Bernhard Romberg

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Sonata for Violoncello & Piano in e minor, Op.38 No.1

Bernhard Romberg (1767-1841) was born in the German town of Dinklage. He became one of the leading cellists of his time, yet just from whom he learned to play is a matter of some dispute. It appears his father, also a cellist, gave him his first lessons. Various sources say he also studied with the German cellist Johann Schlicht and Viennese cellist Franz Marteau. However, other sources, pointing to the violinistic technique of his compositions, maintain that never took cello lessons and first learned to play the violin and then adapted what he learned to the cello. Whatever the case, his playing was widely admired and he toured throughout Europe with much success. Beethoven is said to have thought quite highly of Romberg’s playing and even offered to write a concerto for him. Cellists will be interested to learn that Romberg made several improvements to the cello including lengthening the fingerboard and flattened the side under the C string, thus giving it more freedom to vibrate. He is also responsible for simplifying cello notation to only three clefs, the bass clef, the tenor clef and the treble clef. Until his time, it was common to use several C clefs, as many as six to eight.


Most of Romberg’s compositions are for the cello but he did also write a a few light operas, three symphonies and 11 string quartets. He composed a total of six cello sonatas all of which were extremely popular and frequently performed in concert throughout the 19th century. Scholars have noted that Brahms’ Op.38 Sonata in e minor owes a considerable debt to Romberg’s Sonata in e minor, Op.38 No.1. This Sonata is the first of a set of three composed during the first decade of the 19th century. In three movements, it begins with soulful Allegro non troppo. The fetching theme, is neither sad nor tragic, yet its lyrical melody has a melancholy tinge to it. The middle movement, Allegro grazioso, harks back to the older Italian sonatas with its long-lined vocal melodies, yet the melodies and style are firmly rooted in the early Romantic era. The finale, Rondo allegretto, brings the same mood as the opening movement, however, its 6/8 time and the rhythm of the main theme gives the music the feel of a leisurely horse ride over the countryside.

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