Sonata Scordatura for Two Violins - Emanuele Barbella

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Composer: Josephus Fodor

 

Date: Circa 1781 (from a nearly obliterated handwritten note on the cover of the score)

 

Movements:    

  1. Allegro

  2. Minuet and Trio

Fodor's Quartet No 1 was written right in what is considered the Classical Period.  It consists of two movements, an Allegro and a Minuet and Trio.  I couldn't find much on the internet about Fodor other than that he was a Dutch violin virtuoso who eventually worked in the court of St. Petersburg  in 1792 and that he came from a musical family.  I could not find recordings of any of his work.

 

Why this one:

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Of the pieces I found with no extant recordings I decided to do this one first for one practical reason and one more whimsical reason.   The whimsical reason is that a good friend of mine is a J. Fodor and I thought it would be kind of amusing as dedication of sorts.  The practical reason is that it looked like I could probably play it.  There were definitely parts I had to drill the crap out of before I could play them respectably, and parts that were above my skill ceiling when I started this project but looked achievable with some work.   And importantly, the cello and viola part (with one exception) didn't look too hard which was important since those were going to be my weakest instruments from a technical perspective (mandocello) and a music reading perspective (mandola).

Description:  

 

Movement 1 - Allegro

Key:  C

Time: 4/4  BPM=115

 

The overall structural contours of the first movement Allegro kind of elude me.  A lot of Classical Era first movements are what is known as sonata form, with multiple themes connected by modulating bridges forming an Exposition, followed by a Development section where the thematic ideas are broken down, explored, and rearranged, and a Recapitulation where the themes return in the home key of the piece.   I couldn't identify a strong recapitulation that signaled and obvious "return home" near the end where I would expect one in a sonata form movement, and the second repeat as written would have encompassed what I might have considered a development section.   This repeat of a "development section" isn't something that I'm aware of as happening in Classical Sonata form, and is the main reason I kind of think that this isn't a sonata form.  

 

Having said all that, I don't have much experience here so I won't be surprised if it is in sonata form and my layman's ear just can't pick out the structures.   (If anyone reading this who knows more than I do thinks otherwise, pease let me know.)

 

Setting that structural stuff aside, there are both motivic and tuneful sections in this movement.  (A "motive" is a short musical idea, not long enough to be a full phrase or tune).   The motivic idea of a quarter note followed by 4 sixteenth notes as heard in the opening measures comes back throughout the movement in different registers in the violins and viola.  The more tuneful melody (i.e. starting in measure 28, at around 0:57) also makes several appearances in the violins, usually harmonizing with each other.   

 

The movement is also interspersed with triplet runs that are passed back and forth between all four instruments.  

 

The Cello and Viola definitely take a back seat in the melodic department here with the viola only joining in on the main quarter-sixteenth motive a handful of times and and the cello never getting in on that.   They both have a few connecting triplet runs, more in the viola than the cello,  

 

The key modulates from C throughout to G, Bb, A, and F without any jarring jumps.  The key changes are mostly pretty subtle with the exception of one tricky Eb passage at measures 52-60 (1:46-2:06) where the shift in key is really obvious to even a passing listen.

 

Performance:

 

I opted to ignore the two repeats, which potentially makes me a music thought criminal.  I did this for two main reasons: 

  1. Not having recorded any thing nearly this long before (and four times at that) I didn't want to strain my ability or my recording time by making a 5 minute and 30 second movement 11 minutes long.

  2.  It wasn't clear to me what function they served.  The first repeat happens about 1/3  of the way through, with the second repeat encompassing the remaining 2/3 of the movement.  At first I thought that first repeat marked the end of the exposition section of a sonata form, but as mentioned above I was puzzled by the second repeat. 

 

Of the two movements, this one was definitely easier, both because of its more singable and striking melodies and because it had fewer technically demanding passages.  The most difficult part of this movement is the double stop section at measure 52-60 (timestamp: 1:46) that modulates to Eb.

 

I'm not entirely happy with how I varied the dynamics between forte (loud) and piano (soft) as notated in the score.  The mandolin family has less dynamic variation ability than a bowed instrument, and the nature of how I recorded it made it difficult.  The fact that I didn't really know what the piece sounded like when I started made catching the dynamic contours really challenging while tracking one instrument at a time.    

 

One of the harder aspects of this, and one i didn't anticipate, was keeping the instruments sync'd up when multiple parts were playing droning sixteenth notes.  As I discussed in the blog, during a long stretch of droning sixteenths, keeping them on beat, articulated the same, and on the exact same part of the beat was difficult and caused me to have to go back and touch up some parts after the initial tracking session.  There's still some occasional subtle wobble which drives me kind of nuts.

 

Errata:

 

I think there were a couple of errors in the score, like in measure 35 when an F natural was notated in a section where the key had modulated to G, which contains an F#.   I assumed this was a mistake and played an F#.  The F natural sounded very out of place.

 

There is also an odd section in measure 97 (around 3:22) where the drone support notes in the second violin and viola are playing a major second harmony (viola playing a D and violin playing E), which is rather dissonant.  Both Mike and I heard that one once I laid the viola down and weren't sure what to make of it, whether it was a scoring mistake or just an odd harmonic choice by the composer.  I opted to leave it in.

 

I'm not going to point out where but there are two spots in the recording where you can hear me breathing and I'm not sure if I think it's kind of cool or it drives me insane....

Movement 2: Minuet and Trio

 

Key :     Minuet: C, Trio: F

Time: 3/4   BPM=110

 

I would use the term "stately" for the Minuet and Trio.   This makes some sense as Minuet and Trios started out as court dances in the Baroque era.   In that original incarnation, the Minuet sections would be played by the entire ensemble and the Trio would be played by only three instruments.  The name stuck even when the instrumentation no longer followed that precedent.   So the second part of this movement is a Trio, even though there's four instruments playing.   Minuet and Trio forms, no longer dances, are standard Classical forms and show up in quartets, symphonies, etc.

 

Minuet and Trios are counted in three, similar to waltzes.  The Trio section comes in as a contrasting element to the Minuet, and the tune then returns to the Minuet for a sense of return or musical closure giving the overall movement an A B A structure, with A being the Minuet and B being the Trio.

 

The Minuet mostly stays in C with only some passing accidentals in the violin 2 and the viola and modulates briefly to G in a few of the fast passages.  The Trio is in F, with occasional forays into C and some accidentals.

 

Performance

 

The first performance challenge was to decide what tempo to play the movement at.  The score says simply "Tempo di Minuet" or "Minuet Tempo" which wasn't very helpful to me, a layman.  I did some googling, listened to some other Minuet and Trio movements, and played through a few sections at different speeds before settling on BPM=110.   That's on the slower side of the Minuet and Trios I found but it a) didn't feel draggy to me and b) didn't have any parts I didn't think I'd be able to play at that tempo.

 

From a technical perspective, this one was a bit of a beast for me.   The overall melody of the piece was considerably easier than the Allegro movement, but there are difficult parts clustered in the supporting lines in the violin 1, violin 2, and viola that I couldn't play when I started this project. The Trio section in particular was very challenging.   There are fast passages with some nasty fingering and some tricky position work.  (Note the violin 1 at 2:18 and the viola at 2:32).

 

Normally after the Trio section the performer plays the entire Minuet again (the final A of the A-B-A structure) but I opted out of this and just played the Minuet until the Fine 23 measures from the beginning.  Another potential music crime for the purist, but I felt that it was enough to establish the return to the Minuet and would be less likely to strain my recording endurance and the audience's attention.

 

Errata

 

Pretty sure there's a wrong note in the score in measure 100.  It was marked as a B flat in a section where it had modulated to C (which does not contain a Bb).  It sounded really wrong when I was practicing and I had been debating whether I should change it.  I was on the fence until I was in the recording booth and Mike asked "So... is that the right note?" after my first take.  I took it as a sign.

 

I opted out of the base notes in the violin 1 that kick off the 16th note runs in the final section of the Trio.   They would be the open string and, playing them on a picked instrument would have left me with a ringing string throughout the entire passage unless I worked out some difficult left hand muting while fingering the rest of the run.  (Not an issue on a bowed instrument)  I decided the cello and violin 2 had it covered.