By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2024 issue of Strings Magazine
Classically trained cellist Michele Galvagno is also a music engraver, graphic designer, and educator. He calls himself “an endless learner, always looking for a challenge.” Galvagno has put his talents to good use with a series of publications dedicated to Justus Johann Friedrich Dotzauer’s works for cello. The project’s aim is to uncover all of the German cello master’s oeuvres.
Outside of his many solo cello studies and pieces, most of Dotzauer’s works are unknown; indeed his name is unfamiliar outside cellist circles. Therefore, it comes as a welcome surprise to learn that he wrote at least 21 string quartets. These two quartets feature a substantial cello part throughout. Dedicated to his illustrious teacher Bernhard Romberg, Dotzauer (1783–1860) could easily have written a cello concerto or a virtuoso piece for his mentor; however, he chose the intimate medium of chamber music instead, cleverly highlighting the cellist’s role. Earlier, the cello part had been little more than an accompanying bass, although some exceptions exist in the quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Now the cello was the clear protagonist; even so, Dotzauer took care not to relegate the other three instruments to an accompanying role. Each of the two violins and the viola also have opportunities to shine.
Galvagno’s editions are based on either the composer’s manuscript or on the first edition; for example, these two quartets were first published in the Netherlands around 1810. Galvagno has chosen to edit them, correcting anomalies (these are detailed in his Critical Notes), thus creating a critical performance edition rather than an urtext one, which he maintains would be of little help to the modern performer.
The first quartet in E-flat major is four movements in classical sonata form, with the cello predominant from the outset, presenting both lyrical themes. A light-hearted Minuet and Trio follows the tender Larghetto in A flat, where the cello introduces a poignant theme at bar 11, followed by playful arpeggios from all four players, before the final Haydn-esque Rondo. Cellists, you cannot afford complacency when tackling the virtuoso passages here.
Quartet No. 2 in G minor brings out even more passion and fire than the first, with the cellist announcing the dramatic theme and later, virtuosic triplet figurations. The Poco Adagio offers challenges in concerto-like writing for the cello while in the Trio following the Minuet, the cello again holds sway. A jaunty Allegro completes this effervescent work.
Both the full score and parts are well set out on the pages, allowing for easy reading.
These are no ordinary string quartets, where the first violin gets the lion’s share. Instead, cellists will have a field day. Audio resources for the second quartet score are available.