Classical Music | Cello Music

Johannes Brahms

Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99  Play

Oliver Herbert Cello
Renana Gutman Piano

Recorded on 07/13/2016, uploaded on 02/09/2017

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Brahms composed his second sonata for the cello during his stay at Hofstetten in Switzerland during the summer of 1886. It is one of his most important chamber works and was written alongside his Second Violin Sonata, op. 100, and the Piano Trio in C minor, op. 101. Its structure is expansive, embracing a four movement design, and its use of the cello put it in contrast to the E minor sonata.

The first movement is bold in its approach. Set in a sonata form of symphonic ethos, with the impassioned opening theme of the cello accompanied by the tremolandi of the piano, it is not difficult to imagine the accompaniment as an orchestral reduction. However, these tremolandi become an important element in holding the movement together. The development shifts mysteriously into the key of F sharp minor, preparing the way for the later movements, and ends with a quiet augmentation of the main theme in chords on the piano, invoking the image of Debussy.

The following slow movement begins in the key of F sharp major, emphasizing and heightening the tonal shift made in the first movement. The form of the movements is ternary. Max Kalbeck suggested that this movement may have been a reworking of the Adagio movement Brahms suppressed from his E minor Cello Sonata. There is some evidence to suggest this, though it still remains uncertain.

The third movement is another example of Brahms’ fiery and rhythmically driven scherzi. It abounds in cross-rhythms and continuous motivic interplay between the cello and piano. The Trio, following suit with the previous movements, begins in F major but makes its way, once again, into the remote key of F sharp major.

The last movement has sometimes been criticized as too lighthearted compared to the profound dialogue of the first three movements. The principal melody, in F major, of this rondo movement is graceful with a carefree air about it. The easygoing mood is interrupted only once by the melancholy second episode in B flat minor. The F-sharp tonality, although in this case spelled as G flat, makes a brief return in the final return of the rondo theme. The movement comes to a close with the rondo theme varied with Scottish snaps and a brief coda.     Joseph DuBose


Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99      Johannes Brahms

“In the Cello Sonata, passion rules, fiery to the point of vehemence, now defiantly challenging, now painfully lamenting,” the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote in review of early performances. “How boldly the first Allegro theme begins, how stormily the Allegro flows! It is true that the passion subsides into quiet mourning in the Adagio and fades away, reconciled, in the finale. But the beating pulse of the earlier sections still reverberates, and pathos remains the determining psychological characteristic of the whole.” As Hanslick’s comments indicate, the new Cello Sonata was a match for the old one in terms of feeling. Indeed, in its contrapuntal rigor and somber Phrygian­tinged E­minor mode, it is the First Cello Sonata that sounds more of an era with Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. The Second Sonata sounds youthful in its ardor, and tempestuous in its opening despite the major mode, usually more conventionally sunny than here.


The haunting Adagio affettuoso is in the remote key of F­sharp major, with a more turbulent middle section in F minor – also the key of the stormy scherzo, where the major mode is reserved for the more lyrical and subdued trio section. The finale is a rondo, and much the shortest movement. There is reconciliation in the gracious main theme, but darker moments lurk in the contrasting episodes and the optimistic punctuation that closes the piece seems rather abrupt.       Notes by John Henken