The Ups and Downs of a Melody

What makes Goltermann’s music, especially his Grand Duo, a good piece of music?

Whenever you ask a person why they like a piece of music it usually results in inarticulate generalities. But we don’t discount their take or feelings on the music. Genuine emotion counts for a lot, so, we tend to accept the other’s opinion. There is one caveat, the music is normally very well known and likely in the category of “great”, i.e. Bach’s Prelude (in G), The Swan, etc. (Sadly, the “etc.” is being generous since the non-musician is more likely than not to have knowledge of only the Bach Prelude if even that. The most often heard question I get is, “do you know and can you play that cello piece.”)

Before I get to the point of the Grand Duo, it seems like a useful thing to delve into more detail of describing music and melody in particular. So, here is a run through of three pieces by Goltermann which are the first three works I ever played by him. Follow along the path of initial response and then to musical analysis.

Generally Speaking: Three Examples

In the case of Forgotten Cello Music, that is, any of the music that has been uploaded to my Youtube Channel, Traveling Cello, I put forth not only my “feelings” or intuition about the music, but some of the theoretical reasons why it is compelling. When I bring Goltermann’s Grand Duo, Op. 15 in D minor into question it gets even more interesting. If you have read or watched some of my blog posts and videos then you have heard some of my own inarticulate feelings already. That is, I have voiced why I appreciate Goltermann’s music, but in a rather general sense.

To review those reasons I will write about them here:

When I was a student, still learning how to maneuver the fingerboard, I began learning Goltermann’s Concerto No. 4, Op. 65, in G major. I remember liking the entire piece despite having a number of difficulties learning it. Somehow the music opened up new sounds and technical possibilities for me. It was quick, beautiful, flowing, and playful (especially the third movement).

Jump forward 15 years and I discover a collection of 5 intermediate Nocturnes. These, despite now having the technique to play level 6 music–Dvorak Cello Concerto, in B minor, Op. 104–speak to me in a fundamental way. They give rise to basic appreciations for music. I have always like Nocturnes and up to that point had no idea that any composer had ever written a nocturne specifically for the cello! This was a huge factor in my appreciation for this music.

Then, just a few years later, the Sechs Tonbilder, Op. 129 (Six Tone Pictures) show up in a search on IMSLP. After reading through all six, the immediate reaction is “how is it possible that this music is not on any teacher’s repertoire list for their students?” I felt a connection to the character and to the simplicity, yet, challenge one has (particularly students) in presenting a cohesive set. They are at once meant to provide interesting performance material, be a bit of a stretch, and be conceptually simpler. Something attainable.

Nothing written above is a good way to say why I like the music in terms of describing actual music. That is, it is general, diffuse, and has no musical information in the descriptions. They are emotional and physical descriptions. Yet, when you read it, it is likely relatable in that you also have music that you appreciate and describe without touching on any musical concepts, let alone theoretical ones.

Musical Reasons

Now, I will offer a few musical reasons as to why the Goltermann’s Concerto No. 4, 5 Nocturnes, and Sechs Tonbilder are compelling. The Concerto will be the base work I refer to as it is the first work I learned by Goltermann.

In his concerto, he opens with a typical Classical era exposition. When the cello enters 2 minutes later you hear something out of the ordinary. You would expect the solo to restate the exposition material right away, but not here. Goltermann opens the solo with a quasi-cadenza, albeit contained in just a few measures, which goes from the lowest sounds of the cello leaping upwards in assertive, yet flowing arpeggiated fashion. After which, some lyrical figures float, undulatingly about and finally a whirl of an ascending scale into the theme. The passage work throughout the first movement is always inventive (it’s not unusual, just clever).

Eventually, the first movement fades away with the recapitulation in the orchestra and segues seamlessly into the slow, second movement. (This is unusual for Classical structure.)

The Andantino is striking because of two features. The first, and most striking, is the key uses: B minor (it is still related however since B minor is the relative minor of D major). This is a relationship of a third from the Allegro–G major. Typically, the second would be the relative minor–E minor–or the Dominant of the Allegro movement–D major. (It doesn’t always work that way, but it is standard practice.)

This creates a special, calming mood especially when the meter of 6/8 is taken into account. It is a sly, perhaps with a tinge of misterioso, way of creating a low-key yet, rocking, lyrical melody. He does it quite masterfully. What’s more, is that the melody begins on beat 2 of 6, with the downbeat silent for the soloist. I’d even go so far as to describe this melody as elegant. In the middle section, he surprises with a mode change: from B minor to B major! Bright, cheerful, and animated, just long enough to please the ears and then a return to the B minor material.

The last movement, Allegro molto, is written with an inherent sense of movement. The long-short, long-short, or 1/8 note-1/16 rest-1/16 note bounds and skips along in delightful merriment. This lasts for a full page before the orchestra tutti breaks in transitioning to a contrasting theme more dark and forceful/powerful in nature. But it never retains too much brooding, rather he interjects with bouts of showiness–appropriate for the level of student. These two sections are reiterated and finally a grand push to the end ensues. The CODA embodies the quintessential style of ending that exudes victorious achievement complete with perhaps a bit over the top exuberance and repeated tonic chords at the end. Don’t forget the last laugh chord either!

The Nocturnes and Tonbilder

I could go into the details of all 5 Nocturnes and all 6 Tone Pictures as well. However, this post would eventually get to be quite long. It might suffice to say that the Nocturnes and Tone Pictures are written with similar attributes as described in the Concerto section. There are little surprises, pleasant use of lyricism, and the ever so careful and sparse use of miniature licks of virtuosity. (Always in line with the technical ability of the intermediate level student.)

There is one point of comparison I’d like to draw your attention in particular. That is the last movement of the Concerto and No. 2 Merry Play (from 6 Tone Pictures, op. 129). The figure that comprises both of this lively numbers are so similar that it is hard to imagine one wasn’t taken as an example from the other. Regardless, had I been directed to No. 2 Merry Play, Op. 129 before playing Concerto in G, Op. 65, Movement 3, it would have been most helpful. I recall a distinct struggle in the execution of the dotted rhythms of the concerto. Even though the Tone Picture, No. 2 Merry Play, would NOT have been any easier to get right, it would have played one crucial role. That is, it would have served as the warm-up, the lead-in, essential the “practice” for the more valuable piece (valuable in terms of repertoire in the studio).

And, Why is the Melody in Grand Duo so Good?

Take the musical reasons from what is described above. Now, elevate the working out of those ideas. He begins by using more of the palette. You can sense that his ideas are deeper and more poignant. You cross over three strings for the first statement of the melody and get a more varied rhythm. It has more connection to human emotion, not just because is in the minor mode, but it has more variation like speech. It rises and falls, with elongated sounds, then sudden splashes of energetic utterances. After stating your musical case, you allow the piano to speak while supporting what is being said. Give and Take.

The title of this blog post seems misleading at first. In fact, it is not since you now have a better understanding of the basic concept of melodic content. The arch is a good starting point and whenever I have a feeling of more connectedness to Goltermann’s music, the more closely does his melody follow an arch shape. It doesn’t mean that the melody begins and ends on the same note, rather it has the rising and falling of notes.

It is when melody gets static and is stuck on the same notes, always coming back whence it came that the repetitions get tedious to listen to. A good melody knows when to avoid coming back to those notes. Conversely, a good melody also knows how to use coming back to the same notes to an artistic end. Either way, it never feels tedious. And, I don’t get those feelings of, “that’s enough of that, please move on” in this Grand Duo, Op. 15.

And so…

It is for these reasons that I am drawn to Goltermann. His music is at once accessible yet interesting. As a student, I longed for music that was a bridge. It would have been helpful to simply play more in the target style of music. More practice of playing a lyrical melody or a technical passage but in a simpler context would have provided a much needed boost in technical advancement. Rather than feeling overwhelmed to point of drowning, there would have been a sense of a challenge but and achievable one.


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