Grand Duo for Violoncello and Piano in d minor, Op.31
Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812, the name is often spelled Woelfl) was born in Salzburg. He studied violin, piano and composition there with Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang’s father) and Michael Haydn (Joseph’s brother). In 1790, he moved to Vienna where it is thought he briefly studied with Wolfgang Mozart. Wölfl became a virtuoso pianist and was sometimes considered to be Beethoven’s equal. It was on Wolfgang’s recommendation the Wölfl was able to procure a position with Count Michal Casimir Oginski as a piano teacher in Warsaw. During the political upheavals in Poland he returned to Vienna and then began a career as a touring concert pianist, eventually settling in Paris (1801-1805) and then London where he spent the rest of his life. Wölfl wrote operas, ballets, symphonies, works for piano, songs and quite a lot of chamber music, including some 25 string quartets, 3 string quintets, 15 standard piano trios and several others for various instrumental combinations with piano. In addition to this, he wrote dozens of sonatas and other works for violin and piano, flute and piano and harp and piano.
The Op.31 Grand Duo for Violoncello and Piano is his only work for these two instruments. It was published in 1805 while he was living in Paris. Most scholars consider it the first work in which the cello is treated as an equal to the piano. It not only predates Beethoven’s sonatas for cello and piano, it is thought to have served as a model for Beethoven's first cello sonatas. What is certain is that the writing for the two instruments is so fine that the work clearly qualifies as a masterpiece of its type and time. In three movements, it opens with a slow somber Adagio introduction. There is both an ominous and pathetic mood in the music. A hard driving Allegro molto follows. Pathos returnes in the middle movement, Andante, which at times approaches the character of a hymn. The finale, Allegro, starts with an air of gravitas to it, but as the cello takes up the main theme in its highest registers, the music becomes lighter and more dance like.
Unfortunately, this fine work was never reprinted. We have reprinted the 1805 edition. Players should be aware that piano parts published from this era did not have the other part but only the piano part. However, we have added rehearsal numbers so this should not be a problem.