Lekeu's letters picture him as a precocious teen in the bosom of an adoring family. The young prodigy substitutes for his classics teacher, excels in science and mathematics, reads voraciously, writes accomplished verse, and composes voluminously. In a secure upper middle class society in which home music making was the norm, and in a culture supporting a number of amateur concert societies, Lekeu's every latest work is heard and commented upon -- not always glowingly. Criticism from Louis Kéfer, director of the Verviers Conservatoire, is taken to heart, demonstrating a seriousness of purpose as yet unfocused. The atmosphere in which he functions is provincial and dilettantish, but among a spate of small salon pieces are works of profound feeling and vaulting ambition, such as the Andante più tosto adagio for violin and piano, the String Quartet, and the sprawling Cello Sonata, all composed in 1888. Though the latter seems to have been jotted hurriedly at the beginning of March, it plays around 45 minutes -- it is autobiography, an intimate journal, a sort of hallucinatory "automatic writing," an inner theater of feeling. It is all too easy to write off Lekeu's hyper-intensity as the upshot of bipolar disorder -- depressive melancholia and manic gaiety (which he shares with Chausson and Magnard) were of a piece with his era, while the awareness of enormous gifts clamoring for articulation can only have been tormenting. The first movement, based almost entirely upon a drooping Motiv turned to purposes morbidly ruminative and fevered, which Lekeu will use again in the Piano Trio, bears an epigraph from Baudelaire's Le Fleurs du mal -- "Le coeur plein de songes funèbres" -- suggesting the emotional burden of the entire work. Despite another epigraph from Baudelaire evoking a winter's night's memories rising before an open fire to the sound of distant bells, the Allegro molto quasi presto second movement possesses an obsessive, haunted mien, unrelieved by a striking trio Dans le style des Chansons populaires. Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky) thought the third movement -- headed "Mater suspiriorum, Thomas de Quincey Confessions of an English opium eater head and shoulders above the other three...his language here has a pronounced Mussorgskyian stamp." A brief incomplete Epilogue, rounded off by d'Indy -- "You have caused me to prefer the sorrows of the night to the splendors of the day" (from one of Lekeu's own poems) -- wraps the work up with thematic reminiscences. The Cello Sonata was not heard until February 14, 1913, at Paris' Salle Érard.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
- Adagio malinconico
- Allegro molto quasi presto
- Lento assai e con molto di malinconia
- Epilogue. Allegro assai ed appassionato espressivo