Cello Sonata, Op. 18, 1st movement
In this masterclass, Helmerson teaches Eline Hensels the essential essences of what makes Hungarian music and how folk music inhabits each movement of this piece. Moreover, the pair discuss the existence of a rhythmical language, an almost invisible pulse of perfect rhythm that drives the music forward.
Other elements covered include tempo, fingering, and more.
Bringing out the folk music in each movement.
Allowing the rhythm drive the music.
Catching the string immediately.
Hungarian composer Kodály composed his Sonata in B minor for solo cello in 1915, though it did not receive a premiere until 1918 due to World War I. Though initially avoided due to its difficulty, it has become one of the most important works for unaccompanied cello. The piece draws influence from Bartok, Debussy, and Hungarian folk music, and while it incorporates unusual harmonies, it has fairly straightforward forms. It also calls for scordatura, which requires the lower two strings to be tuned down one semitone, creating a different timbre and new possibilities for note combinations.
The first movement, Allegro maestoso ma appassionato, is in a sonata form. The piece opens with quadruple stops, which continue to demarcate the different sections of the movement. The first theme incorporates accentuation typical of Hungarian music; the contrasting second theme is more cantabile. The development decorates the opening theme with trills and other ornamentation, while the recapitulation mainly revisits the gentler second theme. The second movement, Adagio con gran espressione, strives to imitate the human voice. The cello can accompany its own bowed, melodic material with pizzicato and leads toward an expressive middle point. The final movement, Allegro molto vivace, evokes the sounds of several different folk instruments and poses great technical challenges to the performer. Its unique rhythmic, harmonic, and spirit captivates audiences.
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.
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) was a Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, and educator. Growing up in the Hungarian countryside, he demonstrated musical talent from childhood and was frequently exposed to folk songs sung by his peers. He played several instruments, sang in the school choir, and even composed. In 1902, he began studying composition and music education at the Academy of Music in Budapest. While working on the thesis for his PhD, he began traveling around Hungary recording folk songs on phonograph cylinders. It was during this endeavor that he became acquainted with composer Béla Bartók, who shared his interest in Hungarian folk music. The two worked together for years, collecting and publishing anthologies of folk songs and supporting each other’s musical endeavors.
Kodály eventually joined the faculty at the Academy of Music, first teaching theory, then composition, and eventually becoming the Music Director. However, his compositional career did not take off until 1923, when his work Psalmus hungaricus was performed at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the joining of the cities Buda and Pest. Soon after, other compositions, such as his opera Háry Janos and the famous Dances of Galánta, catapulted him onto the international stage. His compositions blended together romantic, impressionist, and modernist techniques with qualities of Hungarian folk music.
Kodály was also passionate about musical education and sought to reform the way music was taught to young students in Hungary. He advocated for group learning, the use of hand signs, and connecting music education with the students’ heritage and background. The principles he developed for music education became the basis for what is now referred to as the “Kodály method.” He also published several books and other scholarly writing on the subject. The composer died in 1967, having made an indelible mark on Hungarian classical music and music education.