WEDNESDAY: The Edinburgh Cello Sonata in F Major Opus 13


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ONCE A year Lady Genevese Forsythe did her husband the honour of performing with him the signature piece that had earned him fame and that was so dear to his heart. She had stopped playing piano some twenty years earlier herself, but this request of his, that she play the Edinburgh with him on this occasion, she could not refuse. She had little choice in the matter. Since she stopped playing he would have no other accompanist, and so he publicly proclaimed that he would never perform it again except with her because she was the only person who understood the essence of the piece, and more importantly, who understood him. It was a work she adored as well with all her heart, and so just to hear it again she acquiesced, and at the same time on the same night for twenty years, they played the Edinburgh together in the salon at the mountainside castle that was the namesake for the glorious Edinburgh Cello Sonata in F Major.

Alexander had stopped writing music for the cello after he finished the Edinburgh; he simply did not think he could ever do better than that, a sonata so intense that twice it put him at death’s door from fever and exhaustion. It was so lovingly wrought and technically accomplished that the thing nearly drove him mad before he finished it, and it drove audiences wild when they heard it, for it completely subverted traditional conventions of the sonata form, borrowing things from all the great masters but introducing his own innovations that sniffed at his forebears and sought out new territory to explore. It consisted of only two long movements, beginning with a dazzling cello cadenza that outlined the central motifs, introduced odd rhythms and harmonic textures, and several perplexing changes of key and meter. By the time he came to the final fermata, Lady Genevese was seated at the Imperial Bösendorfer, poised and ready.

Alexander wrote the elegiac opening of the Andante to symbolize his bountiful love for his wife, and he gave her a stark, single melodic line from the beginning that could have left no tear unshed, and then a lush layer of harmonies to surround him when he came in, as he wished nothing more than to be loved by her always, and the harmonies that carried the melody lifted up the line until they were resounding together in perfect fourths at forte fortissimo in a grand kind of solemn march. In the Allegro Vivace, he portrayed the spirited nature of their courtship with striking rhythms and many off-beat accents, and he often shouted directions to her such as Lay into it here! Make it dance off the page! The section ended in a flourish, him playing pizzicato in unison with the piano for 32 enraptured bars. When that ended with a sheer drop off of sound, he let her slowly introduce the passionate Adagio, where she returned her love for him in minor and diminished chords as he bowed softly below the beautiful harmonies he gave her. They moved through a myriad of complex meters and modulations, solemnly returning to D minor. Gently, he whispered, as he increased his own bowing to try to match the intensity with which she played.

In the Allegro Presto they burst wildly into the F major as if being chased by the ghosts of madness and lust; they frolicked in a field of sexual desire, attacking cascading arpeggios and sixteenth note triplets that taxed every technical skill they possessed, exhuming from them guttural sounds that referenced the act itself laid bare on a concert stage; their playing was almost conjugal, their chemistry bestial. He forced her to stretch her hands completely, needing both her little fingers and thumbs to assail the polyrhythmic harmonic clusters. His own counter rhythms and interweaving melodic lines found her again as they ran towards the resolution that always left him both exhilarated and in tears, for the end of the piece meant she would again leave him and quietly disappear back to the crypt where she would lay in darkness until the next year when they would reprise the Edinburgh cello sonata together on the anniversary of her death.

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1 comment
  1. Music speaks what words can never express. I’d love to hear the Edinburgh, if only in my mind.

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