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ClassicsOnline Home » DAVID, F.: 20 Virtuoso Studies / 6 Caprices, Op. 9 (Kuppel)
A child prodigy as a violin virtuoso, Ferdinand David became concertmaster of Felix Mendelssohn’s Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and was renowned throughout Europe as a soloist and educator. David’s 20 Virtuoso Studies, based on those for piano by his friend, and colleague Ignaz Moscheles, are brilliant and completely idiomatic transcriptions for the violin. Melodies of great emotional depth and refined sensuality characterize the Caprices Op. 9, often demanding lightning speed from the soloist.
Ferdinand David (1810–1873)
Works for Solo Violin
Ferdinand David was born in 1810 to a prosperous Jewish family in Hamburg. A child prodigy, he began studying with Spohr and Hauptmann in Kassel at the age of thirteen and two years later toured with his pianist sister Louise (later, as Madame Dulcken, a successful soloist in London). From 1826–1829 he served as violinist in the Königstadt Theatre in Berlin, where he was befriended by Felix Mendelssohn. David spent the years 1829–1835 in Dorpat (today known as Tartu), Estonia, as first violinist in a quartet sponsored by Karl von Liphart, whose daughter Sophie David eventually married. During these years David gave concerts as far afield as St Petersburg. In 1835 he was appointed concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of Mendelssohn, and also assumed leadership of the Stadttheater. In 1836 he made a successful visit to England, performing both in chamber music and with the Philharmonic Society. During a later visit in 1839 he visited and performed with Ignaz Moscheles, whose wife wrote that in David Moscheles had “found a powerful colleague of the German school, and one he is proud to introduce to the English public”. In 1843 David was chosen to head the violin department at the recently established Leipzig Conservatory, with Joseph Joachim among his first students. As early as 1838 Mendelssohn had written to David concerning a proposed violin concerto. During the compositional process Mendelssohn consulted often with him—shortly before publication, in a letter dated 17 December 1844, Mendelssohn posed a series of questions, asking about the advisability and even playability of certain passages. The first performance took place in Leipzig with David as soloist several months later, in March 1845. David had a profound sense of musical history, and in February 1840 gave the first performance of Bach’s Chaconne (from the Partita in D minor and with Mendelssohn’s piano accompaniment) since the composer’s death. After Mendelssohn’s death in 1847 David was invited to serve as one of the editors of Mendelssohn’s manuscripts. His work as conductor and editor began to overshadow his career as performer, and he produced excellent versions (some still in print) of works by Kreutzer, Rode, Fiorillo, and Paganini, among many others. He was a prolific composer, producing five violin concertos, a string quartet, string sextet, an opera, many solo string works and songs—and most famously his Hohe Schule des Violinspiels, one of the best known pedagogical works ever written for violin. In July 1873 David died of a heart attack in Klosters, Switzerland, while on holiday with his children.
Ignaz Moscheles (1794–1870), on whose 24 Studies David’s Twenty Studies are based, was born in Prague and like David came from a well-to-do Jewish family. One of the great pianists of the nineteenth century, Moscheles was an active composer throughout his life. While he wrote in many genres, his output leans heavily toward the piano. In 1846 he was appointed principal professor of piano at the Leipzig Conservatory, and like David he spent the rest of his life at the Conservatory. His 24 Studies, Op. 70, date from 1826. Many of these études are a good fit for solo violin writing as the right hand can sometimes be incorporated nearly note for note into an interesting solo violin line. Nevertheless, when the piano melody line descends too low or various pianistic devices appear in the left hand, a fine composer’s skill is necessary in order to “translate” the material into idiomatic solo violin music. This David did extremely well.
20 Virtuoso Studies for Solo Violin (based on Moscheles, 24 Studies, Op. 70)
Moscheles’ Studies No, 23 (Allegro marcato) and No. 24 (Allegro comodo) were omitted by David.
6 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 9
Bruce R. Schueneman
Note: Ferdinand David’s Suite for Violin Solo, Op. 43, performed by Reto Kuppel, is available digitally on 9.70213.
Violin Technique in Ferdinand David’s Moscheles Virtuoso Studies
While preparing for the first recording of the Moscheles Virtuoso Studies, I was struck first of all by their lack of opus number. What could have persuaded Ferdinand David, who was normally so meticulous, not to give them one? Did he think this work was too difficult?
At first sight, the music does not seem overly complex by comparison with other showy nineteenth-century violin études, partly because David rarely uses techniques such as pizzicato and harmonics. As I studied the pieces more closely, however, they revealed their hidden secret: a translation of pianistic technique onto the violin—a risky experiment!
Whereas a pianist can use both hands to sound notes, the violinist has to take a fresh bow for each chord (No. 17). Often the melody and the accompaniment have to be sounded simultaneously (No. 8). The sonority that can be achieved on a piano played with the sustaining pedal (No. 19) is hard to imitate on the violin and leads to unusual arpeggiation (No. 2). In many places, more than one finger has to be placed, inaudibly, on the strings (No. 5). Unusual keys frequently force the violinist to play in half position, which we normally avoid (No. 12).
David’s transposition of the Studies is a work of genius. This is evident even in those passages he had to compose himself, a direct transfer of the piano part being impossible. His melodies have great emotional depth and a refined sensuality.
Many of the Studies and the Op. 9 Caprices have to be played at lightning speed to realise the delicate melodic flow, the well-defined mood or the shimmering surfaces that make David’s musical language so special (for example Op. 9, Nos. 5 and 6).
There are pieces that so easily test the limits of dexterity and coordination of even a superb violinist on top form, that performing the pieces is only possible after extremely specialised practice—an intensive athletic training that no one should be able to hear. David seems to smile mischievously at us from the century before last and say: “Have a go; you’ll be amazed!”
English translation: Susan Baxter
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