info@kingsplace.co.uk Tel 020 7520 1440

You Old Romantic

Feature

Alban Gerhardt

‘Romantic music is not erotic – seductive, yes, but not sexy. We might see a little bit of shoulder, a blushing cheek, but this isn’t about exposure’

The Romantic repertoire is perhaps the first that a cellist will encounter and in some ways it’s ‘home’. Composers like Schumann and Grieg understood the cello’s true nature is to sing. But what do we mean by Romantic? Too often people think it lies in the sound only. For me, the Romantic style is in the expression of feeling, the phrasing, the articulation, the timbre. Romantic is not erotic – seductive yes, but not sexy. We might see a little bit of shoulder, a blushing cheek, but this isn’t about exposure.

My dream was to become a singer: it didn’t work out. I grew up listening to my mother singing Romantic opera arias, the sort of arias that Beniamino Gigli and Maria Cebotari would sing on ‘opera highlights’ LPs. It was a formative experience: all the warmth and subtlety of those interpreters stayed with me; ‘romantic’ yes, in that there was a sadness, a fragility, a tenderness present.

The Romantic cello repertoire begins with Beethoven: he grasped both the lyric and dramatic power of the cello in dialogue with the piano. Just listen to that visionary opening of the A major Sonata, already it cries out for some body to the sound, for long-breathed lines. He wrote with such skill for each instrument there is never a struggle. His sonatas anticipate the world of Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Perhaps only in Chopin’s sonata does the piano threaten to overwhelm. Half a century later Rachmaninov wrote his huge sonata so brilliantly that the cello still shines, even though the piano part is practically a concerto.

Alban Gerhardt.

© Sim Canetty Clarke

Mendelssohn’s sonatas are more Classical than perhaps people realise, while Brahms’s sonatas, so clear and perfect, are perhaps more Romantic. What Brahms’s music needs is ‘schwelgen’. It’s almost untranslatable: to ‘revel in’, ‘to delight in’, a sense of rapture without indulgence, without luxuriating. But Schumann’s music goes beyond this. It’s so complex, it takes half a lifetime to grasp the subtlety of his spirit, the deep unhappiness, restlessness, elation mingled with pain.

It’s so important to resist the temptation to be too free with Romantic music: all the rubato, all the tempo changes, the rushes of emotion are written into its fragile tissue, and must be treated with care. Look at the Rococo Variations: Tchaikovsky wrote them in the true spirit of the galant, he was not simply play-acting. It opens with a theme of utmost elegance, and the waltz is a ballet waltz, not a largo, not a torrid drama! The delicacy of the Rococo is essential: this is not music to wallow in.

Fauré provides the bridge into Modernism. There he was in Paris, writing at the same time as Debussy, and his harmony is dissolving. When I first encountered his sonatas I felt I was entering a rather strange, elusive world, but I gradually fell deeper and deeper in love.

Recommended articles

Sound Voice Project: In Conversation

Feature

Ahead of our Sound Voice Project concert on Fri 27 May, Sound Voice artistic director/composer Hannah Conway and writer Hazel…

Read the article

How Much Of You Is In Your Voice?

Feature

Hannah Conway, composer and artistic director of Sound Voice, considers voice as an inextricable part of all our identities, and…

Read the article

Singing Together

Feature

As part of our year-long 2022 Voices Unwrapped programme, we’re welcoming community, amateur and children’s choirs into our public spaces.

Read the article

An introduction to Mark Simpson's Darkness Moves

Feature

On Sat 11 Dec, leading composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson performs a programme of clarinet and electronics/loops featuring world premieres,…

Read the article

An introduction to Philip Cashian’s Volvelles

Feature

On Sat 11 Dec, leading composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson performs a programme of clarinet and electronics/loops featuring world premieres,…

Read the article

An introduction to Zoë Martlew's 'Atma'

Feature

On Sat 11 Dec, leading composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson performs a programme of clarinet and electronics/loops featuring world premieres,…

Read the article

Rachel Podger - Lockdown Playlist

Feature

‘I love to listen to choral polyphony last thing at night, preferably with a candle burning’, says violinist Rachel Podger,…

Read the article

Harry Christophers - Lockdown Playlist

Feature

Harry Christophers, Artistic Director of our Associate, The Sixteen, shares his lock-down playlist: ‘Many of the tracks on my playlist…

Read the article

Nicholas Collon - Lockdown Playlist

Feature

Nicholas Collon, principal conductor of our resident Aurora Orchestra, shares his lock-down playlist: ‘If I haven’t instilled a love of…

Read the article

Brodsky Quartet: Rush-Hour Lates Series – Review of the Opening Concert

Reviews

Our young journalist, Hannah Dienes-Williams, reviews the opening concert in the Brodsky Quartet’s brand-new Rush-Hour Lates series which consists of…

Read the article