Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano: Andante 06:31

Liner Notes

Ornstein wrote his first Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 52, in 1915, for cellist Hans Kindler, with whom he performed it on at least a few occasions. A tonal, lyrical, and intensely emotional work, it followed his radically different one from earlier that same year: his Sonata for Violin Op. 31—one of the most representative nontonal works of his so-called ultramodernism. According to his retrospective comments, he composed the cello sonata in less than a week “under a compulsion that was not to be resisted.” He could not explain, even to himself, however, the departure from his previous (and, at that time, continuing) modernist course:

Why I should have heard this romantic piece at the same period that I was tumultuously involved in the primitivism is beyond my understanding, but the same contrast of exteriors has continued throughout my life. 

His comments about the preceding violin sonata are also telling about his own confusion and growing ambivalence that began that year, which, consciously or not, might have been the inspiration behind his impulse to compose the cello sonata as a spontaneous if temporary antidote:

I would say that Op.31 had brought music just to the very edge…. I just simply drew back and said, “beyond that lies complete chaos.”

And, more generally, he had seemed a bit frightened of his own path and its own dangers:

After I have lain down on the piano keyboard and sounded all the notes at once—what then? …. Have we destroyed more than we have added? That may be the real question.

The second movement in particular, marked Andante sostenuto, betrays unmistakable hints of intervals, emotive gestures, and inflections emblematic of perceived eastern European Jewish melos. And although it would be going too far to claim to know whether the incorporation of these elements was consciously intended as specifically Jewish, the long cello line, too, can be heard as a slow, chantlike cantorial expression. It expands continuously in intensity, including during its contrasting retreats into soft dynamics; and it is ingeniously set over enriched impressionistic chords and even mild dissonances in the piano part, which, far from detracting from the tonal context, provide added Romanticist passion. 

By: Neil W. Levin



Composer: Leo Ornstein

Length: 06:31
Genre: Chamber

Performers: Joshua Gordon, Cello;  Randall Hodgkinson, Piano


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