Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38, 1st movement
In this session, Professor Marc Coppey and his student Emmanuelle Schneider explore how symbiosis between the piano and cello can be achieved in this sonata, as was intended by composer Johannes Brahms. It is the first piece he composed for cello. Marc Coppey helps his student understand the importance of the subtle lengthening of notes and possessing flexibility in one’s bow grip, while avoiding to play at the heel of the bow.
To help her improve her technique, the professor explains that in this composition, the musician must articulate and not separate the notes, and that a tempo must be found from the beginning. Expressiveness is especially important in this piece, and Marc Coppey explains to his student that she must take the time to “sing” when playing the architecture of Brahms’ sonata.
Keep your bow and wrist flexible.
Find the right tempo from the start.
Avoid dryness by accompanying the notes longer.
Anticipate the changes.
Emphasize the musical high and low points in the piece.
Brahms composed his first cello sonata between 1862-65, though it was not published until 1866, after it had undergone several revisions, including the omission of its slow movement. Brahms was insistent that the piano should be equal in voice to the cello, causing the cellist at the initial reading to protest that he could not hear his own cello line over Brahms’ piano playing. The piece is also an homage to J.S. Bach, drawing thematic inspiration from Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
The Allegro non troppo is an extensive first movement in sonata form, with frequent shifts in dynamics and intensity. The piano and cello weave together a passionate dialogue; each instrument sometimes acts as the melody, and other times as the harmony or bass. The second movement, Allegretto quasi Menuetto, is subdued in dynamic and gracious character, often using staccato, in contrast to the lyrical trio section. The final movement, Allegro, consists of fugal material within a sonata form. The energetic and expressive music leads to an exhilarating 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 Marc Coppey’s feedback and comments.
In 1988 won the two highest prizes of the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition: the first prize and the special prize for best Bach performance.
Marc Coppey is a critically acclaimed musician and is considered to be one of today’s leading cellists worldwide. Originally from Strasbourg, France, Coppey began his musical training at the Strasbourg Conservatory before attending the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris and the University of Indiana Bloomington. In 1988 at only 18-years-old, Coppey won first prize and special prize for best Bach performance at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig, Germany. Since then, Marc Coppey has regularly performed as a soloist with leading orchestras in collaboration with numerous distinguished conductors. Such conductors include but are not limited to: Eliahu Inbal, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Yan-Pascal Tortelier, Emmanuel Krivine, Alan Gilbert, and many more. He appears regularly in some of the most prestigious concert halls across Europe, North and South America, and Asia. In addition to his solo concert career, Marc Coppey is a professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris and leads masterclasses all over the world. What’s more, Marc Coppey lends his expertise in the arts and is the Artistic Director of the Musicales de Colmar chamber music festival as well as the Musical Director of the Zagrebacki solisti (Zagreb Soloists). In 2014, he was named the Officer des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture.
Born in Hamburg, Germany on May 7, 1833, Johannes Brahms was the son of musician Johann Jakob Brahms. Johannes Brahms began his musical education learning the piano, cello, and horn. From the age of 7-years-old, he studied the piano under Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel.
Composer, pianist, and conductor, Brahms began his career at the end of the classical tradition (approx. 1730-1820) and established himself as a central figure in classical music’s Romantic era. His first concert tour took place in 1853 where he built a deep camaraderie with fellow musician, Robert Schumann.
His first major work presented to the public was Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra in D minor, which was performed by himself in Leipzig in 1859. In 1863, he moved to Vienna, where he was appointed conductor of Singakademie (Singing academy), which he would leave only a year later.
By 1868, Brahms achieved fame throughout Europe for the premiere of his renowned work German Requiem. Other notable works by Brahms include but are not limited to: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15, Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24, Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, op. 38 Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68, Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 78 Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98, and Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, op. 99 Quintet with Clarinet in B minor, Op. 115. Brahms has been lauded for his deep understanding of formal construction and his rendering of melodic richness, harmonic complexity, and his mastery to achieve a myriad of moods and atmosphere.
Johannes Brahms passed away on April 3,1897, in Vienna.
Photo credit: Fritz Luckhardt