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ClassicsOnline Home » RODE, P.: 12 Etudes for Violin Solo / Duos for 2 Violins (N. and R. Koeckert)
Pierre Rode’s music represents the full flowering of the French violin school founded by his mentor Giovanni Battista Viotti. Naxos’s recordings of his 24 Caprices (8.570958) and Violin Concertos Nos. 7, 10 and 13 (8.570469) have received critical accolades, with Nos. 3, 4 and 6 to be released on 8.570767. The virtuosic 12 Etudes heard here run the gamut from graceful to vigorously dramatic, testing the artistry and technique of the solo violinist to the utmost. The three Duos present fewer technical demands, concentrating instead on lyricism, elfin sprightliness and dynamic contrasts. Award-winning Nicolas Koeckert, who performs regularly as a soloist with leading orchestras from around the world, is joined on this recording by his father, the internationally-renowned chamber musician Rudolf Koeckert.
Pierre Rode (1774–1830)
Twelve Etudes for Violin Solo • Duos for Two Violins
Jacques Pierre Joseph Rode was born in Bordeaux on 16 February 1774. The son of a perfumer, he showed early musical precosity and was taken to Paris at the age of thirteen by his teacher Flauvel. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, Rode became the star pupil of Giovanni Battista Viotti, the foremost violinist of the day and the founder of the modern French violin school. While still a teenager, he probably made his solo début in 1790 in Viotti’s Thirteenth Violin Concerto; he also joined the orchestra at the Théâtre de Monsieur, where he met his longtime colleague Pierre Baillot. Rode’s “breakout” year was 1792. During the traditional Holy Week concerts, Rode performed six times between 1 and 13 April, including two concertos of Viotti. During the next sixteen years he lived the life of a travelling virtuoso, though he also joined the violin faculty of the newly organized Paris Conservatoire. While associated with the Conservatoire, he collaborated with Baillot and Kreutzer on a manual of instruction for violin. He was named solo violinist for the musique particulière of the First Consul (Napoleon) and was briefly solo violinist at the Opéra. Rode spent four years, from 1804 to 1808, in Russia, where he was appointed court violinist to the Tsar. His return to Paris after his Russian sojourn marked a change in his fortunes. Instead of the wave of success he had ridden since he emerged from Bordeaux at the age of thirteen, the public responded only tepidly to his playing. Spohr, who heard him both before and after the Russian adventure, wrote that after Russia he found Rode’s playing “cold and full of mannerism”. Rode again began travelling across Europe in 1811 or 1812. In Vienna at the end of 1812, he gave the première of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 96, with Archduke Rudolph. Much of the period from 1814 to 1821 he spent in Berlin, where he met and married his wife and became an intimate of the Mendelssohn family. When he and his wife left Berlin, the mother of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn wrote that “the charm of their musical winter evenings…dwindled completely.” In 1821 Rode returned to the Bordeaux area where he now lived in semi-retirement. In 1828 he made a last attempt at a public concert in Paris, but this was such a fiasco that some commentators believed it hastened his death on 26 November 1830.
Rode’s works represent the full flowering of the French violin school that traced its origin to Viotti’s arrival in Paris in 1782 and, like his mentor Viotti, Rode composed almost exclusively for his own instrument. His works include sonatas, quartets, airs variés, thirteen violin concertos, various miscellaneous works, and pedagogical works, most notably the 24 Caprices in the Form of Etudes (Naxos 8.570958). While the 24 Caprices have rightly taken their place as one of the most important collections of their kind, at his death Rode left another collection of twelve etudes that show his undiminished skill in writing for solo violin. Such works are certainly pedagogical, but in the hands of Rode are musical works of art well worth public performance. Rode’s particular gift of charming melody is especially appropriate in his violin duos. As Grove Online notes, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, duos for two melody instruments were “particularly popular among amateurs” and “although much of the repertory was technically simple and musically lightweight, it attracted such composers as Pleyel, Mozart and Boccherini”. Rode contributed materially to this repertoire, and composed two books of three duos each. The importance of domestic music, music for amateurs in the home, is largely forgotten in an age of instant access to a vast quantity of recorded music, but something of its importance and charm is reflected in the words of Leah Mendelssohn, the mother of Felix and Fanny, on the occasion of Rode’s leaving Berlin after a residence of six years: “He and his pretty wife are a very charming couple, one can see that; he was so agreeable that he played for us, whenever we wanted, and the pleasure of accompanying so excellent an artist, excited the children quite a lot as they tried to be worthy of his playing.” Fanny sang her own lieder for Rode at these intimate gatherings, and Rode composed “a little musical souvenir” for her. Two of Rode’s chamber compositions (quartets) are dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn. The duos reflect this domestic ambience and are full of sunny simplicity.
The Twelve Etudes for Violin Solo were published after Rode’s death in 1830. Rode’s widow sold the manuscript to Launer, a violinist and music editor. In addition to the Twelve Etudes, Launer published Rode’s Concerto No. 13 and three sets of variations. Etude No. 1 in G major is marked Andante and presents a graceful theme played with double-stops throughout. Etude No. 2 in D minor (Allegro moderato) features chromatic runs in 16th notes (semiquavers). Etude No. 3 in E flat major (Vivace) is a fast scamper in off-the-bow triplets throughout the entire piece. Etude No. 4 in D minor (Moderato) is marked legato e dolce and is a test of the violinist’s ability to play continuous legato sixteenth notes (semiquavers). Etude No. 5 in B flat major (Andantino), marked duetto cantabile, is a graceful double-stopping duet—the double-stops are nearly continuous throughout the piece. Etude No. 6 in E major (Presto) is a furiously-paced piece with marked bowing and many trills, and is a test of a violinist’s stamina. Etude No. 7 in F major, like many of the pieces in the more famous 24 Caprices, features contrasting sections. The Etude begins with an adagio section featuring runs, trills, and double-stopping. The following moderato section presents an undulating stream of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) that emphasize the on-the-beat “bass” note. Etude No. 8 in B minor (Allegro risoluto) is an exercise in dotted rhythm. Etude No 9 in G major (Allegro moderato) is a study in alternating legato and marcato bowings. Etude No. 10 in F minor is another two part etude. The Etude begins with an Adagio in 3/4 time; this gives way to an Allegro agitato in 4/4 time consisting largely of sixteenth note (semiquaver) triplets. Etude No. 11 in C major is notationally perhaps the most unique of Rode’s works. The opening Fantasia and following Allegro moderato and Adagio dispense with bar lines; only with the beginning of the closing Vivace section is the Etude notated in the usual manner. Interestingly, this study does not end in C major; instead, it is followed without a pause by Etude No. 12 in A minor (Allegro maestoso). The final measures of Etude No.11 form a bridge to Etude No. 12; a melodic minor A minor scale and chord, beginning on the A minor dominant E, is followed by Etude No.12, a dramatic gesture (two half notes (minims) followed by a descending scale pattern) in A minor. The drama continues vigorously through double-stops and various scale patterns, ending definitively in A minor.
Rode wrote several collections of violin duos, and these show his melodic sensibility at its finest. Though not virtuoso pieces, the music is well constructed and tuneful in the manner of similar pieces by Mozart and Boccherini. The first book of three duos was originally published by a publishing firm in which Rode and four other composers were partners. The second book of three duos, also published in Paris by the Music House of Cherubini, Méhul, Kreutzer, Rode, and Boieldieu, was dedicated to “His Excellency Senator Teploff, first violinist to His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias” and presumably was written around the time of Rode’s Russian sojourn. The first movements of Rode’s duos typically consist of two major sections: the first section presents the thematic material with some alteration as material is repeated (and with a variety of passagework), and the second section consists of a “middle” section and then reworked material from the first section. The Duo in E flat major (Book 1, No. 1) begins with a graceful Moderato; the opening section begins with a quiet statement of half notes (minims) and ascending dotted rhythm pattern followed by a forte theme. After the material is reworked with variation, the second violin plays an undulating accompaniment to the movement’s main lyric tune. The second section presents both new and old material and ends with double forte chords. The duo ends with a Rondo Allegro in 3/4 time in Rode’s sprightly and graceful manner, the rondo tune alternating with contrasting sections. The Duo in G Major (Book 1, No. 2) also consists of two movements. The opening movement (Maestoso) alternates forte and piano statements, leading eventually to a lyric theme in the first violin. This is followed by a “working out” of triplets leading eventually to the final forte chords. The second section follows the usual pattern of middle material followed by a reworking of the opening section’s material. The 2/4 Rondo is another of Rode’s elfin finales and brims with good spirits.
While the duos in Book 1 follow the opening movement / rondo pattern, the duos in Book 2 all have three movements instead of two and none ends with a rondo. The first movement of the Duo in C major (Book 2, No. 2), Allegro con moto, follows Rode’s usual pattern, featuring two major sections (beginning with an ascending motif in unison), a “middle” at the beginning of the second section, a repeat of the opening section’s material with some variety, and ending with forte chords. The Allegro con moto is followed by a brief Adagio that leads immediately to an Andante con variazione (un poco allegretto) movement instead of the usual rondo or quick finale. The movement consists of the statement of the theme and three variations, and ends with fortissimo chords.
Bruce R. Schueneman
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RODE, P.: 12 Etudes for Violin Solo / Duos for 2 V...