Composed by Schubert in November 1824, Sonata in A Minor, D. 821, better known today as “Arpeggione”, seems to be one of the most enduring vestiges of this ephemeral instrument. The arpeggione’s star shone brightly but briefly in the musical firmament in the first half of the 1820s – invented and built by the Viennese violin-makers Johann Georg Stauffer and Peter Teufelsdorfer, it entranced Vincenz Schuster, who became its first virtuoso. In its construction and shape the arpeggione resembles a cello crossed with a guitar – it had frets on the fingerboard and was played with a bow. Apparently, the sound it produced was not the most magical one might hear. Nevertheless, Schuster immortalised the arpeggione by commissioning his composer friend Franz Schubert to write a sonata for the instrument. Today, this unusual work (brought back to the concert stage only in 1871) is most often performed in a transcription for cello or viola, although performances on double bass, flute or clarinet are also known.
In terms of originality and artistic importance, Arpeggione Sonata certainly cannot compete with Dmitri Shostakovich’s final work, Viola Sonata in C Major, Op. 147. Completed a few weeks before the composer’s death (6 July 1975), it was dedicated to Fyodor Druzhinin – the violist of the Beethoven Quartet. Although in its last movement – the poignant Adagio – Shostakovich made allusions to “Moonlight” Sonata and suggested that he had written it “in memory of Beethoven”, the message of the Sonata’s finale can definitely be seen in a more universal light . It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that it is a kind of a funeral rhapsody. Indeed, the work as a whole is a rather gloomy reflection on the human condition – so relevant even today.
The juxtaposition of Ödön Pártos’ Yizkor (In Memoriam), written in 1947, alongside Shostakovich’s Sonata intensifies the meaning of the latter. Pártos dedicated his personal work to the victims of the Holocaust – in fact, he used symbolic references to the liturgical music of Eastern European Jews. In this context, the themes in the second movement (Allegretto) of Dmitri Shostakovich’s final work are particularly evocative.