Viola Sonata No.3, Op.1 - František Kocžwara
Composer: František Kocžwara (1750-1791)
Kocžwara (also transliterated as Franz Kotzwara) was a Czech violist, born in Prague. He was based in England after around the 1770s. I found some conflicting information about what year he was born. Some sources have 1730, 1740, or 1750.
For most of the composers for this project, I can't really find anything all that memorable about their lives. This... was not the case for Kocžwara. In my initial search, one of the first things I saw was "Kocžwara is most noted for the manner of his death."
The short story is that he was one of the first recorded instances of death by auto-erotic asphyxiation. Beyond this scandalous story, there really isn't much about Kocžwara on the internet, and very little about his music. The only piece of his you can kind of find is his "Battle of Prague."
Original Instrumentation: Viola, cello
Why this one:
One of my goals in this project is to do pieces with as many instrumentation combinations as possible. I was looking for viola pieces and stumbled on Kocžwara. Then I read about his death, and thought "Well, I have to do this now." While 230 years after the event, the whole thing is kind of funny, the idea that his career and life's work has been basically completely subsumed by it is kind of sad.
I found his Opus 1 series of 3 viola sonatas with cello accompaniment and originally started working on Sonata 1. I half heartedly worked on it for a little while, but there were some really really difficult passages in movement 1 and a really nasty double stop section in movement 3. My mandola is harder to play than the mandolin, and I didn't want to bash my head against the wall for months only to still not be able to quite play it.
So after abandoning ship on the whole opus for a while I shifted my attention to Sonata 3 of the same collection which looked easier. (Though I discovered when recording movement 1, it was still really difficult. I'll never know whether I'd have been better off sticking with Sonata 1.)
Movement 1 - Moderato
Time: 4/4 BPM=93
The Moderato movement is the longest of the three. It kicks off in the home key of C with the viola doing double stops before shifting into single note melodic lines with a good amount of rhythmic variations. The harmony at the beginning is relatively simple, being mostly the I and V chords (C and G) with a lone IV (F) right after the double stops and some ii (D minor) chords sprinkled in. To my ear, it seems that it modulates to G major during the viola triplet runs (at about 0:58) and stays there for quite a long time, even past the section change at around 2:20 when more double stops come in. Those triplet runs are set against straight eighth notes in the cello, giving it kind of an odd feel.
Right after that second burst of double stops, the harmony switches firmly to minor from about 2:46 to 3:13; the character shift is really apparent. After that the movement starts shifting back to the home key of C for the return of the opening passage.
After the recapitulation of the opening there is a rather dramatic and almost jarring harmony shift (about 4:06) where the underlying chords are a repeating F minor - C. F minor is non diatonic with the key of C (meaning the notes of the chord aren't all natural to that key). And it's kind of weird because it's the parallel minor chord of F major which is a really strong, recognizably "correct" chord for that key. So the choice of not only a non-diatonic minor chord, but one that is *almost* a widely used one for the key really makes it stand out. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but the passage is really brief before the movement goes back to C and concludes.
No surprisingly given the "Viola Sonata" title of this, but the viola is doing all off the melodic leg work here. The cello part is pretty basic and is mostly droning eight notes and quarters sketching out the chord harmony.
The viola part for this movement made for a very, very difficult session. I knew the part really well but at the end of the day (and it was at the end of the day) I had an off-night and played poorly. It was a three hour session and I fully intended to record all three movements of the viola, but I barely got through the first one. I knew I was in for a rough session after my first take which was....bad. I probably should have done another take before we started punching in trouble spots but I was feeling so off that I didn't have much faith that my second pass would be any better.
There's about five really difficult sections in the Moderato and, weirdly, those weren't really the parts I struggled with. I suppose it's because I focused most of my practice time on those parts. There are three nasty double-stop sections, including one at the very beginning, but they went fairly quickly. The single hardest part (1:58-2:20) I actually played really well.
But that part was one of the only things that went well. It did get mentally easier once I just accepted that I was going to spend the whole session on this one movement. I was feeling pretty deflated after the session, but I'm mostly happy with the end product.
The cello part was very easy. I pretty much one-taked it and had minimal punch-ins. That was pretty par for the course for the cello part in this entire piece. I did all 3 movements in the same session and it only took about 45 minutes to do all 3 (including setup time).
As written both halves of this piece repeat but I opted to ignore this.
The original score I was working from was kind of a wreck in the cello. There were mistakes all over it. There were measures missing accidentals, which I found when I was comparing the viola part to the cello accompaniment and noticed that the harmony as written would have been really dissonant in a way completely at odds with the rest of the piece.
More egregious was the discovery that the cello part and the viola part were not the same length. The first half of the movement was one measure too long, and the second half was one measure too short. So I had some decisions to make. There's a lot of droning measures in the cello so I figured the most likely scenario was the copyist accidentally repeated a drone measure in the first half and accidentally dropped one in the second. Looking at the viola part (which as the melody, I assumed was right) I found the melodic boundaries and where the natural shifts would be in the cello and made my best guess.
At first I wasn't sure I knew how to read the notation for the odd Fm-C section at the end.
I'd never seen this notation before. Originally I assumed it meant to hold the top two notes for the duration of the measure and just move the bass note while the top rings out, but that fell apart for the C major measures because the instrument just doesn't allow that the way it's written. It just physically can't be played.
I poked around on the internet for a while and couldn't find anything about it, so I decided it probably meant this:
Which is how I played it and it doesn't sound obviously wrong.
Movement 2: Adagio
Key : C
Time: 4/4 BPM=60
The Adagio movement is a short (just shy of 2 minutes) slow movement with a viola theme based on a dotted eight - sixteenth note swinging rhythmic pattern. The cello part in this movement has a little more rhythmic character than in the Moderato movement, occasionally using the swing rhythm the viola is built around. the theme comes a segment where the viola plays double stops while the cello takes over the melody with a fairly simple arpeggiated section. Then the theme comes returns to close out the movement.
This movement was the most harmonically simple of the piece, pretty much sticking to the I and V chords, (C and G).
This was the easiest viola part in the piece and I didn't have any trouble. No issues with the cello either.
Movement 3: Allegro
Key : C
Time: 4/4 BPM=115
This fast movement starts with a long burst of triplets in the viola up and down the range of the instrument, played mostly against droning eighths in the cello. Harmonically this part is really simple, hanging on the C with two very brief ii-V-Is. (ii-V-I chord changes are really common in Jazz). After a two measure respite, it goes back to triplets with double stop stabs over a G pedal. The key has firmly modulated to G here.
The second half of the movement starts with some motion in the cello beneath the viola playing a melodic line with some longer notes and a little space. The viola swoops down and then back up the neck and then plays a passage of offbeat double stops.
Another set of triplets follow but the harmony laid out by the cello has modulated again. I'm not quite sure where the key center is but there's definitely some A major chords which aren't diatonic to either the home key of C or the key of G where I think we'd been in until this point. I'm not quite sure what the proper analysis of this part is, but for a movement that has been pretty harmonically unadventurous I think it's a nice subtle texture change.
The viola picks up speed with some fast runs on the top string before shifting into more double stops over of pedaled G, this time in eighth notes. It shifts back to C pretty firmly right at the end with a kind of stately send-off.
The last measure is kind of interesting as the top melody line for the viola ends on a hanging G, which really "wants" to resolve back down to the home C, but doesn't. It gives it almost a sort of unresolved feel, like it stopped in the middle of a
The viola part on this movement was pretty difficult, but I was really prepared and had a good playing day. I had a short session scheduled and managed to get through both movement 2 and movement 3 with some mixing time to spare.
Cello was not a problem on this one.
Like movement 1, as written both halves of this piece repeat but I opted out of doing this.