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Bernard Romberg, Duos for Violoncellos: From the Freedman Collection: Romberg's Cello Duos

by Jo Arnold and Markko Markko

Romberg’s Duo II from the Duos for Violoncello

Romberg’s "Duo II" from the Duos for Violoncello published by  Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel in Paris, France in 1805, is a cello duet in a galant style. It is characterized as such due to its light and elegant texture combined with a simple harmony that diverges from the serious fugal tendencies of the Baroque era. It was originally published as part of Romberg’s Op. 9 (Three Cello Duos); however, the Freedman collection copy only contains Duo II. 

Significant features of the Freedman Collection copy of Romberg's Duo II include hand-written rehearsal marks and fingerings, indicative of acceptable modern cello fingerings that were written in by a performer after the 1800s. The edition also includes printed fingerings that indicate the intention of blocked positions. Blocked positions allow a player to easily perform chords, string crossings, double stops, and fast passages due to the rectangular shape of the hand that makes it easy to reach multiple notes in succession.  He also provided a simplification of cello notational practices by reducing the number of clefs in cello music to three standard clefs. In Romberg’s Duo II, he clearly expresses his desire to reduce the clefs and notates it so the note placement is easy to comprehend given the clef present.

Romberg’s score reflects an early nineteenth-century notational style, which includes a tenor clef printing that looks especially different compared to modern notation. The notation used in this document shows the tenor clef as two rectangles attached with a connecting line. In addition, printed dynamics differ greatly from modern notation. The script-like font musicians are familiar with today is instead printed in Serif-type format, which is the same font used in the non-numerical tempo markings. Romberg’s publication also used a backward eighth note rest to indicate a quarter rest, which predates modern notation for quarter rests.

The texture of Romberg’s work is thin, and both cello parts leave space for one another in order to bring out the main melody and accompany to each other, thus reflecting a conversational style of playing. Often one part will carry the melody in the form of eighths and sixteenths while the accompanying part uses longer note values such as quarter notes and half notes before the two parts swap roles. Almost no counterpoint is present in his composition. The more complicated passages come from a quick succession of notes over an extensive phrase, usually in scalar or arpeggiated motions. This occurs especially towards the end of the Andante movement, where both parts have sixteenth notes rather than alternating between melody and harmony. Overall, the sound emanates a light feeling and is easy to understand.

All three movements of Duo II begin in major keys, and these sections remain in the same key for an extended passage before exploring other key areas. The specifics of these keys are made very clear by the use of arpeggios and established chord progressions. There are few accidentals, except for when the key changes into a closely related key, or when there is a transitional section that modulates through numerous keys.

Scales and arpeggio figures make up the majority of the melody and accompaniment lines throughout both cello parts. Arpeggios are used most frequently in whichever line accompanies at the time, creating an almost Alberti-style bass line. The phrases are not very long, and occasional ornaments, such as trills and turns exist. The ornaments present are used to add variety and interest to the composition. 

Although not incredibly complex, the rhythm in Duo II has points of interest and variety. There are brief moments of syncopation and triplet figures, but they are far from the majority. Rhythms do not switch back and forth frequently, and runs of straight sixteenths emphasize the goals of the downbeat and include four-bar phrases commonly throughout the piece. 

Score excerpt from Duo II

Score of Duo II by Romberg

First page of Duo II score from the Freedman Collection.