Critical Notes Series: Gretsch's Cello Sonatas

Gretsch - 6 Cello Sonatas (Urtext Edition)

Johann Konrad Gretsch was likely born in 1710 and died in 1778. He served as a respected cellist in the chapel of the Prince of Thurn and Taxis in Regensburg and was also a popular composer. Ernst Ludwig Gerber described Gretsch as a man who demonstrated extensive knowledge in harmony, excellent taste, and exceptional skill on his instrument through his compositions. His works can be found in various sources, such as the Breitkopf catalogs, and include symphonies, wind partitas, an oboe concerto, four cello concertos (including three in the Breitkopf Catalogue and one at the Czech National Museum), fifteen cello sonatas (ten in the Breitkopf Catalogue and five more in the present edition), a sonata for violin and cello, and a trio for viola da gamba, violin, and continuo. An audio mock-up of his C-major Cello Concerto may be heard on YouTube.

The six cello sonatas in our current edition come from the Czech National Museum, whom we thank for putting these sources at our disposal. The catalog numbers follow the ones of the Museum. The original clefs (bass, tenor, alto, soprano) were retained in the score but changed to modern clefs in the separate cello part.

The basso part is unfigured and, as was typical of the period, intended to be played by a second cello. There are some double stops in the basso part. Generally, the basso part plays a subordinate role, but in the finales of the A-major Sonatino and the D-major Sonata, it plays an equal role to the cello part.

All deviations from the original text have been noted in footnotes or with editorial marks.


Sonatino in C major 
Largo (C minor)

Four of Gretsch's fifteen sonatas for cello and basso are in C major. Two of the sonatas in this set are called “Sonatino.” However, these works are not small, simple, or easy.

This sonata begins with an Andantino but is not a slow movement. Like all of the first movements in this set of six sonatas, this one is in sonata form with a binary structure. The main melody of the Largo is reminiscent of Pergolesi's "Mentre l'erbetta" from Il Flaminio (used by Stravinsky in Pulcinella). The finale is virtuosic for both instruments.


Sonata in A major 
Adagio (E major)
Tempo giusto

This sonata has the same incipit as a cello concerto in the Breitkopf Catalogue (Supplement VIII: 1773). It is not uncommon to see Classical-era composers repurposing their sonatas in concertos and vice versa. We see this with a few of Boccherini's sonatas. The outer movements are both minuet-like. The Adagio is expansive. In this set of six sonatas, all finales bearing the tempo marking “Tempo giusto” are minuets. 

Three of the sonatas in this set are in A major. Gretsch must have enjoyed playing in A major, as another sonata and three concertos are in this key.


Sonatino in A major 
Largo (A minor)
Tempo giusto

This sonata is the easiest one in the set with regard to technique, although the slow movement has a very challenging yet short-lived passage. The opening movement has a march-like style. The Largo, marked “dolce,” is a Siciliana, one of two slow movements in the minor key. The finale is a minuet. The finale basso part is perhaps more virtuosic than the cello part.


Sonata in D major 
Tempo giusto

The incipit of this sonata is included as the first of six sonatas in the Breitkopf Catalogue (Supplement V: 1770). None of the other sonatas in the current set are included in the Breitkopf Catalogue. The first movement is a well-paced Andante. The Allegro is bourrée-like, with a bit of a Handel flair. The finale is a minuet with interplay between the cello and basso.


Sonata in F major 

This sonata begins with a gentle Cantabile. The dynamics give an impression of solo vs. tutti. The Allegro is similar in style to the above D-major Sonata. The Allegretto is a minuet in 3/8 time.


Sonata in A major 
Adagio (D major)

The final sonata in this set is technically less challenging. It begins with a minuet, followed by a placid Adagio and an Allegro similar to the Allegros that serve as middle movements above.


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