Duo for Violin & Cello


Duo for Violin & Cello



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  • Premiere: 18 April 1997  / Sulzberger Parlor of Barnard College, New York City  / Michaela Paetsch Neftel, violin / Robert LaRue, cello
  • Instrumentation: violin and cello
  • Duration: 20'
  • Dedication: To Michaela Paetsch and Robert La Rue
  • This work is published by E.C. Schirmer and therefore currently unavailable for digital download. To order paper scores please visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.

I. Homage a Ravel
II. Love Song
III. Minute Scherzo
IV. Reprise
V. Finale

Program note

In the repertoire for solo violin and cello, the Ravel sonata stands out as the singular masterpiece, the work all subsequent composers had to measure themselves against. Hagen acknowledges this debt by making the first movement of his duo an Homage a Ravel. He borrows Ravel's thematic material and style, but combines them in his own unique way. Each instrument takes the lead in turn, while the other plays arpeggios or double stops. The effect is to make the sound fuller, as if it were a much larger ensemble.

Hagen's gift for melody is clearly revealed in the slow movement, Love Song. Again, the parts take turns, playing either the melody or a repeated rhythmic motif, occasionally coming together to sing in harmony. As in a love story, the two express their individuality and then create something greater than themselves by joining together.

The central movement of this five-movement work is called the Minute Scherzo, and indeed it has sixty measures, each of which is to be played in one second. Once again, double stops and varying sound textures (vigorous bowing with gentle runs) give the overall impression that there are more than two people performing.

Hagen's compositions often make use of an arched structure, so that the fourth movement recalls the second, and the last recapitulates the first. After the central scherzo, the Reprise presents the themes from the Love Song, here written more elaborately. The relationship has matured. The instruments play together throughout the movement, and the sound is warm and contented.

The Finale is entitled Homage a James Brown. Brown, known as the "Godfather of Soul," was a major influence on rock and roll through five decades, setting standards for professionalism, spectacle, and high-energy entertainment. His arrangements made use of all the instruments in rhythmically complex ways. Daron Hagen pays tribute to James Brown by using melodic elements from his hit Gravity, and by giving the violin and cello their own blues riffs (a riff, from "refrain," is the pop music term for a motif). Within the context of the blues melodies and rhythms, Hagen also completes the arch structure by recalling Ravel material from the first movement. He reprises the melody of the Love Song as well, then combines several other previous themes to give the movement symmetry within symmetry.

— Miriam Villchur Berg, 2003

Michaela Paetsch, Robert La Rue, and Daron Hagen onstage at Town Hall, New York City. (Photo: Mel Rosenthal)

Michaela Paetsch, Robert La Rue, and Daron Hagen onstage at Town Hall, New York City. (Photo: Mel Rosenthal)


The Duo shows us the point to which Hagen has traveled after a decade of work. This piece is even more imaginative, opening with an homage to Ravel that is very nervy indeed, considering the honoree's masterpiece in the form, which stands as a monument that every subsequent composer must face. Hagen faces it head-on with music that, while overtly Ravelian, is still very good indeed. I find the overall lyricism and invention of this work to be on a high level; the second movement -- Love Song is an excellent example of a truly poignant melodic/harmonic sense that I suspect is a more overt window on the world of Hagen's operas than almost anything else in this collection [of Hagen string works]. The last movement is an homage to James Brown, and if the composer says so, I can't argue, but it seems far closer to Ravel than to the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business.

— Robert Carl, Fanfare Magazine, September / October, 1999

The Duo for Violin and Cello opens with an homage to Ravel's Sonata for the same combination. II is a broad, romantic Love Song, which is further developed as IV; in between is a palindromic Minute Scherzo based on the same material. The Finale is another homage, this time to soul man James Brown, but here his 'Gravity' becomes a syncopated figure that could have been written by Hagen himself (or Diamond or Copland, for that matter - maybe they should have been given guest appearances in the James Brown Show). The piece is very impressive and makes me curious to hear his works for string quartet.

— Alan Gimbel, American Record Guide, September / October, 1999

A sophisticated, wide-ranging musical mind is at work here. ... Hagen's voice is intelligent and warm.

— Tom StriniThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/21/99

(Banner photo: Michaela Paetsch)

The second movement of the Duo, with visuals.

Violinist Michaela Paetsch in 1984.

Violinist Michaela Paetsch in 1984.

Cellist Robert La Rue in 2014

Cellist Robert La Rue in 2014