January 29, 2020
The second movement of Romberg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Opus 38, Number 1, is “andante grazioso”. Or gracefully moving along. The movement is only 51 measures long and has a 3/4 time signature.
The movement has a nice lyrical quality, and I find it pleasing to both listen to and to play.
There are two rhythm patterns that reoccur through out the movement. Measures 10 and 11 introduce these two patterns.
Measure 10’s pattern occurs 7 times in the movement, measure 11’s 8 times. Clearly getting the subtle difference between a dotted quarter note (measure 11) and a quarter note tied to a sixteenth note (measure 10) is vital to correctly playing this movement.
The other noteworthy (sorry) measures are the 32nd notes in measures 18 and 23. Here’s measure 18:
And here is measure 23:
Of the two, measure 18 is considerably easier to play. Measure 23 is the crux of the entire movement for me. Especially when you realize that the eight 32nd notes occupy as much time as one of the following quarter notes.
Once measures 10 and 11 were identified as the two repeating rhythmic patterns, I made a copy of the music and lightly shaded those measures; green for measure 10 and red for measure 11. And I shaded each subsequent repetition of each pattern.
The green pattern occurs in measures 10, 19, mid 24 - mid 25, mid 25 - mid 26, 37, mid 47 - mid 48, and mid 48 - mid 49.
The red pattern occurs in measures 11, 15, 17, 38, 40, 42, 44, and 46.
The pairing of the two patterns as they first occur in measures 10 and 11, happens once more, in measures 37 and 38.
Using the metronome, set for 16th notes, I started with m. 10 & 11. Once they were reliable, I set the metronome to eighth notes. Counting eighth notes proved to be trickier than I expected in m. 10. The tie between the opening quarter note and the first sixteenth note, means the second sixteenth note - and first pitch change - happens between beats. In m. 11, the dotted quarter note at the start of the measure puts the pitch change on a beat.
As with the triplets in the first movement of the sonata, regular, daily practice of these two rhythm patterns is what helped me to learn them. Skipping a day or two on these patterns forced me to slow down and reintroduce them to my fingers.
The 32nd note pattern in m. 18 is really a turn. I think that is why I’ve found this measure far easier than m. 23. The trick to m. 18 is getting the ratios correct as you slow down from 32nd to 16th to 8th as the measure progresses. After the 32nd note turn, the last four 8th notes seem to be very long.
Measure 23 is an altogether harder problem to solve. The first four notes can be played in 1st position. The F# that follows requires a shift to 4th position. The middle C played with the 4th finger is 4th position on the D-string, i.e., a string crossing. Surprisingly the second set of 32nd notes is easier to play faster: two notes, string crossing, two notes. The first four notes followed by the shift to 4th position are harder for me.
While playing the A - B - C - D pattern, I tend to carry my 4th finger too far away from the finger board. The results in a stutter where the 3rd finger strikes the string every so slightly before the 4th finger does. I’m working on keeping my fingers much closer to the finger board. This not only improves intonation, it helps to speed things up.
I’ve spent a lot of time with the metronome on m. 23. First counting 32nd notes, then 16th, then 8th, and finally quarter. I am up to about 50 for the quarter note. My tempo gaol for the movement is 72. So I have a ways to go yet.
I’m also learning to trust my instincts regarding tempo and rhythm. I tend to play the two rhythm patterns correctly most of the time. When I doubt myself, it is usually in error. My internal sense of pulse has always been there. Now I am more able to rely on it while I’m actively making music.
I am enjoying learning this movement. As with the first movement the passage work and focusing on details have really improved my ability to play it. And being able to play it vastly improves my enjoyment of it. The Romberg Sonata in E minor has become one of my favorite cello pieces.