Born in Riga, Latvia, Don Jaffé moved around quite a bit due to the war and anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. His family was forced to flee to Siberia in 1941. After returning to his native town at age 14, Jaffé received his first cello lessons at the Music School for gifted children, which he completed after four years instead of the usual ten. In 1971, his family moved to Israel because of increasing anti-Semitic sentiment and reprisals in the USSR. He participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 1974, he moved to Germany, where "[his] cultural roots lay." Jaffé was the principal cellist with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in 1974, and in 1975 he became a member of the Bremen Philharmonic State Orchestra. He also taught at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. Before retiring in 1997, he began his work in composition. His works are influenced by the Jewish and his personal histories and "often thematically dedicated to the victims of the Shoah [The Holocaust]." Jaffé recalls in his works the persecution of the Jewish people with the words: "It is my mission to create musical memorials." His second cello sonata is one such monument to the Holocaust. But he also states: "The generation of the grandchildren cannot do anything for the deeds of the ancestors."
The sonata begins in G minor. The first movement is full of tempo changes and abrupt dynamic contrasts, showing unrest that the Jewish people felt as the beginning of the Holocaust. The themes presented in the first movement appear in the second and third, so this sonata has a cyclic aspect. Each episode of the first movement is punctuated by a grand pause [G.P.], with the exception of the final "tempo primo," thus, we can take the movement to be in five sections. One interesting feature in this movement is the "glissando virtuoso," made up of harmonics (like in the second movement of Shostakovich's Cello Sonata). This glissando is a powerful feature because it seems to come out of nowhere, sometimes in single notes and sometimes in double stops. The movement ends in three iterations of these glissandos, growing ever softer, before the last open C string finishes the movement. Along the way, we also hear slithering lines in fourths and noble, yet urgent shofars. I have included my performance of the first movement below.
The second movement is in three parts. In the first part, the composer asks the music to be "funesto" (gloomy/dismal), ending with a solemn brass band music. The second part is the reiteration of the "slithering" line of fourths from the first movement, ending with more solemn music and contemplative harmonics. The third part is played with a mute and non vibrato. Much of it over an open C pedal, the music is hopeless.
The finale is also in three parts. The first part is restless, always moving forward. The second part starts with harmonics, reminding one of the shofar, at times sounding like a song for freedom. This section goes on to quote the "hopeless" part of the second movement. Finally, the music regains momentum and perseveres to the end, finishing on a joyful C major chord.