Jan Levoslav Bella
Sonata No.1 for 3 Violins in G Major, Op.4
"In the First Position"
Jan Levoslav Bella's Sonata No.1 in G Major for 3 Violins in the First Position must be a work for beginners, right? No, wrong. Bella wrote two sonatas for three violins. Sonata No.1 in G Major dates from 1891. On the manuscript, he wrote and underlined that both works were to be played in the first position. From this, one might conclude that the sonatas were meant as instructive works for teaching beginners. But this is not the case. Bella had something else in mind. Trios for three violins descend from a vocal form known as the Concerto Treble which allows for the permutation or set ordering of voices. It originated at the end of the 16th century in Ferrara as a technique used in vocal trios, the so called Concerto delle donne, the most famous of which was The Three Ladies of Ferrara. By the beginning of the 17th century, the form had been transposed for use as violin trios. The problem of having no continuo for support of the bass line is solved by having all three instruments play in the first position which increases the level of sonority. But these is not a works which can be played by beginners for while the part for the left hand might be managed by some more advanced beginning players, Bella’s exceptionally diverse use of advanced bow techniques is well beyond the realm of the beginner. From form of the movements and some of the thematic material, one can clearly see that Bella was well apprised of the antecedents of this format and his sonatas are clearly descendants of those from the Baroque. The four movements of Sonata No.1 are Allegro moderato, Adagietto, Vivace and Allegro.
Jan Levoslav Bella (1843-1936), for the first 76 years of his life was an Austrian, he spent his last 17 as a Czechoslovak, and today, he is posthumously a proud son of the Slovak Republic. He was born in the small town of Liptovsky St. Mikulas in what was then the Habsburg Empire. He studied both music and theology locally and was ordained as a priest in 1866. He then traveled widely in Germany where he was influenced by the music of Schumann and Liszt. In 1881, he left the priesthood and married, taking a position as City Music Director (Stadtskapellmeister) in Hermannstadt (now Sibiu, Romania), a town with a sizeable German population in what was then part of the Hapsburg Empire or Austria-Hungary. He held this position until he retired in 1921. Although, he is virtually unknown today, he was well-known and on friendly terms with many prominent musicians such as Richard Strauss, Liszt, Brahms, and Ernst von Dohnanyi, whose works he championed and performed. Though the bulk of his compositions consist of choral music, he did not ignore chamber music, writing four string quartets, two of which were often performed by well-known ensembles, and also a viola quintet. It can be said that Bella was attracted to the German neo-romantic school rather than the nationalism and dramatic naturalism of Smetana and Dvorak. His chamber music often shows the influence of Liszt.
This is a first class work for this combination. Unavailable for many years, we are pleased to present it now. It comes with a score in the Violin III part.