. In 1857, he returned to Prague and was soon integrated into a professional orchestra. Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra’s director Jan Nepomuk Maýr hired Dvořák as a viola player. Working in such an environment provided young Dvořák with the advantageous opportunity to watch many concerts without having to pay for tickets. In 1862, he composed his first string quartet. He also played in Wagner-directed concerts, which would set off a lifelong admiration for the famous composer.
While working for the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra, Antonín Dvořák fell in love with his colleague Josefína Čermáková, who never returned his affection. Dvořák later married Josefina’s sister Anna and had nine children with her. In 1871, he left the Provisional Theater to focus on composing. He proposed his first opera, The King and the Charcoal Burner, to his former employer at the Provisional Theater, but his work was rejected for being too difficult to stage. A philharmonic version was performed in 1872. In 1875, he wrote his second string quartet and in 1877, he won the Austrian State Prize with his Moravian Duets. The years of the 1880s were marked by strong anti-Czech sentiments in Vienna, and Dvořák was not spared. His Stabat Mater was particularly targeted by what the composer felt was “destructive criticism”. He left with his family and traveled to Russia and Britain, where his work was well appreciated. He then accepted a job as composition professor at the Prague Conservatory for a while, before moving to the US for three years, from 1892 to 1895, under contract at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Unfortunately, the music school underwent great financial difficulties, and in 1895, Dvořák and his family left the US permanently, returning to Europe. He went back to teaching in Prague and focused on chamber music and opera composition. In 1904, his health took a downturn, and he fell ill, dying a few months later in May of that same year. His most well-known pieces range from chamber music and Slavonic Dances to the majestic New World Symphony, as well as solo concertos for violin, cello, and piano.