Gran Cadenza, commissioned by Anne-Sophie Mutter, is a virtuoso duo for two violins. The title alludes to the tradition of virtuoso solo passages in the course of an aria, an instrumental concerto, or a chamber music work, which are either improvised by the soloist or already written out by the composer, and that as a rule offer ornamental, rhapsodic, and rhythmically free elements. Cadences were originally closely related to a culture of interpretation that displayed strong elements of improvisation and was often tolerant of free modification, a tradition that was supplanted by new ideas of faithfulness to the original and copyright in the nineteenth and at the latest in the twentieth century.
Gran Cadenza is a self-contained, written-out work, and also clearly longer than the solo cadenza of an instrumental concerto. Nevertheless, it reflects elements of free traditional musical forms such as that of a cadenza, a capriccio, or a fantasy. The connection to the cadenza becomes clear through the exhibition of the virtuoso skills of two soloists which, entirely in the sense of the Latin “concertare,” alludes to competition and dispute, but also to reconciliation and cooperation. Gran Cadenza savors the various kinds of interactions – conflict, dialogue, and fusion; its form develops fluidly through contrasts and diverse transitions between these various states.
The piece is opened by marked and abrupt gestures of the second violin, which – in complete contrast – are juxtaposed with seemingly improvisatory, ethereal-ornamental figures of the first violin. After a while, the first violin suddenly “attacks” the second violin, and virtuoso musical skirmishes and exchanges of blows of various kinds ensue, whereby all possible cadenza-like cliches flare up as fragments.
Eventually, the two soloists come together, with series of descending chords: the entire kinetic energy comes to a virtual standstill and flows into tonally distorted, triad-like harmonies, which are presented by both violins in alternation and in competition with one another. A sudden build-up of energy, including ornamental interjections, in which short fragments flare up as echoes of earlier motifs or as anticipations of later developments.
Via an abrupt crescendo, it then comes to a contrasting middle section, a longer passage of unintentional pause in which the two violins merge into a “super instrument.” The second violin performs a melody that is harmonically enveloped by overtones by the first; the tempo gradually becomes more fluid, and the two violins play two different, complementary melodic lines. The flow is again and again interrupted by reminiscences of the beginning. of marked chords, as well as of improvisatory-virtuoso fragments; finally, the two lines lead into a quick and dense motion in the middle range, which resembles a sort of carpet of sound. This texture, although interrupted by suddenly flaring fragments, spreads out inexorably in various registers and in continually more virtuoso forms until it is abruptly interrupted by pizzicatos, and the whole motion unexpectedly comes to a standstill.
© Maris Gothoni, 2021 (translation: Howard Weiner)