Cello Sonata in f sharp minor, Op.1
Hans Pfitzner (1869–1949) was born in Moscow of German parents. His father was a professional violinist and he received violin lessons from his father. Later he studied piano and composition at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. He enjoyed a long career as a conductor and teacher. His music was held in high regard by contemporaries such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Pfitzner was an avowed opponent of the Second Vienna School with its serialism and atonal music. Instead, he sought new paths for traditional tonality. He composed in nearly every genre and is best known for his operas. He did not ignore chamber music, writing a number of string quartets, two piano trios, a piano quintet and a few instrumental sonatas
His Cello Sonata in f sharp minor dates from 1890 and was completed two years after Brahms' Second Cello Sonata with which Pfitzner was certain familiar given that his teachers in Frankfurt were virtually all Brahmsians. Though the opus number is one, it is certainly not Pfitzner's first work. Many, without opus, preceded it. While the ideas within the sonata are highly original the influence of Brahms can be heard. But to be clear, Pfitzner's cello sonata, though sometimes called Brahms' third cello sonata, sounds no more like Brahms than Brahms' first symphony, which was called Beethoven's 10th, sounds like Beethoven. In four movements, it opens Sehr bewegt with lyrical expansive melodies. Particularly striking is Pfitzner's occasional economy of expression---at one point the cello repeated plays but one note, and yet the effect is as if this were not the case. The second movement, Sehr langsam, begins quite slowly but gradually the tempo is increased to a very impressive dramatic climax. The third movement, So schnell als möglich, is a new kind of scurrying scherzo without trio. The finale, Nicht zu schnell, like the first movement is broad with expansive ideass.
The fact that critics called this work Brahms' third cello sonata, is an indication of just how fine they regarded this important sonata. Cellists would do well to incorporate it into their repertoire and perform it in recital where it is sure to leave a strong impression.