Nicolas Altstaedt, cello

Date created: 01.02.2023.
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Nicolas Altstaedt, cello



Henri Dutilleux: Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher (Three Stanzas on the Name Sacher)

Un poco indeciso

Andante Sostenuto


Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV1011





Gavotte I – Gavotte II



Jörg Widmann: Melodie


Zoltán Kodály: Sonata for solo cello, Op.8

Allegro molto vivace

Adagio con gran espressione

Allegro molto vivace



Notes by Dina Puhovski

Solo recital is a very popular, but quite demanding type of concert performance, because it brings to the fore all the possibilities of sound; the interpreter and the instrument are completely exposed, without a moment to rest. In his first programme at this year’s Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Nicolas Altstaedt interprets a work that is part of the cello canon – one of Bach’s suites – followed by a more recent classic, Kodály’s Sonata, Dutilleux’s piece written around four decades ago, and a recent solo work by the contemporary composer Jörg Widmann.

French composer Henri Paul Julien Dutilleux (Angers, 1916 – Paris, 2013) worked for Radio France and taught at the ENMP and CNSM. Music critic Paul Griffiths wrote that ‘Dutilleux’s position in French music was proudly solitary. Between Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez in age, he was little affected by either, though he took an interest in their work. … But his voice, marked by sensuously handled harmony and color, was his own.’

Dutilleux was a perfectionist, highly critical towards himself, and allowed only a few of his works to be published. His works include sonatas for piano and oboe, Cello Concerto Tout un monde lointain, Violin Concerto L'arbre des songes, String Quartet Ainsi la nuit and two symphonies.

In 1976, the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned twelve composers to write a piece for solo cello on the name ‘Sacher’. The occasion was the 70th birthday of Paul Sacher, leader of the Basler Kammerorchester for over fifty years. One of the composers, Henri Dutilleux expanded his homage to Sacher six years later by adding two more parts – movements. He stated that he had not written this addition on commission, but out of his own need; he dedicated the movements to Rostropovich, who premiered them in Basel in 1982.

This final version of Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher is a short suite with three lyrical, virtuosic movements. Like in other works on this evening’s programme, the range of the cello is expanded with scordatura – different tuning of the instrument that changes its timbre. Dedication to Sacher is revealed in the use of the letters of his name, which became Es, A, C, H, E, D in German notation (E-flat, A, C, B, E, D), as well as in the quote from the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Béla Bartók, commissioned and premiered by Paul Sacher.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Eisenach, 1685 – Leipzig, 1750), the composer who, according to many, started everything, significantly contributed to cello literature with his cello suites. He apparently considered his work more of a craft than an achievement of a genius in the Romantic sense, which, of course, does not diminish the beauty of his works. Many of his today highly regarded works were written as exercises, teaching examples, like his inventions for example, but he combined earlier contrapuntal traditions, chromatic harmonies, baroque affect and symbols in all musical forms to additionally emphasise the message and religious content of his works, his worldview. Bach often moved, taking up new engagements (organist in Arnstadt, court organist in Weimar, court Kapellmeister in Köthen etc.) until he settled in Leipzig in 1723, becoming a cantor at St Thomas Church, where his composing intensified.

Six Suites for Cello, BWV 1007–1012, are regarded as the ‘Old Testament’ for cellists, who consider them excellently, ‘naturally’ written for performing. There were many discussions on whether they were truly meant to be performed without accompaniment, whether he wrote them when he was in Köthen or earlier and whether Anna Magdalena Bach, who wrote the only surviving copy, helped him.

From the First onwards, the suites become increasingly complex. Suite No. 5 in C minor is darker in tone, which has to do with the key and, once again in this evening’s programme, with scordatura, where the highest string is tuned lower (G instead of A) and the instrument is played with two G strings, resulting in a slightly murkier sound. The suite, in a standard arrangement, consists of a Prelude and six dances (in five parts) – the solemn Prelude, the flowing Allemande, the spirited Courante. Shunske Sato and Onno van Ameijde of the Dutch Bach Society described the gloomy Sarabande, devoid of technical ostentatiousness, as follows: ‘Nowhere in the six suites does the cello sound lonelier than in the Sarabande of No. 5.’ It is followed by a two-part robust Gavotte with its French atmosphere and dotted rhythm, and a lively Gigue.

Jörg Widmann (Munich, 1973) studied the clarinet at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich under Gerda Starke and at Juilliard under Charles Neidich. He received his first training in composition as a child, with Kay Westermann, then with Wilfried Hiller and Hans Werner Henze, and finally with Heiner Goebbels and Wolfgang Rihm at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe. In the past season he gave a large number concerts and performances – he was a guest composer and conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra Taiwan, resident artist of the Concertgebouw Amsterdam Zaterdag Matinée series, Alte Oper Frankfurt and De Singel Antwerp.

Widmann has increasingly turned to conducting, continuing his chamber music partnerships with renowned artists across Europe. He gave the world premiere of Mark Andre’s Clarinet Concerto ‘über’ and Wolfgang Rihm and Aribert Reimann wrote concertos for him.
He has served as professor at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg, and at the Barenboim-Said Academy Berlin since 2017. His awards include the Robert Schumann Prize, the Bavarian Order of Maximilian and the Elise L. Stoeger Prize of the New York Chamber Music Society. His works were premiered by the Vienna, Berlin and New York Philharmonic Orchestras and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among others, and conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Daniel Harding, Kent Nagano, Franz Welser-Möst, Christian Thielemann, Andris Nelsons and Sir Simon Rattle.

Widmann output includes string quartets, stage music and operas. His most recent piece is the cantata commissioned for the 300th anniversary of Bach’s inauguration as cantor at St Thomas in Leipzig. He wrote Melodie in 2019 and it was premiered by the cellist Kian Soltani.

Musicologist Tom Service wrote the following about Jörg Widmann’s composing: ‘The reason I think Widmann’s music is so invigorating and important is that it not only charts a new musical and imaginative terrain – one that is joyously free to plunder the entirety of music history from Mozart to Lachenmann for its own ends – but also has so much to say about the way we hear the music of the past. [--] But don't think Widmann’s voice is anything but essentially of his own time.’

If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of Hungarian spirit, I would answer – Kodály. (...) The obvious explanation is that all Kodály’s composing activity is rooted only in Hungarian soil, but the deep inner reason is his unshakable faith and trust in the constructive power and future of his people.’ These are the words of the great Béla Bartók, who collected Hungarian folk songs and worked on revitalising Hungarian music life with Kodály. Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (Kesckemét, 1882 – Budapest, 1967) studied languages and composition at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he was a professor from 1907. He was involved with Hungarian traditional music all his life, which significantly influenced works. Initially, his composing was also influenced by the Impressionists, then by Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Bach, and classicism. Primarily a composer of vocal music, he was also very active in the development of music education in Hungary.

Today, Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8, is a modern cello classic. Written in 1915, it was premiered in 1918 and published in 1921, the delay caused by the World War I. Scordatura is used here as well – of the lower two strings, tuned a semitone lower, expanding the tonal and expressive range of the instrument. Kodály allegedly announced that the piece would become a repertoire standard, which came true in 1956, when it was a requirement in the Casals Competition in Mexico. The piece stands out for its complexity, constant variation, harmonies that flirt with the pentatonic scale, modality and chromaticism. Some parts also reveal the folk origin of the musical material, with alternating ‘song’ and ‘dance’ elements.


Photo (c) Marco Borggreve


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