Cellist and composer David Popper was born in Prague in 1843 and died in Baden in 1913. He had an illustrious career as a cello soloist, on par with his colleagues Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, and Karl Davydov.
Today, Popper is best remembered for his High School of Cello Playing (Op. 73), as well as concert works such as the Tarantella (Op. 33), Hungarian Rhapsody (Op. 68), Im Walde Suite (Op. 50), and Cello Concerto No. 2 (Op. 24).
Popper, although of Jewish descent, was a great admirer of Richard Wagner’s music. We can see Wagner’s influence in Popper’s High School Etudes Nos. 5 and 17, as well as his Im Walde Suite.
With my recent publication of the Im Walde Suite, both in the piano and orchestra versions, I would like to discuss this wonderful work. “Im Walde” is German for “in the forest.”
The Suite was first published in 1882. According to Steven De’ak, the Suite “was a sweeping success,” with audiences often asking for Gnomentanz (“Dance of the Gnomes”) and Reigen (“Round”) to be repeated. Soon after the publication of the Suite, Anatoly Brandukov performed it in Paris and Russia (David Popper, 218-219).
The Cello is the Hero
The work was published by Rahter with a subtitle “for orchestra with cello solo obligato,” bringing Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote to mind. Just as the cello portrays Don Quixote in Strauss’s tone poem, the cello similarly represents the romantic hero of Popper’s Im Walde.
The idea of the romantic hero was influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed
“that the artist should aspire, through spontaneity of expression, towards the dignity of ‘natural man.’”
Popper’s hero was indeed “inspired [by the] idealization of nature and the ‘folk,’” according to Grove Music Online. Other sources say that the romantic hero is rejected by society. The protagonist in the Im Walde Suite fits these descriptions of the romantic hero quite well.
A Closer Look at Im Walde
Throughout the rest of the article, I will be referring to this recording of Im Walde regarding sections and timestamps:
The first movement, called Eintritt (“Entrance”), introduces us to the forest scenery. We hear the first Wagner reference at 0:33, with the Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre.
The next Wagner reference is at 1:38, with Siegfried – Idyll, which Wagner extracted from his opera Siegfried.
Once we are in the forest and the second movement, the protagonist sees a Gnomentanz, a dance of gnomes. This earthy caper has a playful yet sinister feel. It reminds me most of Grieg’s Trolltog, which came about a decade after Gnomentanz.
Gnomentanz was one of Popper’s most popular works during his lifetime, along with Reigen (discussed later) and Elfentanz (“Dance of the Elves”).
Our protagonist takes a break to offer up prayer in Andacht (“Devotion”), the third movement. The opening of this movement is organ-like, with clarinets, and a string accompaniment. We can even see a starry sky.
Once our hero goes on his way, he meets a group of people, or perhaps fairies, doing a round dance, Reigen, the fourth movement. This magical mazurka has a trick up its sleeve, the harmonics that seem to evaporate into thin air. Popper appears to enjoy fast harmonics, as they also make an appearance in his Cello Concerto No. 3 and arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne.
Cello Concerto harmonics:
Herbstblume (“Autumn flower”), the fifth movement, is another point of rest. This is by far the shortest and simplest movement, yet it also features the greatest tempo variation among performers. I enjoy indulging in the fragrance, as does Mr. Starker.
The final movement is called Heimkehr (“Homecoming”). We can hear the horse galloping, horn calls, and the joy of our hero at returning home. Close to the end of the movement, the music slows down, and the final two chords depict the hero dismounting.
My New Edition
Few cellists today play the entire Suite, but I believe that it could brighten up any recital program or symphony/chamber orchestra concert. I am happy to present my new edition of the Suite and would like to thank the Free Library of Philadelphia for providing the orchestra parts as an important source for my edition.
Critical Edition for Cello and Orchestra
Critical Edition for Cello and Piano