This article is an expanded version of the Editorial Notes that can be found in the published edition, available at this link. A promotional video can be watched here below:
Cossmann … a name whose sheer sound inspires fear and respect in the heart of every cellist. At the same time, his name is close to completely unknown to anyone else. Bernhard Cossmann (1822—1910) was a German cellist, a virtuoso, a renown professor, and a composer. He was so respected during his life that the Italian cellist and composer Alfredo Piatti dedicated his Twelve Caprices for Solo Cello, Op. 25, to him. He is also the dedicatee of the Drei Lyrische Stücke, Op. 117, by Georg E. Goltermann, and of the Drei Stücke, Op. 11, by David Popper. His cello technique roots come from the Dresden school, having been a student of Friedrich August Kummer, himself a pupil of Dotzauer and Romberg. As a teacher, he was the founding cello professor of the Moscow Conservatory in Russia, in 1866, and among the founding members of the Frankfurt Hochschüle, Germany, as well. Not bad for a virtually unknown figure.
Every single cellist must have encountered on their path the following exercise:
This is possibly among the top-10 most useful technique exercises that any cellist will ever practice, and gives a hint at the pedagogical genius that lived in this man.
In gratitude to Piatti for being the dedicatee of his Twelve Caprices, Cossmann composed and dedicated his Funf Concert-Etüden, Op. 10 for cello solo, sadly not taught enough in today’s conservatory classes. He also composed a few “less serious” or “less daunting” pieces, for example his Op. 1, two pieces for cello and piano, which are the object of the current publication.
One day, I received a message from Thibaut Reznicek, the editor of Artistic Score Engraving’s edition of the previously unpublished Sonata by Boccherini. There he shared an excerpt from a manuscript page he had received as a gift from a friend. It was a single page, for cello and piano, bearing the title “Canzonetta Napolitana” and the scribbled signature “Bernhard Cossman” in the top right. He asked me whether I knew of an existing edition of this work. After a thorough research, I identified the piece as belonging to the couple of pieces making up his Op. 1, that is ”Melodie Suisse” and ”Canzonetta Napolitana” (that’s old Italian. Nowadays, we say Napoletana), for cello and piano. The full manuscript was nowhere to be found publicly—that is, no library had uploaded its possession to the World Catalogue of Sources—, but a first edition was, instead, available.
This edition was published under the Heinrichshofen Verlag label, an old firm from Magdeburg, Germany, established in 1797 and still running nowadays, after more than two centuries. Here is the entry in their 1897 catalogue:
The plate number is H.M. 1288. “H.M.” stands for “Heinrichshofen’sche Musikalien-Handlung” and the number places its publication between 1857 and 1858. At that time, Cossman was 35 years old, late in life to begin composing, yet another clue to how he was first a performer and then a composer. Strangely enough, the current catalogue of Heinrichshofen Verlag no longer lists this piece among its publications. There is no publicly available catalogue from them after 1903, so it is unclear when it was decided to put it out of print.
It was therefore clear that I had to create an edition of these two little gems. They are technically challenging for the cello, but not too much to make them discouraging. I also realised, while preparing this edition, that I was often subconsciously whistling the melodies of the two pieces during the day, a symptom of their catchy nature. Sadly, the quality of the first edition was quite substandard, with many dynamics clearly missing, a few wrong notes, and a marking that was as arcane as ambiguous:
Look at that “c. P” in the piano part. This happens six times in total, five in the Melodie Suisse and one in the Canzonetta Napolitana. The most popular interpretation has been that it is an abbreviation of “colla parte”, a marking used in piano parts to tell the pianist to follow the vocal or solo part. While this makes sense in more than half of the instances, it is something I had never seen used in cello and piano scores. Furthermore, the typeface of the “P” is the same used for dynamic markings, thus increasing the possible confusion. The only possible explanation is that these songs may, in fact, be original for voice and piano. If a direct reference will be found, I will take great care in updating this introduction and the edition.
A short piano introduction, in C major, opens the path to the cello’s lyrical exposition of the main theme. The melody’s structure, quite simple by itself, is decorated by Cossmann with fast runs of short notes, in full operatic tradition. It is written very elegantly for the left hand, but the challenge here is to keep the bow speed in check. Part B changes character, with the cello performing virtuosic lines which require the pianist to thread carefully with its accompaniment in triplets. It is clear that, played in strict tempo, these passages will not make any musical sense. Thus, the cellist will have to take care of planning ahead how to stretch and compress time so that the listener can perceive it as a coherent whole. After this, Part A and Part B repeat themselves almost unaltered, barring small variations in the cello part’s ornaments.
This short song will prove ideal for a young cellist who needs to show their technique with a piece whose form is not too challenging yet.
Once more, the piano begins alone, in A minor, with a unison opening in both hands which includes, of course, a lowered second—Neapolitan—degree! The cello then enters with a proud and rhythmical theme, which makes heavy usage of the Sicilian dotted rhythm. This first period repeats twice, the second time trying to bring us to the dominant key of E minor, if only Cossmann didn’t decide to veer towards C major, albeit only for four bars. The next period will go back to A minor, with the cello almost crying in desperation for something (or someone) lost. Part B finally settles in C major, with a cheerfulness that makes us forget all possible sadness, in what appears to be the hardest technical excerpt of the piece. Next, in Part C, we have a reflective moment with the piano trying to ground us with long chords, and the cello whistling in forgetfulness through natural harmonics. Part D is a transitional period where the cello’s chords and appoggiatura-like gestures, almost unaccompanied, carry us towards the recapitulation of the main theme. But we are not over yet, as a Coda in A major shows us that, even in the darkest hour, there is always light or, at least, hope. From a compositional perspective, this last part starts very well, then, when it should develop something more to bring the piece to a close, it just ends with an arpeggio ascension and two chords. A pity, for sure, but that should not stain the overall quality of this piece.
This edition is made up of a score and a cello part, which includes bowing and fingering suggestions by Cossmann himself. His technical choices are completely in line with modern cello playing, as we know that most advances in cello playing style were made in the second half of the XIX century. I have therefore decided not to alter them in any way, nor to ask for external editorial interventions.
MICHELE GALVAGNO, Artistic Score Engraving
Saluzzo, Italy — October 8th, 2022
One thought on “NEW EDITION: Bernhard Cossmann – Mélodie Suisse and Canzonetta Napolitana for cello and piano, Op. 1”