Robert Fuchs’ lovable, modest, and reserved presence in the Viennese music culture led to very few specifics being known about his life. Fuchs was reticent and thrifty when talking about himself – not just in his private correspondence, but also in his notebooks. He himself did not think he was interesting and could not understand that others could find anything about him interesting beyond the “few notes” that he had written. Only his closest friends and relations were able to sketch a picture of his development using his casual remarks. In reality, these memories and occasional Feuilletons in the newspapers of his day comprise the only biographical sources of information we have regarding Robert Fuchs.
The First Cello Sonata in d minor, Op. 29, appeared in 1881 and is dedicated to David Popper. On 10 May 1881, Brahms wrote to his publisher, Simrock, “Now a quick word, to which I request a similarly quick response. I do not know if you have taken note of our very own Robert Fuchs? Probably the most beautiful talent in town; a charming man who is also married (so talking about money is a necessity). Up to now, Kistner (his publisher in Leipzig) has always happily accepted his work and paid well for them. Recently, however, the publisher began negotiating, which embarrasses the very modest and fearfully courteous Fuchs. I did not want to go to you regarding the waltzes, since Kistner (who would be happy to wring my neck even without all of this) would have known instantly that I am involved. But now I do indeed have to ask you to let me know in passing if you could incidentally pay 600 gulden for the cello sonata. I think it is his best and most lively work, and if you have never heard of him at all you really should have a look at his Variations (Härtel) and piano sonatas (Kistner)… Fuchs doesn’t know anything about this.” Simrock, however, had a deep mistrust of cello sonatas; they did not entice him, even if they would have been cheaper. The sonata was released that same year with Kistner as publisher.
Fuchs did not particularly care for the higher register of the cello, and so he also begins this sonata with an elegiac melody in the tenor range of the instrument. The secondary theme is powerful and later serves as the basis for the development. The scherzo, which also begins calmly, is strongly contrasted by the trio. The adagio movement begins with a slow, heavily ponderous movement that is quickly re-framed as an introduction to the final movement. This dance-like, quick movement in D Major brings the sonata to a triumphal close with a dramatic Coda.
The seven „Phantasiestücke“ Op.78 appeared in the September of 1905 on the heels of his 4th violin sonata thanks to the requests and demands of his friend Anton Mayr, an amateur cellist. Fuchs wrote to Mayr in Admond on 4 September, “cello pieces are not my passion, but to make you happy I will perhaps try to write some, but only because it is you who is asking”. Thereafter, the pieces appeared in rapid succession. The first was finished on 18 September, three more on the 23rd and by 15 October all seven cello pieces were prepared in fair copy.
At the first play-through on 20 October with Mayr at the cello, several corrections were made, which are described in detail by Mayr in his “Memories of Robert Fuchs”. In the second piece Fuchs said he had imagined that the harmony with the empty D-string would sound more beautiful; the strings should be very evenly and tenderly played together. In the third piece he found the recapitulation superfluous and the pizzicato of the cello too weak against the piano. He was very content with piece number four, and particularly liked the flageolet on the G-string. He did not want the 8th measure of the fifth piece to be played too weakly so that the following dolce came across even more tenderly. In piece number six he added quite a number of dynamic markings. He also wanted the first of the eighth-note figures in the first two measures to be a bit accentuated without changing the length of the eighth note. He wanted the cello to sound robust and full in the sections where the cello played the bass line and the piano was in a higher register. This piece was Fuchs’ favorite. In the last piece the arpeggios in the beginning of the second part proved to be too difficult and he made minor adjustments and simplifications to the cello part.
With the exception of a few trivialities, Fuchs seems to have been satisfied with the pieces. They were published the following year with Robitschek and dedicated to Fuchs’ friend, Richard von Perger.
The second cello sonata in e-flat minor, Op. 83 came into being during the autumn of 1908 and was finished on 3 December. It was undedicated. Robert Hausmann, the cellist of the Joachim Quartet should have premiered the piece in Vienna on 19 January 1909, and a sort of pre-premiere was also planned. However, shortly before the premiere, a message arrived that Hausmann was seriously ill. Fuchs went to Hausmann’s hotel with the pianist, Maria Baumayer, where they learned that Hausmann had suffered a stroke. “It would have been so beautiful”, he wrote to his friend Anton Mayr in Admont, “but it was not meant to be”. Four months later the then 30-year-old Paul Grümmer played the sonata in Munich with the composer present.
The three-movement sonata is - though similar to the first in expression - much more complexly constructed. Fuchs was in the bloom of his personal style in this work, and it is full of his surprisingly chromatic twists and enharmonic reinterpretations. The first movement exudes a great calm through its two lyric themes. The second, even calmer movement is interrupted by a dramatic middle section. Finally, the third movement rounds out the sonata with boisterous-yet-untroubled exhilaration in E-flat Major.