Johann Wilhelm Hertel’s violin sonatas are instructive examples regarding issues of mid-eighteenth century performance practice of solo sonatas with basso continuo accompaniment. At the same time they introduce us to the instrumentalist Wilhelm Hertel and his workshop. This impression is rounded off by Hertel’s autobiography and his writings on music theory.
Granted the privilege of frequent journeys to Berlin he was able to study with another of his father’s friends, Franz Benda (1709–1786). This important violinist, singer, composer and pedagogue had been a student of Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755) in Dresden but also of the latter’s Berlin colleague, Johann Gottlieb Graun (1701/2–1771). With the help of Graun – who is said to have been unsurpassed in this craft – Benda especially perfected the technique of ornamenting his adagio movements. The ornamental sketches that Hertel prepared for his violin sonatas follow this tradition as well; this is verified by a comparison with the surviving embellishments of Benda’s violin sonatas.
There are a number of theories about Hertel’s reasons for preparing performing sketches for twelve of his altogether seventeen surviving sonatas. On the one hand they might have resulted from his studies with Höckh and Benda. But it is also plausible that they represent teaching material for Hertel’s own pupils, for example Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch or Ludwig, the ducal prince of Mecklenburg. All of Hertel’s sonatas follow the same movement plan, slow – fast – fast, familiar also from Carl Höckh’s violin sonatas and many of Franz Benda’s “violin solos”. There are many reasons to assume that Hertel composed his violin sonatas in the decade between about 1745 and 1755, i.e. towards the end of his career as a violinist.
(Stefan Fischer, translation by Stephanie Wollny)