The following post is adapted from the notes of a lecture recital on the life and work of Emanuel Moór which was cancelled due to COVID-19. I am happy to now share with you this research regarding a neglected composer and his life’s work.
|Emanuel Moór Self Portrait
Hungarian composer Emanuel Moór (1863-1931) was the son of Jewish cantor Raphael Moór. Found at an early age to have an aptitude for music, the young Emanuel studied piano, organ and composition. His notable teachers included Franz Liszt on piano, Robert Volkman for composition, as well as a few composition lessons with Johannes Brahms. As a boy he performed in both Europe and America to much acclaim. However, today he is remembered mostly as an inventor. Moór invented a new design for both violin and piano. His piano featured two keyboards, similar in concept to the multiple manuals of a pipe organ or harpsichord, yet still with one set of hammers and one set of strings. Steinway produced a single prototype which is now owned by the University of Wisconsin Madison.Although in addition to the Steinway, Bosendorfer produced four, and other manufacturers including Pleyel and Aeolian produced several, Moór’s poor business sense throughout his life and the outbreak of WWII following his death combined to halt production before the instruments could become widely accepted.
As a composer, Moór did enjoy much success during his lifetime. His orchestral works were performed across continents by such distinguished ensembles as the Boston Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic, and his concerti and sonatas were performed by eminent soloists including vioinists Eugène Ysaÿe and Carl Flesch, pianists George Enescu and Alfred Cortot, and cellists Pablo Casals, David Popper, and Alfredo Piatti, among others. Despite these accomplishments, Moór was easily affected by criticism and often reacted to harsh reviews with bouts of depression and compositional inactivity.
Though he composed in a late Romantic style, Moór always cast his works within established classical forms with a strong influence of the folk music he often heard during his extensive travels as a child. These folk like qualities include “long, almost improvisatory melodic lines,” and a “looseness of structure and a rhapsodic quality,” which many critics denounced as flaws in his compositions.As an example, when Russian cellist Anatoly Brandukov introduced Emanuel Moór to Pablo Casals in 1905, he characterized Moór as an “amateur composer.” In Casals’s biography, Joys and Sorrows, Casals disagrees with Brandukov’s assessment. Recounting his first hearing of Moór’s music, Casals says “His music was overwhelming….and the more he played, the more convinced I became that he was a composer of the highest order. When he stopped, I said simply, ‘You are a genius.’” Although it is uncertain whether Moór introduced Casals to the Op. 55 sonata at this meeting, the Cello Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 55 was one of the first, if not the first, of Moór’s works that Casals added to his repertoire. Casals gave four performances of the sonata in December of 1905 alone following his initial meeting with the composer earlier in the year. These performances are noted both in Max Pirani’s biography of Moór and in H. L. Kirk’s biography of Casals. Casals’s first noted performance of this sonata came during a Russian tour (pianist not noted) followed by two performances with Marie Panthès in Geneva and Lausanne and one performance in Paris with Alfred Cortot at the piano. Casals also championed other of Moór’s works, performing multiple sonatas, a concerto that Moór dedicated to him, a double cello concerto, and a triple concerto for piano trio with orchestra.
Moór’s works have no drastic change in style periods throughout his career as do some composers, so the Op. 55 sonata can be said to be representative of his output in general. As we will see later, several of his style traits stemming from his early training and experiences are evident in this sonata.
Even before Casals performed the work, the Op. 55 sonata bears an interesting history. In 1905 when Casals met Moór, the composer indicated that he had already ceased composing for a decade. However, the first publication of the sonata, which bears a dedication to M. er Mme. Brandoukoff, the cellist who introduced Moór and Casals, dates from 1902 or 1903, depending on the source, just two or three years prior to their meeting. Whether the sonata, Moór’s second of four cello sonatas, was finished at an earlier date and published later or composed in 1902 is unknown. Of note, Moór’s 1959 biography by Max Pirani lacks the dedication in the listing of compositions and does not record any instances of Brandukov’s performing the work.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the sonata has enjoyed increased popularity, including two commercial recordings. The world premiere recording came in 2005 by Hungarian cellist Péter Szabó and pianist Zsuzsa Kollár on the Hungaroton label, and a second recording was published in 2007 with cellist Gregor Horsch and pianist Carole Pressland on the Cello Classics label. These recordings preceded a further revival of interest in Moór’s music in 2013, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
By way of formal analysis, the first two movements are the mostclear to analyze while the third and fourth movements, though still in classical forms, are less strict in their formal structures and exhibit more of the rhapsodic quality mentioned before. The primary tonal centers of the four movements outline a C minor triad, G-C-E♭-G respectively. All four of the movements make use of pedal tones, perhaps a sign of the composer’s early training as an organist.
Movement I. Allegro moderato
|Movement I, Opening
The first movement, Allegro moderato in G major, is cast in sonata form. The first theme of the exposition remains open without a single authentic cadence in the tonal center of G major. The movement opens with a single four measure homophonic piano phrase which leads to a six measure parallel phrase with cello, both phrases ending in half cadences. Moór’s genius as a composer is seen in his beautifully simple melodies even more than in his developmental procedures. Following two half cadences in G major, the first authentic cadence comes in C major. This cadence is weak, being an imperfect cadence, a passing tone D# in the soprano resolving to an E, the third of the chord. In addition, the resolution is to a major seven chord, the seventh of which descends a half step to make it a dominant seventh quality. This D# to E motion proves to be a recurring motive through the exposition, appearing twice at crucial points during the exposition. The first D# in measure 13 represents the first cadence outside of G major. The final cadence of the theme is a half cadence in the tonic, G major. Following this, the G major harmony which we would expect is altered instead to a G augmented chord with the D# now functioning as the leading tone to E minor, the key of the transitional passage preceding the second theme. The movement as a whole features frequent modal borrowing and unexpected modulations to distant keys, often facilitated by chromatic bass movement. The movement is unified through transitional passages that feature walking bass lines through tonally wandering sections.
|Movement I, Measures 13-14
|Movement I, End of First Theme
The second theme transitions to the third theme with unison piano and cello in octaves. Moór uses a B♭7 chord built on the flat 2 scale degree of the 2nd theme in A minor as the V7 of E♭, the beginning key of the third theme. The third theme is the first of many uses of pedal tone in the sonata. The free development section showcases the freedom which Moór’s detractors criticized.
Movement II. Scherzo
|Movement II, A Theme
|Movement II, C Theme
The second movement, a Scherzo in C minor, is the most formally and tonally stable movement of the four. In 7 part rondo form, this 3/8 movement features syncopated refrain full of hemiola figures and humorous chromatic trills. Unlike the first movement, the Scherzo features more consistent phrase lengths, even if asymmetrical. The first two phrases are nine bar phrases elided with the beginning of the following phrase. The piano and cello alternate melodic roles in these phrases. The third nine-bar phrase again elides with following phrase, but this time modulates to the chromatic mediant key of E♭ minor, foreshadowing the tonality of third movement. The first episode features asymmetrical phrase lengths of five-bar phrases. Modal borrowing is prevalent in the refrain sections as they wander between C major/minor and E♭major/minor.
Movement III. Adagio
The third movement, Adagio in E♭minor, lacks the tonal stability and formal clarity of the second movement. Because the themes of the movement shares similar motives, discerning where one theme ends and another begins can be challenging. The most promising way of understanding the movement’s form is as a 5 part rondo. Viewing the local and background level bass lines can shed light on the identity of the themes in this movement. The initial three-note descent in the piano, namely E♭-C#-B, is seen at a more background level as the key centers of the refrain and following episode and transition. This movement clearly begins in E♭minor despite chromaticism and enharmonic spellings. The fact that the first modulation in measure 35 is to C# minor gives likelihood that Moór had this larger tonal plan in mind. Admittedly, the B in the third chord of the piano is not in the bass, weakening the supposition. However the next modulation for the transition between the refrain and the second episode is to B minor. The transition is preceded by the same three note descent of E♭-enharmonically spelled D♭-B, this time in the bass. This transition features a repeated three note ascending motive derived from the refrain. The third movement is the most vocal in nature of the sonata movements. The sonata also spends time in C minor, hearkening back to the key of the Scherzo.
|Movement III, Initial Descent
|Movement III, First Modulation away from E♭
|Movement III, Second Modulation away from E♭
Movement IV. Finale
The Finale, marked Allegro con brio and again in G major, is in a loosely organized Sonata Rondo form. In this major key movement, after a short piano introduction, the second of the two phrases of the principal theme repeats the first phrase but modulates to the parallel minor. Both the refrain and every episode are developed, again showing the rhapsodic side of Moór’s compositions. Walking bass lines in this movement are used to accomplish modulations to distant keys. This movement also makes the most extended use of pedal tones, with no fewer than eight over the course of the movement. A three note ascending motive from the refrain is repeated in the episodes and the transitional material. The sonata does not feature any cyclic themes returning between movements.
This sonata is a worthy addition to the slim cello repertoire. Although its loose organization can make it difficult to analyze formally at times, the work finds its strength in the memorable melodies it presents and in the vocal rhapsodic quality it exhibits while remaining within classical formal models. Perhaps the formal criticism that would best apply is not that this composition is so rhapsodic as to be devoid of form, as some of his detractors argued, but rather that the final three movements of this particular sonata are so similar in form, being a 7 part rondo, a 5 part rondo, and a sonata rondo respectively. The work also has pedagogical value in that it is not overly challenging yet introduces upper register of the cello. Each movement features interplay between the instruments and develops critical listening skills. Emanuel Moór’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in G Major is gaining a well-deserved place in the repertoire from the pen of a forgotten composer.
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Max Pirani, Emanuel Moór (London: P. R. Macmillan Limited, 1959), 20.
Max Pirani, Emanuel Moór (London: P. R. Macmillan Limited, 1959), 29.
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©2020 by Jonathan Simmons. All rights reserved.